L&D Is in the Spotlight, but that Comes with Some Heat

L&D spotlightThe old lament was that Learning & Development (L&D) didn’t get enough respect from leadership. There was never enough support for the learning initiatives you wanted to implement. You didn’t get a say in decisions that would definitely affect your learning strategies. Learning culture buy-in was a struggle. And of course, there was never enough budget.

Well, congratulations, L&D professionals. You now have a seat at the table. LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report shows that learning leaders have become more influential over the past year; 72% of learning professionals agree that L&D has become a more strategic function at their organization and 48% of L&D pros expect to have more budget this year.

That’s encouraging stuff, but it comes with more responsibility; leadership is expecting L&D to help with more initiatives. From leadership training to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs, L&D has been tasked with heading up several projects in 2022.

Be careful what you wish for, right? L&D has a lot more to do now; the trick is how to get all of it done.

How did L&D become the company MVP?

The last two years have been tumultuous for businesses, to say the least. The pandemic in 2020 and the resultant lockdown changed the nature of work. Social unrest the same year emphasized the need for more DEI initiatives. The Great Resignation in 2021 meant positions were suddenly empty, and it was tough to hire enough people to fill them.

Through all of those events, L&D rose to the challenge, introducing remote learning programs when employees were sent home for the pandemic, training workers to come back in new roles, and training existing employees to take on new positions when the Great Reshuffle left companies with open positions.

Last year, 66% of L&D departments were focused on rebuilding and reshaping their organizations, and leadership started taking notice, according to LinkedIn’s 2021 report; more companies started thinking of L&D as a must-have rather than a nice-to-have.

L&D has been rewarded for its achievements with budget, promotions, and new personnel, but also with a longer to-do list. This year, L&D departments were handed a variety of projects to spearhead. LinkedIn’s latest report shows that more L&D are being deployed in every area: 45% of learning professionals are launching DEI programs; 42% are launching leadership programs; 41% are launching retraining programs; and 41% are launching in-person learning initiatives. Other initiatives include digital transformation, creativity programs, virtual lunch and learns, data analytics training, and learning competitions. It’s a lot, but because L&D professionals have stepped up in the past, the C-suite has high expectations.

What can L&D do to be successful?

It’s important that L&D realizes they’re not in this alone. They have the support, respect, and resources of the company behind them, and they also have the ability to work with other departments that can help.

Strategy calls for partnerships with other departments, like HR, analytics, and other players in the C-suite who can work with L&D to select key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure learning, or to develop training and hiring initiatives to fill skill gaps.

L&D also needs to be listening to its primary audience: the learners. Understand what they want to learn and why. By knowing what they want and tying that training to business objectives, L&D can marry strategy to day-to-day training initiatives.

Spotlight (& a Little Heat) on L&D

“The responsibility of learning has always been to help organizations navigate uncertainty and chaos in the world,” said Linda Cai, vice president of talent development for LinkedIn, who was quoted in the report.

While it’s nice to be thought of as a light in the darkness, that also means that L&D is being tasked with more than just compliance training and skill updates. They’re being called upon to fix major problems, like the skills gap, or making their organization more adaptable to big changes, like the pandemic. L&D is now handling strategy; LinkedIn found that 62% of learning pros feel they’re helping to shape their organization this year.

It’s great to be in the spotlight, but it can also be intimidating when all eyes are on you. RedThread Research analyst Dani Johnson, quoted by LinkedIn, called it L&D’s “oh @#&% moment.” Learning pros are feeling underprepared for some of the initiatives they’re being asked to lead, but the fact of the matter is that they’ve already led their organizations through some of the trickiest times in living memory. And just as they’ve proven in the past couple of years, rest assured, L&D has got this.