Learning and Development: The Ultimate Guide

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Any company that wants to survive understands that learning and development (L&D) isn’t an option anymore. Effective L&D is key for empowering (and keeping) employees, futureproofing your company, and boosting business performance, to name just a few reasons. But to do L&D well, it’s critical to choose the specific program, expert, length, and locale that’s right for your people and their needs. With all the new solutions and technologies out there, it’s finally possible to close all of those terrifying skill gaps – but only if you’re on top of the latest L&D concepts. 

What Is Learning and Development (L&D)?

Learning and development is the process by which an organization ensures that employees at all levels have the optimal skills and attitudes required for productivity and profitability. Let’s break that down a bit. 

A company might sponsor L&D, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the service is delivered at the workplace. Some L&D programs occur at universities and colleges, at retreats and workshops, and, of course, online during WFH. 

“Employees at all levels” means that there is never an employee who has learned too much. New hires require onboarding, while many recently-promoted managers have no management training and must take a crash course. Even seasoned executives might need guidance through an IPO or for a soft skill (a.k.a “executive coaching”). Employees should never stop learning – that’s why a continuous learning and development strategy can work wonders.  

“Optimal skills and attitudes” is all about the concept that succeeding in the workplace demands more than skills. We are all, in a way, people managers. Cooperation and communication is often a matter of a positive attitude. 

“Productivity and profitability” signifies that corporate learning and development need to use a sane approach. The cost-effectiveness of any program should be considered when evaluating your next L&D initiative.  

L&D Benefits

Look at employee learning and development this way – if you don’t do it properly, then your organization is running some serious risks. A lack of learning and development programs is basically the number one reason for people to quit a job, often so that they can work for a company that actually does provide development opportunities. 

On the other hand, if you take a proactive approach, then learning and development skills enhancement really pays dividends, such as:

Financial savings

All of us HR folks know the high cost of replacing employees, which ballparks to around 1.5 times the yearly salary of the person being replaced. And that’s just the direct expense. It’s also revealing to think about the disruption that sudden turnover causes, such as overtime payments for those who fill in. Plus, there’s the stress on the whole team resulting from employees needing to scramble to cover for lost productivity.   

Better employee engagement

The close relative of an employee who stays at their job due to L&D is the one who becomes more engaged as their skill level goes up. Employee engagement has never been a hotter topic as the stories of quiet quitting make their rounds. If you want to avoid the drain on resources, morale, and productivity caused by disengaged employees, L&D is probably your ticket.    

Improved competitiveness

If you’ve just completed a skills gap analysis, you could be shocked by estimates of skill shelf life. It means that, to keep up with competitors, you might need continuous development efforts. But don’t forget the increasing relevance of soft skills. In a labor marketplace that demands great interpersonal communications and self-management, training for soft skills is (at least) right up there with the latest technology management.  

The advantages of a learning and development plan are not theoretical. Take, for example, the case of Fyber, which creates monetization technologies. Already considered an amazing place to work, Fyber still wanted to promote internal talent mobility. By initiating a personalized learning and development career path, the company ramped up internal recruitment to 30% of all employees.  

L&D Trends

As companies realize the huge importance of recently-skilled workers, learning and development trends have taken off in many directions. 

  • What’s Being Taught – Skills are changing fast. But how are they changing? It’s truly a dynamic situation and requires HR to stay on top of what their specific workforce needs, and be aware of movements in their industry. For example, here are some of the top soft skills as determined at the end of 2021 – but we’ll need to wait for another survey to check what happened in 2022. 
  • How it’s Being Taught – Covid-19 increased the number of ways that people learn, and improved the methods behind them. This translates to new preferences on the settings that employees want for L&D programs. For example, multi-experience talent development actually relies on an L&D platform to determine the best ways for employees to approach their next upskilling initiative. 
  • Who’s Teaching It – Some L&D programs have totally gone online and mobile, as trends like gamification and microlessons appeal to the growing numbers of younger generations in the workforce. However, “traditional” learning and development specialists are still the main source for instructional expertise.  

L&D Professionals and Mentors

Each type of expert in the value chain of learning programs comes with advantages and disadvantages, while being the best choice for only certain types of instruction.

Different L&D Roles

There are lots of people out there, teaching lots of things, from diversity consultants to the employee sitting next to you who is amazing at Excel. For the sake of simplicity, L&D experts can be divided into three categories:

Trainers are both external contractors and internal specialists who teach a specific subject for a course of limited duration. An example of a trainer would be an instructor for a programming language. Trainers are great when it comes to a precise area of knowledge, but don’t go far beyond that–a fact that makes them less suitable for complex subjects like soft skills.  

Mentors have expertise in a certain field of business and they impart lessons from their experience onto employees who are now “in their shoes.” There are two types of mentors:

  • Internal mentors work with the employee in the same company, so they are not professional instructors. They have the advantage of exact knowledge of the organization, and can be involved with the employee for a long time. 
  • External mentors are hired as part of an engagement. They might not know an employee’s company thoroughly, but have been in very similar situations, and probably have a much stronger teaching background.      

Coaches are all professionals who guide an employee in pursuit of better performance. Coaches are not meant to tell their clients what to do. Instead, they use a neutral mindset to look at the employee’s situation and then rely on a question-answer format to lead the employee towards their own conclusions. When it comes to personalized employee development, there is probably no better option than a coach, who tends to specialize in areas like communication and negotiation. However, in order to approach an engagement without a bias towards how the employee should behave, coaches usually have no work experience in their client’s industry. 

Required Skills and Certifications

Another thing to know about coaches and mentors is that they do not require any learning and development certification. Still, many companies start their search for coaches through the International Coaching Federation. This group requires all of their members to have taken at least a few central coaching courses, so the ICF promises basic certification. Other coaching certification groups of note include the Center for Coaching Certification, the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, and the Co-Active Training Institute. Keep in mind that certification doesn’t equal quality, so finding the best match for a coaching relationship (which tends to be close and a bit personal), demands effective research. 

HR’s Role in L&D

Cooperation between the human resources department and the people at L&D is vital for making the most out of your efforts. There’s a lot riding on the importance of skills related to many HR initiatives, including onboarding, succession planning, and change management. The learning and development manager is the address for making sure that these activities are linked to a training component, which is prepared on time while also being convenient and effective. 

But HR can also go a long way towards promoting and leveraging L&D programs. Because they are in constant contact with employees and managers who need skills, HR staffers are the link, in a way, between suppliers and buyers. For example, HR coordinates between employees and L&D for:

  • Career development
  • Listing skills required for open positions
  • Getting management on board for upskilling programs and internal recruiting
  • Ensuring that employees are aware of talent development opportunities

In the case of organizations that can’t justify an independent L&D department, this support is even more essential. Particularly in a smaller company, where people often “wear many hats,” up-to-date skills are a necessity. In this situation, HR learning and development programs must pay even more attention to effective L&D concepts.   

L&D Strategies and Best Practices

When you think about how many skills are involved in each role, and for each employee in an organization, the task of L&D can be a bit daunting. However, by getting organized and using the right tools, HR/L&D professionals can easily get a handle on the situation. 

L&D Programs and Tools

There are a whole range of frameworks, models, and software that make L&D programs easier to design. As an example, for the crucial task of identifying what skills your people need, there is a skills matrix. In addition, L&D requirement analysis often occurs alongside other projects. It might just be the case that you have already looked at employee capabilities during other HR initiatives such as an end-of-year review. You’ll also find that learning and development metrics are an essential aspect of every L&D program, and for that, you’ll need to set goals using a model like GROW or OSKAR. Finally, in order to manage the entire effort, there are software solutions like a multi-experience talent development platform.     

Types of L&D Programs

L&D programs can be described in a few ways:

  • By skill – the easiest way to classify employee skills is according to two major types – hard skills and soft skills. Typically, it takes longer to learn a soft skill than it does to acquire a hard skill.
  • By expert – as described above, trainers, mentors, and coaches are all part of delivering L&D. As a general rule, trainers cover hard skills while mentors and coaches are more suitable for soft skills. 
  • By setting – over the Internet, through one on one coaching, classrooms, and even mobile phones; these are just some of the options for the setting of L&D programs.  

DEI and DEIB in L&D Programs

One special area of L&D is programs that educate employees about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). To solve issues such as institutional racism and unconscious bias, all employees should undergo this type of training. It is important as younger generations see DEI as an essential aspect of a workplace, while such initiatives also provide business benefits. 

Employee Development vs. Leadership Development

Employee development is a general field that is dedicated to improving the skills of all workers. Within this activity is leadership development, which seeks to build the skills, knowledge, and talents required to lead people. In short, leadership development is a part of employee development. 

L&D Programs vs. Training & Development Programs

Similarly, training and development is a subset of learning and development. Trainers are those who teach specific skills, often during short courses. But the skills they teach are still part of overall L&D programming, which also includes long-term learning objectives.  

How Long Does a L&D Program Last?

The length of an L&D program depends on the type of program and if the program goals have been met. Some programs, like workshops or group sessions, can last a few hours, while other programs, such as GrowthSpace sprints can take anywhere from 4 to 10 weeks, about an hour per session. There are also long-term L&D programs that teach different skills continuously.

The Steps for Creating an Effective L&D Program

Speaking of goal-setting, this is one of the basic steps taken for creating an employee development plan:

  1. Analyze skills. To figure out what kind of skills are present at your company, and to determine what’s missing, map out the capabilities of your employees and then decide what you’ll need in the future by examining strategy and industry trends.
  2. Set goals. Use a goal-setting framework like SMART and a template based on schedule, skill gaps, performance, etc., to arrange your objectives visually.
  3. Find experts. Make sure to source those who specialize in the skills that your workers need; don’t forget to check that they have a great reputation and will fit on a personal level with employees.
  4. Evaluate. Assess the program and the expert at least twice – halfway through the process and after it ends. There are numerous measurement tools that you can use, such as Anderson’s, CIRO, and ROI. 

What Makes a L&D Program Successful?

Successful L&D programs can take many forms, and it really depends on what the goal of the program is. If the goal of a program is to re-engage employees, and you see an uptick in productivity and engagement, your program has been successful. For a one-on-one coaching program, success means the employee has learned to apply the skill to his or her job, and his or her work starts to show the positive results expected.

Rather than focusing on unimportant numbers, such as completion rates, the best way to make an L&D program successful is to set clear goals or KPIs that are directly tied to the business. Weaving business goals into any L&D program is a key success factor.

In addition to employee improvement affecting the bottom line, employee satisfaction and value are two other key success indicators. If employees aren’t finding value, either because they don’t have support from their managers or because the programs themselves aren’t helpful or easily accessible, that’s a major indicator that your L&D program isn’t working properly.

How GrowthSpace Ties Everything Together

GrowthSpace’s Learning and Development Program

GrowthSpace’s talent development platform is based on the belief that growth is modality-agnostic.
First, we look at what challenges need to be addressed. Then we find the best way to solve them. Unlike conventional L&D, we look at each employee’s objectives and then find the best solution for their needs.

This is why when customer employees are onboarded as GrowthSpace participants, we ask them to describe the kind of challenges they’re experiencing in their own words. Just as they would if they were typing into a search engine. Our system then goes one step further and loops managers into the discussion so that employees, and those managing them, can align around employee growth plans. HR professionals gain administrative access in order to orchestrate the entire process. Then we bake in measurements to make sure that growth is really happening where everybody wants it to.

Personalization and Scale

At GrowthSpace, we realize that many HR teams aren’t managing development programs for ten employees –  they need to roll them out for hundreds or thousands! That’s why our platform was designed to work at enterprise levels of scale from Day One. leveraging the power of artificial intelligence with a proprietary AI-backed algorithm in order to make personalized growth at scale possible. It taps into an L&D skills taxonomy developed in-house in consultation with industry experts. And when the two meet in the middle, great matches happen. That’s how we’ve taken personalized L&D and brought it to scale. Our matching technology has been deployed in enterprise-sized install bases.

Supported delivery methods include:

– Mentoring Coaching

– Lectures

– Better L&D

– More Engaged Participants

GrowthSpace has developed an L&D platform that delivers individualized programs on a wide scale. It’s no longer necessary to put workers who want development initiatives into one basket and give them a learning program that does not focus on the needs of each individual. Nor is it required to save the specialized guidance for senior staffers only.

Through proprietary technology, GrowthSpace engages employees on a personal level by matching precise skill needs with top experts in those areas. The world is discovering how GrowthSpace truly delivers on the promise of personalized talent development.