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The importance of business involvement in L&D

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Ericsson's Peter Sheppard stressed the need to consult the organisation on its needs

The first stage of any L&D intervention should always be asking the business what it needs, according to Peter Sheppard, global head of learning excellence at Ericsson.

Sheppard made his comments in an ‘Align L&D to your Business Strategy’ case study session at the CIPD Learning and Development Show 2016. “It’s not just focusing on the solutions, it’s starting right up front with the planning,” said Sheppard, who explained that Ericsson's method is now to train all L&D professionals in a consultancy approach. Weight is given to this through an internal accreditation system, with 158 global L&D professionals accredited to date.

“We work together with the business and all teams, so operations, sales…” said Sheppard, explaining that face-to-face meetings with such stakeholders are key. “We ask what would make a difference to their performance gaps in any one year.”

Last year 77,000 critical competency gaps were identified, up from 1,500 the year before. Sheppard described this as just “the tip of the iceberg” in terms of identifying the problem, however.

He added such a stakeholder approach is viable for all firms, regardless of size. “In a small organisation you should still be able to get with your leadership team and understand the performance gaps they’re grappling with,” he said. “We talk about a line of sight: from issues right through to competence gaps, through to the learning solutions.”

Also speaking at the event was Mark Cole, head of learning and development at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust. He also touched on the importance of being open to feedback from employees on how to improve the organisation through L&D. “A conversation with a manager as a diagnostic is an intervention as well,” he said. “I can’t overstress the importance of those conversations.”

He added: “We want to be able to move with our workforce, to be clear with them about the direction of travel and get their suggestions. They are the people that know best about how things work most effectively.”

Cole also spoke on the importance of management being viewed as a skill in its own right, especially within a population where most have come to management roles through being “brilliant clinicians". “It’s being clear that management is a new skill and different practice,” he said. “In the health service anyone wearing a suit is seen as a bit of a pariah. But it’s really important to explain what management does in an organisation.”

Speaking in another session, head of talent and learning at restaurant group D&D London, Jaimie Stewart spoke on the importance of getting chefs heavily involved and on-board with the company’s apprenticeship programme. “Chefs haven’t exactly got a great reputation for people management,” he said, explaining that training the chefs on “providing a safe environment” for young people and on listening to apprentices to find out what they need is vital in ensuring the programme’s success.

“That was our watershed moment: working with the chefs to promote that,” he said.