Learning and development expert Paul Matthews discusses three key elements that are missing from many organisations’ learning and development strategies.You do have a learning and development (L&D) strategy, don’t you? They can vary greatly in what they cover and how detailed they are, but far too often they are missing three things which are critical to success.

1. Does your L&D strategy create behavioural change?

These initiatives should be focused on changing behaviours in the workflow so that people are performing better and producing better results. Even if the initiative is in place for tick box compliance reasons, you still want it to be compliant. There are other motives for L&D, but the primary one is surely embedding and sustaining new behaviours that support execution of the organisational strategy?

Given the output of behaviour change, it is amazing how many people in L&D focus on improving knowledge and skills with little, if any, thought to how they might translate into new behaviours. There seems to be no appetite for considering the transfer of learning from their face-to-face or digital course onward into the workflow where the learning needs to be operationalised effectively.

2. Is your L&D strategy effective and relevant?

When HR teams are confronted about the learning transfer problem, they will often talk about the token things they are doing for transfer but it is almost always too little, too late, and they have no measures to determine if what they are doing is working. They will acknowledge the existence of the issue and then slide back into the comforting rut of face-to-face training and engagement numbers on the learning management system (LMS).

For some reason, L&D is not being held accountable for changing behaviour, so in many organisations it continues to underdeliver on its primary purpose. For sure, there are excellent programmes being run in some organisations where learning transfer is integrated well, but these are a very small proportion of the all the courses delivered.

Dr Ina Weinbauer-Heidel created a research-based model she calls the ‘12 Levers of Transfer Effectiveness’, and all these levers need to be brought into play for effective learning transfer. One of those levers is ensuring that the content of any formal course is relevant to the delegates on the course. Clearly, if the delegates perceive little relevance, they are unlikely to bother learning the content – and certainly won’t transfer it into any change in behaviour.

The only way to ensure relevance is to do effective diagnostics of inadequate performance to understand the causes that drive the existing behaviour, and the barriers that are stopping the preferred behaviour. Sometimes poor performance will be the result of a lack of knowledge and skills – but often, the root cause is that something is lacking in the environment that surrounds your people. When this happens, the training won’t be relevant and achieves nothing in relation to the original performance problem.

3. Don’t underestimate the value of informal learning

Of course, it is easier for a line manager to blame the inadequacies of the people on their team than to blame themselves for not creating a supporting learning environment for their team.

One of the factors at play here is that line managers have been ‘trained’ by the educational system and the way that L&D operates in organisations to believe that learning happens in a formal setting away from the job. When they think, often wrongly, that the solution to their problem is their team needs to learn something, their automatic reaction is to send the team away to be ‘fixed’. The managers typically have minimal awareness of how much learning happens on their watch in the flow of work while people do their jobs on a day-to-day basis.

This is surprising when you consider that if you ask anybody where they learned most of what they know in order to do their job they will say they learned it on the job. Most learning in organisations happens in the flow of work and yet this powerhouse of learning is somehow ignored by L&D, perhaps because they are not directly involved in delivering it. The irony is, of course, that L&D could get involved with informal learning and harness the immense power of this natural form of learning, but they typically don’t. This myopia that ignores informal learning is the third issue. L&D could do so much more if it recognised and exploited the power of informal learning.

And finally, protect your L&D brand

When the issues above are ignored, it creates the impression that L&D is not a good investment – and when the reputation of L&D suffers it is no longer seen as having a credible ‘brand’ within the organisation. A poor brand negatively impacts the ability of L&D to be effective and yet very few people are aware that L&D even has a brand, and are certainly doing nothing about improving their brand promise, or improving the touch points that are the foundation of their reputation.

So, my advice to you is that all four elements need to be incorporated in your L&D strategy. This will bring them into focus so they can no longer be ignored.

About the author

Paul Matthews – Author, Speaker, Consultant (paul-matthews.com)   

Paul Matthews is one of the leading L&D experts, with three best-selling books to his name. An accomplished keynote speaker, he speaks around the world on a diverse range of topics. He brings L&D to life with stories from his extensive travels that fascinate and inspire. He is known for reducing complex theory down to practical tools and sharing them in a way that everyone can use to get better results. As well as being a sought-after speaker, Paul provides consultancy services, training workshops and webinars for blue-chip clients in the UK and beyond. 

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