The Future of L&D and Employee Development Programs

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The term ‘HR business partnering’ was conceived in the mid-1990s by Dave Ulrich, however, it took decades for becoming fundamental to the way many organisations structure HR today. It is the high time that L&D too must be recognised and promoted as ‘L&D Business Partnering’. According to the Association for Talent Development, organizations that offer comprehensive training enjoy 218% higher income per employee than those with less comprehensive training. Also, organizations that spend more on training get more benefit i.e. 24% higher profit margins than those who spend less on training. Nevertheless, as per industry reports, worldwide close to $200 billion dollars are spent on employee development annually. Yet, are these programs helping organizations to improve their business results or helping employees to learn and find better opportunities for career growth, leaves a big question mark?

“The 3rd Annual Workplace Learning Report published by LinkedIn, brought a good news for L&D professionals. Business leaders today are looking towards L&D to offer support in strategic workforce planning, including attracting and retaining talent, and ensuring their people have the right skills for today and tomorrow”

What does it mean that for the first time, L&D will get business executive’s buy-in towards L&D interventions focused on managing day-to-day challenges by filling skills gaps that are vital for both individual and the organization to remain competitive. Traditionally, the main focus of L&D was on designing and managing courses. However, in order to be relevant and appropriate for tomorrow’s workplace and workforce there is a pressing need to transform the overall learning experience. One of the major change required is to focus on ‘How to learn and not necessarily What to Learn’. Instead of a set of specific skills, the emphasise should be on skills such as, to learn on the go, adapt, and apply learnings to new situations and business issues. Apart from facilitating employee’s growth this will also help organizations to grow.

Abraham Lincoln rightly said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” However, both the learners as well as we the L&D professionals are busy in chopping the tree without having time to sharpen the saw. Even though, The 70-20-10 Model for Learning and Development is widely adopted in the industry, yet in reality it is still on paper. We know that this is the 70% (Hands-on experience gained while working along with interactions with superiors and mentors) helps employees discover and refine their job-related skills, make decisions, and be able to address business challenges. Yet, very little efforts are made to institutionalize this method of learning.

  • We need to create repositories of strategies/actions/tactics that have given success to individuals and organization and at the same time what did not work. These repositories will work as internal ‘Google’ or ‘YouTube’. Content of these repositories needs to be customized in such a way that like ‘Netflix’ or ‘Amazon Prime’ it offers required information to users, even before they search for it. This will help in personalization of learning. With the help of machine learning and complex algorithms we can create learning journeys and offer recommendations based on learners’ past behaviour. In addition, learners can browse through topics and courses that are uniquely tailored to their interests, behaviours, and goals. As a part of ‘Knowledge Management’ we need to institutionalize this process of collecting such valuable information that can help not only the new incumbents to succeed but also to people who are getting transferred to a new role.
  • Employee development is just not a one-time issue; rather it’s an ongoing crusade. Hence, instead of creating one big program, it is better to have short programs but running frequently. It is a proven fact that one in three employees leaves the organization within a short period of time due to lack of opportunity provided for updating knowledge or skill base. On the other hand such opportunities for development keep employees engaged and happy. The mantra is ‘Keep it small’.
  • No more push learning! In future, we will have to create a pull and this can only be achieved when the learning is self-driven! We should offer choices in learning by offering a bouquet of resources (Not necessarily the courses) such as, e-learning platform, knowledge database, and job aids. Making the right learning opportunity accessible to everyone through a variety of learning content, aligned with employee’s professional and personal goals is the key to success. While creating or curating interesting content for training solutions one needs to keep in mind that it is comprehensive but easy to relate and understandable by the learners. 
  • The role of today’s instructional designer may become obsolete in future. Digital content creator will take their place; ones who will produce videos, podcasts and mobile-ready resources to support learning in the flow of work. This does not mean that the instructor led training will not be required at all. However, it is just that instead of L&D professional such sessions will be conducted by the line managers themselves to help learners solve real business challenges. Learning from managers and leaders has the potential to create the biggest impact on performance, yet today it doesn’t reach the majority of learners. Most training interventions do not necessarily fail because of poor design but due to poor implementation and lack of buy in from the line managers. Needless to mention, apart from being effective such interventions will also have the buy in of managers and business leaders too. 
  • Even after 60 years of its existence no one can question the relevance of the Kirk Patrick’s model. Rather, in future L&D professionals will have to use it more often to showcase their training effectiveness justifying training cost by demonstrating tangible ROI. This necessitates the need for evaluating learning that happens at random times and on a range of devices. In addition, we need to quantify the business and training goals which will help both the employee and ourselves to measure success. When an employee tastes success she is likely to continue and accept more and more initiatives. Needless to mention this will bring both employee and the organization closer to their goals and aspirations.
  • With the changing landscape we will have to be ready to adapt to needs of today’s learners. The standard 9-5 shift is becoming less common, flexible hours, remote working, freelancing and the gig economy is taking employees out of the office and allowing them to work wherever they are. We must ensure learning opportunities are available whenever and wherever people are working. The need of hour is byte size learning modules that are engaging and interesting and can be consumed by the learners as they go. Key considerations here include ensuring that learning is mobile friendly, can be accessed and tracked outside the company network and is consumable both offline and online. 

Although, social learning, coaching, mentoring, collaborative learning and other methods of interaction are being frequently used; yet encouragement and feedback that are prime benefits of this valuable learning approach are still not widely used as they should be. Apart from it, we need to build excitement and engagement through learning contests with monthly or quarterly rewards. In other words, we need to be a cheer leader and get out of the way of learner and learning. Cross functional work assignments for those who are interested in breaking their barriers and want to walk an extra mile is another way to offer fluidity in the learning environment. By recognizing these employees through strategically designed recognition programs such as, weightage in career progression or awards and certificates, we will be able to establish credibility of these programs.

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Vivek is a passionate L&D professional with a rare combination of experience and exposure to a variety of industries such as Pharmaceutical, Telecom, Retail, E-Commerce, BFSI and Consumer Services. He is currently working with Zomato as Head of Learning & Development. Prior to Zomato, He has worked with Flipkart as Dean Flipkart University, Jana Bank as Sr. VP - L&D, Head of Operations Academy at Reliance Retail, Circle Performance Head at Reliance Communications, Business Development Head NIS corporate training division and Head in-house training departments of Torrent Pharmaceuticals, Cadila Pharmaceuticals, and Lupin Laboratories. He has authored several books on the variety of topics such as Motivation, Customer Service, Communications, Pharmaceutical Selling and Pharmaceutical Sales Management.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Hello Mr.Vivek,
    The article was indeed a wakeup call for many companies who are yet realize the L&D potential which can make a sea change in their performance. Deep thoughts and Great lines.

    Regards
    Sashikumar.S
    DGM(L&D)
    Indian Oil

  2. Nice article read on Future of L &D, it has practical tips.
    I like the word ‘L&D Business Partnering’.

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