Benjamin Franklin once said, “Change is the only constant in life. One’s ability to adapt to those changes will determine your success in life.” Some changes are expected and can be planned for – like new people joining or experienced people leaving a team, or updating the computer systems. There are also changes which will completely blindside you – such as a global pandemic forcing everyone into a lockdown and suddenly having to reconsider the entire future of your organisation’s working practices. In either case, businesses and organisations need to understand how to utilise L&D as a key tool in their arsenal for becoming agile and adaptable.
In previous articles, we discussed how to lead a company through change and, more recently, taken a deep dive into the future of learning and development after the lockdown. Now, we’re going to put these together to explore how L&D can help leaders to guide their organisation, and support their people, through these uncertain times.
Learning new competencies
L&D is, at its core, about improving the competency of a workforce. No organisation can survive if its people lack the key skills to do their jobs. In normal times, hiring the right people and offering training for skill updates and refreshers is generally sufficient. However, in the time of such immense upheaval, L&D leaders need to do more.
Leaders need to realign their strategy and to be able to operate in an agile way. They need to be great communicators and be able to take their people with them on the bumpy journey ahead. L&D leaders need to assess their leadership team’s skills and make sure they support them with skills and tools to help them achieve this.
If your workforce changed from a physical office to interacting entirely virtually, you need to ensure that everyone knows how their job now works. Only 66% of employees have felt able to do their jobs effectively from home,1 which shows that people who were hired to work in one setting may not be as effective or confident working remotely, or may struggle with virtual collaboration.
During the pandemic, almost 90% of B2B salespeople have had to shift to remote selling via video and phone calls.2 These sudden pivots to having crucial meetings over Zoom or Microsoft Teams suddenly require new skills, new ways of thinking and a brand new attitude. How do you start a conversation without a handshake? Is there a virtual alternative to take them out for a coffee or the casual chat you have after leaving the room? Many traditional salespeople are finding the new world difficult to adapt to, but the right L&D programmes can cover this.
In fact, 71% of L&D leaders report that over 40% of their workforce needed new skills due to the changes brought on by COVID-19.3 In each level of an organisation, and for every different role, there are ways that learning can help your people succeed and adapt to their new mode of working.
Developing new soft skills
The best learning should be multifaceted and multipurpose, and any L&D programme that purely focuses on job competencies is a missed opportunity. The right learning programme can lift up your entire workforce, create stronger teams and encourage new ways of thinking.
Many esoteric soft skills are more relevant now than ever. Teaching your team how to complete a task virtually is crucial, but so is making sure they know how to work effectively from home and that they look after their mental wellbeing and don’t burn out under these new pressures. Over 58% of workforces have required skill transformations due to the sudden increase in digital and virtual working,4 and 87% of workers say they’re under more pressure to keep productivity levels high.5
With the rise of remote working and the shift into virtual, the soft skills employers are beginning to prioritise are communication, prioritisation, adaptability and initiative taking.6 In other words, employers are now highly valuing skills linked to being able to work effectively and independently outside of a typical office environment. Through L&D, you can teach your people to work in sensible and sustainable ways which match the current climate, avoiding the pitfalls of assuming business will resume as usual.
Regain control of the situation
Every organisation has struggled with uncertainty and constant, unexpected and unpredictable changes. By investing in and focusing on L&D, you send a clear signal to your teams that you’re taking back some level of control and steering the ship in an active and deliberate direction, rather than continuing to be swept wherever the winds of fate took you.
L&D programmes based on organisational values and priorities also tell employees that it’s time for them to get back on track too. It acts as a manifesto for the next stage in the organisation’s future, and announces to your people what’s expected of them. If you need to boost sales figures, then get them training in that, but if you believe there’s more value in deepening relationships with existing clients, then get them extra training in this instead.
One of the most important steps in leading through change is to listen and have open dialogue with your teams. You need to give them the information and then you must listen to their reactions, thoughts, suggestions and worries. Through your L&D strategy you can show you have been listening and taking notice of what your people want.
There will inevitably be priorities and requests from the C-Suite and managers, but you can also include training that staff have been asking for. If people have been voicing concerns over, for example, feeling isolated and out of the loop while working remotely, then make sure you allocate time to discuss good team communication as part of their learning journeys.
Keeping employees engaged from a distance
Studies have repeatedly shown that people want to work for organisations that give them opportunities for personal development, with 94% of employees saying they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their L&D.7
As the lines between work and personal lives are becoming increasingly blurred, creating learning and development plans for employees is a good way to show you care about them as more than mere company statistics. This has been shown to improve employee engagement. Recent research has found that one of the top priorities for employees in the post-lockdown world (after flexible working and a work/life balance) is the chance to develop new skills.8
Furthermore, L&D creates a feeling of connection and togetherness, even between people who don’t directly work together. It establishes a joint purpose and a shared vision for the future throughout all participants, re-establishing not just the organisation’s goals but personal ones for the people who make up the workforce. This is especially important now, as we all have to learn to work remotely while retaining a sense of community and team morale. Uncertainty is less scary when you know you’re all in it together.
Help leaders to help others
Most workplace changes are decided, or at least discussed, by the leadership first and then filtered down through their organisation. This gives those in charge time to adapt and establish their response before talking about it openly with their teams. This pandemic was different. It didn’t talk to the C-Suit first, or give advanced warning. We all had to adjust at the same time and at the same pace.
This means there are many leaders and people managers who are struggling in their own ways with the changes to how they work, while also expected to help others at the same time. Creating a learning programme dedicated to helping leaders find their feet in the new world of work, and teach them how leadership styles need to evolve, will help them create a smoother path through this period of uncertainty for themselves and the people looking to them for guidance.
Throughout all the changes to how we live and work, the one constant has been the need to learn new skills. From being productive at home to navigating the virtual world, from re-learning to do a job to finding way to communicate with a team that can’t meet up in the same room, learning and development is the key for unlocking your organisation’s potential and finding a clear path through current and future uncertainty.
For more help supporting your people through uncertain times, make sure you explore our virtual and blended learning solutions.
1 Effectory (2020) How to keep your employees engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic
2 McKinsey (2020) The B2B digital inflection point: How sales have changed during COVID-19
3 Gartner (2020) Future of work tops HR priorities for 2020-21
4 Gartner (2020) Lack of skills threatens digital transformation
5 Robert Walters (2020) Burning the candle: Strategies to combat working burnout
6 Manpower Group (2020) The future for workers, by workers: Making the next normal better for all
7 LinkedIn Learning (2019) 2019 Workplace Learning Report
8 Manpower Group (2020) The future for workers, by workers: Making the next normal better for all