top of page
  • Writer's pictureAndy Appleby

Is 'L&D' the answer to performance and capability challenges?

I've been in 'L&D' for nearly 20 years, at all levels. And I'm an unapologetic advocate of learning as a critical factor in performance improvement and capability growth.

Over the last few years, I've been having regular conversation with my partners, clients, and wider network around a fairly controversial question (if you're in L&D, that is).

I want to share with you where I'm at with my perspective on this specific question...

Is Learning and Development the answer to performance and capability challenges?

I think there's enough research out there for us to accept, without much question, that we improve as humans, in our capabilities and performance, when we consciously learn.

But do I think this equates to the need for a 'traditional' Learning and Development function to make this happen?

In a word; no.

Here's why...

When you're at home, and you want to learn how to put up a shelf, or cook a new meal, or understand more about one of your hobbies your first stop is usually Google (or Bing, if you're that way inclined...). It might also be friends and family who know the answer. You could even just have a go, and see where you end up.

So I'd bet my house that you'd almost certainly not do any of these things:

  • Seek permission from your spouse/partner/parent to even think about learning about something

  • Write a business case to show that your time spent watching a YouTube video on putting up a shelf is a valuable use of your time, and internet bandwidth as it is clearly very well aligned to your personal objective of... having somewhere to place family photos?

  • Log onto your laptop/phone in a clunky system (even the best LXPs are clunky compared to Google, and you know it!) to search for something that might help - which uses a search algorithm that is to Search what McDonalds is to fine dining!

  • Click millions of buttons or wait painfully for the video to reach the point you actually need - instead of just skipping through the play-bar to find what you need

  • Answer 10 questions to prove you definitely, certainly, absolutely know how to put up a shelf

  • Click a box to say you definitely watched all of that video

So, why on earth do we insist on making people do any (and all?) of these things to prove they're learning at work?

In my experience, the simple reason for all of this, is to help L&D prove they need to exist.

Now, don't misunderand me. I have little doubt that those in L&D are highly skilled and genuinely have the best interests of their colleagues, and business at the centre of what they do - I mean, I'm one of them, so of course I'd say that ;) .

But almost every day now I'm noticing more and more that Learning and Development functions are spending more time and effort in simply validating their own existence.

Here's a few examples -

note: I've excluded examples on 'Compliance' learning

  • Only proposing learning experiences/approaches that will be managed via their online platform and/or processes

  • Requiring all learning content to be curated in a very specific format

  • 'Happy Sheets'

  • Saying things like 'they never do their learning' about specific audiences - as if 'learning' only happens if it's trackable

Take a moment to ask yourself - What's the actual value of doing any of this?

Back to the point of this post: Is Learning and Development the answer to performance and capability challenges?

Learning is, unquestionably. I'll not even entertain a debate on that.

But Learning isn't the only answer. And I can say with confidence, and a certain amount of bravado, that Learning and Development departments/functions are probably not the answer. Not if they carry on as they are, anyway.

So what is?

How do you, as a business, or a leader of people, improve the performance of your people, and business? And how do you solve capability gaps?

While I've made some tonque-in-cheek statements in this article, I'm not about building my reputation by making undeliverable promises. So I'll be honest.

The answer isn't always the same. Because people, and businesses, and challenges are different. So here's five things that I know will make a direct impact on your people's attitude to learning, and using that learning to genuinely grow their capability and performance...

1. Change the conversation

Instead of talking about 'Learning' as an action, focus on what different resources (notice I didn't say learning?) will help people improve their capability and performance

2. Move the models, theories, and principles to the background

These might be valid, and well-proven. But honestly, no-one, other than you, cares.

Everyone you're servicing from your L&D team simply wants to know that the time they're spending doing your 'thing' is actually going to be useful, quickly.

Everything else is just noise

3. Give genuine focus to on-the-job learning, then stay out of the way!

Yes, we know that (according to the models) 70% of learning happens on the job. We know because we've been doing it, on our own, for years. So stop trying to dress it up as something special.

Because you, me, and everyone in the organisation know that when my manager asks me to create a Pivot-Table in excel for a report, I'll either ask the office excel-wizz, or Google it. And after I've had a go, and messed it up. I'll try again.

Then BOOM! I know how to create pivot tables. Because I learned it. While doing my job. And I didn't even think about L&D throughout it all.

4. Empower people

The simple fact is, some people want to learn more, do more and be more every day. Just because it's who they are. So why not cut the noise out with all of your L&D-ness and simply empower them to try.

Remember, the biggest learning experiences you've ever had probably happened when you felt empowered to have a go at something and it went wrong.

5. Remember who you're talking to

Dear L&D,

We're not at school. You're not my teacher. So please move away from your Parent/Child mentality.

I might not be an expert at L&D. But you're not an expert in my field either. We're both adults. So please speak to me like an adult.

Then maybe I'll listen.

Yours sincerly,

Everyone in your organisation.

In Summary

Is 'L&D' the answer to performance and capability challenges?

  • No. They're not

Does 'L&D' have a role to play in helping people overcome performance and capability challenges?

  • Yes. They do.


  • Get over yourself (I include myself in this). You might be experts in Learning, but you don't own others' learning!

  • Look at how people learn outside of work. Find out what works well. Do more of that.

  • Talk to people like grown-ups.

Author's note

Andy Appleby - APL Consulting

Look, I know I could have answered this really quickly by putting the summary at the top. But then, you wouldn't have learned anything would you? See what I did there!

On a serious note. My name's Andy - I'm the founder of Apples Performance and Learning (And ALS Coaching too). I obviously have a biased opinion, and I'm confident enough to say at Apples Performance and Learning, we know our stuff.

A lot of the things I've mentioned in this article are things I've experienced first-hand, and solved multiple times. I'd love to share my experiences with you, and see if I could help you bring your Learning and Development approach into the 21st Century. If you're up for changing the world (or even want to tell me how wrong I am), get in touch:


bottom of page