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5 Challenges Facing L&D Teams—And How to Overcome Them

Wednesday 15 February 2023

5 Challenges Facing L&D Teams—And How to Overcome Them

David James
5 Challenges Facing L&D Teams—And How to Overcome Them

In this article, David James, CLO at 360Learning and host of The Learning & Development Podcast, gives a recap of his conversation with Donald H Taylor in a recent Learning & Skills Group (LSG) webinar. David takes a look at five challenges L&D teams face today and shares his experience of how to make a demonstrable impact in tough economic conditions.


As the economic climate continues to change, organisations are being more cautious with budgets. Departments are being asked to ‘do more with less’, and those that struggle to prove their impact are undeniably at risk.  


So, what does this mean for learning teams? You’re under increased pressure to create training that will fill critical skills gaps, boost employee performance, and move the needle on organisational goals, all with less resources than you had before.


1. Struggling with limited resources and budget

According to our 2022 report on the ‘State of Learning in the Flow of Work’, almost half of L&D leaders responded that budget and resources are barriers to serving up impactful employee learning experiences. When there is an abundance of budget, there seems to be a limitation of analysis performed. Learning Management Systems are filled with generic content, which we often fail to optimise, and we ignore employee transitions and adaptations.


It’s only when we have less money that we ask ourselves: ‘are the initiatives we’re driving really making an impact?’ So, what can L&D leaders do instead? Here’s four practical recommendations to make a real impact, even with limited resources:


  • Focus on initiatives that will improve employee performance. You can achieve the most impact with your L&D programmes by channelling your resources to address learning requirements that help improve employee performance. This means relying much less on generic content or training that does not address specific skill gaps that hinder employees from performing their tasks as expected. 
  • Recognise and engage your subject-matter experts. Once you identify the problems hindering the cohorts from delivering their objectives, you can leverage your subject-matter experts (SMEs) and top performers to help create solutions. Be sure to align your SMEs on the business problem they’ve been asked to support using data.
  • Adopt product management principles and an agile mindset. Using product management principles and adopting an agile mindset allows you to identify the specific challenges that impede learners from completing their tasks and then create programmes to meet those needs much quicker than traditional methods


2. Understanding your learners’ preferences and performance gaps

According to the survey, only 16% of the respondents understood their learners' preferences and performance challenges. This suggests that most L&D leaders (84%) struggle to provide the relevant learning opportunities their teams require to perform their duties.


Furthermore, out of 2,000 surveyed learners, only 29% of the respondents said online training (including e-learning, virtual workshops or massive open online courses [MOOCs]) is effective. Since online learning is the primary type of training, there appears to be a mismatch between what learners deem effective training and what L&D programmes provide.


So, which training methods are successful? Two of the most effective approaches addressing specific learner needs are peer-to-peer learning (61%) and coaching/mentoring (59%), according to statistics.


These methods are successful because they respond to the challenges that hinder employees from performing, as opposed to creating programmes based on envisioned learning requirements.


In other words, they provide relevant solutions to the challenges that stand as roadblocks in employee performance.


3. Seeking out the right data 

Our survey found that 19% of L&D leaders lack the data insights they need to optimise their training programmes. It’s well worth pursuing the right data.


You need data as a ground zero to inform your monitoring and review efforts, so you can address the challenges as they arise, for maximum productivity. Otherwise, all you have is a solution looking for a problem, which only makes the learning ineffective.


Three tips on how to seek the right data to make a demonstrable difference: 


  • Find critical points of failure in the organisation to help source the problem
  • Establish the KPIs employees need to meet, investigating their failure to achieve as expected, and the impact on the performance
  • Discuss the challenges with the employees


Related: 3 Data-Based Ways To Prove Training ROI (+ Free Training ROI Calculator)


4. Failing to get leadership buy-in

According to our report, securing support from leadership is another challenge L&D leaders face, with 23% of UK L&D leaders saying their leadership team does not support L&D initiatives

Generally, organisational leadership will require you to demonstrate your learning programmes' return on investment (ROI) to approve budgets.


While this can be challenging, there are strategies you can employ to prove the impact of your programmes and secure buy-in over time. Here are two ways to achieve buy-in:


  • Start with a small pilot project alongside the requests you get for training. If you start with a small pilot, you can still deliver on specific requirements whilst working on this new data-driven project. Once you have the data from the pilot project to show the senior leadership team that the new approach works, you’ll have a better shot at getting their buy-in and doing more of the same.
  • Concentrate on cohorts of people who face a similar challenge. This needs to be a conversation about how the work is expected to be done and the results this work should deliver, not just learning needs. Your intention is a gap analysis between the expected performance and the current reality.


Related: Doing More with Less: How to Preserve Your L&D Budget by Proving Your Impact


5. Proving the impact of your L&D initiatives

Many L&D teams struggle with the challenge of proving their impact largely due to the fact that their training objectives don’t align with organisational goals. If you're facing this challenge, these three tips can help:


  • Understand the problem you're solving. Proving the impact of L&D programmes comes back to understanding the problem to be solved. Without understanding this you cannot possibly know whether it's had the desired effect or not. Watch my L&D Master Class How to Prove Your Impact as a Strategic Business Partner
  • Focus on the only metric that matters–employee performance. We're seeking to see whether we can have a positive impact on both the data and their ability to achieve results. Every other metric is just an indicator.
  • Use employee KPIs to measure success. Holding ourselves accountable for the metrics that are meaningful to our stakeholders doesn't just mean that we understand the problem and that we've got a greater chance of moving the needle. It also means we’re increasing the quality and impact of our learning interventions.


Looking for more insights on how to overcome common challenges facing L&D teams? Check out the replay of my LSG webinar 5 Key Challenges L&D Teams Face – and How to Overcome Them, hosted by Donald H Taylor.


If you loved these tips, be sure to join The L&D Collective, 360Learning’s community of learning leaders on everything related to impactful L&D.




David James David James

CLO at 360Learning and host of The Learning & Development Podcast


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