Business Partnering and what it means practically for L&D departments.

One of the recommendations for new ways of working within L&D departments is, ‘a deliberate focus on strategic business partnering’. I think it’s important to clarify exactly what that means for us, for our customers and for the organisation.

Why change?

In 2018 learning in the workplace looks and feels very different from what it was. The amount of information people need to carry out their jobs has altered; there is more of it than ever before and it’s changing all the time. Part of this change comes from knowledge-based work, and part of it springs from technological and communication advancements. Previously the role of L&D was to provide ‘just in case’ knowledge and skills for use at some time in the future. Now, the L&D role is to:

  • align learning to performance and business improvement
  • help to develop learning capability in the workforce so that people get better at learning
  • develop learning content in collaboration with subject matter experts to provide ‘just in time’ performance support
  • support ongoing professional development

So, what does ‘a focus on strategic Business Partnering’ mean in practical terms?

There are many different roles of a BP and I think the diagram below gives a good sense of what the role may look like in practice (source

A business partner’s main role is to support performance improvement and this can be broken down into different functions:

  • Consultant – developing ‘unit self-reliance’ – helping others get better at doing things for themselves
  • Governance – advice on good policy, good stories and good practice in L&D
  • Service Provision – providing information and guidance on ‘services’ and the wider L&D ‘offer’.
  • Co-Leadership – running joint initiatives in collaboration with others

Business Partners (BP) will be the first point of contact between the L&D teams and their customers. They will work with senior stakeholders to identify specific performance improvement goals over a set period e.g. 12 months.

For the BP to be credible in their role they will need to hone certain skills, knowledge and expertise.

BP role Performance Indicators
Discover performance improvement objectives ·        Unit leaders can identify and articulate key performance outcomes related to organisational priorities
Consultant ·        Advises on developing a learning culture – e.g. understands a learning organisation, how adults learn, learning literacy and modern workplace learning (MWL)

·        Outlines practical steps for unit leadership and management to embed a positive culture of MWL

Governance ·        Contributes to, and shares good stories and good practice to embed co-creation and support for local initiatives

·        Develops, uses and shares templates and examples that help units take ownership of performance improvement strategies, planning and development

Service Provider ·        Provides information, signposts and raises awareness of L&D interventions to meet performance outcomes
Co-leader ·        This part of the role is linked to ‘consultant’ – the learning culture ‘interventions’ are useful for building relationships and therefore may suit the BP rather than another facilitator.

The BP can then work with learning designers and facilitators to plan L&D programmes that are locally led, co-created, supported over time and can be evaluated against performance indicators.

Business Partnering is a key role within the L&D function or should I say Performance Excellence Dept….? There are other main roles such as digital and learning designers, and facilitators – we need to explore what all these roles mean in practical terms so that we can maintain relevance in the changing work environment.


Learning Literacy – learning how to learn

How do some people manage to learn new things very quickly? How do they pick up new skills and apply them with seemingly little effort, whilst others slog over texts and models, and never seem to remember content, or more importantly be able to apply ideas? We all remember times at school endlessly repeating facts, rereading texts, underlining and highlighting. But to what end? Work by many, including Dr Barbara Oakley, from the University of San Diego, and author Peter Brown (Make it Stick, the Science of Successful Learning) have suggested that much of this effort is wasted. The study of learning is a science, and we are only now getting a better understanding of how to learn more effectively and efficiently.

Oakley introduces the concept of ‘diffuse’ and ‘focused’ thinking; different modes of thinking that we can use to approach learning and problem-solving. Focused thinking could also be described as convergent thinking i.e. a focus on existing patterns and knowledge – focused thinking uses existing mental pathways to help inform actions. Diffuse thinking could also be described as divergent thinking i.e. new and different ways of approaching a problem or situation.  To learn and problem solve effectively we need to harness both modes over time; we need to move between the two to make the most of our creative minds. To explain diffuse and focused thinking, Oakley uses the analogy of a runner training for a marathon.

Training for a marathon takes time and a runner will plan their exercise schedule over a period – could be months for a novice. The schedule will include different types of exercise, various lengths of runs and multiple varieties of food.  One thing for certain, it will not be a mass of activity the week before the run (or a one day training course on how to run a marathon) and it will not be one type of run repeated again and again. Training for a marathon, learning how to run a marathon, will include variety, time, practice, reflection, support and (lots of) hard work.

In the workplace, we probably won’t be learning how to run a marathon, but we do need to learn new skills, approaches to problem-solving and decision-making, and enhanced behaviours so that we maintain and grow professional competence. Therefore, learning how to learn in the most effective and efficient way is an important skill.

So how can we practically use diffuse and focused thinking to help us learn new skills? Oakley suggests using the Pomodoro technique (, a time management tool used to ‘force’ us to change thinking modes, and therefore benefit from more creative thinking.  During the breaks between timed periods of sustained effort (focused thinking), Oakley suggests something ‘fun’ – walk outside, stretch, listen/play music, something that allows the mind the freedom to roam (diffuse thinking).  This ‘freedom time’ is when learning starts, when light-bulbs come on, realisation happens, understanding and next steps come to the fore.

Problem solving and decision making, then doing or trying something, are the first steps in Kolb’s learning cycle.  Real learning will only happen when we think and reflect on our actions, and then try to learn and develop the skill or behaviour over time.

Kolb’s learning cycle:

  • Concrete experience – Try something
  • Reflective observation – What happened?
  • Abstract observation – So what?
  • Active experimentation – Now what?

It is the reflection and action over time that will help us learn new skills and behaviour. Regular practice helps build muscles and neural pathways so that the new knowledge embeds and is more easily retrieved. Basically, we get better at stuff (successful learning) when we practice, allow ourselves time to think and reflect, and then practice again.  One off cramming, one time learning events, one anything, will not help us learn and improve effectively.  Practice over time is key to learning.

As is sleep…..

Sleep helps recall, is a good problem solver, it clears out toxins, sorts context, strengthens concepts and helps us rehearse ideas according to Oakley, and Shakespeare….  ‘Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care, The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath, Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast’.

I think its time for my nap…



Knowing what, is not the same as knowing how

I’m struggling: my struggle is about how to communicate that knowing stuff, ploughing through content, attending a workshop or passing a test does not a better communicator, influencer, line manager make.  Knowing what, is not the same as knowing how.

Learning happens when you have acquired new skills, knowledge, competence, insight and applied that new information to a situation. Learning is changed behaviour and it happens through conscious and reflective practice and mindful reflection.

  • conscious practice – the ability to identify and practice key skills, knowledge or behaviours in order to improve
  • reflective practice – the ability to try something out and then think about what and why something happened
  • mindful reflection – the ability to give and take feedback from yourself, to analyse what you did well and not so well without hubris or self-denigration.

Our role in L&D is (I think) about helping create the environment for people to learn, developing leaders and managers so that they can enthuse and empower teams and individuals to try new things and think differently, sharing stories of what works, and finally to ensure that when we do ‘deliver stuff’ it is directly applicable in the workplace to help people do their jobs differently and better.

I’m more and more convinced about the importance of line managers and the work environment.  Self directed learning works when you have a supporter and enthusiast, cheering you along from the sidelines and giving constructive feedback so that learning is a positive, iterative process that takes place as part everyday work.



Learning Literacy

I promised to write this blog on how to implement ‘learning every day’ i.e. something around learning literacy. I’m still not sure how to do this, but I’m convinced that reflection and reflective practice are part of the story. You can learn by doing, but only if you reflect on the ‘doing’, this ensures that your learning hardwires things that you want to improve or change.

Another part of this blog on learning, is that I’m also using it to learn how to use voice recognition software. I feel stilted, unsure about what to say as I still haven’t worked out how to be free-flowing and freethinking whilst managing to speak cohesively and concisely at the same time. The software, although very good, cannot understand ‘ums and ahs’ and so my speaking is hesitant and not free-flowing.

I said that we would discuss learning literacy; perhaps first we should discuss what learning literacy is. Is it:

  • conscious practice – the ability to identify and practice key skills, knowledge or behaviours in order to improve
  • reflective practice – the ability to try something out and then think about what and why something happened
  • mindful reflection – the ability to give and take feedback from yourself, to analyse what you did well and not so well without hubris or self-denigration.

Learning skills and knowledge seems to be fairly easy; you read, absorb information and repeat back when needed or necessary. It is the application of that knowledge to different situations within the workplace, or in interactions with people that is hard.

Sustained learning and performance improvement takes time, and includes regular feedback, reflection, praise and an iterative process of self-awareness building. (On a side note, reading through the transcribed document shows what rubbish I’ve spoken whilst trying out the software.… this is both shocking and good. Perhaps we should ask all those that speak regularly in public, and/or in learning and development workshops to use voice recognition software so that they can get a sense of what they really say – I deleted the word vacuous for the sake of harmony.)

Anyway, back to learning every day. We need to use multipliers to help us extend learning and development throughout the organisation. We need learning design that is engaging, attractive, useful, interesting and on demand so that we can build learning converts (it is the converts that will help share and spread our message).

Learning and development departments are not the owners of knowledge; we should stop worrying about how it is gathered, how it is used and how it is shared. We would do better if we encouraged line managers to be interested in the development of their people, and share stories about how learning has helped someone to do their jobs better. We need to give up ownership of content and the management of content, and allow people to think and learn for themselves. We are, and should be, enablers, multipliers, facilitators, conduits, coaches and enthusiasts – let’s stop worrying about what people learn, and concentrate on how they learn and apply new knowledge, skills and behaviours. People rarely learn what they don’t need, more often they will learn something that helps them improve their jobs, working relationships or how they manage their day-to-day work and life. Occasionally people will learn the wrong things; dealing with this, and with mistakes are in itself part of the learning journey.

Make every day a learning day

I’ve been enthused to write this blog by the CIPD blog squad lead this year Helen Amery @WildFigsolns. Helen has challenged us to think about ‘making everyday a learning day’.  So far today, I’ve shouted at my laptop on numerous occasions as I’m in France and the wind is affecting the wifi – I know that’s a first world problem – but it’s still an annoying one!

But what does this mean if I’m to make a conscious effort to make everyday a learning day?  For me, I think it means more reflection, and then a conscious effort to practise new behaviour.

I know I get frustrated (although I only shout at inanimate objects in the privacy of my own office), and that frustration does occasionally come out in my voice.  I need to temper that, recognise when it’s happening and make choices about what I say and do …. It won’t always work, and I will probably still show frustration sometimes, but this should happen less often over time AS LONG as I reflect and practise on my impact and the change I want to make.

Learning takes time: I read a blog and watched a video yesterday.  The blog was written by the most senior person in the organisation and the phrase ‘I learned’ appeared 3 times in the last few paragraphs.  It’s refreshing to hear personal stories of doubt and unknowing – we’re not alone in being worried and nervous about something new.   The video message was a personal story of learning over 8 years – ‘change doesn’t happen overnight’ and ‘it’s not easy’.  Difficult messages to hear when we operate in a world of instant gratification and ‘flick of the switch’ returns.

My ‘every day a learning day’ promise:

  • Reflect and make my practice conscious i.e. not just thinking about it, but thinking about what I’m trying to do, what happens when I try, the impact I want to make and what to try next time
  • Keep a log of what’s happening – daily probably isn’t realistic – weekly is.
  • Seek out feedback, share with my network and ask for help

One of the hardest things I find is to encourage others to reflect, really listen and acknowledge feedback, and try new things. It is one of the challenges we face in our L&D world.  The L&Ders around me are full of enthusiasm for ‘modern workplace learning’ methods; a move to collaboration and partnership and away from the ‘sage on the stage’. Yet, our customers are global and ‘learning literacy’ is still far from a reality in a number of places, regardless of grade or job title.  We have to start from where people are on the ‘learning to learn’ curve even when we are skipping down the other side exhilarated and enthused.

Next piece – what can we do about it?

Old Year, New Year

I’ve been meaning to write this blog for a few days but Christmas and the end of year celebrations got in the way.

The title, ‘Old Year, New Year’ comes from Holland as Dec 31st is known, not as New Year’s Eve, but Old Year’s Day; a time of reflection.  Time to look back on what was, what may have been and what was learnt.

Some thoughts…..

Expect the unexpected and don’t trust to fate.  Work hard to get your message across, be open to change and seek to understand the impact of decisions on others.  Brexit and the election of Trump should have made us all realise that we can’t take things for granted, and that there are huge differences in thinking, values and beliefs across society.  Those differences are reflected in the work place and that makes work more interesting, yet much more complicated.

THINK before sharing your wisdom.  Is what you say, True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind?  But hang on, how do you give necessary difficult feedback (i.e. things aren’t going to plan, or something’s not happening that should be) and make it ‘kind’ and ‘inspiring’. Difficult, impossible?  I think it’s about choosing the right words, being consistent and honest, and seeking resolution not harm in any discussion.

Respond for the greater good (go back to THINK), not for short term satisfaction.  The long-term damage of your brilliant, witty (but harshly) scripted email may make you feel good, but long term it may cause potential damage to relationships and therefore results.

Draft, read, wait, revisit, redraft, send.  If it doesn’t feel right, then it’s not OK so take the time to reflect and respond wisely (and check who you are sending it too!).

Time doesn’t sort stuff out – it just gives you better tools to respond.  So take time to think, walk, talk and breathe before making decisions.

You can only start from where you are (thank you to my colleague Andrew Le Poidevin for that pearl of wisdom). It’ll never be perfect or finished, but if you are going in the right direction – that’s good.

Concentrate on what you do know. Don’t whinge about what you don’t have or what you don’t know.  What do you know, what have you got, what are your next steps?  I suppose that also means that you need to know where you’re going…..

Know where you’re going.  What does success look like?  Can you articulate the ‘Why’ (@simonsinek) ‘What you’re up to’ (steveradcliffe  from Future, Engage, Deliver fame). If your future self were to talk about past accomplishments in your role – what would you want to say? What accomplishments would you like to list for you, for your team and for your organisation?

Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Find people you can laugh and smile with – enjoy yourself.  I have been incredibly lucky over the past few years to work with some very competent, funny and genuinely nice people.  People who make me laugh out loud – you know who you are – thank you.

Back to work…

After the holidays the return to work always prompts thoughts of new ideas, next steps and change…. Some things I’ve been thinking about: If learning is work and work is learning then why do …

Source: Back to work…