How Are The Priorities of Learning and Development Evolving?

Learning at Work

7th October 2021

The world has changed drastically in the past two years. The world of work has possibly changed the most permanently, with the need to adapt and learn quickly and at scale putting the roles of talent and learning leaders front and centre in 2021.

As a result, a premium learning and development strategy lurched from a “nice-to-have” to a “must-have”.

It was up to talent and learning leaders to quickly take the helm, unfazed by their newly heightened influence, and make sense of it all for everyone else. Tasked with not only supporting employees through uncertainty it was also suddenly their strategic remit to ensure the organisation was able to keep delivering and growing sustainably through unparalleled disruption.

During this process, two main priorities were exposed that required both immediate and now long-term attention: Upskilling and wellbeing.

How did COVID impact learning and development strategy?

The most obvious point first: It created exponentially increased demand for digital and remote learning solutions. Despite digital transformation being no new concept in 2020, prior to the pandemic virtual learning was seen as a “more affordable but less impactful alternative” to face-to-face delivery.

The CIPD also reported that during the pandemic, more than half of employers had used digital and online learning resources to train employees during lockdown and that 80% planned to increase this over the next 12 months.

This change necessitated more than one mindset shift for L&D professionals. Those who were sceptical about digital clearly had to embrace it, and not all businesses were equipped to adapt. In many cases, it called for L&D professionals to be procuring services and learning how to use new platforms themselves one day, then teaching employees how to use them the next.

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With new challenges came fresh opportunities

There is the potential for digital learning solutions to be more easily woven into the flow of work. From self-directed courses to quick insight videos and snackable advice emailed to inboxes, training can now be less disruptive to regular working schedules. This enables employee development to become a continuous, customisable process that is blended around face-to-face learning, not reserved for it.

Of course, with such flexibility of technology comes more diversity in employee responses, needs and expectations. The reduced access restrictions in terms of place and time, in addition to the toll of unprecedented external circumstances, has forced organisations to rethink not only practical delivery but the full purpose and potential of their learning strategy.

Upskilling/reskilling is the key L&D strategic focus in 2021

LinkedIn reported that upskilling/reskilling was the number one reported top priority for L&D professionals in 2021.

L&D leaders have had to deal with the impact of political and economic uncertainty, with a minor insignificance like our departure from the EU and the end of free movement helping to turn an already widening skills gap into a gaping chasm.

With a lack of access to skilled professionals in the talent pool, businesses are increasingly looking at ways they can grow their own talent.

Human capabilities are the power skills of tomorrow

The importance of digital fluency is undeniable, but it would be a mistake to focus on upskilling as purely technical. In fact, resilience has been found to be the #1 upskilling priority in the UK, as well as the U.S, Canada, France, New Zealand and Australia.

To drive the internal mobility that organisations need to future-proof themselves, L&D must focus on building skills that are not only transferrable but irreplaceable in a digital era. Organisations that fail to address ineffective behaviours, will lose a competitive edge in the new world of work.

Just like in our personal lives, the quality and character of our human capabilities determine whether teams, leaders and organisations sink or swim. It is human power skills – defining how your people think, react, make decisions, build relationships, and respond under pressure – that make all technical skills usable.

Is it really any surprise then that the overwhelming majority of essential skills revealed in the World Economic Forum’s Future of Job’s report are so-called “soft skills”? Self-management skills emerged as newcomers to the top 10 list in 2020, signaling a distinctive shift in what will be essential for high performers and sought-after by employers in the coming years.

The prevalence of problem-solving skills also tells an important story, confirming the fact that L&D professionals who make problem-based learning a priority will more effectively engage learners in a way that is relevant to them, and set them up for success.

Wellbeing is a new responsibility for Learning & Development

According to the 2020 LinkedIn Learning report, 69% of L&D pros said that supporting the mental health and wellbeing of employees is a new part of their role since COVID-19.

It is true there has been more understanding in recent years about the benefit of the personal and professional overlapping, and why employees are most successful when the “whole person” is considered at work. However, the pandemic accelerated and amplified focus on employee wellbeing in a way that nobody could have predicted.

The links between wellbeing, resilience, engagement and productivity have been so exposed, as was the responsibility of employers to foster supportive and empathetic relationships with their employees.

Remote working and the difficulties many of us faced through socially distanced living underpinned the idea that we are social creatures at heart. Creating a tangible sense of belonging and of company culture- for new hires as well as season employees- whilst physically distanced has been an Everest for many businesses.

Does your culture measure up?

A business’ culture is created first and foremost by the behaviours of its leaders at all levels and measured by how consistently they model them to the benefit and growth of others.

At FranklinCovey, we define a winning culture as one that enables all employees to say they are a “valued member of a winning team doing meaningful work in an environment of trust.”

When everyone was suddenly thrust into remote working, many employers suddenly realised that people don’t need the threat of an overseer to work productively. Feeling empowered and entrusted are far more important motivators than feeling watched or pressured.

Likewise, individuals who are able to embrace the influence they have on other team members and understand their direct impact on business goals, become more emotionally invested. Organisations profit when their people are so connected to the work that they start to naturally align their personal aspirations with business objectives.

Above all, regardless of role, industry or policy, people want to feel considered. Caring about employees – their progression and satisfaction as well as their results – must be deeply embedded in all layers and structures of the organisation and made an intentional part of everyday culture.

Work Institute’s 2018 Retention Report found that nearly one-third of all turnover was due to either unsupportive management or a lack of development opportunities. Bearing in mind the heightened expectations of today’s workforce, the pressure to develop leaders who see, hear, and coach their people with purpose is even more acute.

What is important for L&D leaders going forward?

The metrics for defining the success of learning and development strategies in business are changing significantly. Rather than traditional human capital metrics like attendance and tenure, what will become more significant is promotion speed ratios and numbers of staff with competency development plans and workforce stability.

We know many employers are now paying more than lip service to learning and development strategy, but leveraging it to create dividends in culture, retention, and performance can’t be achieved at the stroke of a pen.

There are some key questions L&D leaders need to be pushing if they are to create continuous improvement at individual, team, and organisational levels:

  • What does it take to enable dedicated leadership who create a culture of curiosity?
  • How do you preserve the sense of independence your people cherish?
  • What tools do leaders need to pull the varied capabilities of their team together into higher performance?
  • Are there any key areas of disruption that L&D can turn into opportunities for innovation?

In a future that is set to scrutinise employers more than ever, and with a workforce that is more aware than ever that they deserve to be cared about by their employer, all workplaces will have to work harder to retain and attract their staff. For L&D that means being open-minded, unearthing areas of disruption and pioneering new ideas that will help your people get better at getting better.


To learn what over three decades in this space has taught us about growing, engaging and future-proofing your people capability, download and watch our on-demand webcast Prioritising a Future-Ready Learning Culture