What is the brand of Learning & Development?

How do you find out what the brand of Learning & Development is in your organisation? Here is a little experiment for you to find out… Go around and ask colleagues, and particularly managers at all levels, what they think about Learning  & Development in your company.

What do they think is the purpose of L&D?
What do they think L&D does?
What value do they think L&D adds to the organisation?
Who do they think L&D really is?
Ask them what they say about L&D when you are not in the room.

This is your brand. Do you like it? Does it work for you? Does it allow you to operate effectively within the organisation?

Most people I speak with say the answer is no. Their current brand actually limits their ability to be effective in the way they would like to be. People think that L&D is there to deliver training when asked to do so, and look after the elearning and content on a digital learning system, and often not much else. L&D is seen as a cost that somehow seems necessary, but doesn’t really provide much value. Ouch!

Another way to discover what people think of L&D is to notice what people come and ask for. That is what they think you do, and think you do it well enough to be worth asking. I am sure that what people ask for is a small fraction of what you could do for them and what you would like to do for them.

When I speak with L&D professionals they want to be seen as the go to people when employees need to up their game and do things differently to provide real business impact. They want their brand to be about delivering learning programmes that achieve business goals, developing people so they thrive and shine in their jobs, and being effective collaborators with the business to ensure a workforce that is capable of executing the organisational strategy.

Is this the kind of brand you want for L&D in your organisation?

And how does L&D achieve this great brand?

The answer is simple. Fulfil the brand promise.

Another way to think about brand is that it is a promise. When you interact with a company, you expect a level of service and quality in line with the ‘promise’ of their brand. You probably already buy certain brands because you know from experience they give you what you want, every time.

What this means is that if you want people in the organisation to think about L&D in a certain way, then L&D needs to be that way. It needs to consistently and reliably fulfil the promise of its brand.

A brand that delivers on its promise is credible and considered reliable. That credibility makes things easier when dealing with managers within the organisation who are asking for training.

Does L&D have enough credibility to drive change in the way learning is delivered in your organisation? Or does it simply serve up what people are asking for, even if that is not an ideal way to do it? Is L&D brought into organisational change discussions early, or asked for some training as an afterthought in the change process?

If you want to be known for producing positive impact with your learning and development initiatives, then what you must do is, guess what, produce positive impact.

And the only way to consistently produce positive impact is to build learning transfer into all your L&D initiatives!

With the way that the role of L&D has to change to keep pace with changes in technology, changes in understanding of the way people learn at work, changes in the economy and the impact it has on budgets, and a host of other external changes, it is almost certain that your brand is well out of date.

It may have been perfect for the kind of things you needed to be doing 5, 10, or even 20 years ago, but I would bet that for most of you, your brand is not supporting the things you need to be doing today.

How do you update the L&D brand in your organisation?

Having said that, it is also almost certain that your brand as L&D has not been thought about in a focused way, if at all. When was the last time you thought about your brand as the L&D Department?

So, your next move is to go and buy the people in your marketing or external communications department a coffee and have them help you understand what a brand is, and how to develop it. Talk to them about rebranding L&D, or whatever you currently call your department. Get them to help with the steps to understanding what your brand is right now, understanding what you would like it to be, and then closing the gap.

And if you’re thinking to yourself, we don’t have a brand, you are wrong. You always have it in that other people will always have an opinion about you. What they think of you, and how you appear to the outside world, is your brand.

What brand do you want? In a year’s time if you go and do the same survey I suggested at the beginning of this blog, what do you want the responses to be? This starts you thinking about what you want it to be.

There is a lot you can do to affect your brand but one of the biggest things that will modify it, or indeed entrench an existing brand, is the way L&D interacts with other parts of the organisation. If you say that your brand is one thing, and then L&D behaves in a way that is not congruent, you will be labelled inauthentic. This leads to a lack of trust because the brand promise if not fulfilled, and potentially even derision. If you change the trappings of your brand, you MUST change your behaviour to match them.

So make sure the brand you promote in your organisation is one you can, and want to live up to.

Good luck!


> More from Paul Matthews about the Brand of L&D in a short interview with the CIPD…

CIPD – The brand of L&D