Directors who prioritise training and development in these uncertain times will reap the rewards, argues Russ Lidstone, group CEO at The Creative Engagement Group
When businesses are facing such an extraordinary threat as the coronavirus, advising them to “invest in the future” may sound simplistic. But Harvard Business Review’s 2010 assessment of business performance over three recessions found that the firms most likely to emerge strongly from economic downturns were those that struck the right balance between judicious cost-cutting in the short term and investment for the long term.
I suggest that one such long-term investment should be in training and development. The business advantages seem obvious, especially when skills shortages are consistently near the top of the list of UK employers’ concerns. A 2018 survey by LinkedIn found that 94 per cent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers, for instance.
Firms that enable their workers to enrich their skills during this crisis stand to benefit significantly once it ends. Yet only 15 per cent of the British workforce participated in work-based learning in the last three months of 2019. Why? Because too many leaders don’t see the point.
One reason for this is that corporate learning has an image problem. We’ve all been there: on our laptops ploughing through an energy-draining “click next” compliance course or, worse, half-asleep in a “chalk and talk” session led by a practitioner of yesteryear. In some companies, training and development hasn’t changed for decades. For too many, it’s still a box-ticking exercise.
Businesses need to get their employees engaged – and that means changing both how and why people are trained. It’s not easy to provide engaging, rich, blended, multi-channel learning materials. That’s particularly true in large companies that employ three or perhaps even four generations of learners.
This is obviously a significant challenge, but it’s something that we at The Creative Engagement Group believe is worth investing in, especially now.
Enliven the learning experience
There is a huge appetite for learning – and people are doing it differently today. Take Duolingo, for instance: the language learning app has 12 million users in the UK alone. It works because it’s engaging and digitally savvy, enabling people to learn at their own pace.
In the workplace, directors need to help managers escape the PowerPoint straitjacket and get excited about learning. The ability to devise ways of delivering vital information that people will retain is a real and evolving discipline.
Managers need to be allowed to explore what might seem almost experimental methods of producing educational content. These might include mobile apps and even immersive technology such as augmented reality.
One of the key benefits of adopting a tech-savvy approach is that it gives you more data with which to measure the effectiveness of the training. This drives an iterative approach to content development – ie, the use of learning to inform learning. No longer will you have to guess whether a given course is working or not.
As long as you don’t view it through a traditional lens, corporate learning is an opportunity. I believe that leaders who can use this “new normal” period of homeworking to enrich and engage their teams through learning will benefit in the long run.