Learning and Development Manager Mitie
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Rebuilding your learning strategy in uncertain times

The global pandemic has presented a number of business challenges, not least how we can deliver an effective learning strategy during this period of upheaval. The key to making your learning strategy ‘match-fit’ for today is investing in the ‘pre-game’ preparation.

19th Oct 2020
Learning and Development Manager Mitie
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iStock/Cecilie_Arcurs

In March 2020 the world changed, and with that came unforeseen workplace issues. The spread of Covid-19 has created the obvious business problems – staff safety, income, events and meetings have all been left in limbo. It has also presented L&D with new challenges to overcome. How, then, can you rebuild your learning strategy to meet learning needs, increase skill sets and support the business to achieve key deliverables against this backdrop of volatility and uncertainty?

Traditionally, when building a learning strategy, we would aim to gain a deeper insight into the business we are supporting by spending time with leaders to understand what the business wishes to achieve with regards to the development of its workforce. We’d then look closely at how this plays out on the operational side of the business, what challenges staff face and consider which learning solutions would gain support and buy-in from key individuals and teams.

In order to reform and re-tool our strategies going forward, we need to spend a bit longer in the ‘pre-build’ phase. 

Next, we would consider content, in collaboration with subject matter experts and explore implementation with the support of a learning professional. We would then assess, test, iterate and identify key metrics in evaluating whether the learning is having a significant impact. 

That, alongside communications, would comprise the key parts of an L&D strategy, and with each iteration we would try new approaches, keep what was working and test new innovations across our performance benchmark.

Naturally, the global pandemic has had a huge impact on all of this and has forced us to consider how we can restructure this traditional strategy for the new conditions we live in. The biggest change has been on the technology side – remote working has forced everyone to press the ‘fast forward’ button on digital transformation. There’s also been an attitude shift with regards to the efficacy of home working. When working in offices in my previous roles, I sometimes heard people who were working from home referred to as having an ‘easy Friday’ etc. We all know now that this isn’t the case. Remote working is now being accepted as a sustainable way forward. 

All of these changes mean that any new learning strategies need to fundamentally shift to accommodate these new ways of working. 

Future-proofing your strategy

In order to reform and re-tool our strategies going forward, we need to spend a bit longer in the ‘pre-build’ phase. For too long, L&D has been stuck in traditional (and possibly archaic) ways of working, so we should view this an opportunity to bring ourselves up to date and ensure our approach is fit for the future – whatever that may bring. 

As with any strategy, you’d start by looking at what is already working and ensure that you keep that. The core elements such as spending time with key stakeholders, understanding operational challenges, exploring leadership development and reflecting on how we can determine effectiveness in the work we do – should all remain. 

We then need to look afresh at the key performance indicators and ask ourselves what success looks like in today’s environment. Having a roadmap to success is important. 

From here, we need to drill down further – how do we get there? At this stage we need a ‘pre-strategy’ approach to ensure that we are bringing the whole team on board. For example, before your learning strategy can begin in earnest, you may need to introduce a learning programme to upskill those who aren’t already comfortable using the new technology this requires. In order for any technology to work, team members need to not only feel comfortable with it, but also develop a sense of ease in communicating using these platforms. Think carefully about which software you can use to facilitate more fluid ways of working and collaboration, as well as allowing you to edit live documents and hold regular catch ups (in a sprint type method) that don’t feel intrusive and can help make you more efficient as a team.

future L&D leaders hub link

Protected time 

Once the pre-strategic ground has been laid, it’s time to get to the main nuts and bolts. What is your main target? What in a nutshell do you wish to achieve? This is the time to open the conversation with your key stakeholders and explore, coach, and challenge them – they need to ask themselves, is this what we need? Is it really? Agree it at a senior level. 

Allow and build in protected time to bring in several perspectives across the business to ensure the goal intrinsically motivates you all and that it is achievable. Vision is massively important in seeing the L&D strategy landing, as is sharing relevant communication to reassure everyone that you are heading in the identified direction.

Next, it’s time to explore identified key metrics, such as staff retention, business success levels, etc. This is the time to ask yourselves: what are our areas of high performance, what are our areas of concern and what do we need in terms of developmental support? Previously this would have been done via in-person meetings with leaders, site visits to understand the ‘operational feel’ and issues that are present. In 2020, this now may not be possible and these sessions may now be online, which means your coaching skills need to be exemplary.

With every intervention you’ll need to work through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need. While you may be doing this via a digital platform, you need to ensure that you have a safe space to explore these issues, and the confidence to share this with senior figures to discuss the direction the strategy is taking you in openly. 

It’s also important that you hold regular online catch ups, sometimes with the only agenda of ‘how is our new strategy landing?’ Designate time for each participant to feed back on how the learning is harnessed and cross reference to what the data is telling you.

Digital imposter syndrome

When it comes to rebuilding your learning strategy for today’s working environment, many of the core elements remain the same. The big difference now is in the ‘pre-strategy’ – the preparation you do to ensure that your strategy lands well in the current circumstances. 

It is essential to spend time ensuring that key stakeholders feel comfortable with the new digital tools and communication methods we are using now. Many professionals suffer from ‘digital imposter syndrome’, which makes them feel uncomfortable about raising their hand for support in this area and, if left unchecked, it can create an almost strategic detachment. Our role as leaders in learning is to ensure that this detachment is minimised. We are in charge of ensuring that the right people come together and buy into the strategy to help us meet our identified targets together.  

Many learning strategies are stunted by assuming that everyone is in the same place when in fact they have different views, abilities and development needs. Now, with teams being physically distant as well, it’s more important than ever before that we invest in things like technological skill, mental health, and relationship building to ensure that we’re all working together effectively.

By building a pre-strategy that focuses on engagement, check-ins, and protected thinking and questioning time, you can ensure that you get true buy-in, honest feedback and more collaboration. All of this will have a massive impact on the future of your organisation and the development of its people.

Interested in this topic? Read How to adapt your talent and learning strategy in uncertain times.

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