In this article, I offer some reframing of the current employment and economic situation in the world, and some thinking about what our role in L&D can be.

What can L&D do?

It is important to understand what has been happening since February for what it is: a transition, rather than a change. In his book Managing Transitions, change consultant William Bridges, MD notes that, “Change is situational, transition is psychological. Without transition, a change is just rearrangement of the furniture.” My suggestion is that our job involves more than simply rearranging what we were doing before 2020, and we will not get through the transition quickly. This is going to take time, thought, and patience.

Change is often quick, as it has been this year, and it happens in the world, whether we agree with it or not. Transitions often take time and the key to remember is that transitions happen in the mind. Change is often about business, as in "working from home" and “opening up the country.” Transition is about humans, as in "staying home" and “getting adjusted to the new normal.” A change is something you can deal with rationally. Transitions involve dealing with resistance, feelings of loss, and even grief. Change and transition aren’t the same, but managers (including L&D managers) must attend to both at the same time.

Changes and transitions

There are some changes that we can plan for:

  • Planning experiences/training, and delivery for managers
  • Planning experiences/training, and delivery for employees
  • Planning experiences/training, and delivery for customers
  • Revising organization strategies, priorities, and procedures
  • Deciding what content from former days stays, what goes, and what needs revisions

Transitions are a bit trickier. Transitions are affected by the Four Disruptive Horsemen of the COVID Apocalypse (you may know them as VUCA): Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. On the bright side, these four can open up new possibilities. On the dark side, they make life difficult. However, there are some principles that can guide our efforts during the transition to make decisions, plan forward, manage risks, foster the transition, and solve problems in order to help the humans through the experience and to come to better outcomes for the business:

  • Be flexible: change the way you approach problems. Look for diversity of input. Get feedback.
  • Give clear instructions. (People get overwhelmed by change and transition.)
  • Be open to questions. Listen.
  • Training is important—prepare people for changes

What's your strategy?

Your transition strategy should include at least these four elements:

  • Positioning L&D as a change agent
  • Leading the way while being agile
  • Future-proofing
  • Transformation of skills, learning culture, and technology

Matthew Brown, VP, Learning and Brand Success at Schoox, suggests that, “Change comes in many forms—some more obvious than others. With change comes growth and learning, which is enhanced if we are open to it. Our role has always been to help others learn and adapt to changing conditions—whether the focus is on skills, behaviors, or attitudes. It’s important not to forget that we have the skills and the knowledge to be highly effective (and compassionate) change leaders.”

Catherine Lombardozzi, EdD, a lifelong learning and development practitioner and founder of Learning 4 Learning Professionals, offers some additional thoughts about change and transition: “Learning culture is defined by our attitudes and norms related to acquiring or co-creating knowledge and skill in the organization. In times of change, the existing culture can be an enabler or a stumbling block. But importantly, change often brings opportunities to influence the nature of the organization’s learning culture, and we can take advantage of that.”

Art Kohn, PhD, a professor of business at Portland State University, researches how to present information to maximize learning and memory. About disruption, Art says, "Organizations should use disruptive change as an opportunity to implement structural changes that are difficult during normal times. Now is the time to create a modern training program that delivers information and produces behavior change in more effective ways."

Matthew, Catherine, and Art will present key sessions at The Learning Guild’s May 27-28 Online Conference “Supporting Your Workforce Through Change.” A total of eight important sessions will help you navigate your way through change and transition. Here is the complete program:

Achieving Business Results Begins With A Successful Learning Strategy Mark Griffiths, Newleaf Training and Development

Untapped Potential: How to Position L&D as a Change Agent During Times of Crisis. Matthew Brown, Schoox

Adopting the Best Agile Development Methods to Your eLearning Process. Molly Crowley, Sealworks Interactive Studio

COVID-19: A Leadership Opportunity for Training Departments. Art Kohn, ASPIRE Consulting Group

Future Proofing Your Organization with Design Thinking-Driven Strategy Michael Hruska & Daniel McCoy, Problem Solutions

The Way We Work Now: How Technology is Shaping Productivity of the Expanded Remote Workforce. Matthew Brown, Schoox, and TJ Coyle, Pharmazan

The Role of Learning Culture in Facilitating Change. Catherine Lombardozzi, Learning 4 Learning Professionals

Accelerating the Skills Transformation for the Future of Work. Sonia Malik, IBM

You can register for the "Supporting Your Workforce Through Change" Online Conference or get a Learning Guild Online Conference subscription to access this and all online conferences for the next year, plus much more.