Here we are going to discuss an analogy about learning and development to illustrate the critical role L&D have in your organisation.

The vehicle for the journey

Just imagine for a moment that you have a rather tired old car. It can get you to the shops and back, and for now, that’s all you need. Then something unexpected happens. As a result, you need to take your old car to a town over 300 miles away. Hmm, that’s a bit further than the supermarket.

Like any sensible person, you take your car for a check to see if it fits the journey. The mechanic has good news and bad news.

The good news: Your tired old car will be able to make the 300-mile journey.

The bad news: It will need a few repairs before attempting the journey.

A question of trust

You trust the mechanic. He knows what he is doing. He gives you a list of what must be fixed. The list shows what it will cost and how long it will take to get the work done.

You sign off on the work and leave him to get on with it while you go and pack your bag. You believe him when he says the chances of you getting to your destination without fixing the problems are slim. At best, without repairs, you would end up on the side of the road wondering when the tow truck would arrive. At worst you will have an accident which would be catastrophic for you and your tired old car.

When the work is done, you collect your car from the workshop and begin your journey. And you have the mechanic on speed dial if your vehicle has any mechanical niggles along the way.


Here is your second story, which is much like the first…

Imagine you are the CEO of a company. It is trading OK, but then you have an unexpected idea, a vision of what could be possible if the company transitioned from what it is now into doing things differently.

It’s a significant transformation, at least as much of a change as travelling to a town over 300 miles away.

Like any sensible CEO, you visit your Learning and Development people to check if the people in your company are ready to undertake such a journey. The Learning and Development people have good news and bad news.

The good news: The people will be able to make the journey to achieve your new vision.

The bad news: They will need to learn a few things and do a few things differently as the company attempts the journey.

You trust your L&D people. They know what they are doing. They give you a list of what must be fixed, what it will cost and how long it will take to get the work done.

Fixing the shortcomings

You believe them when they tell you that the chances of you leaving the company to your vision without fixing the current shortcomings are slim. At best, you would wind up no worse off than you are now without developing your people. At worst, you will put so much stress on the company it will go out of business which would be catastrophic for you and all the employees.

After some initial Learning and Development input, you begin the journey. You have L&D on speed dial to help deal with any behavioural niggles along the way.

As you reflect on those two scenarios, think about how Learning and Development can develop and be worthy of the trust placed on them by the CEO. How does a mechanic create to be worthy of your trust?

A vision of the future

When a company has a vision of the future, which is different to today, the vehicle for the journey to that future is the company itself. One must always ask how fit the company is to make the journey. Some of this fitness may be contextual or financial. Most of it will be the quality of the people in the company. Do they have what it takes to do what needs to be done to accomplish the journey? Will the trip be a success, or will it need a tow truck?

Hopefully, this little story helps you think about how Learning and Development has a critical role in helping people in a company upgrade the way they do things to successfully execute the organisational strategy, thereby achieving the desired vision.

L&D’s role is to help people upgrade their behaviour, so they can collectively fulfil the vision.

Indeed, if you’re not doing that, what value are you adding?

There are, of course, a few prerequisites here. One is a vision that then sets up a gap between where the company is now and where it wants to be. This defines the journey. Another is a strategy on how to tackle that journey. When broken down, this becomes a set of plans that need to be executed. When those plans are broken down further, they become lists of tasks that need to be done by people or teams.

The role of your L&D team

This is where Learning and Development come in. The tasks are the ‘what’, and L&D is concerned with the ‘how’. How do people need to behave to consistently accomplish those tasks on time, on budget and to the desired quality? What is the desired set of behaviours given the list of tasks?

The question for L&D becomes, “How can I embed the desired behaviours in the organisation where they are needed, so the tasks get done successfully, the plans get enacted, the strategy gets executed, and the vision is achieved?”

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Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy and expert in workplace learning, especially informal learning, learning transfer, performance consultancy, and how Learning & Development can help achieve business targets. He is the author of the Learning at Work Trilogy: “Learning Transfer at Work: How to Ensure Training >> Performance”, “Informal Learning at Work: How to Boost Performance in Tough Times” and “Capability at Work: How to Solve the Performance Puzzle”.