Sell your crunch, not your apples

Where does the L & D function fit within your organisation? The importance of this cultural fit cannot be underestimated when leading a L & D function. In my experience, too many L & D functions have existed to deliver training – that is what they have been seen to do, and that is what they have done – and this approach gives them little credence with operational managers.

I once had concerns about the impressions that my unit was giving to the remainder of the business. At a managers’ meeting I took the opportunity to ask a few (what I thought to be) fundamental questions to see whether they were espousing my stated aims for the unit. They all managed trainers, so firstly I asked what they saw to be the overall role of the trainer. The first answer was, “To deliver training”. This was closely followed by answers indicating that they needed to be able to write lesson plans and that they should be able to explain points clearly to delegates. Two more responses followed in a similar vein. The sixth response was, “They need to get the delegates to be more effective”. That’s what I was looking for – a link to improving performance.

After a few other responses, I then asked, “What are trainer shoes for?” The first response was, “to help people run faster”. Other verbal offerings built on this performance related theme.

I then asked what they thought was the overall role of a horse trainer. The first respondent indicated that her view was that they were there to enable horses to win races. A second added that perhaps it was to enable both horse and rider to win races.

“So”, I asked, in a John Humphreys sort of way, “Why is it that you view trainer shoes and horse trainers as being there to improve performance, yet you see that the primary purpose of our trainers is to deliver training?”. This was followed by a silence.

This short exchange had confirmed my concerns and highlighted a fundamental issue in leading a successful Learning and Development Unit. If its own staff see the focus as being delivering training, this will be apparent to others in everything they do – most of all to the already potentially sceptical operational managers.

I personally would consider changing the job title of “Trainer” to “Performance Improver”, however, – at least initially – I think this would cause problems for others to understand what the role is about. It is fundamental, however, that the trainer views their role in this way. They should not see themselves as people with training skills who use these skills to improve performance; they need to see themselves as performance improvers who achieve this by using sound training skills. This may appear to be a play on words, but I don’t believe this to be the case – it is a way of the person constantly being reminded of the primary purpose of their role.

When I used to train trainers, we engaged in some lengthy discussions which felt very important and fundamental to the role – in retrospect, I am now disappointed to admit that they were akin to navel gazing – they were all about the minutiae of training delivery which, on reflection, had little impact on delivering greater operational performance.

It is only be demonstrating this focus on improving performance that you will earn a credible and respect place around the table when the all important annual budget is being allocated – and then the more improvements you can show to have been involved in, the better your chance will be of improving your share of the budget.

All this can be achieved by a number of key activities. These include:

  • Engaging your internal customers in deciding learning priorities
  • Explicitly linking all learning to business objectives
  • Explicitly linking all learning to improving performance
  • Measuring your team’s performance in terms of operational performance improvements rather than / in addition to the quality of the training delivered
  • Clearly communicating your successes to the business
  • Where appropriate, measuring your impact by undertaking Return on Investment (ROI) evaluation activity to demonstrate the financial return for the business’s investment.

The overall culture of a unit is probably the most difficult aspect to change – but ultimately the most fundamental and rewarding. By implementing these processes, we can start to change the mindset of our team. We find out who wants to make the journey with us, and who perhaps does not.


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