How can we use the crisis to take L&D to the next level?
We’ve got a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine the role of L&D. Let’s use this to take stock, rebuild our profession and start making a difference again.
“This is an opportunity to look at what used to be long-form problems; things that we had postponed for too long are now immediate, and must be dealt with”.
The speaker here was President Obama’s first chief of staff, talking to The Wall St Journal in 2009, just after the 2008 financial crash – the last major crisis the world had to figure out a way round. What he meant was that you never want a serious crisis to go to waste; it's always an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before. This is more true today than it was when he first said it.
For us in the L&D space, there's still so much work to do. It will never go back to the way it used to be, so we have to step up to the plate.
Maybe we needed it. Why do I say that? Even before Covid-19, there’d been more and more signs that L&D was losing favour in the eyes of our leaders, and even ourselves:
- Leaders becoming less convinced: only 42% agreed L&D could help meet business goals today in a collaborative research project between i4cp and ATD.
- Learners turning off: there was four times as much self-directed learning as there was corporate learning in a 2016 Degreed study.
- L&D not seen as influencers: according to the Talent Development Executive Confidence Index 2017, 50% of talent believed L&D actually had a flat or declining impact on corporate performance.
No one could have predicted what happened in these last six months due to Covid-19 and all the change and disruption it’s brought to the workplace, employment patterns/expectations, and training. It’s actually disruption piled up on disruption, of course, as the trends in digital and other technologies, demographics and socioeconomics and the climate crisis are also working their way inexorably through our systems. As Microsoft’s Satya Nadella has pointed out, we’ve seen two years of digital transformation crunched down into two months.
Stop the training department sliding into irrelevance
Like it or not, friends, the future of work is here. It arrived clothed in the biggest economic, political, social and healthcare crisis we’ve had in the last 60 years, probably World War level in ultimate impact. It’s laid bare almost every weakness in our economy and society, from the dysfunction of healthcare to the fragility of just-in-time supply chain thinking, our reliance on poorly paid gig workers and systematic injustice and racism here and in America.
Luckily, a deeply connected response from our scientific community, the heroism of our healthcare workers and a new definition of what essential work is have thrown all this into perspective, too. A burst of innovation and creativity is coming via our new common digital work collaboration and communication experiences.
For us in the L&D space, there's still so much work to do. It will never go back to the way it used to be, so we have to step up to the plate. We can use this crisis to totally redefine what we do and what our contribution to our organisations is for years to come. We can stop the training department sliding into irrelevance, overwhelmed by the forces of digital transformation and powerful energies of the fourth industrial revolution. We can finally chuck out outmoded ways of thinking about learning and old-fashioned tools.
Eyes on the prize
If we do, there’s so much we could win. We could start being confident that we can help our companies create value. By accessing deep business understanding and seizing helpful technology, we can use proven techniques from neuroscience to genuinely help the acquisition of skills in the flow of work. We could feel excitement and the opening of possibility and a direct connection to keeping our organisation's skills competitive.
What got us here will not get us where we need to be
It’s going to take a willingness to let go of being professionals that have ‘been there, done that’ and seen everything. We have to become vulnerable again. We’re all in learning mode now – you’ll be learning with your team, picking up new skills and new technologies. We must be open to experiment – let's try it and see what happens. We need to have fun with it.
So my L&D peers, now is the time to turn frustration into action. It’s time to run bold experiments, to steal from the science-based disciplines around us, and to build empathetic and learner-centric programmes that leverage the best of technology that's available to us. It's time to define solutions and approaches that will help us get to work on one of the defining problems of our time – how we help millions of adults build a new set of skills at speed, and at scale to prepare them for the new world of work and the opportunities that surely lie ahead.
What encourages me to make this call now, with the pandemic maybe not even half-over, is that there are early signs that the community is opening up to possibility and that confidence is growing in our discipline. In its recent State of L&D Report (June 2020), for example, the LinkedIn Learning team found a dramatic turnaround in the perception in leadership L&D.
“When we surveyed L&D pros globally for the 2019 report, only a quarter reported that their executives were actively championing learning in their organisations. Today, nearly three quarters of L&D pros say that their CEOs are active learning champions, and nearly two thirds have the proverbial seat at the table”.
Just look around yourself, and you’ll see the same excitement yourself. Workers are hungry for more, and voting with their feet; engagement metrics are through the roof for resources such as LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, and edX.
Covid-19 may have accelerated the fundamental change in how we work, but the core driver here, let's not forget, is technology and digital innovation, so let’s rise to the challenge together, banish the spectre of irrelevance, and start making a difference again.
Chris Pirie is an ex-Microsoft CLO, an independent L&D consultant with his company The Learning Futures Group, and is also host of the ‘Learning Is The New Working’ podcast.
Former Oracle Global VP of Online Learning, where he launched the Oracle Learning Network, Microsoft’s Chief Learning Officer for Microsoft’s entire global sales force for the past 7 years, and previously Head of Sales and Marketing for the Microsoft Learning Division where he orchestrated the move from a product to a cloud sales approach,...