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The Challenge of Negative Organisational Perceptions of Training for Capability Building Programs


So, L&D has a perception problem in your organisation. Your last few programs didn’t hit the mark, or talent has been stagnating for a while in the workforce. Where things are inactive, you need to get dynamic.  

The reality today is that many L&D teams are still seen as a cost centre. Pivoting to agile ways of work to give L&D business-aligned KPIs and metrics is the only way to be a true business partner.  

How to overcome negative perceptions for capability-building programs 

Your first steps should be to do some soul-searching within the L&D function itself. Check if L&D’s current performance KPIs and objectives are truly aligned with the business. Consider if your content creators, facilitators and platform support work with KPIs siloed from overall business goals. For example, number of training hours completed by learners does not change the bottom line, nor is it meaningful to more than a couple of L&D roles.  

You’ll also want to rethink or create a long-term strategy. Seems like an oversimplification, right? But strategy is the first place to look if there are simmering tensions surrounding L&D. One tactic is continual environment scanning. Supply, demand and gap analyses should be your first port of call, with a two-way flow of information between HR and L&D to paint a holistic picture of workforce capability health. This enables proper alignment of learning priorities and helps inform a clear mandate for the L&D function.  

Other ways to transform L&D include: 

It also starts with you. If you have a transactional relationship with people leaders, and simply take training orders on request, you’ll never escape being seen as a cost centre. If you know the business strategy, go forth armed with aligned L&D opportunities. When training requests are brought to you directly, dive deep and question if training is the right solution. That will enable you to transition to a trusted business partner.

This is why we pioneered the first performance learning management system (PLMS) here at Acorn. A PLMS is less concerned with having “more” content and more concerned with having more “quality” content. It’s a dynamic, AI-powered platform that sychronises L&D and performance, allocating tailored learning opportunities to individuals to enable them in mastering the role-specific capabilities they need to perform their roles.

Why do organisations find this such a big challenge and how do you overcome it? 

The first hurdle is generally that a legacy of failed projects has not been remedied. That may be because L&D staff are reluctant to change roles or processes that have worked in the past.  

Combating resistance to change within the L&D team means showing the team a better way forward. This is intertwined with another hurdle when changing perceptions: Not estimating when L&D’s capabilities need improving, both in the present and future. The function’s capability underpins its ability to achieve business outcomes. Supporting an agile business means remaining agile as a business function through continuous development.  

On the other hand, trying to do too much at once when implementing long-term change for the function can overwhelm stakeholders. While you want to be ambitious, long-term still means long-term.

For example, adopting new eLearning technologies will take time to research, vet and institutionalise. Look 12 to 24 months in advance when planning changes and plot out milestones along the way to win. Those milestones should be informed by business leaders, so that they can expect realistic timeframes from L&D. 

What is the impact of letting poor perceptions of L&D fester when building organisational capability? 

L&D today should be about driving successful business performance. A function that is viewed negatively or not trusted by key stakeholders in the capability development process will only work with a productivity lag as they fight for buy-in, leading to deficits in L&D’s output and KPIs. 

There’ll be no guarantee of continuous skill improvement, let alone sustainment of skills or capabilities. Employees will follow the lead of business unit owners and managers and likely check out of training, making L&D more and more irrelevant to the business. And that only serves to derail business planning and destabilises the workforce day-to-day, let alone in times of crisis.  

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