Article (May-2021)


L&D should be proactive than responsive

Emmanuel David

Designation : -   Director

Organization : -  Tata Management Training Centre, Pune


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Do you see L&D changing more broadly after pandemic crisis and why does it needs a revamp for the new workplace?

ED The pandemic has disrupted many things for many people. We have one side the ill effects in terms of health, loss of life and loss of livelihoods. At the same time, we have seen many examples of the triumph of the human spirit over circumstances.

At the most basic level we as humanity have learnt very quickly the importance of personal safety, the value of empathy and the power of social media to either enhance or lower our reputation.

Since the workplace itself has changed, there is a great need for unlearning, learning and more importantly relearning.

Learning and Development professionals need to understand how to create economic value and co-opt, collaborate to which would serve that end. In fact, the workplace environment is changing and the goals we set are changing. Previously the goals were activity driven; now there is a greater need to have outcome led goals.  In this context L&D, would need to pro-active than responsive. This calls for a re-imagination of the role of L&D.

How should learning and development be re-positioned or redesigned more strongly with a new road map?

ED Learning and Development should assume center stage with strategy and operation's in understanding the business outcomes and have a real time map of the skill gaps and opportunities in the workforce. Essentially in remote working and Work from Home scenarios there can be gaps in awareness, understanding, execution and feedback.

Most importantly socialization and cultural orientation of employees becomes if they are new hires. L&D needs to train its leaders to first understand context, communicate context, then deliver directions or content. More often than this becomes a blind spot for many leaders who themselves are working against time to meet their business imperatives. The absence of contextual understanding delays outcomes as well causing dis-engagement.

Understanding the new skills and competences is key for meeting customer needs. Creating learning outcomes especially in a remote working scenario is no easy challenge. L&D's skill and creativity is tested in this aspect. It consists of the design, re-imagination of the learning outcomes and ensuring delivery. Furthermore, getting feedback is important to close the learning loop.

Interestingly unlike the pre-pandemic era L&D does not have the luxury of time therefore it needs to be agile than just quick. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines agile as: marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace.We should not mistake it for speed.

What are the key lessons on learning that organisations should keep in mind in, while redesigning the initiatives?

ED The key issues in a remote learning context are engagement and accountability to learn. We assume that there is a motivation to learn.

With diminished attention spans engagement becomes the first casualty in learning. Any learning initiative needs the keep in mind the learner context while preparing the design of learning. I have found simple quizzes with token social recognition keeps the class alive. Employees would like to express what they know, they also like to solve a problem, which is seemingly difficult but now impossible. If one has leaderboards then it makes it competitive as well.

However, do not expect too much engagement when you touch on sensitive topics. It is best to use anonymized collaboration platforms like Mentimeter. I have seen a lot of openness and candor with people sharing what they think on issues of interpersonal behaviour, ethics, and values. I summarize that with anonymity there is authenticity.

Meeting the class is and enabling them to get to know each other is key. We have taken the help of International Association of Facilitators to moderate such activities even in short durations like 30 minutes with impact.

In experiential programs we have enlisted the help of graphic facilitators who represent the proceedings of the class in real time visually. This has created its own 'aha moments'.

Now comes the aspect of accountability for learning. Expectation setting is key at the beginning of each program on what will it deliver and what are our expectations from the participants. Many a time I have emphasized the need for the Three P's.

Preparation, Presence and Participation. Since we also have technology, we can use meeting invites and reminders to nudge them for case preparation or meeting schedules. Giving feedback and appreciation for good participation and calling out outliers does help.

The key is that the faculty must be thorough understanding of the subject and the way of interacting with participants. The threshold however is that technology needs to be working and if there is an issue L&D have to be extremely responsive.

What should people be learning right now, and how can L&D deliver it under the changed work environment?

ED I think even before one learns anything the awareness of the following to questions is key.

1. How will the business environment change in the near term and medium term?

2. Do I have the skills and competence to respond to that changed business environment?

If the answer to the second question is no, then you have another two set of questions.

1. Do I have the motivation to learn the new skills?

2. Do I have means to do so?

In case some one does not have the motivation to learn some understanding from L&D is needed and a clear communication on the consequences of obsolescence needs to be given. It is likely people do not have access nor the means, that is where an empathetic L&D and leadership need to play a role to ensure they give access by creating an atmosphere of learning in terms of resources matched with requirements of the job.

Now to respond specifically to the question, people should be learning what keeps them steps ahead of the curve to be relevant, plus what is needed to keep them engaged to do a good job in the present is a given.

According to the Udemy's key findings of its 2021 Workplace Learning Trends Report- employees are keen on gaining skills that lead to Self-mastery, Collaboration, Data Literacy, Digital Transformation, Cyber Security. With demand & customer focus increasing and workplace capacity levels remaining around 50 percent, companies will need to ensure their employees are re-skilled, retrained and adequately certified so they can take on multiple roles as they navigate through the rest of the pandemic.

Microsoft on 30th March 2021 announced, it has helped more than 30 million people in 249 countries and territories gain access to digital skills, topping its initial goal of 25 million last June, and is extending the company's commitment to help 250,000 companies make a skills-based hire in 2021. These examples also give a glimpse of the global trends. We can no longer complain that we do not know technology.

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