It’s Time To Shift Our L&D Perspective
In our latest report, Current Trends in Learning and Development & Learning Experience Design, we asked L&D leaders and professionals to share their biggest challenges related to employee skills, L&D organization and strategy, content creation, and the future.
We then invited our experts to reflect on its findings and themes and offer suggestions to help L&D leaders turn their challenges into opportunities.
In Section 2, A New Moment for L&D, Andrei Hedstrom, SweetRush CEO, shares his take on the report’s findings around L&D organization and strategy in an open letter to L&D leaders. Acknowledging this unique moment for our industry and the opportunities that arise from it, Andrei offers his perspective on the mindset shift L&D leaders must make to reinforce our position as valuable business partners.
I share Andrei’s letter with the hope it will inspire you to celebrate this moment and what it means to you. Afterward, I invite you to reflect with me on exactly what the mindset shift means for L&D as I offer some tips and best practices for making the shift.
An Open Letter To L&D Leaders
From Andrei Hedstrom, SweetRush CEO
L&D leaders and seasoned pros, congratulations: Your time has come. You’ve worked hard for decades to elevate the craft—once considered an afterthought—and now you’re being asked to create, contribute to, guide, and shape business strategy and transformation. The pandemic may have fast-tracked this moment, but make no mistake, it was coming, supported by a growing body of evidence. Focusing on our people is the path to transforming business and society for the better. The case is building for lifting up the potential in each person to collectively achieve greater impact and value, a fundamental shift in economic thinking. (Organizations with knowledge workers may be ahead of the curve, but it’s being proven in other types of workplaces in studies from Accenture and other consulting firms.)
In human-centered fields like L&D, culture transformation, and HR, this is our native mindset. Business leaders are learning what we have known and practiced. For years we’ve done this work, persisting through a lack of resources and sufficient means to analyze and evaluate. Because we know that when you build up a person, they build up their community and the organizations to which they belong. So we’ve been taking notes and dreaming of what more we could do when given the opportunity. And now we’re being called upon to be part of this human-centered transformation, to inform and shape what an organization can achieve by truly supporting and enriching its people.
But here’s the thing: This work requires us to make a significant mindset shift. We’ve been so good at being ready to help. Now, at the big tables, we need to be more consultative and more assertive. Now we need to generate ideas alongside the parts of the organization we’re used to taking orders from.
The way we show up at this moment matters. We’re being called to learn the skills and attitudes to serve in strategic discussions and boardrooms—and to find ways of shifting the practices in those rooms to align with human-centered work. It’s a beautiful step forward in our journey. We’ve moved from knowing what good learning is and how to do it, to a deeper understanding of the organizations we’ve served.
We’ve made more informed and stronger pitches for how we can address business challenges. The next step is shifting our relationship with the people who have responsibility for those challenges. It’s telling them we want to and are ready to hold those challenges with them. To do this, you may need to be honest about your own learning curve, and that’s OK. Be forward in saying what you believe: If you can hold these challenges, too, you can bring fresh ideas and solutions to the table beyond what they might have thought was possible. L&D friends, seize the day. Create your human-centered practice for shaping strategy and transforming organizations. Be bold. Stretch yourself. Leave your mark. It matters more than ever.
Making The Mindset Shift
Let’s dig into the mindset shift Andrei talks about and what it actually means for L&D.
Historically, L&D has been seen by most organizations as a resource or cost-center that is tapped into on an as-needed basis: The organization identifies a need and then goes to L&D for “help.” This cycle creates the order-taker mentality that Andrei talks about. (Incidentally, I also talk about this order-taker mindset in my articles and eBook on needs analysis. And this is because, as you’ll see in a moment, these things are connected.)
To break this cycle and be seen as a trusted partner that adds value, L&D needs to turn the conversation around. To do so, Andrei suggests we become more consultative and more assertive. And I agree! Andrei also talks about how we show up with business partners and the need for L&D leaders to shift the conversations and practices at the C-Suite level to “align with human-centered work.” I agree once again!
So how do we find this balance? How do we assert ourselves in a way that resonates with the C-Suite—in a way that speaks their language—and aligns with a human-centered approach?
By becoming proactive instead of reactive.
Instead of waiting to be asked to help with a specific training need, L&D needs to take charge of the conversation by showing how we can help the organization identify these needs in advance. We need to demonstrate how we can help future-proof the workplace by proactively working with business leaders—that is, business partners—to identify the skills and competencies our people will need to carry the organization forward.
What’s more, this strategic-level analysis is something that L&D should be doing in partnership with business leaders on a regular basis—every three to five years, or as often as your company’s strategy is updated. Why? Because when L&D is involved in strategic conversations, we ensure that we’ll also be part of the solution.
We also need to become more assertive about tracking the results of our learning solutions by initiating and leading more conversations about measurement, evaluation, data, and analytics.
How Can I Lead This Change?
There’s a perception among L&D leaders that these things are hard. In fact, our report shows that needs analysis (page 25) and data and analytics (page 16) are still challenging for many L&D teams.
Though these skills are critical to keeping L&D’s seat at the table, they’re not hard to develop. If you’re ready to get started, I encourage you to borrow our team’s proven steps for needs analysis (pages 28–29) and data and analytics (pages 21–23).
I’ll end this reflection with a little pep talk—and a parting quote from our report:
Never before has learning and development been so central to business strategy. This new moment can feel revitalizing as opportunities emerge to make a significant, company-wide positive impact.
If there’s one thing I know about the L&D community, it’s that we share a collective drive to lead change through learning. Showing up as true partners who actively seek challenges and advocate for learners helps us to do more good and deepen our organization’s commitment to a human-centered practice.
Stay Up To Date On Current L&D Trends
For more insights on the mindset shifts that help us bring value to our partners and people, download our free report, Current Trends in Learning and Development & Learning Experience Design. You’ll find insider tips and truths on skills, L&D organization and strategy, learning experience design, and the future of L&D from learning leaders and professionals like you—as well as strategies and solutions from SweetRush experts. Start making even more of a difference to your learners and business partners with these exclusive answers to your knottiest L&D challenges.