Blue Eskimo

What makes a great learning and development manager?

We take a look at the superhuman attributes needed to deliver amazing value as a learning and development manager.

Learning and development is always about change - changing people, changing organisations. So it follows that being able to embrace change is an important attribute for anyone in a learning and development role.

But for learning and development managers, it's even more vital. The learning and development manager has to be a real driving force, a positive agent for change within the organisation.

And never have organisations needed change quite so much. According to a recent study by the CIPD, most UK organisations are using outdated methods for training their staff - often using learning methods which are now considered the least effective. Apparently only around 11% are using e-learning and just 17% are planning to "reduce their reliance on classroom and instructor-led courses" over the next couple of years.

Well, we firstly have to go off-topic a bit to note that we're not entirely sold on those numbers. We work not only with learning and development people, but also e-learning companies and learning departments, day in, day out. We'd say that themajorityof demand for learning-related skills was in some way connected to e-learning and learning technologies. But that's only based on our water-cooler moments, we can't back it up empirically.

Technology is core to learning

But the point is still clear - technology is becoming a core part of learning. While some organisations may yet have to implement technology as part of their learning strategy, many already have - or are already moving to newer technologies, such as mobile and HTML5.

In itself, this is driving a change in how learning is approached. Once part of the learning process is under evaluation, it typically all is. So, the learning and development manager can find herself or himself responsible not only for the change that derives from the learning process, but also for changing the learning process itself.

But great learning and development managers don't simply respond well to change - they're constantly on the lookout for it. Like many talented leaders, learning and development managers like to maintain their coalface skills too - staying connected with the reality of their industry. They keep up-to-date with learning trends, changes in learning theory and developments in learning technologies. 

Staying ahead

Being proactive, ready learners who are self-starters gives great learning and development managers the ability to not only track change but also anticipate it, too. Which means they're better at spotting it, responding to it and - in turn - implementing it.

This makes a learning and development manager eminently more valuable to an employer. In effect, it combines the approach of a 'safe pair of hands' with that of highly informed innovation. This can result in entire new approaches to change being implemented - which can fundamentally affect the fortunes of an organisation. Who wouldn't want that?

Collaboration and idea exchange

We also tend to find that part of the process of being so proactive means that many great learning and development managers network highly too. They exchange ideas, articles, information - using tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter. This feeds their natural desire to learn and helps them keep at the top of their game.

But really great learning and development managers have other skills which enable them to balance their passion for their vocation with the needs of the business. After all, no organisation wants something implementing just because it looks sexy - a solid return is needed. Learning and development managers have to spot what's hot - but not get distracted by gimmicks.

So, it's equally important that learning and development managers understand theneeds of the business. Not just in an inward-looking way ("what kind of training should people have?") but in a way that genuinely considers where the business needs to be ("what are the goals of the business, what's missing in the skills set and how is that added?") in the short and long term. 

This ability to align the learning strategy to the business's long-term goals is every bit as valuable as the ability to embrace and enact change.

Inspirational leadership

As if that wasn't enough, there's another skill which great learning and development managers need in spades: inspirational salesmanship. Any significant change within an organisation can be met with resistance - no matter how logical, beneficial or necessary that change is. For change to stick, people have to want it. They have to buy into it. In short, it has to be sold to them, marketed to them - and not forced on them. It has to be sold with belief and passion too - starting with the top team and working down through every organisational level. Other people have tofeelyourbeliefin what you're proposing.

One person having all those skills sounds like a tall order, but we do see these attributes in many of our learning and development candidates. At the heart of it, they love what they do - and can bring their entire organisation along with them.