Transforming L&D







On the heels of my last blog where I told you all how optimistic I was, I bring you all back down to earth. The truth is, lots of L&D functions are in crisis mode. They find themselves in the unenviable position of either transforming or accepting extinction. Both options may seem equally scary, but really, only one is fatal. Transformation can be terrifying, difficult, and lengthy, but big dividends are often available for those who are brave enough to do it.

In the past six months, we have talked to thought leaders, our Deloitte counterparts, and to many, many learning leaders about the future of L&D and where we go from here. As a result of all of these discussions, we have come up with a high-level process for transformation. (The working title for the report is “How to Transform L&D in 9 Easy Steps.” We’ll see if that makes it past the publication team). 

The typical transformation process falls within three main phases: rationalize, restructure, and reinvent. I’ve summarized them below.


For the purposes of this discussion, we use the term “rationalize” to mean streamline, downsize, and simplify what the L&D department does. This is both a necessary and unsettling first step. It is necessary because until L&D has a complete picture of what is going on in the organization, it is very difficult to change anything in a logical way. It is unsettling because it involves L&D taking a cold, hard, look at its purpose and how well it is aligning its resources to that purpose.

Simply, this phase is when L&D objectively considers all aspects of their organization (assets, processes, technology, methods – all of it) and determines those that are no longer serving the business. Rationalizing enables L&D departments to free up wasted time, effort, and mindshare and to identify resources that can be allocated in other, more effective ways.


Weeding out the unnecessary, the waste, and the noise can go a long way to making a learning function more efficient, but it is not enough. Usually, a restructure is also necessary. L&D departments that don’t, can find themselves in one of two situations. They may find themselves right back where they started because the space created by the “rationalize” phase has again filled in with minutiae. Or they find themselves to be incredibly efficient with fewer resources (because they have proven to those making budget decisions that they don’t need them).

The goal of transformation should not be to significantly add or detract resources from the department. It’s actually to think differently about how resources are used. The restructuring phase helps to maintain the space and efficiency created during the rationalize phase by reordering and reapplying freed-up resources in ways that better benefit the larger organization.


And now, what I consider to be the fun part. The previous phases in the transformation process focus mainly on getting things in order: scrutinizing budgets, content, skills, realigning processes, people, and technology. Doing these things helps L&D become more efficient, effective, and aligned with the larger organization.

Reinventing L&D means going beyond having solid systems and processes, understanding the learning architecture, and focusing on continuous learning. It demands L&D to step out of its comfort zone and experiment and innovate. Experimentation and innovation should become second nature to L&D professionals. They should be built into both mindset and development processes, and should also be considered in making resource allocation decisions.

So there you have it: a very high level overview of the three phases of a typical L&D transformation process. Want to know more? You’re in luck! On February 11 we’re walking through these three phases and their accompanying steps in a Bersin by Deloitte webinar. You can register here.


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.

9 thoughts on “Transforming L&D

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  2. I agree 100% with Dani. There is a tsunami of change coming to L&D departments, akin to the change that hit IT departments with BYOD. If you don’t see it, you will be in a world of hurt.

    L&D departments are often either ignored, accidentally or willfully, in the same way that IT departments are. Everyone assumes they are a learning expert, and with the rapid proliferation of cloud-based tools and SME-generated-and-published "training" it is becoming easier every day to believe L&D as a function is no longer needed.

    L&D leaders and their teams need to take a long, hard look at what they do, recognize that ‘BYOL’ is real, and reinvent themselves as agile business enablers, facilitators and curators.

  3. Just keeping it real from my perspective. L&D is ghosting within may corporations. It’s a necessary evil with the standard "check the block."

    L&D is largely a minor concern for key leaders in most companies. The absolute opposite in booming organizations with eyes on "people management."

    So simpler is the solution and easterly fixed. Fuse the L&D into your talent management profile. Each position requires a new L&D approach.

    Unfortunately, 78% of companies fail their talent by thrusting them into greater, or lateral, positions with a mind set of "just go for it."

    Change with purpose, not for promotion!

    Greg Melcher

  4. Dani’s perspective seems to suggest organizational understanding, readiness, and leadership support for the acceptance of change in the L&D function. This approach seems to be based on classic change model theories from Kotter (8-step change management model) and Lewin’s (unfreeze-change-freeze) or as she puts it rationalize, restructure, reinvent. These models certainly have value and have supported many change efforts in the past. They work best when there is "top/down" leadership sponsorship for change. Laboring under these theories, many L&D organizations have continued to do what they do until they are told, or get permission from the top, to change.

    The problem is in these rapidly changing times, there is not enough TIME for L&D to continue in an "as is" state or, to WAIT for permission from the top. Work efforts are spanning multiple functions and no longer contained solely in the traditional ORG CHART boxes–changes in ORG Structure. Increasingly, leaders find they no longer [manage] interact with people who are solely within their span of control–changes in the roles of leadership. Digitization of work; multi-generational workforces; virtual work arrangements all describe changes in how work is achieved. The new ways of work limit the efficacy of the traditional models of change in which it appears Dani bases her perspectives.

    L&D organizations need to take an assertive LEADERSHIP ROLE in changing their L&D function. After all, isn’t that what Leadership Development in organizations is all about? As Howard said L&D needs to "evaluate their strategic relevance to the business and to ensure that business wants to buy what the learning function designs and develops and delivers because the learning function is a valued and respected partner." I agree, but this “measured” approach is one in which the tail is wagging the dog.

    Yet L&D change efforts can’t be the same old/ same old. The new form of transformational change should be assertive and far more organic. It should take advantage of social technologies to leverage large-scale collaboration. The effort to change L&D should be collaborative and focus inclusively on stakeholders and all operational aspects of the organization to secure its relevance.

    For me, it is less about changing the features of the L & D functions but rather about the L&D function taking this as an opportunity to: (1) [STRATEGIC] become more aligned and relevant to the goals of the organization AND needs of its client base; and (2) [INNOVATIVE] to "model" a CHANGE PROCESS that can be evangelized in other parts of the organization. This involves including all in determining the most appropriate design /features/ products/services to meet their needs. L&D will then be able to fulfill their organizational obligations with renewed credibility. They can emerge as the organization’s internal leaders of change. They will be known for having arrived at strategically aligned, innovative ways to serve the organization. More importantly they, as an organization in transformation, will have modeled VISION /STRATEGY /COURAGE /INNOVATION /ACTION. After all….

    I suggest L&D organizations take the initiative independently by assertively assuming a LEADERSHIP role to effect significant organizational change…a meta-change effort. I suggest they do so by encouraging organization-wide collaborative discussions to get to the root causes of the discreet barriers to their effectiveness. Rather than seek a singular formulaic approach or model, they could collect varieties of suggested solutions from the diverse client base they serve. And THEN experiment cross-organizationally with a cross-section of workers. This type of experimentation allows the opportunity to consider approaches before prematurely "Freeze /Reinvent." Rather, L&D will continuously "Slush /Invent" until the L&D function can arrive at a COMFORTABLE approach that suits their specific organizational needs. Again, after all is that not a part of L&D’s organizational charter?

    It is my hope that rather than simply defending and describing the three phases of research as the tease for joining her Feb 11 webinar, Dani will encourage a discussion of a more relevant and sustainable model for organizational change that is less formulaic and more consistent with the digitization of work and workers in this new workforce.

    Thank you…got to get back to consulting!
    Tenny Mickey, PhD

  5. I also agree with Howard. One other aspect of L&D that will yield benefits for both the business and for L&D (after strategy and business alignment) is to focus on how the business benefits from the work that L&D does. This should not be "self-serving to the L&D organization, but should be an honest identification of how improvements in the knowledge, skills, and self-awareness of current and future leaders improves the effectiveness of the enterprise. These measures are both hard and soft. They are critical to keeping L&D aligned to the future of the business and to trends in leadership.

  6. Howard and John seem to shoot the messenger. Dani characterized her blog as a summary of research among SMEs, not her own bloviation. If you don’t like what she says, your argument is probably with the experts who spoke to her.

    I liked the blog, though Dani’s recommendations verge on the ridiculous. Business is broken, and the idea of aligning learning with business strategy to make it better; well, that’s likely to do little more than increase revenues for Deloitte and others who re-engineer broken companies. Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn went over some of this ground in Desk Set (1957).

    However the need for improvement is real. I would suggest defining problems and identifying solutions in the realm of educational technology. A lot of wonderful innovation happens on the edges and bridges of our profession (corporate and academic learning); not so much in entrenched and protected silos.

  7. I agree with Howard’s assessment. Your article is long on the "what" but rather short on the "why." Howard’s picture of a learning strategy seems much more realistic.

    John Swinney, CPT

  8. Dear Dani,
    With respect, your transformation agenda starts with the decimation of the learning function and then goes downhill from there. Words like downsize, weeding out, extinction, fatal, terrifying, are emotive and unnecessary and do nothing to promote fact based debate.
    No doubt we all aspire to work in high performing 21st century learning functions and that means that as learning professionals we all need to re-invent ourselves on an ongoing basis. Most of us do exactly that through reading and research and formal study.
    Your transformation process appears to be predicated on a belief that learning functions are so badly out of step with business that the only solution is deep surgery. That is a very broad generalisation and no facts are offered to substantiate that point of view.
    Surely a more measured approach is to suggest that every year learning functions need to evaluate their strategic relevance to the business and to ensure that business wants to buy what the learning function designs and develops and delivers because the learning function is a valued and respected partner.
    A learning strategy should include a variety of focus areas including but not limited to:
    • Business Alignment
    • Governance
    • Measurement
    • Content
    • Technology
    • Delivery
    • Behaviour and Culture
    • Curriculum Management
    • Operations
    • People
    An honest assessment of capacity and capability against each of these areas will yield a set of actions that the learning function needs to undertake to enhance its relevance and vitality.
    Therefore my polite suggestion is to start with strategy and let strategy drive the transformation agenda. Starting with rationalisation and restructuring is putting the cart before the horse.
    Howard Stafford

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