Internal or external?
When it comes to Learning & Development (L&D) programs, many organizations choose to bring in outside consultants, rather than building an internal team. But there are many benefits of having an internal L&D consultant integrated into the business. For example, internal consultants already have relationships with other workers within the organization, enjoy access to senior leaders, and are experienced in getting their points across on a regular basis. This makes communication with the rest of the organization easier for internal resources than for external consultants, who would first need to identify the key people in the organization, then establish credibility in order to have their ideas and proposals considered seriously.
Moreover, when functioning internally, L&D teams have a better understanding of the organization. In addition to helping them manage processes and projects within the organization, this makes them particularly valuable in implementing strategic change trajectories and culture transformation initiatives. Internal L&D resources are more involved with the realization of their own advice, and this enables them to play an important role even after the implementation is complete. And of course, there are many other benefits to having a close knowledge and familiarity with the workings of your own organization.
However, when weighing the benefits of internal versus external L&D support, the real question is whether the individuals working within the organization have the objectivity and broader perspective of experts from the outside.
The broader perspective and deeper expertise that external consultants bring regarding different cultural norms and methodologies can often provide a clearer indicator of the future model of your organization, rather than simply a continuation of the status quo.
3 Key Roles
Regardless of whether the L&D professional works as an internal or external consultant, they need to develop a set of core competencies that will enable them to serve as the champions of change, curators of human capital and stewards of total rewards. They must simultaneously oversee compliance, interpret analytics and integrate technology and media. Where the organization’s CEO may only be looking up to a couple of years down the road, L&D professionals should be taking the long view.
L&D professionals serve 3 key roles within the organization:
Strategy and Implementation: L&D professionals must be aware of, and able to translate, external business trends into internal organization actions. They need to understand the general business conditions that affect their industry, and then target and serve their organization’s key customers. This requires an in-depth understanding of customer expectations, and the ability to segment them accordingly. It also requires the ability to align organization actions to meet customer needs. As strategic positioner, they must co-create their organization’s strategic response to customer expectations by helping to frame the issues and make the best choices.
Paradox navigation: Navigating paradox involves embracing new tensions and facilitating dialogue that encourages organizational agility. Instead of focusing on “either/or” strategies, paradoxical thinking emphasises “and/also” thinking to keep pace with change.
Credible action: L&D professionals who are credible but not active will have little impact. Similarly, activists who are not credible may have ideas but nobody will listen to them. L&D consultants (both internal and external) need to be trusted, respected, admired and listened to -- but, above all, they must have a point of view and take a position.
Seven Key Questions
L&D professionals, both internal and external, should think entrepreneurially, learn from failure and try stuff out. Here are six questions that should be kept constantly at the forefront of our minds:
Am I using the appropriate techniques to positively influence internal clients?
How can I balance organizational tension in my area?
How can I enhance my trustworthiness and credibility in a consulting role and enhance support and commitment from stakeholders?
Is our current L&D business model viable for the future?
How can I get feedback from the organization on how L&D can improve.
What can I try to be a more effective consultant?
How will I adapt my approach to suit the local context?