Learning as a pathway to human growth

SumTotal Systems' Morne Swart explains why being able to quickly figure out and develop new roles will be the key to a sustainable future for organisations.
By: | May 11, 2021

If the pandemic has made anything clear, it is that people and organisations must adapt to a changing world to survive. Those that do so quickly and effectively often dominate their markets.

We see evidence in the organisations that have already started to innovate rapidly over the past few years – their embrace of digital transformation has positioned them for sustainability.

The COVID-19 fallout: Organisational maturity is exposed

While digital transformation initiatives got underway for companies across industries pre-COVID-19, they lacked urgency. Once COVID -19 struck, some companies blew past digital resistance in record time to enable their newly remote workforce and ongoing innovation.

Regardless of industry, the imperative is to create a digital organisation focused on the future of work. People must be better equipped digitally, and it is up to HR to create the link between the technology and their people.

Human Capital Management (HCM) technologies have evolved – think talent management, talent science (i.e., analytics), learning experience platforms, programme experience platforms, and adoption workflow tools.

But because HR has historically lacked the investment and organisational support to keep pace, it is now scrambling to build out the ecosystem. Simply put, digital acceleration is a must for enabling a resilient workforce and organisation.

To be agile and adapt quickly, organisations must empower their individuals and provide experiences that make the complex simple. Do so effectively, and it is faster to develop employee skills, knowledge and behaviours, and change policies and processes in line with changing market conditions.

Learning and development is the accelerator

When COVID-19 reared its ugly head, some organisations furloughed employees – in some cases, at massive rates. How do organisations know who to furlough? Are they sure they can sustain their business with the remaining employees, many of whom have assumed additional responsibilities?

The key is for organisations to evolve their people’s behaviours and skills to fully embrace what is needed to sustain, innovate, collaborate, and more. It requires matching human adaptability to human-enabling technology.

Learning supports and accelerates growth and rapidly closes the gap between technology and human adaptability.

A framework of adaptability, agility, and resilience

In the past, employee performance and learning were separate. Now the lines between traditional talent and learning are gone: Organisations cannot develop someone isolated from their potential.

Today organisations and their managers must give people continuous feedback in the flow of work so they can adjust on the fly.

As they provide that feedback, managers must support their people in changing their behaviours and developing skills and knowledge. This involves delivering the applicable development resources associated with the desired action or behaviour in the moment.

The most effective approach is enabling this within a framework of Adaptability, Agility, and Resilience:

  • Adaptability: When an organisation can adjust its approach or actions in response to changes in the external environment, it is adaptable. Adaptability translates to engaging current workers in a new, challenging environment, and easily evolving the workforce to execute in the face of new demands.
  • Agility: The more quickly organisations can support an employee’s complete lifecycle, the faster the business can adjust to new market conditions. To enable this, managers need data that provides insight into their people and their potential. Specifically, organisations need to understand employees’ skills, attributes, aspirations and map these to outcomes the business wants to achieve.
  • Resilience:  Business continuity planning needs to happen quickly. We are in the accelerated digital transformation phase, with no luxury for three-to-five-year plans. Organisations need to sustain and recover through this period and build upon their current positions. Succession planning is critical. Effective planning today requires looking at employee skills, assessments, performance, 360° assessments, participation in social communities, and more to build the next layer of leaders.

It requires simpler tasks and user-friendly experiences

The concept of simplifying the complex is inherent in enabling this adaptability, agility, and resilience. Organisations can call upon numerous tools to close the skills gap today: LMS platforms, content libraries, micro-learning platforms, learning record stores, learning experience and programme experience platforms, assessment development, as well as digital adoption and learning workflow tools.

But those products can create more complexity: Eight different products translate to eight different integration points, maintenance tasks, and user experiences. Moreover, it is not sufficient to simply close the skills gap.

Meaningful transformation demands a new skilling strategy, where skills – along with knowledge and behaviours – make up employee readiness. Today’s employees need different abilities and skills – such as communication and languages – depending on their work. They also need competency in the form of the knowledge and behaviours to succeed in their roles.

Taking advantage of the right technology, organisations can navigate this triad of needs effectively and efficiently – especially critical as they take steps to enable the new roles that have arisen in the wake of COVID-19. Quickly figuring out and developing these new roles will be the key to a sustainable future.

The organisations that enable their people to develop, learn, and grow in lockstep with today’s business climate can outsmart competitors, sell better, and better serve customers – shoring up their sustainability in the process.

Morne Swart is Vice-President, Global Product Strategy and Transformational Leader, SumTotal Systems.