Employee training is vital in the post-Covid world. Here’s what a training program must have.
"And once the storm is over, you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in. That's what this storm's all about."
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world in more ways than we can imagine. Besides ravaging global economies, it has had a dramatic impact on the way we live, learn, work and shop. Many of these changes – remote working, virtual learning, digitization and automation, and online shopping – were already around. But the crisis has accelerated them. So much so that some experts say there is no going back to “normal”.
The learning and development domain has seen one of the biggest shifts; it is no longer considered an optional exercise, but an imperative. Sixty-four per cent learning and development professionals agree that L&D has shifted from “nice to have” to “need to have”, according to LinkedIn Learning’s 5th Annual Workplace Learning Report published March 2021. The survey added that 33% of L&D professionals are expecting their budget to increase and that L&D professionals are becoming increasingly important to overall business strategy with the percentage of such professionals with a seat at the C-Suite table increasing.
Is that surprising? Not really.
For one, the benefits of learning and development include attracting and retaining talent (and reducing turnover and hiring costs), motivating and engaging employees (and increasing productivity). All these are highly desirable outcomes for organizations globally.
Two, in March 2020, as country after country imposed rigorous lockdowns and travel restrictions following the World Health Organization’s declaration of the Covid-19 outbreak as a global pandemic, HR, IT and L&D professionals across the world were forced to work overtime to equip their teams with the skills and tools they needed to work efficiently remotely.
Learning and development – and by extension training and development – is poised to take centerstage in the post-Covid years too given dire predictions about the future of jobs.
Increased automation and the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic could displace an estimated 85 million jobs by 2025, said the World Economic Forum in its Future of Jobs report in October 2020. Though 97 million new roles are likely to be created during this period, displaced workers will need to be trained – reskilled and upskilled – to take them on, the report said.
To plug skills gaps, companies estimate that on average around 40% of workers will need reskilling of six months or less while 94% of business leaders surveyed said they expected employees to pick up new skills on the job, up from 65% in 2018, the report added.
Even before the pandemic, CEOs were concerned about the lack of skills. “One reality is clear: increases in automation, changes in demographics and new regulations will make it much harder for organizations to attract and retain the skilled talent they need to keep pace with the speed of technological change. They will have to grow their own future workforce,” said PwC’s 23rd Annual global CEO Survey that interviewed 3,501 CEOs in 83 territories in September and October 2019.
But training comes with its own challenges. Organization leaders often intend to start training programs but only a small fraction of these plans reach fruition. The majority of CEOs surveyed for PwC’s 22nd Annual Global CEO Survey agreed that “significant retraining/upskilling was the most important way to close a potential skills gap in their organization”. A year later, however, only 18% of them said that their organization had made “significant progress” in establishing a training program.
As organizations get started on the task (now is the perfect time), here are the seven components of an amazing training and development learning strategy that they can use as a guide.
organizations in both the private and public sectors.
The 7 core elements of an amazing training and development strategy. These are:
Though the terms “training” and “development” are usually uttered in the same breath, the two terms aren’t exactly interchangeable. Here’s the difference: Training in specific soft and hard skills leads to employee development, which is part of the big picture of enabling employees to evolve as professionals and progress in their careers.
Similarly, it is not uncommon to find people using “training and development” and “learning and development” interchangeably. There is, however, a difference.
“Learning is the process by which a person constructs new knowledge, skills and capabilities, whereas training is one of several responses an organization can undertake to promote learning,” writes J Reynolds in his book Helping people learn: strategies for moving from training to learning.
Seasoned managers know that it doesn’t matter what degrees, diplomas, experience or skills an employee brings with them, most employees need some kind of training to give them a running start at their new job or role.
One of the most basic forms of training is employee orientation. It helps the organization “orient” the new employee to the company’s policies, mission and culture and gives the employee a sense of their place in the jigsaw that is the organization, enabling them to become a valuable part of the team.
Other forms of training help organizations maximize the return on investments they make in software and other technologies. For example, organizations often acquire expensive management systems or sales and marketing or HR tools that are meant to help employees attain business objectives, boost productivity, improve sales, marketing and customer service and improve profitability. However, most employees utilize a fraction of the functionality of these tools, leading to a very low return on these investments. Adequate training helps prevent this.
For example, inadequate training on data security especially at a time people are working remotely can compromise an organization’s servers and customer data, possibly leading to long-term consequences for business and appropriate training helps organizations reduce this risk.
Investing in training and development is worth the investment because it leads to better performance and business outcomes.
The American Society for Training and Development or ASTD (now the Association for Talent Development or ATD) conducted a study measuring the return on investment of employee training in 1998. The study looked at training investments in 575 publicly traded firms in the US and found that:
Similarly, an IBM study from 2013 found that 84% of employees in best performing organizations were receiving the training they need, a full 68% better than the worst performing companies.
Investing in training is one of the ways to build a culture of learning in an organization. It has significant returns. Among other things, organizations with a strong learning culture are 52% more productive and 17% more profitable than their peers.
Similarly, investing in learning and development can reduce employee turnover. Twenty-eight per cent of millennials and 27% of Gen Z workers surveyed by Deloitte in 2019 said that they planned to leave their current organizations in the next two years because of a lack of learning and development opportunities. Ninety-four percent of employees surveyed told LinkedIn in 2018 that they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development.
A 2016 Gallup poll of Millennials found that almost 90% of them valued “career growth and development opportunities,” but less than 40% felt strongly that they had “learned something new on the job in the past 30 days.”
Given that Millennials and Gen Z workers comprise a significant section of the global workforce, it’s clear that organizations that want to grow and prosper must invest in the development of their employees.
Organizations must tailor their training programs depending on their unique requirements. But there are important components that must be present in all. Here’s a look at the 7 core elements of an amazing training and development strategy.
“Learning is the process by which a person constructs new knowledge, skills and capabilities, whereas training is one of several responses an organization can undertake to promote learning,”
- J Reynolds
It is in the best interests of both organizations and employees to upskill to remain relevant in the future.
“Really, almost any topic may be the object of training. The question is – is it worth the organization's efforts and resources to do it." - Dennis M Daley, author and Professor of Public Administration
One of the most important components of an organization’ training and development strategy is alignment – the training program must always be designed to achieve the organization’s business objectives.
“Without alignment between leaders and team members within your organization on how to best tackle technology skill development, you won’t benefit as drastically and efficiently as you could, and risk losing ground in a competitive market,” said a survey of 1,500 technology executives and practitioners across eight countries released in 2020.
Organizations with high alignment had better market performance than those with less alignment, according to a 2015 study by ATD Research.
Organizations that plan to develop a training program must assess their current business objectives to see if they are likely to change in the next five years. Is consolidation on the cards? Do you plan to launch a new product or service or acquire a new business? Answers to these questions will help organizations determine their current and upcoming business objectives and shape their training programs accordingly.
Designing and implementing a training and development program without a needs assessment is like driving blindfolded.
A training needs assessment aims to accurately identify the organization’s training needs. Among other things, it includes identifying the tasks employees will need to do to reach the company objectives and the training required to conduct these tasks.
A needs assessment can be top down or bottom up or (ideally) both. It must also consider both internal and external factors affecting the organization. Internal factors would be employees and the leadership’s plans for the future while external factors are those such as the economic environment and technological advancements that could pose an opportunity or threat to the organization.
While conducting a needs assessment, in addition to ascertaining what customers and vendors are saying about your business (such as what you do well and what you need to fix), organizations can get great insights about what they could focus on by ascertaining what customers and vendors are saying about the competition (what they do better or worse).
Surveying employees to understand what they want as part of a needs assessment is also very useful. Such surveys help organizations get a sense not only of employees’ skills and knowledge but also what their perceptions are about their own learning capabilities and the areas they believe they need training in.
Additionally, through such surveys, employees often reveal problems within the organization or its processes that the leadership isn’t aware of, much of which can be fixed by training. It ensures a level of employee buy-in right from the outset too, another important component of a successful training and development strategy.
Traditionally, learning and development did not have a seat at the high table. It circled the periphery of all other functions considered vital to the business. Its budgets were one of the first to be slashed during a crunch and the perception of learning and development professionals among employees was that of a department desperately wanting to do something, anything, to prove their relevance.
Over the past few years that has changed, with the Covid pandemic accelerating this change, ensuring that training/learning is treated like an organizational imperative rather than something that was seen as desirable but not vital to the functioning of the organization.
That change is reflected in LinkedIn Learning’s latest survey. L&D professionals are becoming increasingly important to overall business strategy, according to LinkedIn Learning’s 5th Annual Workplace Learning Report published in 2021. Sixty-two per cent of CEOs in the US and 68% in Canada prioritize learning in their organization, it adds.
Making training and development an organizational priority means the organization’s top leadership must be fully committed to making it work, that learning and development professionals must get the organizational support and resources (money and human resources) to develop and execute training programs.
One way of making learning and development an organizational priority is to embed it in the company culture.
A learning culture is defined as one “that supports an open mindset, an independent quest for knowledge, and shared learning directed toward the mission and goals of the organization”. In an atmosphere of continuous learning, employees feel valued because they see that the organization is investing in their development, leading to increased engagement and productivity. It also fuels innovation and helps organizations stay competitive and relevant in a rapidly and constantly changing world.
Organizations with a strong learning culture significantly outperform their peers according to research by Bersin and Associates. These organizations are 46% more likely to be first to market, have 37% greater employee productivity, 34% better response to customer needs, 26% greater ability to deliver “quality products”, 58% more likely to have skills to meet future demand and 17% more likely to be market share leader, the research says.
Unfortunately, only around 10% of companies have a true learning culture, according to CEB research from 2014, and only 20% of employees demonstrate effective learning behaviors.
Organizations can build a strong learning culture by making learning a core organizational value. These are non-negotiable values that are a part of an organization’s DNA and guide it in everything that it does.
To make learning a part of company culture, embed it within all processes – as formal training during hiring, as feedback related to an employee’s learning path during performance reviews, and by using learning as a criteria for rewards and promotions.
Also, when senior leadership demonstrates an interest in learning for their own growth, it goes a long way in establishing a culture of learning in the organization.
Employee buy-in is essential for the success of any organizational initiative and it’s no different with training and development. In fact, CEOs surveyed by PwC in 2020 admitted that the biggest challenges while upskilling are motivating or incentivizing employees to learn and apply their learning, and a lack of resources to conduct the upskilling programs they need.
Here is how organizations can gain employee buy-in for training programs:
Meaningful communication: Convey to all employees the reasons the organization is starting a training program. It could be because you want to improve organizational performance in general or it could be because you are pivoting your business strategy in tune with the changing global economic scenario and you want your employees to be equipped with the skills for it. When organizations engage all employees in this process by outlining the reasons for the training and spelling out how the program is likely to help them not just in their current jobs but also in the future, they involve them in the process. Employees subsequently feel invested in it and are less likely to resist it.
Rewards and recognition: Rewarding and recognizing employees for reaching training milestones is a great way of engaging employees and motivating the rest of the workforce. Some organizations also make any promotions or career progression contingent upon the employees clearing a few training milestones.
Only 33% of employees agree or strongly agree that the available learning opportunities suit their development needs – CEB (2014)
At a time technology has enabled a mind-numbing amount of personalization (think hyper-targeted ads on Instagram and YouTube and Netflix movie recommendations) it’s quite remarkable that a one-size-fits all mode of training continues to be popular.
One probable reason for this is that a one-size-fits-all training program is considered to be less expensive than a customized and personalized program. But the model isn’t very effective. To get the best bang for their training buck, organizations must consider training programs customized to meet the organization’s specific requirements and personalized to cater to the specific needs of their diverse (in terms of seniority, culture, education and skill level) workforce.
Learning solutions that are personally meaningful and emotionally salient are a recipe for retaining knowledge. This is because when training is grounded in relevant, real-world problems, people are motivated to learn and act on what they have learned.
It works. Ninety-one per cent of companies that deliver personalized learning surveyed by Brandon Hall in 2018 said that it has improved the link between learning and organizational performance while 95% of them said personalized learning improved the link between learning and individual performance.
Advances in the fields of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning and the emergence of innovative learning platforms for the workplace have made a high level of customization and personalization possible. One incentive for organizations to personalize their training programs is the fact that younger employees – Millennials and Gen Z – seem to prefer it.
Similarly, programs that enable easy collaboration between employees are particularly useful at a time people are working and learning remotely because of Covid-19. Collaboration is a proven way to enhance learning. When employees work jointly on projects during training workshops to implement the concepts they have learned during training, they are more likely to retain what they have learned. Again, technology such as online whiteboard tools make virtual collaboration easier and more fun.
The kind of training program an organization designs, the partners it collaborates with and the tools or platforms it uses will depend on the time and resources at its disposal. But it’s important to remember that no matter what the format or content, the effectiveness of training programs depends a lot on the user experience (UX) it delivers as that will determine if employees retain interest in the learning process. This is irrespective of whether organizations design the training program themselves or with the help of a learning partner.
For instance, let’s assume all new hires in two organizations have to complete a mandatory one hour of self-directed online training module each week for four weeks.
At Organization A, the new hires have no problem navigating the four modules. The beginning of each module contains a summary of all the lessons to be completed and an estimate of the time it will take to complete each of them. It is easy to navigate back and forth between pages and learners can easily ask for help if they get stuck. When participants want to leave the exercise midway, they can bookmark their current position and return to it at a later stage. The module has a progress bar that visually indicates how far they have progressed in each module.
Organization B’s training module consists of a series of text-heavy slides that took 5 minutes to download. The learner’s computer doesn’t seem to have some fonts used in the presentation and some slides are spilling into others. Some of the files are image heavy and take forever to open.
Which organization offers the better user experience?
Good UX pays off, say the experts. “Paying attention to user experience may mean that it takes longer to release a product or internal system. But when it’s right, the result is far fewer headaches down the road, happier customers, and happier employees. That should mean a happier bottom line,” writes UX expert Elizabeth Rosenzweig.
Measurability is a critical quality of any objective, and training and development programs are no different.
In fact, one of the reasons L&D has not had a seat at the high table traditionally was the inability of L&D teams to convincingly demonstrate the value of training programs to the organization’s overall business objectives. This is not for the lack of trying. It’s just that employee surveys and test scores could never conclusively tell if the training was actually working.
No wonder then that measuring learning impact is at the top of L&D leaders’ priorities. Ninety-six percent of L&D leaders surveyed say they want to measure learning impact, according to LEO Learning’s Measuring the Impact of Learning 2019. Leaders are recognizing that there are new ways learning outcomes can be measured. The report said that there’s been a 59% increase in the number of respondents who strongly agree that it is possible to demonstrate the business impact of learning.
Organizations need to move from the traditional ways of collecting data on training outcomes to new ways that reflect the ways learning is conducted today, argues workplace learning expert JD Dillon. “Real impact measurement is possible,” says Dillon. “But first, we have to shatter the way L&D thinks about measurement.”
Those who do it see it paying off. Companies that apply modern data practices see a 29% average impact on business results from their learning programs, according to a 2019 study by Axonify, where Dillion is Chief Learning Architect.
Advances in technology in recent years have helped. Online learning platforms as well as skills mapping tools capture a rich amount of data about employees all of which can be used to gauge the effectiveness of training on employees. This includes things such as the courses employees sign up for, how much time they spend learning, their scores and how they rate their skills now and six months later.
But capturing data is just part of the job done. The more important part – perhaps one of the most important components of a great L&D strategy – is an organization’s ability to use that data to track progress, evaluate, personalize and make improvements in the training program to maximize learning efficiency.
Some learning platforms do this well by continuously working with their customers to improve their training programs.
Learnit, for instance, collaborates with its customers right from the start – from helping them assess employee skills and mapping learning deliverables to skill gaps and skill requirements, to helping them monitor their programs on a customized portal.
All the data collected is subsequently analyzed in collaboration with the customer to evaluate how well the training program is working. The training program is subsequently tweaked to make it more effective.
The ripples of major world events are usually felt well after the event actually ended and have a lasting impact on those who live through them. In the US, just as the impact of the Great Depression and World War II shaped the world views of the generation born between 1900-1920, and the economic and global events following the 9/11 attacks have dogged the lives of Millennials, the Covid-19 pandemic and its disruptions are going to have a lasting impact on Gen Z (roughly those born 1996 onwards according to Pew Research). A Harvard Business Review article titled What your Youngest Employees Need Right Now makes for a fascinating read especially with regard to the learning disruptions Gen Z has seen because of the Covid-19 pandemic and their training needs in the workplaces of the future. organizations keen to invest in training for this cohort might find some interesting insights there.