Reflecting on 20 years of L&D maturity research

‘In today’s economic climate business challenges include speed of change, quality, customer retention, revenue, growth and cost reduction.’

This was the first line of ‘Linking Learning to Business’, the first research report that I wrote back in 2003. The hype around digital learning claimed that it would meet these needs yet, at the time 60% of projects were failing. I had one question in mind – why are some more successful than others and what were the business factors that contribute to digital success?

Curiosity drove the programme; I wasn’t being paid and I didn’t mind what I found out. From the very first study, the research was community led with a range of industry experts highlighting 16 organisations they recommended I speak to. Sceptical of what I might hear, 2000 of their workers and learners took part. What we found out blew me away and stood the test of time.

That first study 20 years ago kickstarted a unique research collaboration. Guarding independence fiercely, the study grew and developed. Involving trusted industry experts, academics, practitioners, and suppliers from around the globe. Trends, models, and sentiments were continually deconstructed and tested and monitored for their links back to business impact.

Over the years thousands of learning leaders and workers around the globe have used the questions to reflect. Governments, professional bodies and institutes have used the findings to inform direction. Practitioners and suppliers have leaned into the discovers year by year as they have mapped out their journey towards improving business impact, towards maturity.

Little did I know that my first curious step would be the start of a 20-year journey of community driven exploration and discovery that continues to inspire. Today 97% of participants say that just taking part generates new ideas to advance their learning strategies. Over the years the tools, technologies approaches and even the language that we use to describe workplace learning have all changed but the essence of what we discovered in those early days, the six foundations underpinning success (and the core of the current index) continue to guide.

“Supporting decisions that count through research that matters” was a phrase that summed up our approach. When I read this when I first visited the head office of the Emerald Group, I knew that we had found a home for the benchmark. I am grateful that this home continues to create a trusted source of independent evidence 20 years on.

Our economic climate continues to change. L&D continues to need to make decisions that count. And this research continues to matter.

To celebrate 20 years of L&D maturity benchmarks, Mind Tools for Business are publishing the 2023 annual report in three parts. The first part looks back over the journey we’ve shared together as an L&D industry is now available.

So, my ask of you is, don’t just read these insightful reports celebrating 20 years of independent industry research. Be curious and explore the findings. You are standing on the shoulders of community giants who have contributed, crafted, and enhanced this study over 20 years. Trust that you will find a nugget of insight that has the power to unlock the potential of L&D in your organisation and have the courage to apply it.

Laura Overton
Original founder of the Towards Maturity Benchmark and CEO of Learning Changemakers

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