Before I got into L&D, I was a pretty darn good guest service manager (let the humblebrag commence). I spent the first third of my career in customer-facing roles, primarily with AMC Theatres and The Walt Disney World Resort. As was the case with most of my peers, I could do all of the standard management stuff—such as staffing, inventory, and financial planning—with relative ease. But where I really stood out was in my guest interaction skills. I was the manager you sent into the “interesting” situations. Did a Star Wars movie just stop playing in the middle of a lightsaber fight with a sold out crowd? Is the world’s busiest roller coaster temporarily closed on a July afternoon? Why is that guest incoherently screaming at an employee just because its raining? Call JD!
Why was I so good in these situations? Frankly, it made no sense, even to me. I was an extremely shy person growing up. I avoided conflict at all cost. I stepped into my first managerial role at 18 with very limited experience. And my only formal lesson in guest service was a 15-minute training video on the L.A.S.T. method (Listen, Apologize, Solve, Thank) during my new hire orientation. On paper, I had no management skills. But in real life, I was always able to find a way to fix the problem.
My experiences as a frontline manager are always top-of-mind as I explore new L&D tactics and strategies. It’s why I was so quick to adopt microlearning principles. It’s why I focus so heavily on topics like shared knowledge and performance support within my Modern Learning Ecosystem (MLE) FrameworkTM. And it’s why I’m not at all surprised by the sudden shift in focus within L&D and HR towards the idea of reskilling. 18-year-old JD had to figure things out on his own. Unfortunately, too many employees—especially those on the frontline—have experienced this version of workplace skill development. Now, as the pace of change continues to accelerate, organizations find themselves devoid of people with new, complex, and/or in-demand skills they require to execute transformation projects and remain competitive. But should this problem really be a surprise to anyone, especially L&D pros?
Organizations have over-relied on traditional, place-and-time training for decades. Regardless, it has always been near-to-impossible to pull people away from their day-to-day jobs for dedicated development activity. So, in more recent years, we have leaned into concepts like self-directed learning and the 70:20:10 model with the intent to transfer accountability for professional development from the organization (and L&D) to the employee. But this hasn’t halted the growing skill deficit for four key reasons:
1. People may have access to development opportunities, but they don’t have the time to engage in courses or find the right resources because they’re too busy with other work and life priorities.
2. Development is still widely viewed as an optional activity or a reward for good performance, not a required part of the working experience.
3. Organizations have not been proactive in identifying their future skill requirements or assessing the capabilities of their existing workforce.
4. The historic focus on place-and-time learning has left organizations without the tools, tactics or strategies required to pivot their focus and foster agile, personalized skill development.
Let’s be honest. If organizations had recognized the business value of continuous learning and shifted their mindset and strategies accordingly, we wouldn’t be talking about reskilling. Sure, we may still have plenty of skill gaps, but we would also have the mechanisms to rapidly and proactively address them. Executives would be confident in their organizations’ ability to compete, regardless of changing market forces. Employees would have confidence in their ability to develop the knowledge and skills needed to remain relevant and productive in the changing workplace. And L&D would have confidence in the value we are providing to the organization because we are ready to support the latest and greatest priorities. But alas, here we are …
There’s no time for pointing fingers. After all, stakeholders are quickly coming to the realization that ongoing skill development is a requirement in the modern workplace. And employees need help navigating their changing realities … NOW! Some companies are already making significant investments in reskilling initiatives. But will those efforts address just immediate needs, or will they establish the infrastructure needed to support ongoing knowledge and skill development? And what about organizations that just don’t have $800 million lying around?
Transforming L&D strategy to support rapid and continuous skill development will require a multitude of tools and tactics. Data. Artificial intelligence. Personalization. Microlearning. Coaching. Immersive technology. They may all play a role in helping an L&D team reimagine how they support people in the modern workplace. However, as has always been the case, mindset is infinitely more important than content or technology. If we hope to overcome our skills challenge, we first must help everyone—frontline employees, managers, executives, subject matter experts, L&D—rethink the concept of learning at work. L&D must act quickly to influence this organizational mindset (aka culture) and show people that modern workplace learning requires a balance …
We must address the immediate priorities of the business and ensure people are ready to perform TODAY. At the same time, we must provide ongoing guidance and opportunities to help each employee develop the knowledge and skills they will need for tomorrow.
As the workplace evolves, people will need to continuously develop new, increasingly complex skills—the kinds of skills that cannot be taught in a two-hour course or 30-minute eLearning module. In most cases, they’re also not the kind of skills you can just figure out on your own. These skills will require continuous learning, practice, and guidance. They will require considerable effort and dedication, the same type of effort and dedication required in every other part of the job. And people will have to build these skills while continuing to execute on company priorities. They will need help striking the balance between performance and development. This is where a reimagined approach to L&D can deliver value and help people succeed in the modern workplace.
Balance was always a struggle for me as an operational manager. I worked long shifts and focused on putting out the next metaphorical fire. I never had time for development, and the little I actually did was usually squeezed into my days off. I developed my managerial skills along the way and got plenty of practice thanks to my unique, high-volume roles. But I always wonder ... how much better I could have been, how much faster I could have developed, and what direction may my career have taken if I had been able to find my own balance between performance and development.