L&D’s canteen of dreams?

by Viv Cole on April 4, 2023

Metaphor is a great tool for understanding a complex situation. Just picture something simpler we can picture well and read across the similarities and differences. Health warnings aside, used well, metaphor generates rich insights and questions. One rich metaphor that I’ve often used to help people understand Learning & Development (L&D) strategy is to imagine that the L&D department is the office canteen.

Why is corporate L&D like an office canteen?

There are lots of similarities, here are 5 to start you off:

  • Nourishment: Just like how a canteen serves food and nourishment to employees, L&D provides knowledge and skills that feed employees’ career and professional growth.
  • Choice: Both have menus that users can choose from, although L&D tends to refer to this as the learning catalogue.
  • Socialisation: A secondary purpose of both is to provide a setting where people have time to build working relationships whilst sharing insights, challenges, ideas and best practice.
  • Specialisation: Only organisations of a certain size will make the investment to create a specialist L&D department/canteen – there needs to be a critical mass of users to make the investment viable.
  • Accessibility: Just like when the canteen creates its menu to cover that some users have specific dietary needs/allergies, L&D needs to cater for users with various accessibility requirements.

So what?

I’m confident you see there are some similarities (and you can think of more). Moving onto how this metaphor helps, here are a few insights that might be relevant for your strategy:

  • Funding: Does the Board choose to subsidise the canteen, outsource it to a catering company, or shut it so that people to spend their own budget externally (or bring in their own packed lunches)?
  • Marketing: How do we position and communicate the canteen so that it’s competitive against any local sandwich shops or restaurants? How do we reward loyal customers and advocates?
  • Personalisation: Do we offer the same to everyone? How much choice of menu do we offer? Do we market to target segments of the population?
  • Campaigns: How often do we link or theme the canteen’s offerings to company-wide strategy or external events e.g. International Women’s Day?  
  • Return on investment: Can we show how the activities of the canteen drive business metrics or make a contribution to the employee value proposition?

Going deeper

And to conclude here are three anonymous insights that have come from discussions using this metaphor:    

  • “Why did we buy our LXP? The canteen was running out of capacity so we needed a vending machine for people in the queue to stop them getting too hungry and noisy.”
  • “Once we got our data reporting organised that we realised how much food being bought centrally by the canteen wasn’t getting eaten.”
  • “We realised we needed better governance on user-generated content, it was like finding there were more people in the canteen eating their own lunches than paying them from the canteen.”

If you’d like to talk through your learning strategy with an independent expert, let me know and I’ll put the kettle on.

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