ATD Blog

Three in Four L&D Staff Are Invisible

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

According to CEB research, nearly nine in 10 employees “like” their company’s learning and development (L&D) programs. 

But what does that mean? Learner satisfaction does not equate to learning value. In fact, fewer than one in four line leaders believe their L&D function impacts bottom-line results. Put a different—and decidedly more frightening—way: If the L&D function were gone tomorrow, most line leaders think it wouldn’t affect their ability to achieve business outcomes. 

As L&D professionals, we know how critical learning is to driving breakthrough employee performance. Ultimately, line leaders know this, too. The vast majority (86 percent) identifies employee development as critical to achieving business outcomes. However, traditional learning solutions won’t deliver the results businesses need to compete in today’s increasingly complex, collaborative and dynamic work environment.

The highest performing L&D teams—those with the greatest business impact—do not necessarily have bigger budgets, a different structure or access to special technology. Rather, they differentiate themselves through the skills and capabilities of their L&D staff. The most effective L&D staff are what CEB calls “Learning Advisors,” those who impact business outcomes by effectively combining their L&D expertise with a deep understanding of organizational talent strategy and strong business acumen.


Learning Advisors aren’t “order takers.” Instead, they are willing and able to influence and challenge line leaders’ understanding of their talent needs and business decisions. But don’t assume this means that line leaders lose in the relationship; L&D functions with effective Learning Advisors experience a 22 percent increase in the number of line leaders who achieve their business goals. So it’s little surprise that more than 60 percent of heads of L&D are prioritizing L&D staff development to drive business impact.


To ensure a high return on L&D staff development, CEB recommends focusing on three distinct opportunities:  

  1. Focus L&D staff on the behaviors and activities that matter most – Instead of focusing on executing processes effectively, L&D staff must concentrate on excelling at the activities that drive the highest business impact.
  2. Enable L&D staff to effectively apply those behaviors and execute key activities – L&D staff need to go beyond informing decision making to challenging decision making.
  3. Utilize day-to-day work to develop critical capabilities – The best companies provide L&D staff with on-the-job development activities tailored to their individuals needs.  

L&D must reposition itself to challenge and shape the line’s understanding of skill and learning issues and extend its influence beyond traditional L&D activities to impacting the business. 
Read more of CEB’s research findings on Learning Advisors, including six key action steps for increasing L&D’s business impact. 

About the Author

Thomas Handcock, is senior director at CEB. A researcher at heart, and passionate about learning, Handcock is focused on working with CEB’s global network of clients to unlock the potential of their employees and leaders. His research on areas like on-the-job learning, coaching, training design, L&D strategy, and staff capability, and the hundreds of discussions he has each year with L&D executives and their teams, have only served to reinforce his belief that human capital development is one of the most powerful levers the modern enterprise has at its disposal.

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