Although 2020 has been a year of disruptions, it has also highlighted the importance of certain systems and practices that we had taken for granted. The most important among these for companies has been Learning and Development (L&D). With remote work becoming institutionalized at least for the medium term, companies are rediscovering how L&D is crucial for employee engagement, skill enhancement, productivity and organizational morale.
Employees also take L&D seriously. But they are not strictly depending on their institutions to up-skill or re-skill them. The demand for online professional programs and niche-specific courses has seen an enormous spike in recent months. Nervous about job security, employees are flocking to eLearning programs. All of these raise important questions about learning and development for the modern organization. Before we delve into the present and future of L&D, it’s important to remind ourselves of the basics.
What Is Learning and Development?
Learning and development can be defined as a set of tools, systems and processes by which Human Resources continuously trains and empowers employees for the growth of the organization. While it was always critical to business growth, L&D has attained greater significance in the last two decades with the advent of the knowledge economy. That’s the reason companies in the US spent approximately $87.6 billion on learning and development in 2018 alone.
The Importance of Learning and Development
Learning and development is of the utmost significance for companies if they have to survive and thrive. In the new economic order, heritage and size are secondary to the competitive edge of a firm. Competitive edge is a direct result of the talent, loyalty and engagement levels of employees. This is true for companies across sectors and geographies. The importance of L&D can be seen from the four major impacts it has on a firm.
Talent needs a space where it can flourish. Talent leaves a space where it feels stifled. Without adequate recognition and a proper path for career development, talented employees will leave any organization. Let’s also remember the massive cost that frequent turnovers have on companies. With Learning and Development, top-performing employees will feel that the organization has their best interests in mind.
Path-breaking ideas don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen in places where there is a culture that values new thinking. Learning and Development sets the agenda for transparency, merit-based growth and involvement of key stakeholders. If done effectively, this becomes a virtuous cycle.
L&D imparts crucial know-how to different layers of an organization. Other than streamlining learning processes, this ensures that everyone is focused on the larger strategic ambitions. As employees become skilled, and are driven by similar objectives, business growth becomes almost inevitable.
Everything from product innovations to customer service can be traced to how involved employees are. Well-trained employees with a clear path of career development tend to be involved and happy. When employees are happy, clients and customers are happy.
What Are Companies Doing Wrong Today?
Learning and development in modern organizations haven’t kept pace with the demands of either the companies or more importantly, their employees. There are multiple reasons why firms are repeatedly missing the mark on learning and development:
L&D in most organizations is still dictated from the top. It then gets trickled down, with little relevance to the needs and demands of employees. The learning systems and processes are rarely finalized with employee involvement.
Even when trainers refresh their curriculum, it hardly reflects what employees demand. They soon realize that they can get more relevant training from other sources within the company, like their peers, or outside the company, like eLearning platforms.
L&D professionals haven’t been able to integrate the strategic objectives of employees with those of the company. What happens to the strategic direction when company objectives and employee aspirations differ on learning and development? What if the company and employees want different things?
All these have made Learning and Development distant from employees, with historically low involvement. The irony can’t be missed here: Employees are willing to pay for eLearning or outside training instead of the paid-for training their companies provide.
How Should Training Evolve in the Modern Era?
If organizations have to flourish, their workforce needs to be equipped with the latest training. Up-skilling and re-skilling are becoming core strategic objectives for most firms. In order to be effective, L&D teams will have to do some learning on their own on how to be relevant in the modern era.
Get Employees Involved
From identifying new subjects to training modules, it’s crucial to get the views of employees early on. Constant feedback and the willingness to iterate can go a long way in getting the workforce interested in a company’s training programs.
Customize the Content
Make the content more relevant and in sync with the needs of the employees. The training should be tailored to address their preferences. For example, some could be encouraged to go outside their chosen areas of expertise with talent stacking.
Learning and Development teams should cultivate a culture where employers reach out to their peers for sharing knowledge and asking questions. These lateral networks of knowledge keep employees interested and invested in their training.
Medium is the Message
Remote work has necessitated this much-needed change in training delivery modules. L&D should be digital-first and interactive, with enough room for employee feedback and team-building.
Training for the Future
Learning and Development is facing serious challenges. But with a purposeful recalibration of its content authoring and delivery systems, L&D will prove its importance to organizational and business growth. It’s what keeps a company forward-looking and enables its employees to be ready to face uncertainties. And if the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that uncertainties can come knocking anytime.