Article (May-2021)


Time for L&D to reflect, rethink & re-engineer

Sumantra Mitra

Designation : -   Head - Human Resources

Organization : -  Glenmark Life Sciences Limited, Mumbai


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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?

SM The world is evolving & trying fast on different measure to match up to this enormous change; L&D across the globe are now on spot to shift its priorities and efforts to support the corporates in a crisis. L&D is now responsible to redesign the interventions so that the workforce copes with the new demand. McKinsey in a report on March' 2020 captures the aspect, which says "Businesses can't afford to put capability building on hold. Whether the effort is re-skilling at the business-unit level or a company-wide aspirational transformation, companies can't simply push the pause button on critical workplace learning, even as they move rapidly to put employee safety first"; changing time (which was not experienced ever in the last century!) needs far quicker, innovative, impactful & sustainable learning solution.

Some of the broader changes which had been observed during this period & which are going to stay longer or may be even forever are :

  • L&D has a redefined responsibility to facilitate the agility in line with the changing environment.
  • Rapid acceleration required to adopt & implement new technology.
  • Digitization is the new language.
  • Changes bring unexpected opportunity for innovation & sky is the limit for that.
  • There is a constant need for L& D to reflect, rethink & re-engineer.
  • It's essential now to balance employee's mental health with the need of Re-skill & Up-skill the workforce.

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

SM Role based Capability Building Programmes would precede over the routine learning & development initiatives. L&D would be required to reposition the focus to develop the critical competencies attached to each job.

The new normal for L&D is changing from being Class Room Based Learning to Virtual Anywhere Accessible Learning. With remote working having become part of the new normal, most of the organisations would be set raise their investment on the e-Learning platform & focusing more on their LMS (Learning Management System).

The need to re-skill and up-skill workforces is accelerated by the onset of the pandemic. The greater reliance on technologies means that employees must be trained to operate them optimally & efficiently. Additionally with the size of teams shrinking as a result of resource crunch for organisations, a culture of project-based, agile collaborative working will become more common. With this being the case, a new culture of continual training and learning will be reinforced.

Another key L&D trend that has emerged as a result of the pandemic, is greater emphasis on social learning methods. In a nutshell, social learning abandons the traditional framework of learning models, and is founded on new behaviours being acquired by observing or imitating others. We can expect to see many organisations adopting social learning methods throughout the remote working period, monitoring their effectiveness and progress and recalibrating their approach to L&D.

Digitization combined with Innovative Learning Solutions will now be the key to have an edge over the competitors. The employee engagement would be the new currency for this changed learning environment & gamification of this learning would the key driver.

Looking at the strain in the revenue inflow, there is prominent focus in the organisation to conserve cash; hence one more prominent shift that L&D in an organisation would witness is to become value creator rather than becoming a cost center. As the critical hub & spoke of the business is changing, it would be essential to re-skill & up-skill the employees to align with the changing business need.

Overall it's an opportunity for the organisation to transform for the better! An overhaul of the Learning Strategy aligned to this changing need of business would be the call of the day for CHRO/CLO.

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

SM The key lessons on learning coming out for the pandemic are many. However the more relevant ones are as follows :

It's an excellent opportunity for Learning & Development teams to rise to the demand of supporting business. However it's often seen that learning teams drive their own silo based agenda. It's time they need to be engaged in the discussions with the business leaders & beneficiaries and seeing where they can create the most value. With this fast pace action orientation on development, L&D needs to take time &reflect which of these initiatives are actually working so that they can learn to improve. This is an opportunity, for L&D to widen, support and increase the value of individual contribution & drive relentlessly towards innovation to up-skill and re-skill, constantly and empathetically. Those L&D departments that are not seen as being business critical or at least, have a plan to become business critical and deliver tangible value, will come under scrutiny. Last but not the least, one of the important learning is how fast we enable the workforce unlearn the redundant & make them relearned on the desired path for future growth.

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

SM An L&D Global Sentiment Survey was conducted during December 2020 and January 2021. A question was asked on "What will be hot in L&D in 2021?". The poll is designed to what people think as the key learning agenda. The first 2 prominent opinion emerged out of it as :

Re-skilling/Up-skilling is top of everyone's agenda :

"78% of employees say that they are ready to re-skill. The question is not who can adopt but how best to develop an adoptable workforce"-Mercer Global Talent Trend Study. The report highlights that skills have been high on the business agenda since technology's impact on jobs became apparent. This year, executives state an urgent and clear mandate for re-skilling to drive transformation. Globally, re-skilling is seen as the top talent activity most capable of delivering a Return on Investment (RoI) in the eyes of executive.     With the arrival and subsequent challenges of Covid-19, the influence of digital technologies has dramatically accelerated. There are several unknown areas of challenges & opportunities too that has emerged.

Collaboration/Social Learning :

Empirical evidence points to the fact, that people whether working from home or not still want to connect and collaborate. This is seen substantiated by the soaring use of communication apps in the face of the lockdowns and a move to remote working. The video conferencing platforms reported that its daily user numbers spiked from 10 million in December 2019, to 200 million in March 2020. If L&D team wasn't looking at how to harness these social learning behaviour patterns before, it's hard to ignore them now. With the COVID-19 lockdowns reshaping the way organisations work, and as employees having more time and space for professional development, it’s worth revisiting the multiple benefits of having a social learning, LMS in learning ecosystem.

Role Based Competency Building :

Today organisations are in paradox of developing the workforce with a limited resources to utilize for this purpose. It's time to invest substantially to develop the competency of the workforce required to perform the role efficiently & avoid redundancy due to the gap in competencies.

Digital Savvy :

The current situation has compelled the organisations to take a new look at everything. Be it from connecting with colleagues to holding client meetings, digital has become the new normal for many across the globe. And the same holds true for employee training, which is why organisations are considering migrating some existing in-person training programs to an all-digital format. Many companies have fast-tracked their digital transformation to increase collaboration among teams as they take courses together and collaborate in virtual formats such as video conferencing and instant messaging. In this way, the interactive and social aspect of learning can come to life with the support of technology.

Personalization is the way to go :

While the delivery platform and technology are important, of equal concern are the quality and suitability of the learning content.

If the learners don't see the course as relevant and practical to their real-life challenges, they will become disengaged and less likely to develop the right skills needed for work.

This is why employees' learning content should always focus to meet their individual learning needs. Especially since the learner's motivation to learn remains to be one of the main challenges for learning professionals in the advent of remote working and learning.

Strengthening Mental Health :

Everyone has been affected differently by the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether that be adjusting to a new work-life situation, the loss of a job, or loved one, the weight of these unprecedented times can be heavy, and significantly impact our mental health. Continuing the work with these additional stress, many workers are facing unexpected challenges with their mental well-being and needing support while at their jobs. As a result, many employers are now pursuing a renewed focus on the mental well-being of their employees.

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