Aligning L&D to the Broader Organization






Over the past few months, I’ve spent significant time thinking about L&D and its relationship to the rest of the organization. I’ve been hearing more and more about how L&D is not keeping up with the needs of the business, how employees are turning to outside sources to spend their developmental hours, and how business leadership has completely lost confidence in L&D.

There are examples of organizations doing L&D well, and we hunt them out and highlight them, but I don’t think anyone is going to argue with me that L&D, as a function, is in crisis mode. As I speak with these more mature organizations, common threads begin to emerge. These organizations exist to drive business value, versus existing to provide training. The common theme is how L&D aligns (or doesn’t) with the rest of the organization. Here are my three most prominent observations.

1.       L&D is more aligned when it speaks the same language as the business. While the rest of the business tends to focus on terms and KPIs like customer engagement, conversion rates, and time to market, L&D often tosses terms like learning objectives, instructional modalities, and course completions. L&D may very well be utilizing its expertise to provide knowledge and skills to drive the business. But sometimes the vocabulary gets in the way. I recently spoke to a director of L&D who told her team, “Go ahead and geek out with the learning stuff when you’re talking to us, but when you face the business, make sure you’re speaking their language.” Sage advice.

2.       L&D is more aligned when it understands and communicates with all of their stakeholders. L&D typically has three major stakeholder groups, and it should communicate and build relationships with each:

·         Business Leaders. Business or executive leaders can be compared to buyers. They set priorities and provide funding; they understand the strategy and shift it when necessary; they play a large part in shaping the culture; and their support of learning and development initiatives may be the difference between success and failure. When L&D understands and aligns with business leaders, they tend to focus their efforts and resources in the right way, and are better able to make the case for additional resources when necessary.

·         Line Managers. Line managers can be compared to influencers. They influence employee priorities; they are responsible for executing business strategies; they own the learning culture; and they frequently own some sort of budget. When L&D understands the pain points of line managers, it is able to efficiently address them in the solutions that are provided. When this happens, they likely gain the respect and confidence of line managers, which can help confirm that the right developmental activities are taking place.

·         Employees. Employees are the consumer of learning products provided by L&D. They give up their time and attention to learn. Employees are interested in doing their jobs better and more efficiently; in avoiding being overwhelmed and overworked; and in developing their own careers. When L&D understands these motivations, they can design initiatives that better fit into the work, increasing the probability that learning is happening continuously.

3.       L&D is more aligned when it focuses. Because business moves so rapidly and strategies pivot regularly, L&D should provide the organization with knowledge and skills for any new direction. It isn’t an easy job. But, it’s an important one. An L&D department should put as much thought into what they aren’t going to do as they do into what they are going to do. When L&D is able to draw a clear distinction between the things that they and the business would like to do, versus the things that will likely actually move the business forward, they are often better able to allocate their resources to provide what the business needs. It’s better to do less and do it really well, versus doing too much and failing.

And that’s it. My top three for alignment. If you’d like more info on any of these three topics, you’re in luck. There happens to be a webinar on this topic on December 10 at 1:30 EST.  You can register here. We also just completed a series of articles, performance support tools, and infographics that speak to this subject. Just search for Aligning L&D in the Bersin Library.


Dani Johnson

Vice President, Learning & Career Research Leader, Bersin / Deloitte Consulting LLP

Dani writes about the evolving L&D function for Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP. She focuses specifically on the necessary changes in how L&D approaches its responsibilities and allocates its resources (people, time, and money) to have a lasting effect on both organizations and individuals.

6 thoughts on “Aligning L&D to the Broader Organization

  1. For those who are still in denial that L&D will get a seat on the ‘table’, just a simple and clear reminder of the plain and simple truth… It’s about Finance and Accounting 101.

    L&D is just another line item on the OPERATIONS and ADMIN Expenses on a P&L statement and Accounting principles will tell us that it’s not going to change. Therefore, common sense tells me that the ROI of L&D is already factored in when annual budgets are signed off. The CFO does not really care what business case L&D presents as it does not follow accounting standards.

    For most, L&D is a necessary expense item if only to boost the morale of the participants attending and show the data on some Sustainability reports.

  2. I agree with Mike Gambale’s point. A branding theme centered on performance will set the tone for WHY we do learning & development. So instead of presenting ourselves as learning professionals, we act as "performance consultants", ready to analyze, diagnose, recommend, and implement solutions in partnership with business leaders to achieve business results. It may seem like just semantics, but in my experience the more we reinforce desired behaviors with more accurate labels/brand we put on them, the better chance we have for a successful outcome.

  3. Hi Dani, I agree with point #1 because I think it will help over time what Glenn has pointed out. These are some great points for any learning and development leader.

    I would add that in my experience there is a consensus that training or learning is easy. From the business point of view, why do I need to involve training early if learning is well learning. Of course I don’t agree with this because it goes beyond learning. But it doesn’t help that we keep branding ourselves as learning and development. The conversations need to start with meeting business performance goals and the required behavior that has to change to meet that goal. I think this goes to your 2nd point because you need to meet with all stakeholders to understand what behavior needs to change.

    It is much easier to show why behavior change is not easy. Fortunately there have been popular books like Think Fast Think Slow by Daniel Kahnmen and Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. It is important to illustrate that how difficult behavior change can be and as you described in point #3 what is the reality concerning a initiative.

    Another book I would recommend is How We Learn by Benedict Carey. Carey shows some surprising ways we learn and reinforces the value of recent products like Q-Stream and Axonify through documented cases.



  4. Well…I will add a perspective here. L&D professionals have been trained in these perspectives and tools for a long time, now. When senior leadership does not give L & D a seat at the table and treats L&D as mere order takers and not as consultants that can truly make a difference in the organization, and then blames L&D for not making a larger contribution, where is the fault, really?

    Our training, for most L&D professionals, is solid. Yet often, we have few opportunities to provide the value to the organization that is needed.

    Frankly, the problem is more systemic, and more often than not, senior leadership gets exactly the level of expertise from L&D that it allows to happen.

    Most of us stand ready to provide more value…if and when the opportunity arises. What we need is some advocacy for systemic change.

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