This question was posed to me by Sukh Pabial (@SukhPabial) recently, following a blog he wrote, Adapting, Change and L&D, and a subsequent Twitter exchange.

Sukh finished this blog by expressing:

“L&D is fundamentally broken and we’re unfit to lead our organisations as they need us to.”

Now, I’ve said before that I think L&D have got too hung up on ‘learning’. ‘Learning’ is only one tool in our kitbag for helping us achieve what we’re actually accountable for, which is enhanced performance and increased capability for the benefit of the organisation and its people. And even then, that headline accountability is not the complete picture. Our L&D roles are highly contextual and are related to preparing and supporting people to be successful in unique organisations where applied local knowledge may be the only competitive advantage.

I know we don’t need more buzzwords in L&D but we do need another way to define our value to our organisations, especially when we’re not sure how – or even if – what we are currently doing is making enough difference to justify the spend (and that’s what ROI is, right?)

In short, we’ve got lost in ‘learning’. It’s what we deliver. It’s what we attempt to measure. And, as a result, activities we recognise in our normal daily lives are renamed to take credit for and justify as ‘learning’. At home I would read an article but at work I’ve learnt it. In my own time I watch a video but at work it counts as time spent ‘learning’. Can we be clear that just because I ‘did it’ it doesn’t mean I learnt it. And who cares anyway? I don’t need to learn at all for it to be valuable to me or my work.

So ‘learning’ isn’t what we’re accountable for (it’s a tool) and measuring ‘learning’ is flawed and unimportant, so – back to Sukh’s question: What is L&D for in this day and age?

How about increasing employee ‘currency’? Currency, in this context, is how much someone knows versus how much the business needs them to know.

I like ‘currency’ because it speaks of ‘value’. At the outset, somebody’s ability to do their job; to get the right things done; to deliver results; and contribute meaningfully to the organisation is valuable.

Currency ebbs and flows in every person and the need to feed and expand ‘currency’ correlates to somebody’s ability to perform. However, throwing ‘learning content’ at the problem is akin to throwing mud at a wall. Some might stick but it’s more likely not. Nick Shackleton-Jones has written eloquently about this before.

Ok, so this may seem like something we’re already doing, right? But if you’re measuring it as ‘learning’ then it’s not.

When somebody first joins an organisation, their ‘currency’ is low and they know it – the organisation knows it. They have shown enough about themselves to be chosen for the role but they need ‘currency‘ in their new organisation to do anything to meaningfully contribute. But how do they develop that ‘currency’ and how do you know when they have it?

In a sales context, a lack of product knowledge or ability to sell for your organisation and to clients is low ‘currency’ because they are unable to fulfil their role and offer what an experienced worker with high ‘currency’ would. But how do they develop that ‘currency’ and, again, how do you know?

Another reason I like the association of ‘currency’ is that it speaks to the primary motivation of workers today as to why they ‘learn’ at work. Year on year, Towards Maturity’s The Learner Voice, reports that the majority of people (69% in 2016) are motivated to ‘learn’ at work so that they can do their jobs better and faster, which increases their currency.

Sanoma do this in practice and talk about their ‘local maximum’. Their L&D team identify Knowledge Champions to work with and unpack what they know and do in relation to the work of others. With a personalised assessment (called a ‘Scan’), employee’s existing skills and knowledge are mapped to the levels of the local maximum. The assessment shows them what high currency looks like and ‘resources’ in Looop provide them with the insights, support, guidance and tools to self-direct their efforts towards high-currency, alongside opportunities to interact with Knowledge Champions and collaborate with colleagues. This is highly targeted development aimed at achieving high currency, which is of value to the employees themselves, who can operate confidently and competently in their organisation’s context as a direct result of the efforts of L&D. For me, this personalised approach to equipping workers with the tools they need to do their jobs today and improve their prospects for tomorrow is the future of our profession.

L&D can play the most important role in the company by helping to increase ‘currency’.

How can we do this? By unpacking what those with high currency ‘know’ and ‘do’ and linking that to the work that others are accountable to do. By providing access to these resources for the benefit of others we provide a route to ‘currency’. Like Google does for us in the outside world, access inside our organisations connects workers to the local maximum via insights, guidance, support, connection, sharing and collaboration.

Targeting specific employee groups to highlight and address real pain points (as Sanoma have done with their ‘scan’) further personalises the approach and shows not only currency levels also paths to increase it.

When we focus on ‘currency’, we look at the value that others are bringing to themselves, their roles, their teams and the company. That’s worth measuring and so it’s a role worth doing.

Does that go some way to answering your question, Sukh?

See also:

Redesigning L&D Case Study: Sanoma

Digital L&D Pt !: Beyond e-Learning

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David James is Chief Learning Strategist with Looop and a seasoned Talent Management, Learning & OD leader with nearly 20 years of experience in the field. Most notably, David was Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region.

Looop help their clients all over the world to digitally transform their L&D and capitalise on how people really want to learn today with a platform that is renowned for its extraordinary levels of learner engagement.

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