>Whatever you do, don’t follow best practise

>Here at LBi Towers (my workplace, all opinions my own, blah, etc) we have a theory that best practise is all well and good if you want to identify a ‘standard’ way of doing something. But, if you want to do something amazing, you need to do more than just best practise.

Essentially best practise is about doing a set of actions that result in a desired result. And in most cases that desired result is pretty staid stuff. We want to increase online engagement, we want to improve retention rates, we want to increase brand perception, we want to be an employer of choice. Those are all fair, and in some cases lofty, ambitions. And for the most part, those companies will be advised to do a set of actions to help them achieve those things. And the cycle is reinforced.
So why am I, an L&Der, concerned about best practise? Well, it’s a piece of terminology that has infected both HR and L&D circles so much that I think we’ve both lost our zest and passion for the job we do. Many in the industry follow what has been outlined by ACAS or the CIPD or because they are the alleged experts that guide what we do and how we should do it. For L&D in particular, there is no direct industry body, but that’s something for me to rant about later.
What this has meant for us professionals is we are trying to get companies, in the main, disciplined in the act of following policies and procedures so they do not fall foul of employment tribunals for transgressions they should have avoided. Part of what I’m talking about is reminiscent of a post by a HR professional, delightfully called theHRD, where he blogged about the de-skilling of HR. And also a post I made a while ago on the over-reliance of policies.

Instead what’s happened is a field we now call Organisational Development came out of the bushes and said, Hey! You keep doing your policies, L&D, you keep doing your training, and we’ll get on and do the exciting company wide development stuff like employee engagement and inter-departmental blending and culture development. I’m not begrudging OD professionals what they do – in truth my passion lies more in OD than it does L&D. But what is apparent is HR and in most cases L&D are given shorter remits of work as other ‘specialists’ come in to do the stuff which is not best practise.
These specialists push those boundaries of convention and are lauded for their free thinking and challenging ways. And the truth is they should be applauded for those things. But, and here’s the crux of it, HR and L&D have an equally important responsibility to shout for the same recognition.
It’s not enough that HR manages recruitment, retention, employee relations and policies. It’s not enough that L&D creates a training programme, delivers training, and helps staff feel valued. They need to move beyond those restrictions and show companies that they are better than that. And that’s not by following the best practise of other companies, or your very good friend who is HR director at Google. It’s by identifying which business objectives you can get more involved with that show either HR or L&D can play a more strategic role in the business or organisation. That’s a basic tenet of what should be happening anyway, and I’ll wager 80% of HR professionals aren’t doing this.
In my opinion, the best way to ensure you have someone who is looking beyond best practise is by having a full time in-house resource dedicated to their role. Outsourcing is fine but does not allow the true value of the profession to be realised. I’m fortunate that I have full responsibility for L&D, have no one to steer what I do, am self-reliant enough to get on and do things and have established the credibility of L&D across the agency. It’s taken time, but I’ve done that. If you’re not able to do that, you either need to review the responsibilities of your role, rise to the occasion and make your mark known, or seek to develop yourself so that you can step up and not rely on best practise.
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>L&D to the rescue!

>In one of my earlier posts I mentioned something about a crack L&D team. From a meeting today I have been inspired to talk more about this ninja trained team of L&D professionals.

So first thing is to be clear about what is an L&D professional. In my experience it’s someone who has been exposed to a wide range of training topics and can deliver training on those topics. This takes time. It’s not enough for an L&Der to be a time management trainer. A trainer is someone who does exactly that – trains. An I.T. trainer is pretty restricted to I.T. training. They will be knowledgeable about their specific topic and be mostly restricted to that. But in essence, they are not developing a behaviour, they are developing a technical skillset. Because of that, they will be restricted to being a trainer; unless they of course venture to the L&D side of things. Oh and don’t let the title confuse you. An I.T. consultant isn’t an L&Der. They’re just a fancy trainer.

The other thing to be wary of is to be fooled into thinking that a good trainer can make a good L&Der. No sirree. It is very possible to have someone train well but not make a good L&Der. They can present the information well, answer questions thrown at them, even make it amusing and relevant to your work. But that’s not what L&D is about.

L&D is about a culture of learning and development that is facilitated by the L&Der. That sounds good but what needs to happen? Well you have to have someone who has experience of the learning and development cycle and knows how to make it a reality. That is someone who knows how to carry out a learning needs analysis, how to design an intervention, able to deliver the intervention and finally understand what evaluation is needed to measure the success of the intervention.

In order for that to be a success the L&Der has to have an infectious personality. The last thing you need is someone who believes in L&D but has the personality of a dead toad. I’ve known people like this and for all the money in the world they will never be like Jonathan Ross. So this L&Der must be someone who is able to do the following things well:

1) develop your business acumen – quickly. L&D can only be effective if you truly understand what are the important factors in business success? What is the company strategy? What do the different departments do? What processes are already in place that support L&D? Who are the key supporters of L&D? Who are the ones who just need to be introduced to L&D to be your supporters? Who are the cynics that you need to build rapport with? What are the objectives of the business? How can what you deliver help the business?

2) build rapport with a wide range of people. This is important in so many ways. You’re only going to have a successful L&D function if the business knows who you are, what you’re trying to achieve, and give you the support to do this. As an L&Der it’s vital to be able to deliver an intervention that is received well by the people you’re working with.

3) be knowledgeable about a range of L&D interventions. The beauty of being an L&Der is that you’re not limited to delivering training courses. You have at your diposal other interventions such as workshops, meetings, focus groups, PR & marketing, lunch and learns, and the list can go on. A good L&Der will know how to use a different intervention in order to meet different needs.

4) be a good facilitator. This key skill of an L&Der was taught to me by my first boss. Facilitation skills can help with everything from project management to meeting management to delivering a programme. It’s highly important to be able to understand the subtle nuances of being an effective facilitator and to be able to adapt this skillset for any daily interaction.

5) always seek current trends. As good as an L&Der may be, they have to seek out what’s hot in the world. This is not only true for skills as an L&Der but also to keep aware of what’s happening in the business world, economy and industry. All these things influence what you do as an L&Der and how successful you are likely to be.

Broadly speaking then these are the key things any L&Der should be able to do. I think I rank fairly well across those 5 points. I’ve still got a lot to learn to be better, and that’s something I’m always conscious of.

>The day L&D gains prominence

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So my chosen career path has been for a while now learning and development. I really enjoy what I do. I’m able to develop sessions for staff to enable them to learn skills they didn’t know they had and then to go out and do. Then based on all that I get to learn more about how business works and offer my insights to how to continue developing new and more interesting sessions that really tap into what the business needs.

The size of the company I’m working at now (circa 400) means I get to really learn about what the business needs. What I love most about it all though is the freedom to develop and learn because the business is open to it. However, as time is passing by I’m noticing more that my learning is increasing about business operations. Eventually I’m guessing this will also develop into finance and the accounting side of a business. But that’s what’s so unique about L&D. You get to truly understand the departments across the agency and develop initiatives that make a difference.

Learning and development has importance for businesses because they understand that you have to invest in your staff and develop them and all that good stuff. What businesses fail to understand though is that L&D can help businesses develop at every level through staff. What do I mean by that? I mean that as an L&D professional it’s my job to understand how X department works. At the same time I’ll understand how Y department works. I can then take that learning and apply some thinking which centres on how to get the two working together effectively. At the end of the day that’s what a good L&D person should be able to do – facilitate essential conversations that improve business effectiveness.

The trouble with this though is that L&D is lumbered with HR. It’s understandable why that’s happened, and it has to sit somewhere so why not HR right? Well it’s right insofar as no-one else in a business has the vested interest that HR does in the development of its workforce. But what needs to happen is L&D needs to be a dedicated function that sits independently of HR. It’s then that L&D will gain the prominence it seeks. If a business can recognise this and support it, it will reap the benefits of having a team of L&D people that only care about one thing. Business effectiveness.

I’ll save for a later blog what should be included in this ninja team of L&D folks. For now though it’s enough to say that until the day HR and L&D are seen as independent but vital parts of a business, L&D will always play the backfoot no matter how good they should about what they do.