In a nutshell

Learning and development (L&D) forms a key part of developing your staff and carrying out performance management within your business. It refers to how your organisation develops your employees’ capabilities, skills and competencies to support your core business, achieve strategic objectives and enhance individual and overall performance.

Current L&D trends reveal an increase in self-directed practices, where organisations create a supportive and positive framework to empower employees to pursue their own learning and development. This is carried out by using a wide variety of different technological, social and experiential learning platforms embedded within your organisational context.

Why this matters

People are the greatest asset within your business. The development and growth of your employees as an essential resource translates directly back to your core business from a performance and productivity perspective.

There is also a demand on business owners from employees to invest in their learning and development. This is demonstrated by the results from a recent survey carried out by Gallup where '87% of millennials rate "professional or career growth and development opportunities" as important to them in a job' (Gallup, 2016)

Key steps to manage this issue

1. Define learning and development

The overarching aim is to create a learning and development action plan that offers staff training and development that supports your core business and complements performance management practices (you can refer to the section on performance management for more on this). The initial step is to identify the value of learning and development alongside your wider core business and development plan. This can be through a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) alongside a financial investment assessment set against the benefits and projected growth (you can refer to the CIPD factsheet on SWOT analysis for more on this).

Working through this process enables you to create a tangible framework that highlights the wider benefits of L&D for your business. It’s always worth involving your employees in this process as they will inevitably add a different perspective to complement your own thoughts. Think beyond the time frame of one year; looking further ahead to a minimum of three to five years.

It’s also possible to research L&D ideas from external and internal sources; for example, research good practice from other businesses within a similar industry or engage with stakeholders within your business (see the further information links below).

During the following steps refer back to the underpinning concept that L&D complements and promotes success of your business objectives; at organisation, team and individual level.

2. Engage your workforce

Learning and development is a two-way process and to be successful necessitates buy-in from your employees. At the beginning set the parameters for open and honest conversations where it’s possible to capture suggestions that support their development and future aspirations alongside the core business. This can be kick started through a variety of different ways; pulse surveys, in depth questionnaires, one-to-one conversations, collective team meetings, anonymous “suggestion box” or individual L&D wish-list.

Once ideas have been formulated gauge feedback, address any constraints and be willing to make changes. Once the L&D process has been finalised it must be accessible, easy to understand and adopt within daily working practices by everyone.

3. Create learning and development opportunities

Draw from a range of different types of learning and development to offer choice and blended learning solutions to your employees. For example, think about these L&D methods that were the top five most used in a survey from 1,993 individuals carried out by YouGov in March 2015 (as quoted in the Learning and Development Annual Survey Report by CIPD, 2015):

  • on-the-job training (selected by 50%)
  • online learning including e-learning courses, MOOCs, webinars, virtual classrooms (29%)
  • in-house development programmes (25%)
  • learning from peers (through face-to-face interactions or online networks) (25%)
  • external conferences, workshops and events (15%).

Other L&D ideas include:

  • Coaching (peer, line manager, external).

  • Bite size learning.

  • Communities of Practice (COP) otherwise known as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” as described by Etienne Wenger, an educational theorist. It’s believed the collaborative of “thinking together” brings COPs to life and support learning. You can look to engage with a specific COP that links to your wider business profession through LinkedIn eg The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

  • Watching TED Talks.

  • Blended learning solutions that involve a mix of delivery methodologies to support a variety of learning styles and promote engagement. It can involve a mix of digital or classroom based delivery methods based on different visual, auditory, kinaesthetic (movement) and technology.

  • Formal academic qualifications.

  • Action learning sets are a form of experiential learning where meaning is drawn from direct “real-life” experiences at work. The learning process involves small groups (six to eight people) who meet regularly to collectively focus on genuine challenges, take action and learn as individuals, a team and organisation.

  • Signing up for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as FutureLearn or Coursera where thousands of different courses (many of which are free) have been designed in association with academic and business organisations to develop knowledge and skills.

  • Collaborative and social learning involves groups of employees working together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create a product. It is worth considering looking beyond your business to invite other people from different sectors or businesses to encourage innovation, expand your networking reach and share ideas. You could also create a dedicated internal company Slack channel or WhatsApp group created to share ideas around learning.

  • Gamification is the application of traditional “game playing” design thinking and mechanics to non-game arenas; for example, linking competition or point-scoring to the learning environment to engage and motivate people to achieve their goals. The use of technological eLearning environment as a training tool can more “fun”, provide instant feedback and encourage high levels of engagement to support recall and retention.

4. Remain flexible and agile

The impact of learning and development within your business should be revisited every year or alongside any major business developments as the needs of your employees and business will constantly evolve. Learning and development practices are not set in stone and need to respond to the market place, current business climate and serve your employee needs.

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