Strengthening the learning-and-development governance model and aligning it with the organization’s business strategy can provide long-term credibility to the learning function. But why is L&D governance so important, and what does “good” look like? In this post, we attempt to address these questions, drawing on our chapter, “L&D governance: Aligning for organization-wide impact,” inElevating Learning & Development.

Why is L&D governance important?

Good learning-and-development (L&D) governance practices are shaped by aligning stakeholder interests, while ensuring that learning initiatives map back to, and are in support of, organizational goals. It sounds simple, yet many L&D functions struggle with governance—and some don’t have a defined governance model at all. In a recent McKinsey survey of L&D professionals, just 57 percent of respondents said their function is “very or fully aligned” with the company’s strategic priorities.

This disconnect means that L&D functions struggle to gain credibility and resources. Of the 200 L&D senior decision makers surveyed by the Open University Business School in 2017, 42 percent said they “lack direction from the top and the leadership team does not value learning.” The result is succinctly articulated by Bernd Vogel, director of Henley Centre for Leadership at Henley Business School: “L&D is often seen as a ‘token’ activity and that is the underlying philosophy that top managers have about it.”

Paradoxically,McKinsey research has found that capability building is consistently a top priority of the C-suite.According to a 2017 McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report, “62 percent of executives believe they will need to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce between now and 2023 due to advancing automation and digitization.”

L&D is the obvious choice to address these challenges—but many L&D functions face steep barriers in defining a clear vision that ties in to the overall business, securing resources to develop those programs, and thus building institutional capabilities. Good governance processes and bodies are crucial to gain greater alignment with organizational goals. But what does good governance look like?

Defining governance

Learning governance can be defined as the mechanisms, processes, and relationships that control and direct L&D. As with broader corporate governance, L&D governance and its principles identify the distribution of rights, responsibilities, and decision-making parameters among different participants in the organization and help align and engage important stakeholders around the strategic learning agenda. Good learning governance, when implemented with the right organizational structure, people, and processes, can bolster efficiency and clarity within L&D and help the function boost its reputation as a driver of business value, earning the resources that many learning functions currently lack.

A number of factors can lead to poor L&D governance, including the use of outdated governance models and a failure to recognize that existing governance is insufficient. Poor governance can affect not only the effectiveness and efficiency of the learning function but also the company’s ability to reach its overall goals. Top indicators of poor governance include unclear process, roles, and responsibilities; insufficient senior leadership; and inability to manage end-to-end curriculum and budget (Exhibit).


In the face of constant change, the imperative to elevate the function is clear. L&D functions that fortify their governance model and align it with the organization’s overall strategy gain long-term credibility and stability. In our next post, we will detail concrete steps that companies can take to improve their L&D governance.