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  • Writer's pictureIrina Ketkin

From Zero to Hero: How to Setup a Successful L&D Department

If you’re reading this, chances are you want to set up a brand new Learning and Development department in your company. While it is definitely a cause for celebration (Yay, you!), you’ve got a long road ahead of you. We’re here to help you figure out the most critical things you need to consider and give practical examples of what that could look like in practice.

 


Table of Contents:

 

TL;DR

Setting up an L&D department involves understanding organizational needs, developing a comprehensive learning strategy, organizing a skilled team, and continuously monitoring and improving processes. Focus on aligning your L&D efforts with business goals, nurturing team development, and regularly evaluating the effectiveness of your programs to build a thriving learning culture within your organization.

 

 

Step 1. Define the L&D Vision and Goals

Understand the Organizational Needs

L&D should exist for a reason. And that reason is to help the organization meet its learning requirements. To do that, you first need to understand what those requirements are. Conduct surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews to gather insights about the company's learning needs.

 

Practical Example:

If the business wants to increase customer satisfaction by reducing product defects, L&D could consider targeted quality control learning interventions, such as training programs, online courses or modules, microlearning nudges, or a buddy system.

 

 

Develop a Learning Strategy

Once you know the learning requirements, it’s time to create a plan. This is known as a Learning & Development strategy. This document should include:

  • The department’s vision, mission, and goals

  • Roles and responsibilities

  • Learning priorities based on identified requirements and needs

  • Learning delivery methods

  • L&D initiatives list (usually broken into onboarding, employees, management/leadership, and team development)

  • Resource allocation (incl. people, budget, technology, etc.)

  • Evaluation and measurement approach, etc.

 

Your strategy document must have very specific and measurable objectives. It’s not enough to say, “We’ll upskill our managers”. You need to outline specific goals such as “We’ll provide 40 hours of leadership training and coaching to all mid-level managers over the next six months, focusing on conflict resolution, strategic planning, and team motivation, with an expected improvement in team performance metrics by 15%.'"

 

Another thing to remember (which will come back later in the L&D process) is establishing key performance indicators (KPIs). This is critical when it comes to evaluating your efforts. You don’t want to finish a six-month development program and have no idea whether it was successful or not because you don’t know what to measure and what the key indicators of improved performance are.

 

 

Practical Example:

Let’s say that your company focuses on enhancing communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and product knowledge of front-line employees. Your learning strategy, in this case, would outline the following:

  • The delivery method: design and deliver a 12-week customer services training program.

  • The specific objectives: reduce customer complaints by 30% and increase customer satisfaction scores by 15 points over the next quarter.

  • The KPIs: track progress by monitoring the number of customer complains, measuring the average customer satisfaction score, and evaluating the speed and accuracy of issue resolutions before and after the training. 

 

 

Step 2. Design the L&D Structure and Processes

 

Organize the L&D Team Structure

If you know what you want to do and how you want to do it, you can begin thinking about who you need on board. Consider what roles you need to bring your strategy to life.

 

Practical Example:

A strategy that relies on online learning would need people versed in creating computer-based experiences – instructional designers, online facilitators, graphic designers, producers, etc. On the other hand, if the learning strategy emphasizes personalized learning paths, perhaps you need to consider hiring coaches and learning experience designers. There are a lot of roles in the L&D field, check out 35 of them here.

 

Design Policies and Procedures

Like any other department, L&D must have some standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the most important (if not all) L&D processes. In other words, what rules must employees, managers, and L&D follow? These processes could include:

  • Learning needs assessment

  • Program design and delivery

  • Ad-hoc training requests

  • Onboarding

  • Evaluation

  • Educational grants and others

 

Note: the above is not an exhaustive list!


Practical Example:

An SOP for learning needs assessment could outline the main steps like:

  • Conducting bi-annual online questionnaires and focus groups

  • Quarterly meetings with department heads to prioritize learning needs

 

A program design and delivery SOP will usually contain information about:

  • Drafting learning experience outlines based on needs

  • Getting stakeholder approval

  • Developing content (with or without Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)) and getting feedback

  • Scheduling and organizing delivery

  • Evaluating the success

  • Timelines from initiation to execution

 

Best practices in ad-hoc training request SOPs include:

  • How to submit a formal request

  • The approval process

  • Timelines for review and approval

  • Budget allocations, etc.

 


Step 3. Build the right L&D team


Identify Required Skill Sets

Before posting a job ad, you need to know what skills and capabilities your team requires. Do they need instructional design? Training delivery? Project management? Data analysis? Keep in mind that every job can be broken into “must-haves”  and “nice-to-haves”. No one can do everything all the time. So, after compiling a list of all the competencies you think you need, make sure also to sort them into the two categories.

 

Practical Example:

An L&D coordinator must be able to organize learning events and analyze incoming data. However, they do not need to be experts in instructional design or learning theories. Vice versa – a trainer or facilitator should be well-versed in learning experience design and stakeholder management, but they don’t need to be pros at event management.

 

Recruit and Develop Talent

This can be equal parts exciting and exhausting. You need to craft a job ad, reach out to people with a mix of expertise and potential, interview, and ultimately hire and onboard every team member. There are tons of tips on interviewing out there, so we’ll leave that to the experts.

 

Once all that is done, remember – it’s not enough to hire an amazing team of people. You need to ensure they remain amazing throughout their tenure with the company. Focus on personal and professional development, knowledge sharing, and teamwork. After all, how can you build a learning culture in your company if there isn’t one within the L&D team?  

 

Practical Example:

Each job posting should contain the following information:

  • Job title and summary (i.e., Digital Learning Programs Lead, focus on deploying learning solutions to meet our employees’ digital upskilling needs)

  • Company overview (i.e., IT Services and Consulting company focusing on providing hands-on support in rolling out, enabling, and operating marketing enterprise solutions for the top global IT companies)

  • Main responsibilities (i.e., collaborating with stakeholders, assessing learning needs, designing learning interventions, setting up a coaching and mentoring program, facilitating online workshops, etc.)

  • Requirements (i.e., 5+ years of experience in the field of L&D, bachelor’s degree in learning and development, psychology or similar, strong communications and presentation skills, etc.)

  • Benefits (i.e., competitive salary, yearly bonuses, medical and dental insurance, company phone and computer, career development opportunities, international and inclusive workplace, etc.)

  • Location (i.e., Berlin, remote)

 

For best results, consult your Talent Acquisition team – they are experts and can help you craft an ad that not only attracts suitable candidates but also places the company in the best possible light.


Step 4. Monitor, evaluate and improve

You might think that once you hire and train the right people, you’re done setting up your L&D department. The reality is that it is a never-ending process. That is why you need to constantly collect and analyze any and all feedback you can get your hands on. This is where the KPIs from earlier come into play. If you know what your success measurements are and how to keep track of them, it becomes easier to understand the objective reality of the department. Use this data to refine and enhance the team’s work and update the overall L&D strategy.

 

Practical Example:

After rolling out a new leadership development program, conduct quarterly feedback surveys with participants to:

  • assess their satisfaction and

  • gather suggestions for improvement.

 

Analyze key performance indicators (KPIs) such as:

  • the program’s impact on leadership effectiveness,

  • employee engagement scores, and

  • retention rates.


For instance, if the feedback indicates a need for more interactive sessions, incorporate more group discussions and hands-on activities in future iterations.

 

Don’t focus solely on the team's output but also the people within it. Have regular one-on-one chats with your L&D team members to gather their feedback on the programs they are developing and delivering. Use these insights to understand their challenges and identify areas for their professional growth. For example, if a team member expresses a need for better data analysis skills, arrange for them to attend a relevant workshop or course and then give them tasks to apply what they are learning back on the job.

 

Additionally, collect feedback from learners about the effectiveness of the facilitators and instructional designers. Use this data to provide targeted coaching and development opportunities, such as peer learning sessions, knowledge-sharing sessions, or mentorship programs. Your team is your most important asset, so make sure you’re taking good care of them.

 

Conclusion


While it may sound overwhelming, setting up an L&D department from scratch isn’t that difficult. It just takes some time and patience. But the rewards for doing it right can be immense.

 

What did we miss on our list? Let us know in the comments below.

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