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A Lesson in Workplace Learning

With job skills changing so rapidly and the increasing competition for talent, workplace learning plays a pivotal role in keeping organizations at the top of their game. By making L&D departments more agile and fluid and creating a learning-led company culture, organizations can always keep ahead of new competencies, and talent can be nurtured from within.

23 November 2022 • 5 min read

In many economies around the world, there’s an imbalance between the number of job vacancies and the number of people seeking jobs: too many of the first and a lack of the latter.

In the UK, official statistics for the first quarter of 2022 revealed the tightest jobs market ever seen. In Italy, the Governor of the Central Bank recently bemoaned the fact that in the country there were 2.62 million people available to work, but not looking for employment. While in the US, even though recession beckons, companies are ‘hoarding’ staff rather than letting them go, for fear they may need to recruit them back soon. 

This means employers are fishing for new talent in a pool that’s becoming ever smaller, leading to delays in hiring and higher salaries to be offered. In this environment, a ‘post and pray’ recruitment model that’s reliant on job boards and LinkedIn is no longer sustainable.

What’s the alternative?

Rather than looking outside for talent, organizations need to search within for ‘hidden talent’. Many would find they are sitting on a goldmine of under-used human capital just waiting to be trained into shape.

There would be no need to recruit for anything other than the most specialized roles, and it would help to keep employees’ skills ‘liquid’ – able to flow to wherever they are needed. It would also give your business the capacity to shapeshift internally, which is critical for any company with ambitions to be hyper-agile and keep up with the changing needs of the marketplace.

So, developing homegrown talent isn’t just about having the right employees for today: it’s also about having them available tomorrow. The speed at which the world of work is changing makes this critical.

In just three years, the World Economic Forum believes that technological change will require the reskilling of half of all employees. And two years after that, nearly 70% of skills we now consider important will be in some way different.

Imagine having to recruit under that kind of pressure. How will your organization compete against everyone else in the market looking for exactly the same talent as you? This is why learning and development (L&D) should be pushed up the corporate agenda. 

Pandemic-induced homeworking exposed the weaknesses of e-learning when not robustly supported by networking and mentorship. Adopting a ‘blended learning’ approach is regarded as the only credible and sustainable option.

Training has long been part of the mix for most enterprises. But pandemic-induced homeworking exposed the weaknesses of e-learning when not robustly supported by networking and mentorship. Given that working from home is now embedded in so many job contracts, adopting a ‘blended learning’ approach – that brings together the best aspects of in-person teaching with the flexibility of online learning – is regarded as the only credible and sustainable option. The education sector is already having success with a similar ‘HyFlex’ (hybrid and ultra flexible) learning model.

The same, but different

How best to do this? We suggest that a learning-led organization should be built upon four pillars, the first of which is empowerment — allowing everyone access to training content that enables them to flourish.

So, we are not talking about one-size-fits-all training imposed by L&D, but real employee-centric learning that recognizes the disparate aspirations of individuals.

This should go further than training in support of their functional role. It should also deliver on what employees think are their personal development needs. When only just over a third of employees feel connected to their work, offering the opportunity to ‘grow beyond the job’ can significantly increase their degree of engagement. While this may require some trade-offs, it will almost certainly help improve employee retention.

Our second and third pillars — networked knowledge and nudge — are so closely connected that we should think of them as learning twins.

Networked knowledge is about ensuring crucial ‘wisdom’ is distributed into an organization’s every nook and cranny. How? We advocate creating a network of ‘knowledge holders’ who are ready, willing and able to offer help and information to others as a formalized part of their role, for which they are properly compensated.

One-on-one tutoring can improve performance by 98% when compared to learning in a traditional classroom environment.

The power of any form of one-on-one tutoring cannot be underestimated, with a famous study in educational psychology finding that it can improve performance by 98% when compared to learning in a traditional classroom environment.

In parallel, you must find ways to ‘nudge’ people to learn by ensuring the process for doing so is as painless as possible. If people are too busy to learn or find the whole process onerous, they won’t do it.

Focus must move away from large, inappropriately timed, indigestible blocks of classroom instruction, into bite-sized chunks of learning, easily accessible and consumable at the moment of need.

You also need to think about how to accommodate those who wouldn’t call themselves natural life-long learners. Here, gamification and innovative mechanisms that reward engagement can go a long way toward making learning available to all.

Our final pillar is technology. Imagine being able to ask a digital assistant for the ‘tricks of the trade’ when meeting a new client for the first time, being able to scan a QR code linked to specific resources that take you through a particular procedure, or asking a chatbot to point you in the direction of the knowledge holder you need to answer a question. Using technology to engage with employees like this is a way to make knowledge transfer more frictionless.

Proactive not reactive leadership

Effective L&D in today’s workplace, then, requires a new training regime based around continually updated micro-content, readily shared through wikis and knowledge holders, available on demand, and personalized to individual needs – all supported by one-on-one mentoring to keep everyone on track.

Business as usual doesn’t work. Business leaders need to recalibrate their approach if they are to create a truly effective continuous learning environment that nurtures and builds confidence.

This is learning ‘within the flow of work’ and this, we believe, is the only way forward for organizations wanting to become resilient in marketplaces being disrupted by new competitors and economic turbulence. In this environment, business as usual doesn’t work.

Business leaders need to recalibrate their approach if they are to create a truly effective continuous learning environment that nurtures and builds confidence, rather than looking to return to pre-pandemic ways of working. The productivity benefits of homeworking, for instance, are being squandered by ‘presenteeism’, as employees join Zoom meetings unnecessarily just to make themselves visible to distrusting, control-minded managers. The learning and development team should also reset its priorities and take on new roles, like auditing existing employee competencies, mapping out bitesize training programs and monitoring performance improvements. These are all ways in which a business can help future-proof itself.

People are the building blocks of a business and you should be looking to maximize their potential. As American entrepreneur Jim Rohn once put it: “A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well, and to help those who are doing well to do even better.”

That’s what all great leaders should aspire to do.

EducationL&DOperational agilityTalent management

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