Our jobs as L&D professionals was easier 10 years ago. Information flowed from the top of the organization to the bottom. Managers and facilitators had the most information, which they then imparted to employees like benevolent overlords. But that is no longer true. Technology and frustratingly self-sufficient learners often means that employees know more than facilitators or managers on a given subject.
Over the past six months or so, we, the L&D research team at Bersin by Deloitte, have been floating an idea. Our hypothesis is that traditional ways of developing employees should change radically and L&D functions need to pivot if they want to remain valid. We’re calling the idea Invisible L&D. What do we mean by invisible L&D? The rough definition we have come up with so far is:
An L&D approach to developing the workforce by enabling and assisting learning throughout the organization, wherever and whenever it happens.
This new approach involves shifting mindsets in at least four key ways, outlined in the graphic below.
Source: Bersin by Deloitte, 2016
Let’s briefly look at each.
From In your face to Stealth
First, and sometimes most challenging for L&D, invisible L&D organizations are moving away from a very visible role to one that better blends into the background. While this has been unsettling for many L&D professionals, those that have done it successfully note that they have more influence and impact on the business as a whole.
From Creating to Enabling
For many L&D departments, creating great programs and then facilitating and delivering those programs is the main focus of their organization. While we have seen the time allocated to these activities decrease across the board in recent years, they remain a primary focus.
However, increasingly, organizations we speak with consider these tasks only a portion of their job. They choose to focus instead on enabling learning wherever it is occurring. This may include activities such as:
- Identifying how employees are already developing and then enabling whatever technology or content that involves
- Partnering with other human capital functions, as well as line managers, to ensure that experience-type learning is happening
- Ensuring that systems and processes make it easy to find expertise in the organization and don’t hinder communication
Changing business needs and learner wants are stretching L&D organizations thin. Changing focus from creating and delivering content to enabling learning empowers the organization and takes advantages of additional resources.
From Programmatic to Systemic
Thinking about L&D systemically instead of programmatically means taking into account the entire employee experience, not just the experience they have with one course or interaction. For example, ask yourself:
How are employees finding the information they need and how can we make that easier, or integrate it into existing systems and processes?
How are employees sharing information, and how can we make that a better overall process?
How do we identify who has expertise in the organization, and how can we leverage those people to enable learning?
How can we simplify processes and systems so that things don’t need to be learned?
Moving from systemic to programmatic also requires closer collaboration with all areas in the organization that affect employee experience – from front line managers to the IT department.
From Event-based to Infrastructure-based
For years, the building block of learning has been the course. This must change. Invisible L&D organizations take a more holistic and continuous approach to employee development, and in essence, they’re trying to build L&D into the light sockets. Wherever employees go, they will see tools, systems, processes, information, platforms, networks, etc., that are being powered with L&D.
When most of us think of infrastructure, we think about technology – and that definitely plays a part. But infrastructure-based thinking goes beyond just the technology being used. L&D organizations, in cooperation with the organization at large, are building infrastructures to support a learning culture.
In the next few months, you’ll be hearing much more from us on invisible L&D. In the meantime, and to continue to help us shape the idea, we would love to hear from you. What do you think of our hypothesis? What is your organization doing to enable Invisible L&D?
 Invisible L&D, Dani Johnson Bersin by Deloitte IMPACT Conference, 2016.
Originally published on the Learning In the Cloud blog.