Historically, people have survived and thrived all over the globe because they are naturally adept at learning and adapting to changing circumstances – in general whatever is thrown at most people, somehow, they find it within themselves to cope.
The pandemic has placed a greater emphasis on learning at an individual level than ever before. New technologies and ways of working have been adopted, almost overnight, that have enabled connections between co-workers wherever they may be working whether it is in the office, the factory or at home. This has meant that organizations need to spend more time though on becoming places where training, learning and development occurs naturally as a critical business activity and where any intervention is earnt by people rather than becoming something that is regarded as being part of what everyone gets; i.e.: the norm.
The trick is to ensure that this happens without everybody having to be the highly driven, high potential population where ‘development’ is an expected activity, some might say a burden, that is commensurate with the label of being tomorrow’s future leader. Everyone can develop and improve and training is not the only route to capability development – far from it!
Leadership and Culture
The messages that come from an organization’s culture, and in particular their leaders, are closely linked to the organization’s strategy and its’ leadership and management practices, and have a great impact on the people who work there.
Apart from that there is a growing momentum of research-based information that proves the relationship between a constructive culture and corporate performance, organizational quality and effectiveness, customer service, excellence, employee engagement, motivation, and retention. Therefore, if development is to be an important ethos for the organization there are a number of practices that need to be in place to support this.
It starts with the learning and development functions. Across the world, they should be seeing the pandemic as the long overdue catalyst for instigating change in terms of how learning is designed, delivered and monitored in terms of post learning performance with credible data and analytics in place to demonstrate business value.
The digital disruption that the pandemic has created has led to new ways of delivering learning but the absence of tangible data and appreciation of what business value is generated remains an ongoing challenge. Progress is being made and that is to be encouraged.
Additionally, all employees need to start taking full accountability for their own learning and improvement and start thinking about both the long and short term as far as their capability is concerned. Starting to do anything differently takes time, motivation and energy and organizations need to have some slack so people have time to think, plan, try new things and reflect.
Of course, short-term objectives and activities are vital to business performance but development is very difficult if there is insufficient time to learn because every moment is taken up with “doing”. All employees need some time to think about the things they do and decide if they all still need to be done.
Culture is important in this respect. Of course, if you try anything new, mistakes are inevitable. If you make a mistake, apologise, think about what happened and why and how to avoid making the mistake in future. If someone else makes a mistake, you can talk with that person about what happened and why and how to avoid the mistake happening again.
By working together, without blaming, you will create cooperation and learning. Blaming will create defensiveness and mistrust and so is much less constructive. This type of attitude is vital if people across the organization are to really take on board that you are interested in their development – if everyone got everything right in the first place, then no one would need any training, learning or development and we all know that isn’t the case!
Culture impacts upon the way that employees deal with seeking help. It takes a confident person to admit their vulnerability by asking for help in the first place. However, no one is good at everything and one of the advantages of an organization is that there are people around whose job it is to help. Asking for help is actually a sign of strength, not weakness. You can also offer help gently to people who appear to be struggling and let them know that you see accepting your help as a sign of strength too. Often, just listening to someone as he or she thinks aloud is the most helpful thing you can do.
A climate of learning and development doesn’t come overnight and certainly isn’t easy with a range of new behaviours that will be required by the organization, its’ leaders and by its’ employees, let alone the challenging times that we all find ourselves in. Yes, that makes it hard to implement with remote workers, but in terms of long-term retention and engagement, it is a strategy that organizations have to face up to if they truly want to retain their talented people through this period of disruption.
Remember, talented people (not just the high flyers) expect these types of opportunities to occur as that is one way to fulfil their desire to improve themselves. Can your business afford to be without those people? I think not. So make learning and development a business-critical initiative more than ever, before someone else does!