The world of work has changed at breakneck speed in the last few years. An initial job freeze caused by the pandemic led to the Great Resignation, with people choosing to leave or – more recently – ‘quietly quit’. As a result, some organisations have experienced skills leakage and stagnation. This is only made worse by the failure to attract and retain top talent through ramped-up recruitment processes, higher salaries, and increased perks. Meanwhile, remote and hybrid working has become the new normal for many, creating days of seemingly endless virtual meetings. And while many organisations made a quick shift to virtual classrooms and content platforms, these short-term measures often aren’t building the critical skills organisations need.

For learning leaders, now is a critical time to re-evaluate. Learning impacts the motivation, engagement and performance of every individual at work, and effective development programmes build hard-to-recruit skills and more capable leaders. Studies show that when people feel their organisation is investing in them and their careers, they’re more likely to stay. So, many organisations are re-thinking their learning functions, and investing to deliver on their people strategies.

Think holistically

Forward-looking leaders aren’t investing in point solutions such as a new technology or a suite of generic learning content. They’re thinking holistically about how to transform their learning function – and bring real value to the wider organisation.

We’ve seen organisations start their learning transformations by focusing resources in one dimension (such as strategy, the performance of the learning & development function, the learner experience, or learning technologies) and then seeing the impacts and dependencies in other dimensions. For example, implementing a new Learning Management System (LMS) brings an opportunity to leverage the rich data it generates in how people are accessing and using learning content, but it also highlights the need for a learning & development (L&D) team with the skills to analyse and use those data insights.

Similarly, trying to drive value to an organisation by closing skills gaps and improving performance won’t just happen - you’ll need a clear ‘north star’ and a business case to get there.

Focus on high-impact learning content and experiences

Whether people prefer digital content or face-to-face classrooms, one thing is clear: People need to engage in learning for it to be effective. And that’s much more likely if learning is fun.

The digital age has left many of us with much shorter attention spans. Smart learning functions are facing this challenge by experimenting and investing in creative ways of learning. For some, that means making time to understand what people really care about, then designing learning around those concerns to attract attention and boost motivation. For others, that means creating immersive experiences that challenge people’s assumptions and provoke new discoveries and ideas.

Social stimulation can be a powerful motivator, especially following years of isolated remote working. Designing learning journeys for specific small cohorts to experience together, such as new joiners, mid-level managers, or specialist teams, often gives learners an added ‘oomph’, boosting the energy and time they commit to learning, and providing them with a ready-made network to test ideas and build new skills together. It also creates a sense of belonging, too often absent in the new virtual workflow.

Invest in technologies wisely

There are scores of options and providers on the market. Where should you focus and invest? For organisations with a labyrinth of learning platforms and channels, it may appeal to create one highly engaging portal for learning content. For high-risk industries like defence, energy and transport, it may be important to have AR/VR simulations to build critical safety skills in safe places. For organisations with a habit of making future decisions based on past experiences, investing in technologies that serve up rich data and insights could amplify L&D’s effectiveness and credibility across the board.

Look to your skills and learning strategy to drive technology considerations through three lenses:

  1. Consolidating and optimising your learning platform(s)
  2. Facilitating and enabling high-impact learning experiences
  3. Developing data-driven insights into learning needs and outcomes

If budget constraints limit your list of priorities, consider assessing cost against the anticipated impact of each technology intervention. This enables leadership teams to quickly focus on the low-cost, high-impact measures to build into the current budget as well as strategic, longer-term investments needed to build an intelligent learning function over time. The key is to have a deliberate strategy, forged in partnership with your organisation’s leadership team and digital or technology function.

Shift the mind-set on learning value

Of course, all investments in L&D depend on the ability to shift mindsets around the value of learning. When learning is targeted in the right places, it should directly improve the performance of individuals and, ultimately, the organisation. Articulating the business case behind initiatives is central to any budget discussions. In the same way, having a process for evaluating and demonstrating the impact of learning as a driver of business value – not a cost – is essential.

The learning function can look for ways to reduce costs from rationalising content and suppliers or virtualising and digitising content. Cost reduction as a short-term measure can then be used to fund transformational initiatives to change the learning culture and operating model.

Getting started

If this sounds overwhelming, you’re not alone. For many, it’s difficult to plan for the future whilst simultaneously meeting day-to-day needs. A good starting point is to build a solid, evidence-based ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom up’ understanding of your workforce’s needs. Flesh out the critical skills, behaviours and culture style that will empower both your organisation and your people going forward. Then consider the learning function’s role in delivering these. Review your learning function holistically, and then focus on where to accelerate and where to transform.

About the authors

Keith Joughin
Keith Joughin PA public sector and change expert
Susan Wade
Susan Wade PA learning & development expert

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