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A brief overview of the role of the learning and development function in an organization and how to set yours up for the most impact.

What is learning and development?

Learning and development (L&D) covers every effort on the part of an organization to help employees gain new skills and knowledge. The purpose is to enable them to contribute to the organization as effectively as possible and progress in their careers. For the organization, the benefit of investing in strategically aligned learning and development initiatives is more productive, innovative, loyal, and engaged employees.

Learning and development is one of HR's key responsibilities covering: training, mentoring, coaching, career mapping, job shadowing, stretch or temporary assignments, knowledge-sharing initiatives, and even just ensuring that feedback is regular and effectively administered.

Getting the most out of your L&D program

Ultimately, the aim of learning and development is to ensure your current workforce has the skills and knowledge required to keep the organization moving forward and hit strategic goals.

An added bonus is that employees will appreciate the investment, be more engaged in their work, and champion you as a great employer. It will also help you create a more efficient and effective onboarding process.

There are a number of ways to approach learning and development, but one thing to bear in mind, and something that we see a lot of learning and development programs fall flat on, is ensuring initiatives have a tangible benefit to the business.

An effective way to combat this perceived lack of efficacy is by aligning the learning and development strategy to your business goals and organizing by business priorities.

Ultimately, this is probably going to boil down to one of three things:

  • More Revenue
  • Less Cost
  • Mitigated Risk.

The business case is always the first step when formulating a learning and development strategy. 

"People will come to you with a kind of conjecture or sentiment or feeling [about what they need from L&D], and it's not to be completely discounted, but the business case always prevails." - Sebastian Tindall

From here, you can start to put together the wider strategy surrounding delivery methods and which metrics to track.

Related resources:

Learning and development as part of your culture

Following the 70-20-10 rule, most learning and development takes place outside of the classroom.

70 20 10 rule infographic

Therefore it pays to ensure that your company culture encourages learning and knowledge-sharing as a regular practice.

Most people think of Google’s famous, and somewhat apocryphal, “20% time”, but it goes deeper than that.

It means making learning and development one of your core values and rewarding folks who uphold that value, for example by taking time out of their day to share knowledge with others and/or update a shared knowledge repository such as the learning management system.

It can also mean helping managers and senior team members to be more effective at administering feedback, as well as engendering an inclusive culture of continuous feedback where everyone feels empowered to share their knowledge and ideas.

Some further resources here:

It’s beyond the scope of any one article to cover every aspect of learning and development as it’s such a vast topic, but hopefully the above has given you a firmer understanding of the function and its value to an organization.

How’s your experience with learning and development been? Leave something in the comments or join the conversation over in the People Managing People Community, a supportive community of HR and business leaders passionate about building organizations of the future.

By Finn Bartram

Finn is an editor at People Managing People. He's passionate about growing organizations where people are empowered to continuously improve and genuinely enjoy coming to work. If not at his desk, you can find him playing sports or enjoying the great outdoors.