Fully Developed L&D Organization: Are We There Yet?

A question many of us have sought to answer…or maybe “predict an ETA”…came up in one of my networking groups this morning. “When you do you know that the Learning & Development function in your organization is fully developed?” The answer to this may be as impossible to define as it is to nail Jell-O to the wall.

Having been in this field for many years, I am not so sure you ever get to that place of being “fully developed”. If you do manage to “get there”, something happens to spoil the celebration, stirring up a tranquil moment, and the rules all change. Somebody or some thing drops a dump truck load of Change into your training pond. Why does this always seem to happen?

The L&D environment is constantly evolving, or at least it should be, and it should be aligned with the business as it is evolving, and for all the same reasons. L&D should be in lock-step with the business units with their efforts to remain competitive – generate profitable operations – react with agility to external economic pressures – sustain workforce capacity to be equally as agile and resilient to Change. If it were not for Change, we may have a prayer of catching up and at least staying even with needs of the business. But…Change will be constant, just as work demands on the workforce will be constant. And do not forget the need for flawless execution in the work context will always be constant.

The learning environment in which we operate has a similar task to be equally as constant in the delivery and accessibility of learning solutions to meet the workforce’s daily challenges. The learning environment itself must be seen as and treated as a dynamic learning ecosystem. I have written about this before and describe this ecosystem as needing pond-wide coverage – from “edge-to-edge”. No part of the learning “pond” can take the impact of a thrown stone without ripples extending to the rest of the pond sooner or later. In reality, we [Training] cannot fix one performance issue without considering where the ripples extend as a result.

Internal systems – and I am including “human systems” in workflows and groups and teams – are part of a system of dependencies – all of them in the same pond. Six Sigma has model called SIPOC [Suppliers – Inputs – Processes – Outputs – Customers] that illustrates this chain of dependency clearly. As an example, one SUPPLIER’S [work group’s] OUTPUT often serves as another CUSTOMER’S [work group’s] INPUT, and their PROCESSES render an OUTPUT that, in turn, is yet another workgroup’s INPUT. And on and on it continues throughout the organization. We cannot just look at this model as a high-level value chain. We all have internal CUSTOMERS, and what we DO becomes a source of ripples from our point in the pond.

This model represents only a snippet of a workflow map – a single link in a chain of dependency. Impacting performance [good or bad] sends ripples upstream as well as downstream from the point of impact. Was impact a product of Change? Was it a new policy? Was it a new FDA mandate? Was it the introduction of a new piece of technology? Was it downsizing a segment of the workforce causing a backlog upstream? Whatever the source, it was a thrown-stone landing someplace else within the ecosystem’s pond – creating an opportunity in our learning environment. How do we react to that opportunity?

The Learning function must be agile enough to diagnose the source of the ripples and respond effectively at a moment’s notice. In addition, we really should consider the impact of whatever performance improvement in PROCESS #1 may have on the CUSTOMER downstream from the improvement. Is an increase in OUTPUT volume or a brand new format going to wreak havoc downstream? We actually have agility to consider because we have DONE something different rather than being agile because of something that pushed over that first domino.

I would argue that this kind of agility is not delivered by training alone, and very likely the solution is not training at all. Remember that “stone” did not land in the middle of a classroom or an on-line course. It landed in the work context, and the impact most likely created moments of learning need. And then the ripples radiate from the point of impact, potentially creating a different need somewhere else in the pond. Did we plan for that outcome?

Training’s agility is tested and stressed at this point of impact – this ground zero. We [Training] are needed at, or near, the point of impact – the downstream, post-training, work context “edge” of the ecosystem pond.  Enabling learning @ the point of work is becoming more and more likely to be part of any Training solution we consider.

Methinks being fully developed, means being in a constant state of “evolution” with a minimum of resistance to change. Being able to survive a journey that never ends could, in some ways, be seen as a destination of sorts. If we never really “get there“, we need to create a state of readiness to respond to the potential for disruptions in our respective ponds, because as soon as we hit smooth sailing, somebody throws something big right in the middle of our tranquility.

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning