What is L&D?

L&D stands for Learning and Development and is a long-term process that is designed to keep individual skills and performance aligned with the organization’s goals and requirements. A subset of human resources, L&D is an ongoing process focused on helping employees learn new skills and keeping them motivated and productive.

On the surface, human resources and learning and development have a lot of similarities: Both deal with onboarding new employees and both carry educational responsibilities within an organization. But as far as we’re concerned, that’s where the similarities end. Whether you’re an HR pro making the leap to an L&D role, or you’re making a bid for a larger L&D influence in your organization, the transition from traditional HR to an L&D perspective is a lot easier when you understand a few fundamental differences between the two roles.


1. L&D Is Not About Training, it’s About Learning

It’s true that there is some responsibility overlap between HR and L&D. But the real difference isn’t within the responsibility, but the approach in fulfilling those responsibilities. The HR department follows a by-the-book approach to training: HR professionals focus on compliance and finishing training-related tasks. The HR department thrives on rules, order and reporting.

But L&D professionals look at training and development in a completely different way. Rather than seeing training as a one-off task to be completed, they recognize that learning happens perpetually over time. Learning and development pros realize that not all learning can be completed with a one-time training session, and instead look at educational needs in a holistic way. How can information best be delivered to employees? What’s the best way to help them in their roles?

2. It’s Not About Policy, it’s About Skill

Dress code, corporate conduct and reporting? That’s HR’s realm of expertise. Focusing on the rules of business allows HR to set clear, black-and-white rules for each employee. Their role is to set expectations, both fundamental and legal, for employees within an organization. Necessary, but ultimately pretty boring.

An L&D professional recognizes that HR functions are vital to the success of a company and its employees, but carves a different path for talent management, education and employee development. By focusing on individual skills and creating the best employees possible, L&D takes over the roles of succession and talent management by offering the tools necessary to succeed. Learning and development is much less concerned with the rules and more interested in improving employees.

3. It’s About Performance – Not Checking a To-Do List

When a new employee starts with an organization, there’s a laundry list of HR functions that need to be taken care of, from explaining vacation policy to discussing office conduct. Once those functions are completed, HR – for the most part – withdraws until services are needed again. An onboarded employee makes for another check mark on the to-do list.

The best L&D professionals understand that development is an ongoing process, and are much more concerned with employee performance than simply getting the job done. They ask questions about sales numbers, customer service satisfaction and job efficiency, developing processes to improve each role. To an L&D pro, improvement in job performance is the ultimate goal – and no one is perfect, which makes learning a perpetual task.

We’ve noticed a distinct shift in the way CLOs handle training: Is L&D part of the HR department or is a completely different department altogether. They might look alike on the outside, but swapping between HR and L&D is a mistake. By respecting their individual functions, you’ll find you have a place for both roles within your organization.