Why L&D need to let go to move on!

by | Jan 13, 2016 | #MakeItHappen, Articles

Laura Overton reflects on the year past and gives us a list of ‘let go!’s for the future that can’t be ignored…

As one year finished and a new one began, we were treated to a plethora of articles on what’s next, what’s trending and what is not to miss.  I read lots of them – after all, no one wants to be the one who missed out!*

So what will rock our L&D world in 2016? It looks like the ‘big buzz’ includes business alignment, personalisation, experiential learning, strategic talent, mobile, cloud, apps, integration, social collaboration, big data, augmented reality, analytics, the shifting role of the L&D professional…phew, and more.

Is it me, or does this sound familiar to last year and come to think of it, the year before? Don’t get me wrong, I am not mocking the lists. In fact, we’ve got a decade of data to show that those organisations who are actively working on these areas (and more) are storming ahead in terms of delivering business impact and improving staff engagement.

It strikes me that something is wrong here. We know what works but are we being held back? If yes, what is trapping us? Is it our circumstances and the obstacles around us or is it something within ourselves?

Let me digress for a moment. The Taiwanese have an ingenious way of catching monkeys! They put a banana in a box with a hole in it, just big enough for the monkey to reach in and grab the banana. But the hole isn’t big enough for the monkey to pull the banana out. The monkey is trapped, not by the box (the specific circumstances) or by the banana (a basic staple of the monkey diet) but by his own desire to keep hold of the fruit. If he wanted to, he can easily walk away. He just needs to let go!

If L&D are going to embrace the opportunities that lie ahead, we also need to let go of a few things that are keeping us trapped. Here are just a few that have occurred to me over the last few weeks:

Let go of the course

The course, like the banana, is an L&D staple! The opportunity to create structured pathways to support performance and growth is an essential part of what we do. However, it is not the only tool in our toolkit. If we are to find creative ways to align learning to business we have to recognise that the course is only one of many ways of building performance – 94% of Top Deck L&D organisations recognise this but for 50% of us, we are still holding onto the course as the only way.

Let go of our assumptions (about how staff learn)

Whilst many L&D leaders are now shunning the myths of learning styles. we’re still pretty keen on putting our staff into boxes. For example, ‘millennials learn differently’, ‘leaders only want the classroom‘, ‘our staff are reluctant to learn with new technology‘ (reported by 47% of L&D leaders), ‘our staff lack the skills to manage their own learning’ (reported by 63%). Yet only a third of us are proactive in actively understanding how our staff really learn what they need to do their job better (a proportion that has not changed in the last 3 years). We won’t move forward unless we let go of our assumptions about our staff and instead start listening to them.

Let go of the silver bullet

Trends lists are massively popular because we are all looking for a short cut, that silver bullet designed to lift L&D into the realms of business glory. Mobile, gamification, augmented reality, big data – you name it and we believe that it will solve all our problems. Having studied the impact of learning technology over the last 13 years, I am in no doubt that technology has the potential to transform business and individual performance. However, if we desperately take the latest education technology into every meeting, we are potentially boxing our creativity and restricting our vision. We need to let it go of the tools and focus on the problem first.

Let go of the preoccupation with ROI

In our hunger to be taken seriously by business leaders, many L&D professionals are holding onto an unhealthy preoccupation with the process of demonstrating return on investment. If we are to truly deliver value, we have to work hand in hand with the business on the KPI’s that they are already working on. It is a two way process that is not totally reliant on L&D. However, our preoccupation with ROI can either reduce our confidence in approaching business leaders or make us over confident, as we hang onto and boast about irrelevant metrics. Instead of determining our real value we concentrate instead on showing how much money we have saved and what an efficient cost centre we are.  Letting go will provide a freedom to have new conversations with business concerning how we work together.

Let go of excuses

L&D professionals are a passionate bunch and most have a real vision for the future and our potential role in it. However, over half of us say that our own lack of skills and awareness is really holding us back. STOP RIGHT THERE! If we can’t work out how to build the skills we need to prepare for the future, what right do we have to be taken seriously by the businesses we support? Budget or no budget – there are plenty of opportunities to equip ourselves for change (for example, check out our Ultimate Guide to #LT16UK) but it’s unlikely we will be successful if we continue to hold onto our excuses.

Perhaps at the beginning of this year, we need to take a dispassionate look at what we are passionately holding onto. Is it keeping us trapped in the thinking of the last decade or does it free us up to make the most of the opportunities ahead?

What do you think? Join the conversation in New Learning Benchmarks

Make a Commitment to FOCUS

Is 2016 the year of action for you and your team? If so, which of these areas will you commit to focusing on?

Our commitment back to you is a host of resources – we’re curating and sharing our insights, tips and success stories from everything we’ve done with organisations around the globe to inspire, equip and help you go deeper. We encourage you to ‘Work out loud’ by asking questions, reflecting on progress, sharing ideas and encouraging your peers in our LinkedIn group New Learning Benchmarks or at one of our face-to-face Sector Benchmark Groups in the UK. You can also follow us and feedback on Twitter at @Towards Maturity or look for our tweets under #MakeItHappen. We’d love you to join us on the way!


*here are just some of the articles on the future of L&D around the globe that have caught my eye!


Note: All statistics taken from 600 L&D leaders reported in the 2015 Towards Maturity Industry Benchmark Report, Embracing Change

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