Where Companies Go Wrong With Learning And Development: 6 Pitfalls To Avoid

Gary Stringer
February 5, 2024
February 5, 2024

It’s not easy being an L&D team right now!

We’re typically trying to deliver for a lot of people, sometimes with limited resources but almost always with a lot of pressure to help the business and its people grow.

A lot of the time, we don’t help ourselves. We plough our limited time and resources into activities and tactics that won’t help us do any of the above.

But if we’re going to deliver impact, we need to get past the things that stop us from driving impact and understand where companies go wrong with learning and development.

This post takes you through the most common kinds of L&D waste so that you can avoid falling into the same traps.

1. We’re often guilty of underestimating the pace of change

The world is changing faster than ever and we often underestimate the pace of that change and how much it’ll disrupt our business. 

This means we don’t learn fast enough to keep pace and the risk of our skills and knowledge becoming obsolete increases - which opens the door to competitors and disruptors in our space.

Think about the contrasting fortunes of Blockbuster and Netflix. Blockbuster was an established brand with so much more data on viewing habits and customer behaviour. 

But they were simply focused on scaling their existing model, rather than understanding changing customer needs and the evolving digital landscape. 

Their failure to learn fast and keep up with the pace of change opened the door to Netflix and the rest is history.

2. We fall into the trap of solving problems that don’t exist

Many L&D teams are operating like a failing startup, building a product the customer doesn't actually want or need based on assumptions they've made without asking the customer or digging into the problem.

Failing startups invest a tonne of resources, spend months building a product without ever testing it, and six months later, they launch. 

Only for their customer to tell them they don’t need it, they’re not going to use it, and it's really not that great. 

They end up back at the drawing board with a lot of wasted resources.

And that's not that dissimilar to L&D teams who fail to speak with their customers, spend months building or buying courses, and launch them, only to get feedback that it’s not solving a problem and people aren’t engaging with it. 

3. Which feeds into creating solutions before defining the problem to be solved

L&D teams are often under pressure to show output and impact, and it can rush us into creating before we really define those problems.

There’s a misconception that when my manager or the business asks me what I’ve been doing, I need to show them something. 

So we steam headfirst into creating a tangible thing we can show them, even if that tangible thing doesn’t solve a business challenge. 

And that's actually making the problem worse because the company thinks you're not adding any value. So, they’re either going to cut your budget or push your budget.

So, when you think about the ability to drive long-term impact, this is one of the things L&D teams in many companies get wrong.

4. Creating content without considering the context of where it’ll be used or the skills it needs to build

When we create content first, we ignore the context in which it’s going to be delivered and consumed. And it’s how we end up sending the wrong content to the wrong person at the wrong times and for the wrong reasons.

To our employees, it feels like an irrelevant and unwanted interruption, and we find ourselves with little to no engagement in learning. 

People don't see the value it offers them because we didn't start by understanding their motivation, their context, the problems to be solved or skills we’re trying to build. 

Instead, we started with someone asking us for a particular piece of content or the mindset that more content would be the answer. 

But we're living in a post-content world where content is cheap and abundant.

And when content is cheap and abundant, the biggest challenge is discovery - how do I find useful and relevant content that solves problems?


5. Failing to centralise resources (and adding friction to the learner experience)

That content discovery issue is only made worse by scattered resources. 

In too many companies, resources are stored in too many places, meaning people can’t find them when they have problems to solve. And we can’t influence their performance.

This is why almost a third of employees are waiting days or longer for vital information! When they search, they can’t find what they’re looking for - so they have to ask and wait for an answer.

And if they wait, it prevents them from learning when they’re most motivated to solve a problem and when solving that problem can have impact.

6. And lastly, we’re using vanity metrics to measure success

Business impact is the golden goose for L&D. But with the way we’re currently measuring learning impact, we’d be lucky to get our hands on a single feather.

According to LinkedIn, 6 of L&D’s top 12 success measures are vanity metrics and they make up the entirety of the top 5. In simple terms, L&D teams are still relying on course completion, the number of courses taken and employee satisfaction to demonstrate success.

When the way we measure success isn’t tied to business outcomes and performance, we’ll never know if we influenced it! And that’s how we would demonstrate L&D impact…

How can companies stop going wrong with learning and development?

If we’ve learned a few things from this post, it’s that problem discovery is paramount, context and change have to be factored into what we create, and we’re limited by scattered resources and vanity metrics.

And if that’s what a bad learning strategy looks like, how do we build the opposite to drive impact through development?

We’ve put together a free, six-step bootcamp for doing just that.

What The Fluff gives you the skills, frameworks and proven tactics to break down your L&D strategy and rebuild it for impact. 

Sign up free and start building your winning L&D strategy today