New Research From Redthread Outlines Which Skills L&D Leaders Should Develop to Meet Ambitious New Business Expectations

Learning and Development (L&D) needs to step up their game if they want to seize emerging leadership opportunities, according to a new report from RedThread Research. Businesses are looking to L&D to lead large, complex initiatives such as upskilling, workplace culture, and mobility. To succeed, L&D leaders must quickly acquire the right skills for the job.

Thanks to the upheaval of the pandemic and changing business and workforce needs, learning and development (L&D) functions find themselves in the spotlight, according to a new report from RedThread Research. Businesses are looking to L&D for help meeting important business objectives that span the enterprise, including upskilling the workforce, shifting work culture, and improving internal mobility.

“L&D is having a bit of a moment,” said Dani Johnson, co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread Research. “The last two years have increased awareness of how important employee development is. Now businesses are turning to L&D functions to lead some pretty audacious, high-level initiatives.”

The report, “Future-proofing L&D: Developing the Right Skills,” by Johnson and Lauren Caddell, published by RedThread, explores the changing role of L&D leaders and how they are responding to new challenges. Portions of the report were also featured .

“The problems L&D is tackling—upskilling, agile workforces, mobility, work culture—aren’t small,” explained Johnson. “They’re big and important, which is both a blessing and a curse. L&D has been seeking a ‘seat at the table’ for years. They finally, undeniably, have one. The question now is, do they have the skills they need to do something at that table?”

With so much new visibility, L&D pros are feeling the heat. RedThread’s new research indicates that many L&D pros are walking into this situation underprepared. To meet these new challenges, they’re not just looking to improve how they deliver L&D, they need new and better core business skills.

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RedThread asked more than 300 L&D pros an open-ended question about which skills they felt they needed for the future. The authors organized the responses into 39 types of skills, then grouped those into seven general skill categories. They also gathered data about the overall performance of each participant’s organization, identifying the top 25% as high-performing organizations. Distinct differences in high-performing organizations emerged.

“When we compared L&D pros in the high-performing organizations to those in other organizations, it was clear that they were emphasizing different skills,” said Johnson. “We can learn from them. Knowing which skills you should focus on is half the battle.”

While all of the organizations prioritized leadership skills, those at high-performing organizations did so more than others, focusing their energies on consulting, motivating, engaging, and coaching. They also targeted data skills used to improve decision-making, business skills to better align L&D’s work with business strategy, and relationship skills to improve collaboration and partnerships. In fact, L&D pros at high-performing organizations viewed advancing their business skills to be as important as advancing their core L&D skills.

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Particularly at high-performing organizations, L&D’s influence is growing. About half of high-performing organizations involved L&D in larger strategic discussions and workforce planning, a level of involvement that would have been unheard of a decade ago, noted Johnson.

“This study taught us a lot about the significant challenges L&D pros are facing and where they should focus their efforts for the future,” said Johnson. “You still have to find the time to actually develop new skills, but at least you can head in the most effective direction to make the most of emerging opportunities.”

To see the full report, including a detailed infographic illustrating the skills L&D pros are prioritizing for the future, For complete access to the latest research in human resources and workforce development strategies, become a RedThread Research member.

On Thursday, June 23, at 1pm ET RedThread will host a webinar with co-founder and principal analyst Dani Johnson and Linda Jingfang Cai, VP of talent development at LinkedIn. They’ll present the study’s findings and discuss how L&D pros can overcome the challenges they’re facing and build their skills to become long-term leaders in their organizations.

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