The Structure of Learning and Development

How do you structure a learning and development unit for maximum organisational efficiency, 

seems to be a question with as many answers as there are organisations and organisational structures.  Some argue that it should be part of HR, some that it should stand alone and have its own seat at the big table and a lot just have no idea where it fits.  I am not going to get into that argument to, though a lot of you I suspect already know where I stand.  What interests me more at the moment is the actual structure of the unit itself rather than where it fits in an organisation.

Essentially there are three models for the structure of L&D

  1. Centralised – Where all learning and development activities are managed through a single central unit,k
  2. Decentralise – Where the responsibility for learning is spread across the various departments, units, divisions or regions of the organisation, and
  3. Matrix – Where there is both centralised and decentralised aspects.

So which structure works the best is there one that has a better chance of maximising organisational efficiency in terms of consistency and cost.  I tend to lean towards the Matrix model over the other two because it seems to offer the best opportunity of maximising efficiencies, there is however a caveat that needs to go along with this.  It is clearly the most difficult to both create and maintain.

A centralised approach works well in smaller or single site or single ‘product’ organisations but as organisations grow in size and product diversity the challenge for the centralised approached is to be able to ensure that the various parts of the business are getting the training they require and that a ‘head office gets everything attitude does not develop.

Decentralised structures are often found in conglomerate organisations, with very distinct business units or product lines or regions.  They often occur as a result of mergers or through the development of new business opportunities.  The real issue for decentralised structures is that often economies of scale are not well utilised and consistency of content and delivery becomes more difficult to maintain.

The Matrix model however enables various business units to have a level of autonomy over their training spend and a level of responsiveness which may be lacking in a purely centralised model.  It also allows for great levels of control over organisational wide learning activities and programs as well as being better able to respond to issues around consistency of training content and delivery.

Or maybe I just like it because it is the model we us.

I would be interested to hear what everyone thinks, particularly if some is operating in a model which doesn’t match the three I have mentioned above.

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About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

One Response to The Structure of Learning and Development

  1. Leo Salazar says:

    I’ve learned that it’s always best to first focus on effectiveness before you start worrying about efficiency. Even though some may argue that in these difficult economic conditions, nobody can afford to not be concerned about efficiency. While I would agree on the face of this, my experience is if you’re getting visible, concrete and measurable results, there are few who will question how much it’s costing.

    Having said this, and given your 3 choices of structure, I would go with the matrix structure. 1) There is only one way to guarantee measurable results, and that’s having the involvement and commitment of line management. Business relevance is the key here. 2) By having a centralized decision making unit, you’re much more able to perceive economies of scale and to search for efficiencies.

    tl;dr: matrix = decentralized for the effectiveness; centralized for the efficiency.

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