There’s been a paradigm shift in the value organisations put on training. It’s gone from a way to meet compliance regulations to a crucial source of competitive advantage.
Along the way, it’s been a method to upskill workers in key competencies – an era that lasted a long time – until training fell from favour and L&D emerged as a survival strategy for organisations needing new ways to harness the power of their workforce.
L&D is now moving even further up the podium: organisations that don’t understand why it’s so essential to success are on a collision course with obsolescence.
Training and L&D – what’s the difference?
Training raises someone’s ability in a discrete and measurable way. If you can’t use a jigsaw, you go on a training course, and then you can use it safely. If you don’t know how to administer CPR, you go on a course and then you can.
Learning and development refers to abilities that exist on a spectrum. If you go on a leadership development course, you aren’t automatically a better leader. That comes from putting ideas into practice, honing your approach, learning from mistakes, identifying and eliminating your biases, being humble and having the discipline to focus on self-development. It’s a lifelong journey and there’s no set point or obvious time when you become a better leader.
L&D is a holistic look at all the factors that go into performance. It works on the principle that improvements to the self result in improvements in performance. Unlike training, there is no clear path from the learning or development to the performance outcome.
The rise of learning and development
Training used to dominate in the age of task-based jobs. If you sit on a manufacturing line, you have a discrete task you need to do and there’s a correct way to do it. Once you’re trained, unless the machinery, process or product changes, you can do the job.
There’s still a place for training in modern society. If you’re a plumber, you need training in order to fit a flue correctly or sweat a copper pipe. When you can fit a flue safely and sweat a copper pipe so no water leaks, the training has been successful. It’s a clear value chain.
But task-based jobs don’t dominate like they used to. Now we’re in the age of knowledge work and it’s very hard to break knowledge work down into discrete tasks. Success at knowledge work comes down to the state of our minds, our energy levels and our ability to connect with others.
When we’re too tired, for example, our ability plummets. We can’t think straight. The computer screen blurs. We can’t find the words we need. Our emotional intelligence, so important for leaders when establishing trust with direct reports, seems to desert us.
So the nature of the self is fundamental in how we perform at knowledge work. And because everyone is different, learning and development is a personal journey.
Why is L&D necessary for survival?
Success is driven by the self
Because so much work is driven by the ability of the self in the knowledge economy, organisations that do not develop cultures of learning are not giving employees the space and tools to self-develop, which means they aren’t able to work more optimally over time. If competitors are doing these things, their employees’ output will grow, increasing the overall value the organisation creates.
Work is increasingly digitised
The other reason L&D is necessary for survival is the increasingly digitised workplace. New tools and technologies define the way organisations work and are run. In this world, the workplace changes so quickly that we must constantly learn how to use new tools and adapt to new ways of working. If we don’t, we fall behind. L&D becomes about survival.
How is L&D becoming about thriving?
From keeping up with the pack…
So to survive in the modern workplace, L&D is crucial to allow employees to raise their own effectiveness in dealing with the demands of knowledge work in a rapidly-changing, digital world.
…to getting ahead of the pack
But L&D also presents an opportunity to get ahead of the pack, because if your employees are better able to collaborate, better able to work on their own, better able to cope with the enormous amounts of technology in their lives and get the best outcomes from this technology, they will produce outcomes that are better than your competitors.
This is crucial. Digitisation essentially democratises the workplace and traditional competitive advantages dry up: organisations are less able to use scale, market share, buying power and similar advantages to maintain a favourable position with customers. Some people call this the ‘age of disruption:’ essentially it means that barriers to entry and growth are significantly reduced.
The need for a new competitive advantage
So organisations need a new competitive advantage and this comes from the way people do their jobs. That’s why topics like team dynamics, collaboration, creativity and relationship-building are top of the L&D agenda. This is how organisations can get ahead of the pack.
The rise of continuous improvement
Ultimately, we’re moving towards cultures of continuous improvement, where organisations must strive to improve all processes, outcomes, workflows and products to emerge ahead of competitors.
Cultures that encourage employees to self-develop, learn new tools and new ways of doing things will develop an organisational mindset of continuous improvement and prioritise improvement on a daily basis. This ruthless focus on L&D is at the very core of how organisations will thrive in the new world.