(Based on excerpts of the panel discussion at the 5th edition of the Future of Learning & Development Summit held in March’21)
Change is not a new word in business. Organizations have always focused on creating and managing change. However, 2020 was the year where the magnitude, speed and nature of change were at a scale which couldn’t have been anticipated. It was the year in which we learnt (or relearnt) new words, new ways of working and learning. From quickly training and repurposing talent, to completely changing product lines; organizations, teams and individuals have displayed a superlative sense of resilience and agility. Concepts and methods that were put aside thinking ‘this can't be done in our industry’ were challenged, worked upon and put into practice. 2020, made us walk the talk.
Though we would like to believe that 2021 will be about stability and that a sense of normalcy will return; this year is likely to be full of major transitions. Besides the increase in the number of employees working remotely, here are some anticipated L&D trends for 2021 and beyond.
With the sudden surge in self-driven learning, L&D teams would have to develop a more decentralized approach towards learning. For organizational structures wherein a completely decentralized approach would not fit, a hybrid approach could also be considered. “We need to dispel the notion that answers can only come from the top.” shared Tathagata Basu, Group Head - Learning & Talent Management, Piramal Enterprises Limited as he discussed approaches to identify emergent challenges. The central teams would focus on resources, tools, platforms and programs, giving teams and individual learners the freedom to customize their own learning experiences and determine their own priorities. Adding to it, Sachin Narke, Chief Learning Officer, Forbes Marshall said, “There is a plethora of learning platforms available; and individuals need not be dependent on L&D teams to design and offer programs.”
With on-demand learning becoming a hygiene factor, the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) - based tools will be imperative. According to Sachin Narke, “If you want to work on your written communication you could sign up with Grammarly and you can be taught while writing emails.” He added that, “More than a content creator or provider, an L&D practitioners' role would be that of a coach and facilitator.” Personalized learning experiences, agile learning methodologies focusing on speed, flexibility and collaboration will be the way forward. “There is a lot of content available but we need to bridge this gap between the locus of learning and the locus of application.” says Sampada Inamdar - VP, Chief Learning Officer, Talent Development, Organization Development, Dean of Anand University while talking about how to make learning more effective.
The most successful organizations will be the ones that are resilient and ones that quickly transcend change. Organizations will have to leverage the fact that their people are adaptable, and work towards upskilling them to be better equipped while responding to change. “During the pandemic we created cross functional learning response teams that focused on decision making and communication under a variety of potential scenarios. That’s where the need for upskilling and reskilling our workforce became important .” says, Vinisha Jayaswal, Chief Learning Officer, Apollo Hospitals.
According to Sampada Inamdar, “Technical competence and leadership will be present as a part of the mandate, but what will be added to or focused upon - will be employee wellness.” Vinisha Jayaswal added, “The future of work will require a stronger focus on a more holistic view of employee wellbeing.”
According to Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey, employers that support employees with their life experience see a 23% increase in the number of employees reporting better mental health and a 17% increase in the number of employees reporting better physical health. Wellness programs will have to become a must-have rather than just a good-to-have training program.
A survey by Gartner identified ‘Connection’ as a single skill that sets great managers apart. Employees are known to perform better and be more engaged when they are closely connected with their colleagues. They even find it easier to ask their colleagues for help than look up something online. This behavior has increased the need for community learning in these ’remote working times’. “With the size of teams shrinking, a culture of project based collaborative approach is growing. The need for continual learning and social learning has increased.” says Vinisha Jayaswal.
Organizations will increasingly acknowledge that learning is connected to a whole host of workforce concerns, such as wellbeing, diversity and inclusion, as well as how people are valued in the workplace. “As HR and L&D leaders we need to be more purposeful and add value to business. The more we do that, the more business looks up to us for solutions.” says Vinisha Jayaswal. She adds, “L&D has moved from being a cost center to being an organizational value creator.”
Though 2020 can be considered the epitome of a VUCA world, 2021 and beyond will need organizations, teams and individuals to be compassionate, agile and resilient. While individuals will continue to engage in upskilling through self-learning; learning & development teams could look at increasing focus on learning technology to become more digital, effective and efficient. Corporate learning will transition from stand-alone learning to social learning and learning in the flow of work. Organizations’ would have to shift focus from mere engagement and work-life balance to holistic employee wellbeing.
The intent to build resilience for the future, will demand and see an increase in the need for cooperation, support and learning, both from within and outside the organisation.