COVID-19-Induced Metamorphosis of L&D: Evolve or Expire
I recently wrote on the dilemma facing the Learning and Development (L&D) community post-Coronavirus outbreak: Should L&D still be viewed as an order taker or as a path breaker? The L&D department runs the risk of fading into oblivion if it continues pushing trainings mindlessly. According to a McKinsey report, only 40 percent of companies say their learning strategy is aligned with business goals. Also, the learners of today—who inadvertently find themselves tech savvy (courtesy of COVID-19)—have a different learning preference today owing to the seamless merging of time and space while working from home: Afternoons merge with evenings, and weekdays merge with weekends. Hence, the need right now is right information at the right time at the right dosage.
L&D, predominantly a vocal and extrovert player, can still be a force to be reckoned with in this virtual world—if it understands the process of evolution. Throughout history, no great hero, institution, or country remained invincible for a long time. They were either conquered or forced to retreat. Their powers soon were curtailed or made useful only within a particular context. This only proves every successor was either better in copying the earlier model or creating a better model altogether. L&D, too, which was once a powerhouse of learning and teacher driven, is on the verge of being toppled and replaced by a better system altogether—the learner-driven or self-directed-learning model.
For L&D to metamorphose and be relevant to the current time, it needs to fundamentally change the language it uses; the manner in which it approaches a business challenge, as well as the stakeholders; the technique it deploys to design a learning experience; the methods it uses to engage with the learner; and the way it measures the learning outcomes. In short, as management guru and father of modern HR Dave Ulrich says, “L&D should be known more for the value it creates than for learning.” And to create value, L&D needs to quickly evolve through the following stages by changing its diet pattern.
Language: Just like any other profession, L&D is steeped in platitudes. Stop saying, “Oh, that! No worries, I have a great training program for your business problem.” Rather, learn to say, “After some careful study, I can design a learning experience that could address your business challenge.” Stop gloating, “I am a high performance corporate trainer.” Rather, humbly say, “I am a facilitator/coach trying to assist people in discovering their own potential.” And finally, for heaven’s sake, stop spouting phrases/acronyms like “70:20:10,” “SMART objectives,” and “LNA,” over and over again. The air time for L&D was already limited.
Approach: L&D’s new avatar should be imbued in deep data analytics. Every time an L&D professional opens his or her mouth, the words need to be undergirded with data. This is how this department can regain the lost confidence—both from a learner and CXO perspective. And this can happen only when the L&D team constantly interacts and collaborates with every business function before they even think of a learning solution. Business challenges should be the premise of any learning design, while fostering a self-directed learning culture should be the ultimate goal.
Design: Ever since the pandemic brought about a digital transformation, most L&D professionals are busy boring people to death with cheap PowerPoint SCORM packages. How I wish somebody announced a moratorium on this ubiquitous “click next” button and “tick and flick” design. L&D’s primary design principle should be user-centric, as value needs to be seen from the eyes of the beholder and not from what the designer thinks. It is time to incorporate agile-based microlearnings for technical expertise and learning campaigns (blended learning) for leadership and behavioural change interventions.
Engagement: The new learning paradigm warrants a teacher engagement. It is no longer about how to keep the learners engaged. Unlike the yesteryear learner who had the time and respect for a guru, today’s learner has no time but to Google. While teachers cannot (and should not) compete with technology, they should channelize their core competency: walking along with the learner as a coach and fostering a culture of continuous learning and curiosity. Real learning happens when L&D succeeds in making the learner want to learn in the moment rather than wait for learning moments. Here, peer learning and internal discussion forums are incredible engagement tools.
Measurement: The one gray area of L&D during the pre-COVID-19 era was, without a doubt, measuring the learning outcome. This was primarily due to the excess focus given to learner engagement. It is time L&D starts focusing on the job more than the learner. A heightened emphasis should be placed on connecting the learning outcome with the business performance outcome and accordingly move toward measuring more aligned markers and key performance indicators (KPIs). A training mindset needs to give way to a performance support mindset. And one question that can ascertain this transition is: Does my learning management system (LMS) track the accomplishment of the business goals for which the learners strive?
Thanks to COVID-19, the erstwhile L&D model and its paraphernalia now is being forced to consume a different but healthy diet. Lazy habits that led to bloated multi-day classroom courses now need to pave way for nimbler and leaner delivery models. And interestingly, many who encounter this new model might not (and should not) even recognize this model, as it has shed the excess weight and now looks trim, fit, and desirable. In reality, this healthy diet was long overdue as the adamant, myopic, obese patient was at the risk of a catastrophic heart failure. Now as L&D appreciates and adopts this new diet, it will not only survive this pandemic but grow to live a long, happy, and productive life.
Billy Paul Ebenezer is a Learning and Organizational Development specialist. For more than 15 years, he has worked in multinational corporations such as Oracle, Accenture, and Wipro as a management consultant, leadership coach, and behavioral facilitator. He has trained and advised thousands of corporate executives on how to be a better leader. He can be followed on twitter: @sbillypaul.