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What is Learning and Development?

Learning and Development is a term used to describe everything a business does to encourage professional development among its employees. Training courses, development programs, online learning, development activities – as well as much more – all fall under the bracket of Learning and Development.

What is Learning and Development?

L&D is one of the traditional 'core' responsibilities of Human Resource management. It's usually taken care of by a company's Human Resources department or their HR Manager. In smaller companies, however, the L&D strategy might be set by the COO or Operations Manager.

Given that it's such a broad term encompassing so many different things, L&D strategies are usually very different from one company to the next. In particular, L&D strategies at big, corporate companies tend to differ from those at small to medium-sized businesses.

Learning and Development in larger companies

In large companies, L&D is usually highly structured. Much of the time, there will be a full Human Resources team in charge of implementing the L&D strategy.

Alternatively, there might even be a designated L&D team made up of specialist Learning Officers who work full time on identifying specific training needs and then arranging the right learning opportunity or development process to suit.

The Learning & Development opportunities offered to team members are likely to be much more formal than at smaller companies. That could mean training programmes delivered by specialist training providers, or access to online courses.

Larger companies also usually have more layers of senior management. For that reason, many of them will invest in management training tailored to business leaders and senior managers to help them develop new skills that are specific to their leadership role.

Learning and Development in small businesses

In smaller businesses, the L&D strategy is often a little more constrained by the available budget. Those companies are also less likely to have a fully-fledged Human Resources department, so responsibility might fall to an Operations Manager or someone in a similar role.

What this means is the learning opportunities offered to employees are less likely to be in the shape of formal training. Instead, it will be much more unstructured and casual.

That doesn’t mean they’re any less valuable. In fact, many people choose small businesses because of the unique L&D opportunities they offer.

In small, fast-growing businesses, low budgets and small teams often mean people are regularly working way outside their comfort zone, regularly exposed to new skills and implementing them at break-neck speed. This is often described as 'social learning' – learning that takes place just by working with team members whose skills and experiences will inevitably rub off on you. This isn't formal, corporate learning, but a form of continuous learning – the type of learning that happens without even realising it.

It’s an intense way to work – but for some people, it’s a highly attractive prospect, offering much faster career development and a wider set of experiences than larger companies provide.

However, this type of “learning by doing” isn’t the only way small businesses provide Learning and Development. There are all sorts of tactics and policies you can implement at a small business to make impactful L&D a reality.

A great place to start is with rolling out Personal Development Plans for all your team members.

Additionally, it's worth thinking about setting up shadowing or 'pairing' opportunities for more junior team members to spend time working with more senior colleagues. There's a lot you can learn simply from watching someone with more experience go about their work.

Alternatively, many companies choose to offer their small team members designated Learning and Development budgets to spend as they wish. While this might sound like an unnecessary outlay, it can be surprisingly efficient – giving the employee the power to spend their own budget cuts out a lot of the faff. It means you don't need line managers or Learning Officers working on identifying development needs... instead, you can give your team members control of their professional development.

If you're interested in building a learning culture at your small business but are worried about costs, we've actually got an article all about how small businesses can build a great L&D environment on a tight budget.

The key difference between big and small businesses here is that the L&D you’ll find in small businesses is much more self-motivated: employees are likely to be taking ownership of their own progression, rather than just hopping onto a pre-made roadmap.

The benefits of Learning & Development

A good L&D strategy has benefits for every kind of business – but arguably, it's at smaller companies where it's true value really comes to the fore.

Giving your team members access to development opportunities allows them to learn new skills – skills that they then bring to work with every day they stay with you. In a small company, great team members are your competitive advantage. They are the cutting edge that you can use to take on bigger companies with their larger budgets.

What's more, there is now a great deal of evidence that links a learning culture to strong employee engagement. A PWC study, for example, found that millennials considered professional development more important than financial reward at work. If they feel that they are learning, they are more likely to commit to their work and go the extra mile.

Strong employee engagement has other benefits too. Having highly engaged team members is also linked to good employee retention rates – so not only will your people work more effectively, but they'll also stick around longer too. In corporate-speak, this might be called talent management or talent development – but in a nutshell, it's about making sure your best people stay in the room.

So – implementing an effective L&D strategy at your company can help attract potential hires, motivate your current team and also retain them for longer. It's part of the reason why CharlieHR puts such an emphasis on professional development. When viewed through this lens, Learning and Development can be about far more than just improving the specific skills your employees use on a day-to-day basis: it can be considered more like a benefit, and one of the key incentives to join and stay at your company.


CharlieHR builds software to help small businesses thrive. From tracking time off, running performance reviews or keeping tabs on employee engagement, Charlie provides everything you need to manage your people – all in one place.

You can try it free today by clicking here.

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