Is there a glass wall?

As the number and variety of dedicated L&D roles continues to rise, coupled with the expanding utilisation of Business partner models with a clear and stated need for L&D professionals to be commercially adept to elevate the function beyond delivering training.  Do you perceive there to be a glass wall which prevents non HR professionals from bringing their commercial and operational experience into the world of L&D?

I expect there to be differing responses from various industries, and I would love to hear your views, but my perception is that HR remain narrow minded about what constitutes the required work history, rather than who can bring the right skills to the table and make a difference...

I hope I am wrong


You need to be a member of DPG Community to add comments!

Join DPG Community

Email me when people reply –


  • Mark, my limited experience of HR professionals in the commercial sector is that they (and many others in the wider organisation) do not really consider L&D to be an HR function. I have found that many think that L&D has been given to, or put under the wing of, HR departments because 'it has to go somewhere'. As L&D is a relatively new title compared to 'training management' or similar I think many remain in the realms of "training is what the lower levels of the workforce need to be able to produce" rather than as a strategic enabler or what we would have called in the military 'a force multiplier'.

    Just my humble, new to L&D opinion. I am however very keen to see the glass wall cracked. Surely everyone is a winner when that happens?

  • Hi Mark

    My experience of talking to senior L&D people is that many of them have come into the role from outside of HR and L&D. If you look at the CIPD report L&D: evolving roles, enhancing sills, you can see that the future skills required of L&D are not only the preserve of HR and L&D. That is a challenge to incumbent HR and L&D teams but a good one - this is about keeping skills and attitudes up to date. I think we would do well to recognise that performance impact happens in many ways - through technology, socially, culturally, relationships, reward etc so people with these skills in these areas will be needed. Underpinning this has to be a deep passion for and understanding of how adults learn and how they develop.

    Interestingly, HR knows it has to change - just look at the CIPD's Profession for the Future initiative.   


    • HI Martin & Maik

      It is really good to read both your thoughts and I agree with you that we, to which I specifically mean me, have develop a passion for learning and development rather than it being an ambition to begin with.  Many of the Students I have talked to on the L&D management programme share the experience of growing through to be come a technical expert in their field and on into training.  However, within the medical devices industry, in which I have worked for 20 year's training is still part of and reports through the business unit and largely seen a 'destination job' .  As a result those roles struggle to escape 'stand and deliver' transactional models, and when times are lean it is the first place where the axe falls.

      In reading your responses, I am considering if I was asking the wrong question in the first place.  Is the real issue that my industry is failing to make the same transition to learning based on business expectations, and job specification require as standard minimum 5 years evidenced experience in HR policy management and implementation?

      I think that we potentially walk a tightrope with many discussion, without first agreeing to define Learning and Development in the context of  the discussion.  Mike talks about a capability gap in L&D, I see a big one being a lack of commercial experience.  It would be very easy for me to descend into a frustrated rant, but as a signpost I have spent the last 10 years in Field based sales training, coaching and management roles, and in that time the L&D manager from within the HR department spent half of one day in one of my team meetings....

      IF the glass wall exists or not, what I have to accept is that no one shed any light by shouting at the darkness.  What would the world look like if we could shift the needle on line managers and they became development professionals?


      • Hi Mark

        I think you are raising some big issues here. One of them is impact and influence: if L&D professionals have that they will start to push the learning agenda higher up the organisation. That does mean spending much more time in the business, identifying the challenges that L&D can help solve and then solving them and sharing that success. This is definitely about being proactive and visible in the business.

        The role of managers in employee development remains a huge challenge as most managers are not given the time to manage. That's not to say it can't happen . . . it will need a lot of rethinking how managers manage when they are under pressure to do the 'day job'.


  • Hi Mark,

    I've sat on this and pondered somewhat on what you're asking as I think there are a few things in here.

    1. The diverse roles and specialisms developing in the L&D world 
    2. The perception of what L&D is - is it integral and part of the business or seen as a training function that's sits away from the business and often seen as cost and a bit 'woolly' 
    3. The commercial acumen of people in L&D roles - is it training or performance - how does what we do impact business and KPI's
    4. Is HR to inward facing and not looking to bring expertise in from other industries or acknowledge different skills sets that can be applied in different ways.

    Lots to go at here - from what I've seen and read you can't go anywhere without reading that L&D (as well as lots of people in general) have a capability gap. There is a capability crisis in fact  in relation to technology - technology this, technology that, digital whatsit. I'm a big believer in technology as an enabler and in fact technology supported learning / collaboration as influenced my career path in L&D greatly. However there is more to this capability gap than technology, commercial acumen and performance consulting. My question is this...

    Who sets out wanting to be a Learning & Development professional?

    I guarantee most, if not all L&D professionals fell in to role or found themselves doing some sort of training activity or were 'experts' in a product or process (or both) and were brought in to the training team.

    I think this 'crisis' isn't just in capability but it's also in the entire perception and attractiveness of L&D. In most organisations this is still seen as training and whilst some enlightened organisations are experimenting with new roles and business partner models for me the L&D function is still much the same as it was 5 years ago. It's a delivery function, it's not strategic enough and for most parts it serves the needs and desires of it's customers - 'the business'. This is fine providing L&D aren't just order takers and we are influencing and educating our customers in how to improve what we do and how we do it and identifying actual problems and help SOLVE these problems with a variety of solutions some of which DO NOT NEED TRAINING in any way shape or form.

    I draw your attention to the below image which sums this up perfectively. This should be pinned to every persons desk in an organisation not just L&D.


    I digress, things are changing but not fast enough - two reports worth reading if you haven't had the pleasure yet

    Both focus on what L&D need to do better and where successful L&D teams are having most impact. From this we can see the sort of skills that L&D need to develop, the sort of thinking we need to be capable of. It isn't just facilitating, designing a workshop, collating happy sheets, instructional design etc. 

    Where is the systems thinking, design thinking, focus on user experience - learning from how people use the modern web, video production, animation design, critical thinking and analyse, data analysis, consultative skills, commercial acumen that drives credibility and influence, audio production, marketing skills, community management and curation skills to name but a few key things sadly missing from a lot of L&D team.

    So where do we get these skills from as we can't develop them all in house or because people in L&D show an interest or have a hobby - although I am a big believer in developing internal skills and capability. What industries or roles require these capabilities?

    The best example I've got is from BP where Nick Shackleton-Jones has done a great job in assembling the equivalent of a L&D task force that has brought together a unique set of skills - some of which you would not associate with L&D... the one below who has a background in digital marketing and came from a digital marketing background - now applying her skills in an L&D capacity to great effect. In my view we need to look at the industries where the skills we need reside and do a better job in making L&D an attractive place to work as an genuine career alternative.

    If HR are to narrow minded to acknowledge this and are providing jobs based on work history and not selecting individuals with the right skills they need to support the business then perhaps it's the HR team that need to go first.

    Meet Gemma - Digital Marketeer turned L&D storyteller

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject Mark.

This reply was deleted.

CIPD Branch Events

Did you know your local CIPD branch will put on relevant events that are free to CIPD members.

Take a look for your local branch here and what events are happening. Remember attending these events are great CPD evidence.

CIPD Branch Event Search


Click here to see a full list of members including our Facilitators.

Did you know that if you go to the list of members, the Members Online button will show you who is online right now? Why not say hello?