Future of learning blog

How to get L&D out of the box marked ‘cost centre’

Laura Overton has had a change of heart. After 15 years as CEO of Towards Maturity, the benchmark research company, she’s joined forces with Jos Arrets, Vivian Heijnen and Charles Jennings ( co founders of the 70:20:10 institute) to form a new organisation Tulser that focusses on their shared passion.

“I love the research we did at TM. But I’ve realised that now, actually, my passion is about changing the industry.

“Although we love to talk about new things, we like to do familiar things – or at least try to squeeze familiar things into new packages. Now is the time to break through; to harness the experience and evidence we’ve built and to say, OK, there is a fresh way of thinking.”

Goodbye cost centre. Hello value centre

And key to that thinking, she says, is getting L&D out of the box marked ‘cost centre’. L&D departments fight a constant battle to demonstrate their value and are often first to be cut when a business faces a financial crisis. In those situations the same cry goes up: how do we deliver more for less?

“I have learnt to hate the phrase ‘more for less’ because it just means, how do we put more people through more content for less money?” says Laura.

So in the same way that IT departments have evolved from being seen as a drag on resources to becoming a fundamental part of the business, L&D must make the shift from cost centre to value centre.

“We need the courage to say, ‘You’re telling me you want that, but I believe you need this’”

“The potential for L&D to contribute business value, rather than just take away business cost, is phenomenal but very few of us actually achieve that. Now is the time to step up,” says Laura.

“Our first task is to shake off L&D’s image as order taker within the organisation. That’s a very dangerous label in these turbulent times. We need the courage to say, ‘You’re telling me you want that, but I believe you need this.’”

It’s a challenge we have recently accepted at Stellar Labs. When a new client asked, ‘Can you do X for us?’ Our reply was, ‘You’ve had X in the past and it didn’t work. We’re going to give you Y and Z, and maybe even A, B and C as well. We’re giving you something you haven’t asked for, but we’re giving you what we think you really need.’

“That takes confidence,” says Laura. “But it’s a smarter way of working. If the evidence shows a particular course of action has the potential to lead to better results, it is worth taking a risk.”

Learning is improving agility, innovation and skill

Laura continues: “If we open our minds and try new things, the future of L&D is very strong. CEOs recognise their organisations need new skills. It’s up to us to respond.”

Can Laura suggest a good starting point? “When your workforce needs to upskill, don’t just take the order for more curricular,” she says. “Instead, help your people build skill and competence in their particular role. Help them apply their knowledge in new situations.”

Learning is improving agility, innovation and skill – everything CEOs are asking for at the moment. If we shift our focus to become learning enablers, L&D will play a greater role within the business.

“That learning, that change, has to be facilitated in partnership with leaders,” says Laura. Helping the C-suite understand their role in creating an environment that allows learning to flourish is key. And Laura is keen for the L&D community to come together to do that.

“It’s going to be our collective wisdom that drives us into the future”

“If learning practitioners, suppliers and consultants share that vision, we can amplify that voice and find pathways through to the future together. It won’t be one organisation or one product that does it. It’s going to be our collective wisdom that drives us into the future.”

We’re in – how about you?



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