January 22, 2016

The 15 skills every L&D team needs

It almost goes without saying that L&D professionals need to be thinking about what skills they possess now and what skills they need in the future. Do you have the skills that organisations need? How can they be developed? Are there any gaps in your skills base that could and should be filled?

These are just a few of the many questions that L&D professionals should be regularly asking themselves. And what better time than now when the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that there is strong jobs growth in the UK. According to the ONS Labour Market Statistics, the employment rate is at its highest level since at least 1971.

However, there is lots of research that says that L&D teams are lacking core skills and that there is a growing skills crisis.

The CIPD’s 2015 HR Outlook Survey found that there is a dearth of business savvy, commercially astute L&D professionals. Of the 630 HR professionals polled, only 27% of senior professionals thought they needed to combine commercial and HR expertise in order to bring value to the organisation. That figure dropped to 16% with junior professionals.

This is despite the well documented and much talked about need for L&D to be strategic business partners.

Interestingly, many L&D leaders are acutely aware of these and other skills gaps but are not necessarily taking any action. Three in five L&D leaders involved in the 2015 Towards Maturity Benchmark Study admitted that they were failing to achieve their aspirations because of insufficient skills in the L&D team. Yet, only half are investing in continuing professional development for team members.

In fact, Towards Maturity says that a lack of the right skills is the biggest barrier to change in L&D departments at a time when so much change is required.

With this in mind, what are the key skills required in 2016 and beyond? According to Towards Maturity, L&D needs to improve skills in several key areas:

1. Social and collaborative learning. Look at how colleagues learn on the job. It is likely to be through social experiences – asking others for help, for example. Social media technologies enable that to happen at scale so L&D has to grasp this opportunity. Help employees to share and support each other. Expertise usually resides within the business somewhere.
2. Online training and delivery. Cost, geography and technology are no longer barriers to delivering online training. From webinars to virtual classrooms to Twitter chats, there are so many great, low cost learning experiences available and they can easily and cheaply be scaled out.
3. Coaching and mentoring. Supporting colleagues in developing new skills and helping them implement them remains a critical role for L&D, leaders and managers. L&D needs to adopt coaching and mentoring in its own function, as well as across the organisation.
4. Content delivery. There are so many ways to deliver content. L&D must become the centre of expertise for insight on the best way to deliver content for the best organisational outcomes.
5. Technology and infrastructure. L&D must understand the technological opportunities available and any emerging trends.
6. Data analytics. As technology enables more insight and predictive capabilities, L&D needs to understand how its data maps against organisational data to measure impact on business performance.
7. Performance consulting. L&D has to understand business challenges and ask colleagues the right questions in order to identify potential solutions. This includes being able to challenge colleagues and say when a performance problem may not be solved by training.
8. Curation. Using the best of what already exists, be that internal resources or external resources from the web, to create learning experiences. Curation is about finding information, adding context and sharing it with the right people in the right way. It is a useful skill for horizon scanning and keeping up to date with trends.

We would like to add a few more to that list:
9. Consultancy. Being a business partner means consulting – talking, listening, understanding, thinking deeply and consulting.
10. Facilitation. L&D must facilitate resources and learning experiences so that colleagues can access what they need. There has been a shift from L&D owning learning to enabling learning.
11. Communication. L&D need excellent communication, influencing and engagement skills – they are core to being an effective professional.
12. Critical thinking. Every knowledge worker faces a daily firehose of information. Critical thinking is essential to make the right decisions for the right reasons.
13. Business awareness. For L&D to align itself with the business, it has to understand the business and the market it operates in.
14. Creative thinking. L&D needs to be creative in how it addresses the learning and performance needs of the organisation.
15. Curiosity. Inquisitiveness and curiosity will help L&D unearth and ultimately understand the big questions and challenges – how adults learn best, the changing business environment, impact of technology on learning, etc.