A last blog before my summer holiday and the old chestnut of the performance of learning departments has raised its head once more. ‘The deep, dark secret is that training is regarded by many as second-rate, full of odd people delivering oddball stuff using outdated methods.’ So says Donald Clark in his blog Depressing Survey of L&D. The blog is commenting on the findings of a survey ‘Learning to change‘ which was commissioned by Capita and conducted by Coleman Parkes. The findings of this independent survey of decision makers at 100 of the UKs top 500 companies (by turnover) do make bleak reading for learning professionals:

70% see inadequate staff skills as barrier to growth

40% see current employee skills risk becoming obsolete

55% claim L&D failing to deliver necessary training

46% doubt L&D can deliver

less than 18% agree that L&D aligned with business

This is somewhat at odds with the Learning Trends index we ran recently with learning professionals. The index will be published in August and repeated every six months to track the industry. The headlines in relation to the Capita findings are that 88% of Learning Managers believe that they have the ability to meet the learning needs of their organisation and 56% believe that their impact will increase. This is despite 66% believing that in the next 6 months they will have less resources.

Overall there is a very optimistic outlook from learning managers, but I question how realistic it is and my concern is that learning managers don’t understand how their departments are really perceived more widely or the challenges ahead. Certainly in my conversations with L&D professionals and senior executives I hear both sides of this debate and the perceived realities are strongly held by both.

As I’ve written many time before in this blog, learning needs to be about improving performance in-line with strategic objectives and there two points I’d like to make today.

Firstly if ‘the decision makers’ in organisations don’t think that learning is aligned (I’ve heard this gripe for over 20 plus years) why have we not done something to hold learning accountable before now. It seems to me that blaming everything on learning is not acceptable.

Secondly, I think this is a great opportunity for learning professionals to step up to the plate, help their organisation through a difficult period and change the perception of learning once and for all. As ‘Learning to change‘ says ‘a downturn brings change and transformation and to be successful requires people with the requisite skills, abilities and attitudes’. This can only be achieved with the strong input from learning, but the actual outcomes and accountability lie across the organisation.

We need to stop evaluating learning as a stand alone activity and see it as part of a more sophisticated solution. As such we should measure how well the organisation uses learning to get results. The responsibility for this belongs to the whole organisation. It cannot be delegated to the learning department.

This requires both decision makers and learning professionals to have a different conversation. If I was in a learning role, I know I’d want to start the conversation and show decision makers that I understood the strategic issues, demonstrate that together we can be successful and that learning is a confident and capable partner. Given the views expressed the survey and articulated by Donald (which are widely held) this will require a radical change for some learning professionals, but what is the alternative? The recession will force this change, so much better to make a start now. As an unrelenting optimist I see this as a great opportunity to have those different conversations and transform learning into a performance focused division that is unquestionably strategically aligned. But then again as an optimist I’m also expecting the sun to shine for the next three weeks whilst on holiday in Scotland.