30 Mar 2023

What Does L&D Mean, and Why is it Important?

cartoonish rocket takeoff

L&D is often something that is cast aside by early-stage businesses, seen as taking less priority vs other initiatives, and something that ‘we can look at later down the line’.

But L&D, and your decision on how to approach it will play a huge part in how you scale, grow and succeed in the long term, so it’s important to understand the basics.

Photo of Ada Horne

Guest author
Ada Horne is a 3x Founder and People Leader and now helps early-stage companies find culture and employer brand identity to attract, hire and retain talent.

What is L&D?

L&D (Learning & Development) is a term used to describe a company’s approach to supporting employees in their growth and personal and professional development; either. Depending on your business, L&D as an initiative could take many forms. This could be anywhere from providing a simple self-managed L&D budget for employees to use how they wish (typical for smaller companies) all the way to having dedicated in-house L&D functions and teams who deliver their own in-house training to employees.

Ultimately it will mean different things to different companies at different stages of their journey, but what is vital is that regardless of where you are in your journey as a business, you are doing what you can, and also what works for your company.

Who Looks After L&D?

Larger companies (usually 500+ headcount) would very likely have their own L&D team or function in-house, broadly sitting within or very close to the wider HR or People function. Smaller companies however don’t always have the luxury of hiring these specialist roles in-house, so often companies in the 50-500 mark will delegate L&D initiatives to the HR & People function.

At the smaller end of that scale, you’ll likely have a People Leader who is much more generalist and oversees responsibility for this. Companies with fewer than 50, who perhaps haven’t hired into their People team yet, are those who often unintentionally ignore L&D. At this stage it’s the role of the Founder or Founding team to own L&D. It’s so important to ensure that someone is accountable and responsible at this stage for what L&D looks like.

What Does ‘Good’ L&D Look Like?

This is so dependent on your size and culture. For some companies this could mean delivering targeted in-house L&D initiatives to upskill employees in their current roles. It could mean utilising external L&D specialists on an ad-hoc basis to help plug gaps or upskill new managers. Or it could mean simply giving employees a budget and complete freedom to decide whether they spend that money on personal or professional development. It could in some companies of course be a mixture of all the above.

What Basics Can Smaller Companies Do To Make a Start on L&D?

If you can’t delegate to an L&D team or perhaps even a generalist People leader in your business, then there are still some great solutions for you that make employees feel empowered and in control of their ability to learn and grow. A few suggestions might be:

Set budgets

Put a basic L&D budget in place for your team. At a low-headcount this should be easy for someone to manage and monitor and it gives your team freedom to decide how and when they spend that budget. Be sure though to decide up front if there are conditions with what constitutes ‘L&D’ for your business.

Use the right tools

Consider utilising some level of tooling to help you manage L&D. There’s some amazing platforms out there. Learnerbly is one in the mainstream, but there are other incredible examples of startups shaking up the L&D space, one of those being UJJI who are gamifying L&D for startups – making it fun, rewarding and engaging for teams so that you can focus attention elsewhere.

Plan for progression

Ensure you have thought about your employee’s career paths within your business and try to have that mapped out. L&D doesn’t have to be all about budgets and courses. The simple knowledge that a company is invested in progressing and growing someone is one of the biggest things, and despite it taking some time to map out, it’s cost-effective if you can’t look at tooling and budgets

Connect with employees

Take the time to connect with your employees, find out what they want to learn, and where they want to go, and encourage them to take some time to build that side hustle, or learn to play that guitar, or go and do that life coaching course. If employees feel as though they have the freedom to use some time to dedicate to passion projects during working hours from time to time, then the motivation and engagement they’ll have towards you as an employee will increase.