L&D enters a new era of learning and employee development

Leading up to Learning Technologies Asia, RedThread Research shared how the role of L&D is being redefined in a new world of work.
By: | February 23, 2021

With the acceleration of the digital transformation just one of the many changes the pandemic has brought forth, many organisations have been compelled to rethink many of their strategies, systems and processes.

Reskilling and upskilling through continuous learning has become a priority, even as leading organisations have embraced new technology, tools and mindsets to enhance employee effectiveness and engagement.

And perhaps more importantly, organisations are now beginning to see employees in a different light. Speaking with HRM Asia Magazine, Dani Johnson, Co-Founder and Principal Analyst, RedThread Research, USA, described, “For over 100 years, organisations have tended to view employees as cogs in a machine, or as resources that happened to be human. Now, organisations are seeing employees as the full humans they really are – as individuals with unique needs who are worth empowering and developing.”

As a consequence, organisations are now investing far more in employee development, and are empowering employees to make decisions about issues such as customer service or process improvements. They are also moving away from a one-size-fits-all development approach and enabling personalised development opportunities.

Within this development sphere, technology is also being increasingly leveraged to achieve better results, added Heather Gilmartin Adams, Senior Analyst. RedThread Research. “Better data, better integrations and better software based on AI and machine learning, are enabling learning tech to do much more than it used to.”

For instance, automatons are now helping to take work off the plate of learning and development (L&D), enabling L&D practitioners to do more strategic and innovative work, Adams observed.

‘Coaches on the shoulder’ apps are giving real-time feedback to improve performance across organisations, and‘nudging apps’ remind employees to practice key learning elements on-the-job, while integration to platforms such as Teams and Slack bring learning into the flow of work.

Organisations are also deploying passive tracking apps that use latent data to provide employees with data they can use to improve. For example, there are apps that read a manager’s emails and give feedback on how to relate better to employees reporting directly to them.

As more tech vendors offer more functionalities in more combinations than ever before, organisations are also beginning to think more holistically about learning tech, according to Johnson.

“In terms of learning ecosystems, what are you trying to enable employees to do, and how can you intentionally fit together various learning opportunities, both tech and non-tech, to enable those things?” she asked.

With employees already utilising so much tech in the form of project management apps, email and chat, to name but a few, they advised L&D to think about how to leverage available tech to take learning to where employees already are.

Sustainability is also important, as ecosystems are ‘living things’ that require maintenance and pruning. “L&D should be thinking not only about what tech to add to the ecosystem, but also what is not being used, or is duplicative and can be removed,” Johnson explained.

Redefining the role of L&D

While it is hoped that 2021 will bring a more stability to the workforce after a turbulent 2020, the likelihood is that organisations will now have to operate in markets where they have to pivot quickly and continuously. In ever-evolving environments thus, agility and responsiveness will be key for success, said Adams.

L&D’s role, is to enable this agility by fundamentally changing the way we work, as Adams explained, “We must shift to a mindset of enabling, not providing. Forward-thinking L&D organisations are focusing on empowering and enabling employees to develop, and not on providing all development opportunities themselves.”

READ: Driving organisational growth with L&D as the focal point

She recommended a six-step process that will allow organisations to achieve these objectives:

  1. Plan: Employees should be allowed to plan their careers, both inside and outside the organisation.
  2. Discover: Allow employees to access experiences that can help them develop new knowledge and skills.
  3. Experiment: Allow employees to practice and get feedback on new skills.
  4. Connect: Employees should be encouraged to connect with and learn from other employees.
  5. Perform: Employees must be motivated to perform better on the job and learn while doing it.

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Within the L&D function, new skills have also arisen to deliver and support new skills, according to RedThread Research. These include:

  • Product Management: With the move to learning tech ecosystems, L&D needs the skills to oversee the ecosystem, understand the integrations, negotiate contracts, and ensure deduplication across L&D organisations.
  • Data Analysis: This includes statistics, data cleaning, data visualisation and storytelling, and is often closely tied to people analytics and business intelligence functions.
  • MarComm Management: With so much learning content available and so many other things vying for employees’ attention, it can be helpful for L&D to have in-house marketing skills to help employees find learning opportunities and motivate them to engage in learning.
  • Learning Path Creation: As learning becomes more and more personalised, L&D needs the skills to help people navigate their unique learning journeys.

Identifying key skills for the future of work

As the future of work continues to be shaped by recent events, organisations around the world need to work towards identifying their highest-priority skills based on their organisation’s own environment, business strategy and existing workforce skills.

This will be critical as organisations need to be increasingly responsive in a future of work that emphasises agility, said Johnson. “Responsivity is the ability of organisations to recognise trends in the operating environment and effectively turn possible disruptions from those trends into a distinct organisational advantage.”

Citing research RedThread Research conducted in mid-2020, she highlighted how high-responsivity organisations have a “significant advantage” over low-responsivity organisations in several areas, including: employee engagement, meeting business goals, responding to market changes, innovation, and satisfied customers.

Johnson elaborated, “Interestingly, this research found that high-responsivity organsiations were ten times more likely than low-responsivity organisations to develop talent internally to a very great extent (49% vs 4% of survey respondents).

“This means that one key to the future of work is, first, identifying the skills your organisation uniquely needs to develop, and then developing those skills among existing employees, rather than bringing in new talent.”

Dani Johnson and Heather Gilmartin Adams will jointly present the keynote session on Tuesday, March 23 (10 am SGT) at Learning Technologies Asia 2021, organised by HRM Asia. Click here to register for the session.