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How to make your L&D impactful

21st Apr 2021
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Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact on businesses over the past year. Many have had to get let go staff, many slim down their operations and many have had to cut costs elsewhere; like their corporate learning and development budget. However, those companies that do cut their corporate L&D budget risk falling behind, and investing in learning has never been more important, say Executive Education Programme Directors at ESMT Berlin, Buelent Goegduen and Nan Guo. We interviewed both on the impact of covid-19 on L&D budgets, the importance of still investing in this, and how to adapt learning to make it more effective;

 

How has covid-19 affected companies learning & development activities – have many had to put this on hold for a year?

Last year, about 50% of our programs were put on hold. This year, however, more and more clients go for online or blended formats. On the one hand, we, as L&D provider learned how to deliver engaging online sessions and how to capitalize the advantages of online formats. As the participant satisfaction is high our clients’ willingness to go online increases.

So, online is not a compromise anymore but a meaningful part of an intense learning journey. On the other hand, the pandemic showed how important learning and development is. The need for transformation through learning and development is stronger than ever. Organizations and managers cannot put L&D activities on hold any longer. 

What sort of impact will this have pausing learning and development in the long-term? What advantage will the companies who continued learning and development get over those who didn’t?

L&D is not an end in itself but a means to better business performance – if designed and delivered in the right way. Cancelling just another training program won’t have much impact honestly. But pausing “real” L&D at a time where we need to be fast to develop new competencies and approaches, question our habits and routines and prepare for the future will affect the business.

In the “best” case, managers will need longer to develop the skills they need. For instance, some of our clients need to think about the question whether their businesses are only affected temporarily through the pandemic or whether they really need to re-think their value propositions and b-models. This question cannot be put on hold – businesses have to find answers NOW and we can help clients to explore such questions in a structured way through smart L&D initiatives.   

What do companies need to consider before investing in L&D at the moment?

It all begins with a business-oriented exploration why and where L&D is needed. It is about helping organizations and people to master the pressing issues of today and prepare themselves for the new challenges coming ahead. Once the needs of the business are understood and the required change is mapped out, then companies can design L&D initiatives that create impact.

Some of our clients for instance set new strategic goals for 2025, they want to boost their existing businesses but also realize new growth opportunities. Now that the strategy is formulated, the organization needs to start thinking and acting in a different way. (If everything remained the same why would we need a new strategy at all.) With this deeper understanding what it takes to implement the new strategy, L&D initiatives cannot only help managers develop new competencies but also provide hands-on support to them in translating the strategy into their own area of responsibility and develop a higher clarity how they can contribute to the success of the company.      

How do you think covid-19 has changed the L&D market?

The quest for impact will be stronger. The businesses will ask for tangible return on investment. Companies will make more use of blended formats because the combination of online and face2face enables more effective learning journeys. We believe that key topics such as strategy, innovation, leadership or self-management will remain – managers still need some fundamental know-how, mindset, methods and tools to lead their people effectively and run their businesses successfully. However, these core topics will be enriched by new topics such as virtual communication or decision making in the age of machine.  

How can companies switch their L&D to ensure it is impact-focused?

There are three main ways companies can do so;

  • Think business and strategy. Put as much effort as possible in understanding what the organization and its people need to improve performance and to prepare for the future. 
  • Think L&D in the broadest possible sense. Make use of a broad range of interventions (from training, coaching, consulting, mentoring to re-design of processes and structures or roles and responsibilities, launch of special projects…) to support strategic activities and business performance.
  • Ask for real customization and real individualization: Impact can only be achieved when the L&D initiatives are relevant for the people. Therefore, the initiatives should start where people are (in sense what their challenges are, what keeps them busy, how they want to grow…) and then support them to manage the transition they want along a learning journey.  

Thank you to Buelent Goegduen and Nan Guo, Executive Education Programme Directors at ESMT Berlin, for this interview.

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