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May 6, 2021

3 things to know when building an L&D function at your company

Free Guide: 5 L&D Trends to Watch Out for in 2021

Learning and development is changing and to stay ahead of the curve you need to know the ways in which it’s doing so.

What is L&D?

L&D stands for learning and development and is a workplace process intended to develop employees' skills for the benefit of the individual and the company at which they work.

But you know that already, don’t you? You’re here because you’re looking to build a strategic L&D function within your organisation or you’re a Learning and Development professional wanting to double and triple check your existing strategy is doing everything it should for your employees.

I don’t blame you. Learning and development is crucial to have within an organisation because it attracts top talent, will upskill your people and your business and increases employee engagement while reducing attrition. Plus it has untold benefits for employees.

What are the benefits of L&D?

At a glance, this is what you can expect from a well developed L&D function:

  • Talent retention and attraction
  • Higher employee engagement
  • Improved employee performance

But that’s not all. Upskilling your employees to meet the demands of your business and to fill skills gaps can have an impact in other ways. It saves you money in outsourcing for specialist knowledge and hiring new talent. Learning and development also positions people to be aware of what’s the latest in their fields, what’s trending and how they can level up in their role to help move the business forward.

early stage plants growing like L&D budding at your company

You won’t reap the benefits of L&D unless you take the time to sow a strong function. Below are three things you should keep top of mind to ensure you do so. They’ll make your learning and development job that much easier and take some of the stress away from the management of the function.

Save them in your Bookmarks tab, jot them on sticky notes to keep on your desk or turn them into a learning and development morning mantra. Whatever it takes to ensure they inform your L&D strategy.


Tip 1: A Learning & Development function is nothing without a learning culture

A learning culture is where the members of an organisation actively learn, encourage others to learn and where what they learned is shared. It’s where one values learning within their job but also outside of it, and where employees know that they’re working for themselves just as much as they’re working for the organisation.

With psychological safety as the basis, a learning culture flourishes and cultivates self-managed learning. Without the foundations of a learning culture, learning risks falling by the wayside and only being undertaken by a few. This would diminish its potential impact on the business.

The last thing you want is for your words to fall on deaf ears. You can organise opportunities, allocate a budget for your staff to spend on resources and even provide a PDP strategy, but none of those things will guarantee your people engage in skill development or training. You need to build a learning culture and embody it every day.

If you do not, the role of L&D becomes difficult and increasingly frustrating. Engagement will be low, and there will be those who feel that they aren’t growing as individuals or as professionals. This can lead to unnecessary attrition of talent.

Your performance will depend on the engagement, success and management of your people's growth. If employees leave because they feel they are not growing in their roles, it will reflect poorly on the L&D function.

Learning cultures come from the top 

Leading by example is powerful and serves as a reminder to your employees that learning at work is not only allowed but encouraged and celebrated. L&D professionals should regularly demonstrate and promote learning at every level of the business. 

The same goes for senior leadership such as CEOs, especially in smaller companies where their activities are more visible and where they are prevalent influencers of workplace habits and standards.

When leaders prioritise their learning and skills development they are setting a standard. Their people can feel comfortable emulating the behaviours because permission and encouragement for different skills training and development has been communicated to them.

It also creates a trickle-down effect on 121 meetings. If the C suite of a company is consciously having professional development conversations in their meetings with direct reports, those direct reports will replicate similar conversations about career progression with the staff they manage.

Learning is most effective when it’s bottom-up

In those conversations, it’s vital that the focus is entirely on the learner and the growth that they want to achieve in their job and life. Managers are guides who help point their people in the right direction but they do not dictate the destination. When learning is mandated or the vehicle of learning is assigned, it is far less effective. 

Think of all the school lessons you sat through. If it was a subject you did not like or in a format that you didn’t learn well from, you would not have absorbed the information half as well as you would have if it had been more personalised to your interests and based on your learning style. Workplace learning works the same. 

Skills can be achieved in a myriad of ways, it’s up to the learner to determine what way is best for them. Some would benefit from engaging in digital learning while others would prefer books. Some would like to change their career path while others will want to gain more knowledge to level up in their current role. With the right strategy and resources in place, everyone has the capability to develop, elevate their work performance and meet their career needs. 


Tip 2: Beware of L&D exclusivity

Often, the loudest in the room gets the most attention. In an L&D setting, the most senior and most outspoken will get access to the training, courses and learning opportunities they want. Many who are further down the ladder, or who are more introverted, will take what’s given to them. The problem is, everyone across your organisation needs and deserves training. They’ll also all come with different needs and wants for that training.

As an L&D function, you need to safeguard against this and to counter it to the best of your ability. Learning and development should never be exclusive. Your strategy should be to offer adequate and, in the best of cases, personalised development opportunities to every member of your team. Only then will they be able to upskill in ways that will bring the company up with them. New ideas that elevate your company can come from anyone, anywhere at any moment. Your business is full of talent and potential. When L&D is exclusive it’s a disservice to everyone.

How to guard against exclusivity

Listen to your people and ask them what they want from the L&D function. Their answers can inform your strategy. It’s important to encourage them to reach out in the way that they prefer to communicate. 

For instance, I’m a writer who communicates most effectively and confidently through written word. Face-to-face conversations can make me feel as if I’m tripping over my words and not getting my message across. By inviting your people to initiate the conversation how they prefer, you’re more likely to receive engagement.

Some of your team still won’t reach out and in those situations you can send out an anonymous survey to gauge what training or workplace learning platform is desired across the team, across various roles. 

Another great way to get each level of the business involved in learning and development is to use internal coaching and mentoring programs as part of your strategy. Connecting different skillsets and experience levels can be beneficial for mentee and mentor.

In the end, by democratising access to learning, you’ll be better positioned to provide an L&D strategy that meets the needs of more employees in your organisation. 


Tip 3: L&D is a journey, not a destination

It’s not about ticking off a list of new skills and information you want your people to obtain. It’s about continually visiting and revisiting the growth journey your people in the organisation want to go on. Training and upskilling should not be stagnant. Goals and needs will change over time and L&D professionals need to be aware of when support is required and what type of training may be best.

Once a new skill is obtained, another should be identified. Revisiting personal development plans is one way to ensure skills development reaches new levels and accommodates changing goals. From there, appropriate training can be chosen. 

The development of your staff is never done, the knowledge they can acquire in their roles never runs out, and the positive impact they can make on the business is infinite.

It’s a journey for you, too. As the head of L&D, or if you occupy a similar management position in the business, your own training and development will carry on over time so that you can stay on top of changes and continually nurture talent.

The key is to be agile with L&D

As new theories and approaches to education emerge and as we adapt to changing work norms, and generational differences you will want to be flexible and open to each new development. A common term applied is 'be agile'.

L&D has changed a lot in recent years with shifts to digital learning, remote management and the prioritisation of personal as much as professional development. Your learning and development function and strategy needs to be responsive to these trends.

Let's recap

Learning and development is beneficial to individuals who want to learn new skills as well as to the business. 

1. Fostering a learning culture is the key first step to creating an effective and successful L&D strategy.

2. When it comes to building skills and training, attention should be paid to democratising the process so that every individual has access to learning and their capability to develop is acknowledged. 

3. Learning and development is an important and never-ending journey for both the L&D professionals and those in the organisation.

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While you're here, you might want to check out this article on staff wellbeing for 2021 where we have a wellbeing survey and insights on how management can help and support employees.


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Free Guide: 5 L&D Trends to Watch Out for in 2021

Learning and development is changing and to stay ahead of the curve you need to know the ways in which it’s doing so.

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