Learning and Development went through dramatic changes over the past few years. Exactly as other areas such as talent acquisition, and onboarding, also Talent Management and Training have been radically transformed by the new market conditions, customer expectations, and the new need for a seamless employee experience.
I’m pretty sure you are fully aware of how hard it is to acquire the best talents…we live in a time in which the job market is not only steered by giant players. The democratization of technology is linked to the abundance of newer employers who maybe can’t compete with well-established corporations in terms of remuneration and perks, but are exactly as attractive due to contingent conditions such as career perspectives, self-fulfillment, and employee experience.
That’s why personal development plays an important role in retention. Employees in the era of digital transformation are not just enticed by a good salary: they value the overall experience and the opportunity to grow. People want to make a difference and they want to have access to all the tools and resources they need to quickly achieve success.
The most successful companies are those that managed to introduce innovation, cross-functional collaboration, and a fluid learning ecosystem that allows staff members to work at their own pace while taking advantage of modern technology and tools (buzzwords being social, gamification, mobile, multi-channel…).
When it comes to learning and development, it’s important to have an overview of both expectations and requirements in order to be prepared to face the challenges that a new generation of employees and new market conditions bring in.
Learning and Development: Basic Expectations
Let me start then with a brief list of basic expectations that have become common for employee-centric organizations addressing talent management.
Higher Employee Engagement
Employees expect a smooth experience. Digital excellence in this field leads to higher engagement.
Modern technology allows you to introduce tailored programs, and self-service applications for onboarding, and training. Employees expect to be able to work at their own pace, and be able to learn on-demand and from everywhere. Gone are the days in which people had to be forced to walk in a crowded seminar room at a specific time!
Empowering employees to decide where and when to access learning resources increases engagement, self-fulfillment, and improves the work-life balance. People like to manage their own career and time.
We used to classify customers (and even employees) using broad categories based on standard demographics. Digital transformation enables us to access granular data and use such information to tailor both the customer journey and the employee experience.
People expect to deal with tailored experiences that perfectly match their expectations and aspirations.
Employees need to deal with a person who can tutor and mentor them also using modern technology that can help customize their experiences.
As mentioned, employees want to manage their own career path and set specific milestones to achieve their goals. Modern applications allow talent managers to monitor progress in real time and make sure that their staff is gathering all the necessary knowledge and experience to achieve their goals. Again, also in this case, the entire experience can be gamified and provide immediate feedback to the learners.
Ownership and Purpose
A well-designed learning experience is ineffective if it’s not connected to a meaningful goal. Employees need to see concrete results and get closer to their aspirational self, the person they want to become.
Employees in the digital era want to make a dent in the organization. Recognition is important but it’s also important to show how their work directly leads the company closer to its mission.
In order to achieve that, companies need to constantly adapt and adjust skills on the basis of the market conditions and be able to communicate such major changes in real time and effectively.
By quickly communicating adjustments in the main direction, companies make sure that employees can identify new domains they can claim for themselves and work towards new and specific goals.
Quick communication, alignment, ownership, meaning, and immediate feedback create the perfect substrate for engagement and agile innovation in a time in which companies need to quickly adjust their core mission and values to meet demand. This, in turn, creates the sense of purpose that spawns identification, loyalty, and advocacy.
Employees at the Helm
Even though major shifts in corporate strategy still derive from the top ranks, once the new expectations are communicated, units and individuals need to know how to prepare to face a new course of action.
Innovation usually starts in segregated pockets that introduce new skills and technology. Employees need to have constant access to strategic guidelines, knowledge base, and learning resources to design a proper plan and align their competence with the new requirements.
The whole process needs to be dynamic and employees need to feel in control at all time. Nobody likes to be perceived like a pawn that is controlled by somebody else to achieve their own goals.
Personal goals must align with the corporate mission and staff members need to have the tools to quickly and seamlessly adapt.
When we talk about leadership succession we often encounter problems connected to skill gaps that can cause disruption in an efficient organizational flow.
A rigorous learning and development strategy can support successful leadership succession and allow people to quickly move up the ladder to fill key positions in a rapidly moving structure.
Talent acquisition , especially for managerial positions, is a terribly taxing and challenging process. Being able to nurture and create new mangers within the company in order to expand the current structure is key to avoiding inefficiencies and delays.
Major Paradigm Shifts in Learning and Development
Information Flow and the new Role for Executives
Just a few years ago, we used to take for granted that information and innovation would move from the top (C-suite) to the bottom (clerical level).
This old-fashioned hierarchical view doesn’t reflect the new expectations that push companies to be agile and quickly adapt to a dynamic customer-centric mentality linked to data and optimization.
The sheer amount of information and the complexity of specific automation processes make it impossible for executives to have a complete overview of processes and needs.
Employees have access to ultra-specific information and tools to quickly acquire and develop new skills. Through self-service learning solutions, and online resources staff members deal with up-to-date data way before any member of the executive team.
Executives, in this case, assume the role of facilitators more than instructors. L&D managers should provide the right infrastructure for information to be introduced and flow throughout the organization.
Managers are no longer those in the know! If providing information then isn’t their roles anymore, they need to facilitate the learning process, make sure that they can quickly identify pockets of innovation and manage a smooth knowledge transfer.
The new paradigm, in this case, is the new leadership role summarized by the motto “enable, support and listen…don’t teach!”
Not surprisingly, a survey conducted by the MIT Sloan Management Review proved that poor leadership can have devastating effects on the employee experience. Surprisingly, though, the same study showed that great leadership has little to no effect on the overall employee experience suggesting that autonomy and personal fulfillment play a much greater role for employees than leadership.
Learning and Development managers should provide orientation and onboarding while inspiring commitment and initiative. HR professionals need to be the ambassadors of the company mission and culture to point employees in the right direction. Decisions and action must come from the employees themselves.
Learning and Development Professionals need to offer Support
As previously mentioned, employees need to be at the helm when it comes to steering their careers and development. Ownership and empowerment are based on trust and support.
Learning and development professionals must signal their presence at all time and become the reference point for their staff. If, on the one hand, some processes need to be communicated from above, L&D managers need to support individuals in their own tailored journey and make sure their expectations are aligned with the company goals.
The paradigm shift, in this case, is moving away from a programmatic mentality in favor of a systemic approach that provides the right infrastructure and information for growth rather than creating lethargic programs that soon become outdated.
Involve other Professionals in the Learning and Development Process
While L&D professionals need to observe closely how employees are developing in order to support them along the journey, they also need to involve other stakeholders such as line managers and supervisors to make sure that the entire journey is fluid and is mirrored by a smooth and homogeneous learning experience.
Communication is paramount when it comes to innovation, and the employees need to easily find support at each level throughout the entire journey.
It’s important for every manager in each unit to know what skills and resources are introduced in their units for skill-management and strategy planning.
Overarching Approach to The Employee Experience
Learning and development is one aspect of the employee experience. A more systemic approach allows companies to embrace a holistic view of the entire experience that takes into account information, data centralization, mobility, skill management, ability to recognize expertise and innovation, performance review.
L&D needs to become ubiquitous. Not only thanks to technology. The entire organization must be pointed towards creating a learning environment that enables employee to access useful information and resources at all time. It’s not simply about creating specific courses and pushing them onto the employees…thank goodness those times are gone!
Allow and Encourage Career Hacking
For many employees, learning and development becomes a useful tool to quickly move outside of their comfort zone.
Growth is often connected to challenges and purpose directly derives from variety and opportunities.
Stepping outside a standard career path has often been perceived as a sign of indecisiveness. However, cross-functional know-how and work redesign can quickly lead to innovation and increased satisfaction at work.
Learning and Development leaders have shown that relying on cloud technology, mobility, social platforms, and communication tools to support a more personalized job crafting approach enhances the employee experience and company performance in general.
It’s not the employee that needs to meet all the requirements of a job description but it’s the job description that needs to adapt to the newly acquired skills of an employee.
Constant communication with peers and managers regarding development creates fulfilled employees and improves performance through higher engagement.
Microlearning Experiences instead of Three-Day Seminars
Information needs to be packed in digestible packets employees have access to at all time. There are several different opportunities to offer immediate access to knowledge and information.
Allow employees to dedicate part of their time to microlearning sessions. Enable them to create a daily routine that takes into account learning and development.
Learning happens in bite-size moments. Problems connected to the forgetting curve make long seminars and conventional classes less efficient. Do you really go back to your notes to review what you learned a few months back? It’s better to have constant access to information and use technology to support employees in real time.
Think mobile. Knowledge must be available at your fingertips because even waiting to board a plane can become a useful learning experience!
And this includes every process! The biggest paradigm shift is moving away from old documentation, and replace information with digital guidance.
While, as explained, the role of a manager should shift from instructor to facilitator, mentorship assumes a whole new role in the employee experience.
Modern technology allows constant mentorship by sharing resources and mobile communication. Instructions and directions are not longer needed, but mentorship becomes highly appreciated because it opens the doors to personal development.
Social collaboration technology and global communication applications allow employees to engage in both informal and formal conversations with peers but also with mentors. These conversations can quickly turn into microlearning experiences.
Collaboration tools allow people who don’t sit in the same building to work together, brainstorm, and tackle problems in real time. Employees who need guidance need to have access to technology that enables them to work on the same document, share their screens, edit presentations, share notes, manage projects and resources.
Employees can involve mentors and coaches every time they need support and quickly learn how to become independent and self-sufficient.
Constant Feedback in the Learning and Development Process
Instead of simply relying on check-ins and yearly performance reviews, many companies have now implemented employee apps that allow for instant feedback. And such feedback goes both-ways!
Companies can provide feedback on both performance and development while also gauging the overall employee well-being.
Such applications also allow employees to enter their career goals and expectations. Staff members can explain what they would like to focus on to be successful and the management can review their expectations, check if these are in line with the overall company goals, and provide guidance on how to achieve such objectives.
Such technology allows companies to establish a continuous dialogue with the employees, guide them, and look into promising opportunities. Employees receive immediate feedback on their performance (based on specific KPIs) while management receives immediate feedback on the quality of their leadership (in terms of infrastructure, information, orientation and support…).
This automatically translates into higher engagement and lower turnover.
Without constant feedback, companies might struggle to retain talent, as when employees already send specific signals it may already be too late to intervene.
Real-time analytics also provide an overview of the organization’s performance as a whole and can also provide insights into potential areas of innovation and pinpoint overachievers that might lead innovation throughout the company.
Organic Cross-Functional Communication
Social platforms allow employees to exchange best practices, ideas, and tools. This form of peer-driven learning experience together with knowledge-sharing applications represent an autonomous and organic form of learning and development.
Cloud-based solutions and collaboration tools obviously facilitate data exchange and monitoring.
The biggest challenges here are represented by consolidation and centralization.
The paradigm shift is moving away from one-to-one communication tools and introduce the proper infrastructure to foster group communication instead.
Slack anyone? This tool is not only a boon for startups but also for larger corporations that want to leverage the power of group communication to increase efficiency and allow quick knowledge exchange throughout the organization.
Learning and Development in the Digital Era
In a nutshell, keeping employees engaged and committed has become a challenge that learning and development professionals need to tackle. The process is mission-critical since it can define the success of an entire organization in a CX-centric world that relies on an employee-centric mentality first.
L&D executives have now access to a large array of technology that facilitates the process. But humans still play a vital role in the definition of the correct strategy and approach.
The biggest paradigm shifts involve change management, the new roles of executives, collaboration, immediate feedback, new learning experiences, matching personal goals with company goals.
The main objective remains offering an excellent digital experience with self-service learning tools that increase the level of autonomy and self-determination.
Technology has the purpose to create a more humane experience and enable employees to achieve a better work-life balance while working on their personal objectives.
Mentorship and leadership have now assumed new characteristics and orientation becomes extremely important when it comes to learning and development.
Purpose is everything. Employees need to have a clear overview of the goals and values of the organization and see how their decisions impact the overall results.
The whole learning and development ecosystem is extremely dynamic and needs to quickly adapt to both external and internal forces determined by the expectations of both customers and employees.
Learning and development, in general, will definitely be a sector that will go through major innovation and will reinforce its pivotal role in success of an organization.