Most L&D pros have probably heard the question “What have you done for me lately?” from their stakeholders, often around budget season. You may have launched the most successful leadership program in the company’s history in January, but your resources will hit the chopping block in September when it is time to hand out the money for next year. The programmatic approach that organizations have historically adopted has allowed for a constantly shifting continuum with regard to the value of workplace learning. This has been exacerbated by the radical increase in options that business leaders can use to develop their people without engaging L&D. As a result, L&D spends a considerable amount of time justifying its existence rather than focusing on the needs of the business.

Who is “me”?

So how do we ensure our value is clear when partners ask, “What have you done for me lately?” This starts with rethinking the question. We spend a lot of time showcasing our capabilities to management in hopes of solidifying our spot at the metaphorical table of influence. If the budget holders like us, we aren’t going anywhere, right? I disagree. After all, managers come and go. Organizational priorities shift at a breakneck pace. If there is one consistency in a modern workplace, it’s that employees need help keeping up with the speed of change. So, while many people may think the “me” in “What have you done for me lately?” represents L&D stakeholders, I believe it’s actually the front-line employee.

In real life, employees need someone to be there when THEY need help the most—at critical decision points when employees get hurt, customers get angry, and money is lost. That’s usually not L&D. No wonder we so often have to chase people down to get them to complete our programs. If employees don’t see L&D as a valuable part of their day-to-day lives, why would they give us their time and attention when we suddenly require it? The key to sustained L&D value is to be (or become) a vital part of how work gets done every day, not the aspirational—albeit also important—long-term learning and development initiatives on which we often expend so much time and effort.

Being there

This shouldn’t sound all that new to you as a modern L&D pro. Everything I’m sharing aligns to the 70:20:10 framework as well as Gottfredson and Mosher’s Five Moments of Learning Need. While these concepts have been out there for several years, L&D pros still seem to have a difficult time wrapping their heads around what it means to be a part of every employee’s day. After all, there are a LOT of them and very few of us. How can an L&D team of 20 people be a meaningful part of the day-to-day for an employee population of 75,000?

Here are a few practical ways I have helped resource-strapped L&D teams improve their value to front-line employees by becoming a more regular partner in their job performance.

Get closer to the operation

Where do you do your L&D work? Where do the people you support do their work? Why aren’t you physically closer? Yes, this can be challenging if you work in a large, distributed enterprise, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook the importance of presence as part of your team strategy. Before employees can consider you an important part of their work, they need to know you exist as more than just an email address and an onboarding curriculum. It’s up to you to meet them where they are.

Here are a few suggestions for improving employee awareness of L&D:

  • Relocate your desk from siloed support offices into the operational environment
  • Budget time and resources for location visits, even if you aren’t currently involved in a major initiative
  • Chip in and provide hands-on support during high-volume periods
  • Go to meetings and events that aren’t about your work but that will include a variety of employees and partners
  • Send messages directly to employees highlighting new resources and learning opportunities

Foster knowledge connections

Having trouble addressing all of your organization’s requests? Traditional L&D can’t keep up with the pace of modern business. We just can’t. Therefore, focusing all of our resources on building content in an attempt to meet employee needs is a fruitless effort. Rather, L&D must shift from a creation to a connection mentality and find ways to bring together those who NEED and those who HAVE. This is where the concept of “social learning” comes into play, but not in the “discussion board with questions” or “topical Yammer group” ways it’s often implemented. L&D must play a central role in fostering shared knowledge resources for the entire organization. Because we can’t build all of the necessary content on our own, we must find formal and informal subject matter experts and enable curation behaviors to get on-demand resources to those who need them.

Establish lines of communication

Are you able to communicate directly to the people you support, or do you have to work through a series of partners to get a message out there? An essential part of providing day-to-day value to employees is making sure they understand they have someone to go to when they need help. Yes, managers and peers should be a big part of this, but they don’t always know—or care to provide—the right answer when needed. Therefore, L&D should offer simple ways for employees to raise their hands and ask for help as a form of performance support. You may have an email address or similar today, but that can quickly become unruly and limit the scope of your support to just the people on the message. Social technology, along with some light community management, can give employees a virtual place to go when they need help and open the support role to anyone who wants to join the conversation. At the same time, L&D can get a sense of the larger needs of the organization directly from the front line while identifying employees who potentially have great knowledge resources to share. 

Lean on microlearning

How can we expect already-overloaded employees to fit “learning” into their day-to-day? First, by making shared knowledge and performance support the foundation of everything we do, we can take advantage of the learning that already happens every day and let employees decide how to best engage with readily available resources. Then, you can introduce microlearning as a personalized way to push the right content to the right people at the right time, based on expressed knowledge and performance gaps. This doesn’t just mean making our existing training modules shorter. Rather, an effective microlearning strategy blends the science of learning with reimagined content, targeted engagement tactics, and right-fit technology to help employees easily fit a dose of formal training into their daily workflow.

Next time someone asks, tell them this

Next time you get into a situation in which a key stakeholder asks, “What have you done for me lately, L&D?,” you must be ready to explain how you play an important role in their people’s day-to-day work. You must also provide clarity regarding what would happen to their employees, and their ability to achieve important business outcomes, if you were no longer able to provide this vital support. That’s how you start to get past silly metrics like completions and training hours to justify the true value of L&D in the modern workplace.