As the pandemic has upended business strategies and necessitated swift operational changes, questions arise over how HR leaders are able to effectively offer learning and development (L&D) today.
Do workers adjusting to remote working have the capacity to commit to L&D? Are L&D strategies able to withstand fast-changing, unpredictable circumstances? And with authentic, face-to-face training being unavailable at the present time, is the quality likely to suffer?
While there may be some uncertainty as employees and businesses adjust to the new normal, there’s no doubt that businesses see the L&D purpose. From Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report, 86% of global leaders surveyed rated this issue important or very important, suggesting that they view employee development as a crucial factor in meeting corporate objectives.
To learn more about a leader’s perspective in relation to the future of L&D, HRD Connect spoke with Ed O’Brien, Head of Learning and Development, Europe and Latin America, Ericsson.
Effective communication with employees
In the rush to adapt to working remotely, O’Brien stresses that it’s important to notify employees on how L&D has changed, what opportunities there are, and how to access them.
He said: “We had to very quickly say ‘right, we are not in a position to do face-to-face training, we have to convert any face-to-face training to virtual classes’. So, we worked with our suppliers and we’ve done that, and now we’re in a situation where we’re providing that training. There’s been no drop at all from our side and we’re meeting the needs of the business.
“What we’ve tried to do with our learning is give a soft push, saying ‘this is still there, this is still applicable. When you have the time to have a look go through it’. We’ve found people are continually anxious to learn, they’re using the time they would’ve used commuting to and from work to do some extra learning. That has really made a difference for us.”
While many workers are still based at home and will be for the foreseeable future, O’Brien states how innovative L&D can bring teams together like never before.
“Now you can get people from different market areas, say somebody from America, someone from Spain, someone from Asia, time zones permitting, working together on particular training, where before that wasn’t an option,” he said.
Understanding the potential of power skills
According to LinkedIn’s 2020 Workplace Learning Report, leadership & management, creative problem solving & design thinking, and communication, ranked the top three most highly prioritized skills.
O’Brien notes how soft skills, also known as power skills, have become much sought after by employees and desired by senior leaders since the onset of COVID.
“Something I’ve witnessed over the past two or three months is the rise of things like empathy, how to work remotely, how to collaborate remotely. I think that has been a massive change, some of the key areas we’ve seen, and wellness, the want for wellness, the interest in wellness, from the company’s perspective but also from employees,” he said.
The increased interest O’Brien mentions can be seen in the way technology is utilized to maximum effect.
He said: “We’ve set up an online area that people can access which has tips and tricks for working remotely, content on wellness – we’re really trying to ensure that everyone is okay.
“The use of these tools – things like Microsoft Teams – has increased so much and will do in the future. At the end of the day, how do you reach somebody who’s sat at home? One is that you can use a platform like Teams, we also have virtual check-ins, team check-ins, where a manager would meet employees once a week with no agenda, not talk about work, we just ask ‘how are you doing? What’s going on?’ We just check in with each other to make sure everyone is doing alright.”
The importance of agility
Businesses have been caught short by the unforeseeable shock of a pandemic, but O’Brien notes how L&D strategizing can comply with the previous plan, while being reactive to new requirements.
He said: “We’ve had to be really agile in our delivery, in our interventions, in our suggestions from a learning viewpoint.
“Whereas four or five years ago, you could say ‘in January, I will do this, in February, I will learn this’ and we even had a schedule that you could tick off. One of the things that has really pushed us this year, during COVID, is the ability to make training available to people today.
“All the things we would’ve identified in December last year or January, the technical aspects we need for 2020, they’re still there and didn’t change. What changed is that a new layer was put on top of it, another layer of learning that came in very quickly, which we had to complete in an agile way and continue to. It’s added another layer in a learning perspective, but also really tested us, our ability to design on the fly, to be agile in our thinking, to deliver in the flow of work, to change course rapidly – make mistakes if we need to.”
By highlighting the benefits of making sure employees understand the range of L&D options available, emphasizing the importance of power skills and ensuring team operations are nimble and responsive, O’Brien sums up how an effective strategy can engage employees, meet business objectives and adapt to uncertain conditions.
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