It’s not about learning.
Our purpose as L&D professionals has never been to make people learn. Rather, we help people solve problems. It could be selling more products. It could be maintaining compliance. It could be getting the next job. We connect people to right-fit solutions to the most challenging, high-priority problems they encounter at work. Learning how to do something new or better is often part of the story but it’s never the ultimate goal.
This purpose has been challenged over the past few months as we face unprecedented levels of workplace disruption and change. Everyone—regardless of industry or role—now has to do their jobs differently. If you sell products in a retail store you are now supporting online ordering and curbside pickup. If you deliver food to people’s homes you are now running digital payments and applying no-contact standards. If you train people how to do their jobs better you are rapidly adopting new tools and tactics to meet the changing needs of your audience.
Organizations have been forced to scramble and find new ways to get work done. And, by all accounts, L&D has been right there to help every step of the way. However, learning has been just part of the story. Producing The 80 Percent podcast affords me the opportunity to host deep conversations with HR and L&D pros from around the world. Organizations that have been particularly successful in supporting their teams through this disruption have adopted a similar mindset. They have been able to apply a people-first approach by focusing on three critical factors.
It’s about trust
Do your employees trust that your organization has their best interests in mind?
This story starts with trust. If employees don’t trust your company, then why should they try their hardest to change how they do their jobs? Why should they put in the time and effort if they don’t believe their company (and by extension L&D) will be there to support them moving forward? Lack of trust leads to lack of motivation and engagement. People will do the minimum to get by—until they can find a better option. Or they’ll just stop showing up.
L&D does not own trust in the workplace. But we can influence our partners and stakeholders to make sure trust is a primary consideration in our change enablement efforts.
? Drive awareness through communication. Send clear, consistent messages regarding the status and direction of the company, before employees are impacted by changes. Leverage both senior and local management in your communication to demonstrate alignment and connect strategy to action.
? Provide a clear WIIFM. "What's In It For Me?" Connect L&D solutions to existing employee motivations. Be clear with regards to how this training, tool, or resource will help them be safe and productive on the job. Position the WIIFM based on the needs of the employee, not the company or customer.
? Be present. I have always made an effort to spend time working alongside the people I support. This helps me stay aware of their everyday realities. It also helps me build trust with my audience. Right now this is difficult to do, especially with teams working from home for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, L&D must make the effort to be viewed as part of the operational team and avoid being relegated to an unseen, uninformed corporate function.
It’s about preparation
Do your employees have the knowledge and tools they need to stay safe and productive at work?
Trust opens the door for meaningful preparation, especially within organizations that have been heavily disrupted by the pandemic. People need more than an online course to break old habits and relearn how to do their jobs. Providing a comprehensive preparation plan will promote employee trust and help people keep pace with ongoing changes.
? Be practical. Focus on the problem. Avoid defaulting to traditional L&D solutions. Building and deploying traditional training requires more time than organizations likely have to implement required changes. Clarify the job behaviors that have to change and build only right-fit solutions that have clear value to the people doing the work.
? Lean on performance support. Disruption will continue. Change is the norm. Employees cannot be asked to retake training over and over again. But consistent support is key. That’s why L&D has to prioritize performance support. Provide a simple go-to location for the latest information. Make sure everyone has a reliable way to get their questions answered.
? Open the gates. Time remains the biggest obstacle to employee development, especially in frontline roles. If people are limited to scheduled shifts and company devices, they will struggle to stay up-to-date. Now is the time to adopt a bring your own device (BYOD) strategy and implement mobile technology so people can access the information they need when and where they need it.
It’s about confidence
Do your employees have the support they need to confidently apply their new job knowledge?
Having the knowledge and tools needed to do the job isn’t enough. People must have the confidence to apply their capabilities in real life. This confidence is especially difficult to develop during periods of heavy change. Remember—many people have been doing their jobs a certain way for years—or decades. Depending on how they are impacted by disruption, a lot of their comfort zone may have been removed overnight. L&D must design solutions that build skill AND confidence.
? Ensure manager readiness. Employees absolutely need consistent support from their managers right now. L&D can provide managers with tools and resources to help them help their team members in this environment. After all, when an employee runs into a challenging situation, it's the manager that is called for assistance, not L&D.
? Reinforce critical behaviors. Just because you tell people to do something in a new way doesn’t mean they’ll do it. We’re talking about proven habits that have been developed over thousands of repetitions. Repetition will also be required to break and rebuild these habits. L&D solutions must include reinforcement tactics such as coaching and scenario-based questions to drive long-term retention and application.
? Celebrate improvement. Recognition is often reserved for top performers. This may motivate people to seek similar recognition. However, it can also become demotivating during times of persistent change and disruption. If people don’t “get it” right away, they may feel like they’re falling behind and stop trying. Rather than just recognize top performers, celebrate meaningful improvements across the team, especially early during periods of change.
It’s not an overstatement to say that L&D has never been more important. However, this doesn’t mean L&D programs will suddenly become a long-term business priority. We must adapt like everyone else. We must find new ways to fulfill our purpose just as employees are getting used to doing their jobs—or entirely new roles—in different ways. It’s not about learning. It’s about doing everything we can to help people be safe and productive at work.
Thank you for everything you are doing to help your people and your communities in these challenging times. If there is anything I can do, please reach out via firstname.lastname@example.org.