In last month’s edition of the LRMG Express, we brought you news from LRMG’s Learning and Development (L&D) conference entitled, ‘Embracing Change, Unleashing Talent’. This month we bring you the transcript of the panel discussion on the future of L&D in South Africa. Led by LRMG’s Managing Executive of e-Learning RSA, Pamela Barletta, the panel comprised of getAbstract’s Global Director and Learning Architect, Norman Auerbach, and two of South Africa’s leading L&D specialists from one of the top cellular providers and the other from one of South Africa’s leading banks.


The discussion centred around current L&D practices in South Africa in the context of the lessons learned from the international trends in Human Resources (HR) and L&D, based on the 2015–16 Industry Benchmark Survey from Towards Maturity, and to enable African HR and L&D practitioners to find their voice in order to contribute in a meaningful way as Africa in a global conversation.

Pamela Barletta: So, let’s get straight into the heart of the panel discussion. What are the challenges facing Learning and Development (L&D) in South Africa today?

Bank L&D: Three things – the first is the customer-centric focus, the second is the digital presentation of courses, which is not presented in a holistic or comprehensive way, and the third, which is very close to my heart, is building capability and learning development.

Norman Auerbach: In terms of the challenge for L&D today, the title progression through courses’ model has fallen by the wayside, and we’ve moved more towards capability portfolios. This is the big challenge because there is a big transformation that needs to take place within L&D.

Cellular L&D: The big thing for us is that our business is changing, the world is changing, and in light of the VUCA world we live in, our business is expected to be ambidextrous. We’re expected to do what we’ve always done, and at the same time do something different, to evolve with the changing landscape. We as L&D are expected to help the business do that, but unfortunately, we as L&D are stuck in the past and we really need to evolve our L&D practices.

Pamela Barletta: Following on from those challenges, what is L&D doing in your environments to narrow this gap?

Cellular L&D: I think for us, we’ve stopped a lot of unnecessary practices, and we focus less on courses and catalogues and title progression, and we focus more on a push methodology, where we’re expected to do a needs analysis and push the motivation as well. The problem with this is that learners today can access whatever they need, whenever they need it.

So, how do we as L&D function in the era of the self-directed learner? We can’t provide too much, and we need to treat learning and development the same we treat a SatNav – where are you, and how can we guide you to getting to where you want to go? It might be a small course, microlearning and e-learning, trying to cater to the different way that learners learn. It’s no longer content is king, but contact is king.

Pamela Barletta: So, how do we build L&D capabilities and what are the skills needed?

Bank L&D: We need to unlearn and relearn in the L&D space. The starting point for me is to build our L&D capability and to shift the paradigm to where we become a trusted advisor and consultant. And so we need to focus on driving and building L&D skills. Right now we’re focusing on ideation, digital disruption and building consulting skills.

We’re also looking at how we look at learning: shifting from ‘go find the stuff’ to deliberate practice. If we haven’t looked at how we as L&D practitioners can learn, how can we ever be ambassadors for learning? Learning ourselves will shift the way we think. As L&D practitioners, we need to understand learning, back ourselves and move our role from coordinator to activator.

The shift in this within our environment has been phenomenal. Practitioners now activate learning. We’ve reconstructed all of our job descriptions and we’re now partners, consultants, coordinators, activators and digital activators, and we’re very clear on what each of these roles mean. This means that learning becomes a journey, and this shifts learning entirely.

Pamela Barletta: That’s brilliant, and that’s part of what today is about – learning from other L&D teams about what a benchmarked L&D team could look like. Norman, what is happening in the global space around this type of transformation?

Norman Auerbach: What I’m seeing globally is a high rate of staff turnover in the L&D space. There’s very little consistency, and this is one of our biggest challenges. Consistency drives the ability to build a strategy. The other thing that’s important is changing the culture of an organisation, and allowing learning to lead that drive, aimed at the self-directed learner. In the context of the self-directed learner, learning is not restricted to the workplace, but it is 24/7.

On the topic of being an activator, in L&D, you need to be a catalyst, an innovator for change. Neuroscience has become more popular because it provides a framework of how learning works and how people learn best. A very small number of L&D teams are leading with neuroscience. Budget, here, becomes an issue, but if you can demonstrate the effectiveness of focusing on how learning works and how people learn, companies will begin structuring their L&D initiatives around this. Budget is never an issue when you’re delivering results.

Pamela Barletta: That points to an important aspect of learning – what is business’s view on learning? How did you get into the boardroom, and how do you create a space where the budget is not an issue?

Cellular L&D: The disconnect for me is where we need to frame learning to business in terms of impact, ROI (Return on Investment), reporting principles, impact assessments and case studies, and yet the simplicity of it is this is what we want to change, and this is what we’re going to do to enable that change. We’ve aligned all of our programmes around the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) of customer service, shareholder value, digitisation and GCA (General Conceptual Ability) scores around engagement and retention. We ask ourselves: will I be able to impact this KPI through this programme? If not, we don’t run that programme.

We’ve introduced the cultural operating system, where we’re driving a massive culture change, which impacts these KPIs. We direct business’ attention to our value, which is our GCA scores, where we’ve implemented programmes on line manager effectiveness, employee effectiveness and coaching, which address performance reviews, and the GCA dimensions have changed and improved after a year.

Bank L&D: For me, in an organisation of 60 000 people, the strategic alignment is important, along with digitisation and customer-centricity. Programmes that do not drive these strategies and agendas are put aside. The most important focus for us is building capability. The potential of Africa as the home ground for learning is huge because of the eagerness for knowledge and skills that are meaningful in the workplace. We, therefore, don’t struggle with the budget because we’re providing statistics proving that this focus works.

The important thing is that we keep driving these themes; it’s not something that people just buy into because it isn’t engrained in behaviour. Once it’s engrained in behaviour, it becomes easier to get to the boardroom. Budget is never an issue in perceived value. And furthermore, it’s difficult to have these conversations if you don’t back yourself as an L&D activator. Our job is then, to drive perceived value.

Norman Auerbach: Globally, data analytics is an important part of driving perceived value. When linked to KPIs, the data analytics are the secret sauce. Business needs to understand the business need for talent in that organisation.

Cellular L&D: I would add that we mustn’t use L&D speak. Use their language. How are we able to help you get to where you (business) want to go? We, therefore, need to understand the business well enough to transform it, instead of going through tick-box exercises of L&D formulas and jargon.

Bank L&D: In addition, it’s about how we show up as L&D practitioners. It’s about being passionate. It’s about not regurgitating jargon. We need to shift the conversation, stop talking about Learning Growth Models, B3s, 70:20:10 and start speaking to people’s hearts.