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The Role of Learning Post COVID-19 – Guest Blog by James Poletyllo

The rapid changes we have seen over the past few weeks and months give an indication that it will be very difficult to know, control or influence what will happen over the next few months. It was only 3 months ago that Brexit happened, and Covid-19 did not exist six months ago. It is becoming more apparent that it will be months or even years before we return to “normal” or whatever the “new normal” may be.

So, what can you do to prepare your businesses for the “new normal” and be ready to help navigate through whatever comes next?

What will your organisation look like post Covid-19?

Predicting the future is a combination of art and science and each organisation will face different challenges and opportunities as a result of Covid-19. Some businesses will prosper, some will struggle and some, will, despite whatever support is offered by governments and financial institutions around the world, cease to exist. The one commonality is that it is unlikely that any business will look the same as it did before Covid-19.

Some businesses will have business models which bounce back. However, all businesses will be operating in a new customer landscape. We will almost certainly be in a recession, there will be less disposable income, and customer behaviour will be impacted, as will value.

During a period of lockdown the opportunity to spend is more limited, will people start to question discretionary spend more? Will they be less inclined to grab a take-away coffee or lunch on the go? A period of cooking at home may inspire some to realise they can do more themselves. For others, it will have the opposite effect and they might rush to eat out, socialise and have someone else cook for them.

What about businesses such as fashion and gyms, will people rush to spend in these areas where they have maybe made savings over a number of months? Or will new habits have been formed?

What about those businesses who have shut down and furloughed workers? What will they look when they reopen? Will their teams return? Will their customers return?

There are also a number of industries which will thrive during the crisis either because they meet a need created by social distancing, such as games to play at home or in the garden. Or they become central to the fight against Covid-19, such as Care workers or those in the food production chain.

What about Learning?

Some are saying that online learning will grow during the crisis as companies rush to keep their staff engaged or updated and schools and other educational bodies move their delivery to online or other distance methods. However, whilst necessity may be the mother of invention, making this sort change at pace does not always produce sustainable or effective outputs. Many of the learning efforts taken over the last few weeks are effectively like triage in an emergency department. They are designed to get through a crisis but are unlikely to be the right long-term option.

Preparing for your longer-term future is something you should definitely be doing. As outlined before, every organisation is different so the below are steps which you can apply to your situation to create a bespoke plan which is right for you

  1. Get Close to your business

Get close to those who are leading both your response to the crisis and post crisis plan. What are the challenges do they foresee and what will your teams need to do to respond to these?

  1. Engage with your stakeholders

Responding to these challenges is a multi-disciplinary effort, you will need to engage not just your direct colleagues but those from functions across your organisation. You may find that initially, the pressure falls on colleagues in functions such as strategy, product development, marketing, sales, health and safety or other non-operational colleagues who are trying to shape your response.

  1. Use your response so far as a template

Your organisations’ response so far has given an insight into your organisational agility, its ability to learn, respond and communicate. These same skills are going to be tested time and again over the coming months, both during and post the crisis. What have you done well, how do you make sure this is done consistently and you share best practice? What has not worked, what system, skill, process and cultural barriers have you faced? What can you do to overcome these? This will give you immediate areas you can focus on to develop pragmatic solutions.

  1. Go where the need is

Understanding the areas which will be critical to your organisation surviving and emerging from the crisis will allow you to deploy your efforts where they will have most impact. It may be that a handful of people or functions are critical to your success of the organisation and their wider colleagues focus on these people first, be there to help understand the challenges they face, and strengthen your relationships with them. Support them to deliver what they need to and then help them to understand how you can support them more broadly to operationalise the solutions they are developing.

  1. Develop your team and skills

In a similar way to understanding your organisations response, your team and functions response will have highlighted areas of strength and gaps you need to fill. You may be missing tools or systems, but we would caution against rushing out making purchases without thinking about your wider strategy.

  1. Developing an Agile Strategy

You may have found that your day to day learning approach has flexed really well to the current challenges or you may have identified some room for improvement. If you find yourself with some time to reflect and review or conversely running so hard because you are trying to keep the show on the road. This may be a good time to consider your future approach.

  1. Embrace to Opportunity to Redesign your Offer

In the way that covid-19 has forced home working into many organisations it also has the potential to drive through the much needed and long-awaited changes to learning which many organisations have failed to deliver.

So rather than look to relaunch your previous training or learning and development offer, use this time to really work out what your offer should look like and ensure that it is an investment that drives the business. So what areas might you wish to review?

What are you trying to achieve?

Have a clear outcome, purpose and objectives will help you ensure that what you are doing is not just there because you have always done it. What is the purpose of the annual conference, the talent development programme, the corporate induction programme? Often over time companies end up with cyclical programmes or events which are tied to budgets, HR cycles and even people’s roles. These are often a combination of engagement, reward, communication and learning wrapped into one. Ask yourself if you were to start again with a blank sheet of paper is that what you would do again or is there a more effective way of achieving the same outcome? Could the allocated time and budget be put to better use?

Face to Face Training

Face to face was the norm at one point, in fact it was the only option. Face to face is also one of the most costly forms of learning. Over time learning has gradually developed other alternatives. My question would be are you using the best method for the best outcome or is your approach driven by available tools, preference of a trainer or some other factor? Social distancing will reinforce to people the importance of time together but in a work context, that time is precious and should be used with thought and consideration. The current situation is forcing creativity and experimentation and you may find that the things that can only be or are best done “face to face” dwindles.

Content Control and Learning Agility

Content and quality control has often been the remit of training teams and/or subject matter experts but during rapidly changing times best practice and expertise can emerge from across the organisation. Think about how you have dealt with problem solving, collaboration, communication and cross company learning during the last few weeks. Changes which would normally take years have happened overnight. Content which can take weeks to author has been produced in hours. How do you build this agility and collaborative learning into your strategy going forward?

Leadership and Talent Development above all else

The backlash in the UK to the undervaluing of roles such as carers and the NHS also raises a question for organisations and where and how they distribute their learning budget and effort. How much do you invest in a few leaders or selected future potential leaders? Is this investment worth it? Could this investment have a broader or more substantial impact? What does investment look like for those in the roles which are the heartbeat of your organisation? Are they allowed time to learn? Are they given access to anything other than induction and compliance learning?

Systems and Content Libraries

Most organisations spend a substantial amount of money on systems and accompanying content. The current situation should highlight the role that these systems play. Which are essential, which are clunky and hard to use and where are the gaps? Alongside systems many organisations will invest in externally authored content or purchase access to external content libraries e.g. LinkedIn Learning. Your ongoing content strategy should ensure that you develop a mixed approach to internally developed, generic content and free to the world content. Your budget should not be tied up in content which is not used or useful.

Skillset for Future Learning

The make-up and structure of your team should also be reviewed. If you are fundamentally reviewing your approach to learning you should also ensure you have the skillset and resource available to deliver it. Your resource and skillset review should focus not just on your learning team but on the wider skills you have access to in your organisation and the external partners you work with or access when you need. If you are split into functional roles aligned to delivery mechanisms this should also change.

Build Your Own Future

In the past legacy systems, “we have always done it that way”, inertia and fear of the unknown may have blocked your ability to transform and build the learning culture your business needs. Don’t lose this opportunity to reinvent the best future for your business.

  1. Be Ready for Change

The Covid-19 crisis has changed business at lightning pace. We do not know how quickly it will end but you should be prepared for all eventualities.

If you are business that is operating differently such as supermarket, what will be the return to normal? If you have suspended operations how will you start again and every variation in between. You might have to recruit and induct whole new teams or even re-induct teams who have been furloughed for months. To remain ready you should be constantly answering the following questions.

 

– What happens if there are further restrictions?

– What happened if restrictions are loosened?

– What processes will have to change?

– What are our staffing implications?

– What will be different for our customers?

– What can you learn from others?

– How will we support and reassure our teams?

– How will we share knowledge across the business?

The future is uncertain but by planning and preparing for likely scenarios and building your capability to adjust and evolve your approach you can play a key part in the future success of your organisation.

James is on a mission to change the future of learning at work for the good of every employee. At the forefront of learning transformation, he focusses on helping organisations create agile, consumer grade learning experiences which deliver results and enhance performance. This is achieved by creating an amazing learning culture which is right for your people. Having worked in Talent, Learning and HR roles for 20 years. He has built and transformed learning teams in a wide range of sectors including start-ups, large national and multi-national organisations. He is one of the founding directors of The Learning Effect. To find out more about The Learning Effect visit www.thelearningeffect.co.uk. To contact James – email james.poletyllo@thelearningeffect.co.uk

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