As we enter into 2023, there is increasing concern about an impending economic downturn. This concern is growing according to trends seen among tech companies. The realization that talent development—upskilling—drives business outcomes should not come as a surprise, although it sometimes seems difficult to tie profitability and other outcomes directly to upskilling. Adding and keeping customers is more difficult in an economic downturn, and business leaders are more interested in outcomes than in training programs. Outcomes matter most, but many training programs are founded more on skill improvement than on targeted business outcomes.

Making the connection

The key for learning and development is the understanding that the language used is important to proposing successful upskilling initiatives to business leaders. The process of making the link is really very straightforward. Business leaders select the skills to emphasize that make sense to them in order to improve outcomes. Identify subject matter experts, either outside your organization or inside it. Measure training progress and track the business impact. Repeat in order to quantify L&D’s impact on the bottom line and calculate ROI. Adjust the upskilling as required.

Outcomes that matter

What are the outcomes that matter to executives during a downturn? It’s the upscaling of growth in customers, sales, and profitability. If data is needed to make talent development’s case for upskilling and the connection to outcomes, that data is available from the efforts of other organizations.

A change in focus

For example, outcome-driven talent development platform GrowthSpace identified a trend among 150 of its tech customers during 2022. These customers re-worked their training budgets to focus on upskilling and reskilling customer-facing employees in marketing, customer success, and HR, while decreasing enrollments in L&D programs for employees in engineering and product development roles and for those in finance and IT. At the same time, those GrowthSpace customers decreased training of high-level managers but increased training of lower-level individual contributors.

Connect to what you are measuring

Omer Glass, CEO and founder of GrowthSpace, says, “In most cases, even if the business leaders did not know which skills to improve, they knew the outcomes they wanted. They knew when they needed sales to improve on generating more pipeline or improving conversions. There can be a lot of ways to address the same issues. It can be productivity, or it can be very content-driven, in which case we worked with content experts about how to make the outreach: whether with an internal expert or mentor, or with an external from outside the company. It might be a need for a sales trainer who just helps sales people to pitch better. Personalization plays a major role in that. If three people need to improve their metrics in a given area, in order to drive that for each one of them, the organization needs to address totally different skills.”

Glass continues, “My favorite thing is to connect to whatever you’re measuring. When we are working with companies, there are three ways to connect to the metrics. One way is to work with the business leaders to identify senior employees to act as mentors and to assist them in that effort. This is also effective for succession planning efforts. The second way is to identify certified external subject matter experts who will work with individual employees. The third way, for enriching company culture and improving teamwork skills, is through group experiences: lectures, group coaching, and workshops.”

An example of results

For GrowthSpace customer Cognyte, an investigative intelligence analytics company with a global headcount of over 2,000 employees, the results speak for themselves. Working for governments and enterprises across the world to detect and prevent terrorism, it’s imperative for their employees to be at the top of their game and in order to achieve this, Cognyte required customized, agile, and scalable L&D solutions in multiple languages that could be adapted to evolving security standards. Through GrowthSpace, they conducted 12 online expert-facilitated, objective-driven workshops focused on accelerating skills for their highest performers. GrowthSpace’s platform seamlessly matched talent with the right specialists, enabling Cognyte to meet its internal KPI of creating individual development plans for 90% of its top performers. Those who undertook the sessions reported 7% higher satisfaction levels than the organizational average and reported more favorably on retention and career growth indicators.