Training, or Learning and Development (L&D), is a central— indeed, critical—part of the modern organisation, large and small and in both private and public sectors across Australia, and an essential part of the national economy. This is because competitive pressures, new technologies, tough business conditions and new business practices are constantly changing, and the pace of that change is accelerating.
As a result most if not all people in the nation’s workforce need to constantly learn new skills.
Once learning may have been seen by business leaders as simply a means to slow attrition, and it’s true that job satisfaction leads to both strong morale and motivation. But good leaders today also understand that a culture of continuous learning can help attract, recruit and on-board the best new staff, develop and retain existing staff, and help build the nimble, agile and resilient organisation that will survive today’s competitive environment.
This reminds me of the conversation between the CEO and CFO. When asked by the CFO “What happens if we invest in developing our people and they leave?” the CEO replies, “What happens if we don’t—and they stay?”
Well, I think Zig Ziglar got it right when he said you don’t build a business—you build people, and then your people build the business. Human capital generally, and learning and development specifically, is a strategic enabler that can lead to more satisfied, productive employees, and this translates invariably to higher profitability, happier customers and increased revenues.
Now, that’s the “why”. As for the “how”, that question requires a lot more consideration because how skills can be most effectively learned is not a one-size-fits-all.
Firstly, learning is much more than training per se—it is professional development, coaching, mentoring, shadowing, delegated tasks, in fact any opportunity for employees to grow and learn. Nor is learning just one opportunity or discrete event. Learning inside organisations must be continuous, integrated and self-directed as much as organisation-led. And the organisation needs to support it, encourage it and find ways to maximise it.
How skills are taught, learned, measured, supported and managed have changed beyond recognition, even from only thirty years ago. That said, I think there will always be a role for face-to-face learning, where the experienced facilitator engages directly with the learner and can give subtle differences to their instructions, using carefully nuanced words and actions, to ensure the learning is fully absorbed and can be implemented back at the workplace.
What we’re seeing now of course is that the arsenal available to L&D departments has increased almost exponentially with the rise of eLearning, blended learning, mobile learning, just-in-time/just-for-me performance support, augmented reality and much more.
That amount of choice also raises its own questions, however, and L&D professionals are now expected to be not only learning experts but also fluent technology purveyors, able to select the best fit-for-purpose and, as always, cost-effective learning solution.
There may be many ways to deliver learning, and the “right mix” of approaches will differ from organisation to organisation to achieve the top performance they’re after from their workforce. So, in my mind, this is an exciting time for learning leaders, and the opportunities seem endless for they can innovate and leverage the best modalities, from classrooms both real and virtual right through to augmented reality.
At the end of the day, leaders must embrace a culture of learning, one that supports learning, encourages it, measures it and celebrates it. To do all that an organisation doesn’t need an L&D budget big enough to roll out virtual reality-based performance support programs—they just need to role model it. Preach it. Live it, in team meetings and staff briefings where teams and individuals are encouraged to come up with ideas and talk about their failures, not just their successes; to share learning from their mistakes, failures, unattained goals and targets, missed opportunities as much as opportunities that resulted in success.