Why Business Needs Learning and Development


Untapped potential in Learning and Development (L&D) is a lost opportunity in most large Australian businesses. Whilst executives wonder what L&D does, L&D doesn’t get a hearing. Meanwhile, organisations and their people miss significant opportunities.

Executives look for answers in all directions – wrestling with over-regulation, meeting customer expectations, digital transformation, and improving productivity and profitability are all front of mind. Meanwhile L&D waves from the sidelines, hoping to be seen. L&D knows they can contribute to these issues, but struggle for influence and impact.

Is L&D missing from your line of sight? Do you just give them a nod of acknowledgement? They look after compliance and training courses, right?

If this old school view of learning sits in your business, you may be in trouble. Look at competitors and notice what the best are doing with learning. It’s transformed. In fact, they are embedding learning into work. The L&D function has adopted an explicit focus on performance. They are sharing responsibility for learning and performance with managers and staff. They are connecting people with each other across their organisations and beyond organisational boundaries to share knowledge and improve practices and outcomes.

Outside of work your people are learning in connected ways. They use the internet and digital tools to acquire and share information and evolve knowledge with others. These approaches have already changed your people’s lives, whether you are harnessing them or not.

I’ve participated in – and now lead – the ‘coming of age of learning’ in businesses. I was stunned to hear the former CEO of a Big 4 bank recently tell a gathering, “It felt like my L&D team worked for another organisation.” What a shame.

I’ve worked with senior leaders who expect more from learning and get it. From 2012 to 2016 I established and led the Supply Chain Academy at Coca-Cola Amatil. Our Director treated learning as a strategic tool. He expected his executive to use it as a lever for improved performance. And that’s what it became. In one instance we were tasked with addressing a business continuity risk. Critical operational processes and IT systems were reliant on a dangerously small number of experts. Delivery, quality and cost targets were being compromised given how few knew ‘how everything worked.’

We looked at the problem. Expertise was spread unevenly in operating locations across the country. Practitioners had limited connection to peers at other locations, and were busy keeping local operations running. They saw learning as separate to work, and had no time for it.

We created a network of practitioners who could share their knowledge and make it easier for them to learn and get better at their jobs. We used the many ways people learn to create individual, group and networked approaches. The Supply Chain Academy created a culture of sharing, collaboration and innovation. The Academy’s work won awards and recognition globally. It’s even been replicated in other Coca-Cola markets.

The project was well-supported and the flow-on significant. More effective problem solving and processes were created as a direct result. Operations ran more smoothly and productivity improved. Experts had more time to work on innovation and business transformation.

And this is my point. In a continuous learning environment L&D moves from creating and organising courses to building an entire culture of continuous learning. L&D prepares maps and equips people so that this culture flourishes. Importantly, L&D knows how people can learn as they work. They understand and enable knowledge sharing and learning networks. Treated with the respect and excitement it deserves, learning is not a disruption or burden. It’s all about potential. As it creates pride, connection and inspiration, people carry that spark with them every day.

Learning is an innate, deeply-human desire. Every CEO should know how to harness this for their business. I invite you to work with those who know how to activate your people. Your staff want to get better at their work, connect with others and continuously learn. I recommend you pull up a chair for your future Chief Learning Officer.

Michelle Ockers works with business leaders who believe in learning. She mentors L&D managers to help them become future CLO’s. Michelle welcomes contact from senior leaders who wish to harness learning and make it a key lever to achieve business results. Her current clients include Qantas, where she is guiding strategic transformation of L&D.

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