Learning and Development : Where should it sit in the organisational structure ?

Hi and welcome to my blog.

After a recent exhausting Five Day Work Out Loud Blogging exercise I took a break but I am now back….

Firstly though I do wish to thank every single one of you who either read, commented and supported my recent Work Out Loud blogging – your comments and wishes have spurred me on to continue to blog and share.

As you would have guessed I am an L&D professional who does not over engineer L & D concepts, ideas and processes. I try and put myself in the shoes of the reader and /or learner and thus try to speak the language of the business and avoid HR / L&D speak (where possible).

I have recently been involved in a Twitter interaction with The Development Company  and Perry Timms on where should L&D sit in the organisation – should it be part of the business or is it better placed in the Human Resources department?

In addressing this question or more specifically in providing my view on this subject matter, I will refer to my 10 plus years as a Senior L&D Director of Learning and Development in the public sector.

When I started / ventured on my L&D journey in the Australian Public Services (APS) most of the function was performed at the business unit – that is the one’s closest to the action.  The business unit would have a small crew of L&D consultants (mostly non-qualified L&D staff who came from business).  They would source learning interventions either via a corporate cell (for soft skills) and then also look outside their agency for other training providers – mainly at the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) who were also in the business of providing training sessions.

The staff in these L&D business unit sat in the HR function of the business unit – that is the enabling area of the business.

In late 2006, a decision was made to pool all these learning resources in what I would term a pseudo-centralised model and form a sub-group approach to learning – so not a totally centralised model across the organisation but 11 business units were grouped together and L&D services provided to them as a sub-group. This group sat in the sub-group admin function (not the HR area as such)

In hindsight this was the best and most successful model I worked with in my 10 years in L&D. It was not only personal to the business but also central enough to leverage off other areas of the organisation and also look to external providers to fill in the gaps.

It was within this environment that I excelled and delivered some of the watershed outcomes that are still utilised and adopted. Initiatives such as prioritisation of learning delivery and executive reporting dashboard (never before attempted in the organisation).

As with all public sector organisations after a number of years it was time for another structural review of the enabling services and thus L&D was again impacted. This time though it was going to go all the way. This time there would be no half way re-structures and L&D would be totally overhauled.

In 2010 we centralised the whole L&D function – not really necessary to discuss philosophies  or reasons here and really not worth covering such ground, but what is worth discussing is the impact that this had on the organisation. Firstly, we had a grieving phase – one of where the business was loosing its long held and trusted L&D resources to the main pool. Secondly we had the maintenance of delivery phase where business, notwithstanding a major restructure of the L&D service, demanded that delivery would not be jeopardised in any manner. Lastly we had the funding process, where business not only lost resources (i.e. bodies) but they also lots funding and if you have ever worked in the public sector you will know that your funding is the most treasured possession – losing or having a cut to your funding is like losing a loved relative suddenly – you scream, you grieve and you constantly are asking why?

The centralised L&D function was aligned to the People function thus under HR and we were, in my honest opinion, as far away from business than ever before. In order to address this matter and to appease business that they would still be able to get traction on their demands, we established L&D Business Partners – a great concept in theory but the role was not fully scoped nor understood before implementation thus it was always going to be a struggle. The even more bizarre aspect of this Business Partner model was that they were funded by the L&D budget but reported to and were accountable to business.

It would be fair to say that after  a number of years of the new centralised model it was time to review it because we still had lots of “noise” in the system.  It was identified that learning requests were coming in thick and fast and that we did not have anyone “cutting them off at the pass”. A new role was established – Business Consultants (aka Performance Consultancy). Although these roles were established to allow for closer interaction and involvement with the business, we still had the L&D Business Partners – thus in my opinion  – retaining that  extra “layer” between business and L&D.

Just before departing the organisation, I along with three other colleagues, worked hard to establish the Consultancy function.  Given my extensive network and connectivity I was able to bring Nigel Harrison’s Performance Consultancy  process into the mix. This was meet with some resistance, mainly due to the lack of understanding of what Performance Consultancy is. I persisted and we were able to develop templates and processes around the model that Nigel advocates. This was at a time when the organisation was demanding more F2F training delivery. Thus here we were, on the one hand trying to move the organisation out of the Training Ghetto and on the other hand we had an increased demand for classroom training. The learning culture of the organisation needed influencing.

So in summary, reflecting on my experience, I have learnt three things about L&D and it’s positioning in the organisation:

1. L&D should be as close to or have an active personal relationship with the business – they do not need (as I discovered) Business Partners to add another layer to the process.

2. L&D needs to continue to look at innovative and renewed approaches to learning and actively influence the learning culture of the organisation.

3. L&D needs to be aligned directly, and I would go as far as to say , be jointly accountable with business on bottom line results and achievements.

So where should L&D sit – well if I ran an organisation I would have a centralised L&D function directly aligned to business via relationship management (some call it a Client Manager) approach and have L&D outcomes and measures linked to business KPIs.

If business did not deliver then L&D did not deliver – bold and daring – but in my view if we are going to ever get that dreaded seat at the table we need to stick our neck on the line.

So what do you think, where should L&D sit in the organisation?

Till next time, take care…



5 thoughts on “Learning and Development : Where should it sit in the organisational structure ?

  1. To take your question completely literally (and misinterpret it at the same time) let me share my experiences over the past few months…

    Our Bristol office, where I spend most of my time, is going through a major refit a the moment and we have quite a lot of space in the building, so to accommodate this we’ve been shuffling people around to empty out a floor at a time so we can have the air con replaced, walls painted, carpets replaced etc.

    For the past six or seven years I have sat in the HR office, which is one of the few enclosed offices in the building. Three of us sit there plus any HR visitors from other offices. Of course it’s important to have a private space for HR, secluded from the business so people can come in and have private conversations.

    However, when it came to our turn to move we were turfed out of our office onto the open floor, worse than that we were surrounded by IT people. Imagine our horror!

    Only it was far from horrific, it was enlightening, it was pleasant, we felt part of the business again. We overheard useful conversations, instead of requests for eyecare vouchers and questions about maternity leave or payslips and pensions. So when the time came to move back to our office we resisted and instead we are now sitting next to a newly formed team who are part of one of the most important transformation projects in the business. From here we’ve been able to gain real insight into the challenges of these teams and provide useful guidance and resources… without really trying.

    So where should L&D sit? I think we should be on perpetual safari, or perhaps we should be more like the littlest hobo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=banXT6azA-4

    As for the real question, the answer as usual is it depends, if you have a good relationship with a great HR business partner team who value L&D and the impact it can have and who don’t feel the need to hoard power and influence, I’m sure being part of HR could work. Can’t say I’ve ever experienced that though!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes Sam I am sure sitting with HR could work but all the planets would have to align.

    Glad to see you remember the Littlest Hobo – one of my favs when I was growing up along with Casey Jones and the Circus Boy !

    Thanks for your contribution.


  3. I have been fortunate to work in a business where we were in an open plan office, and although we were sat with IT, had little in the way of concern of private conversations or concerns about confidentiality. If ever a conversation was to go that way, we just used to find a room.

    I think this debate has been done to death. I’m over it these days. I don’t care where I sit, I’m the one making the decisions about how involved I am in the business.

    If I want to be relevant, I’ll be out there, talking with business leaders, getting my nose stuck into conversations that I was never invited to, and delivering awesome plans I’ve concucted and co-created.

    Where I sit is the biggest irrelevance of them all. I understand your points made, Con and Sam. I used to think it mattered too. Until I realised it didn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. pauldrasmussen says:


    For me I am a big believer in the centralised co-ordination (purchasing, content development etc) with regionalised or business unit delivery. I think however Sukh is right to a large extent it is about how involved L&D is in the business. Which is why I tend towards the business unit delivery style, where the connection with the business needs can be fostered by someone who is part of the business and accepted by the business as a partner. The centralised portion make is much easier for this for purchasing and administration and that strategic piece of work that if often missed at the business unit level.,


  5. Let me put it out there: I Honestly don’t care where L&D sits either! It was a question that was asked on twitter and a few of us decided to have a blog off.

    I do though believe that as a group, L&D can be centralised and not fragmented and/or dispersed across the organisation.

    I am a firm believer of the Kettleborough approach to L&D – i.e as long as L&D is aligned to the business goals and outcomes and like I said above, even held accountable, then L&D can and will be taken as a serous player in the organisation.


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