L&D: A Systematic, Holistic Approach

A Systematic, Holistic Approach To L&D

In writing this article, it is assumed that the question of "Why a Learning and Development mindset is so important to the organization?" has been covered. This is, in any case, the topic of a previous article. The earlier reference to a "spray and pray" approach to Learning and Development, in the context of LMSs, refers to an LMS that resembles a poorly curated, old-fashioned library, in which myriads of courses are made available and new ones are constantly being added in the hope that it looks volumetrically impressive and that learners may find material that is of use to them.

Mapping And Developing A Comprehensive L&D Universe

Building a comprehensive learning, development and support universe for any organization starts with the 2 key dimensions of scope and depth. These 2 key dimensions each have two facets. Scope defines exactly who specific learning, development and support initiatives are aimed at as well as what they cover. Depth involves the establishment of a "plimsoll line" for the broad-based know-how required by any group of people, and then exactly what they need to master to perform competently and consistently.

Establishing clear scope enables the mapping of a comprehensive learning universe while establishing the depth of learning required enables the development of the most appropriate approaches to learning and on-the-job support. In describing what is meant by a systematic, holistic approach, I use my classifications as examples, but clearly the methodology will work with any credible classifications.

1. Scope

Holistically scoping the Learning and Development universe for any organization, first requires that we classify and understand the 3 broad roles in any organization, as well as the primary function of each role. This is depicted diagrammatically below:

Importantly, leading by example is critical to supporting any L&D strategy. In simple terms, executives must be able to strategize, but equally, they should be able to "roll up their sleeves" to work with their managers and specialists to operationalize and systemize strategies so that desired outcomes can be managed. Equally, they should consistently demonstrate a willingness to get in alongside their operatives and role-model what needs to be done all day, every day, to realize the strategy. In addition, systems and processes need to be in place to identify people with the potential to contribute at the next level and to develop them to do so, as and when the opportunity arises.

The other facet of scope involves establishing what learning, development and support initiatives are required for each aspect of the above roles. Organizations are open-ended communities of people, formally assembled for a specific purpose. By definition, all organizations then have a corporate nature (deriving from Latin meaning a "body of people”), with the shared responsibility of members of the group. Critical to the success of any organization is that members are good corporate citizens and that they understand, respect and contribute to the institutional integrity that they are part of, both structurally and process-wise. It is for this reason, in this exercise, that we have separated out Corporate Capability as a specific capability set in terms of our Capability Classification (as described in a previous article). As such, we classify capabilities according to the 5 capability sets shown in the diagram below. Each of these capability sets can be measured for each individual and developed according to their role in the organization, both current and future.

The comprehensive scope of the Learning and Development universe for any organization, in our terms, is then developed within a 5x3 matrix, that is, it is a function of the 5 capability sets and the 3 types of roles, with an L&D universe consisting of 15 "learning blocks."

2. Depth

The specification of the depth of learning is then populated into each "learning block" in the grid, as established using the matrix mentioned above.

In adult education, there is always a starting point for learning, in terms of the existing broad-based know-how that the target group of people already have. It cannot possibly be zero, which many Learning and Development initiatives do not take into account. This can result in a waste of valuable time and resources as well as a loss of credibility because the program teaches people things that they already know and only need to be reminded about. It is important to start any learning initiative on a clearly identified existing foundation of knowledge, as this is reassuring for participants. We term the foundation of  existing broad-based know-how the plimsoll line as depicted in the diagram below:


All learning blocks in the grid have a plimsoll line for each required capability. For example, commercial numeracy may be a capability requirement for a specific organization. If, in this organization, a certain school-leaving level of mathematics is a prerequisite to join the organization, this by definition forms the plimsoll line for developing any learning in this regard. Obviously, there will be individual differences in the depth of mathematical knowledge, and this is depicted by the depth of the plimsoll line. However, there would not be a need to reteach what everyone is expected to know, such as basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

The specifics of what Learning and Development initiatives need to be developed to populate each learning block in the grid is then achieved by comprehensively answering the following questions to establish the "depth of learning"required as well as the development and support initiatives required:

  • What are the specific tasks that this group of people is required to be able to do?
  • What is their the current level of broad-based know-how?
  • What know-how (knowledge and skills) need to be developed?
  • How do we best develop the required know-how?
  • What on-the-job support do they need and how do we provide this?

Now, the LMS can be systematically populated, based on priorities identified.

In Summary

The process may seem a little mechanistic, but it need not be. Adopting a systematic, holistic approach enables a logical curation process as well as ease of facilitating search and support systems and processes. This approach is also efficient because only 3 of the learning blocks in the matrix of 15 will differ by function. These are obviously those relating to specific role capabilities required to fulfill specific professional or technical functions such as IT, accounting and engineering functions.

Finally, a systematic, holistic approach facilitates the assessment of new learning needs and the iteration of a specific organization's Learning and Development universe.