Due to the pandemic, we have canceled our planned corporate leadership training,” was often the response by learning officers early this year. As an educator and frequent guest speaker, I was not surprised when events started to drop off my calendar. My engagements in Hong Kong, London, Milan, Budapest, Vancouver, New York, and Delhi were all gone without any clear promise of return. Of course, I was happy to not be on airplanes during a pandemic and was already planning new projects with my newly found time at home. However, by April the “Zoom Phone” started ringing again with some very different types of requests… corporate learning had already started in a new direction!
In pre-COVID times, companies often organized training sessions in learning centers with relevant topics, appropriate speakers, fun activities, and collective networking opportunities. The learning event was a “Total Experience” for the participants. If we try to take that same type of approach and make it virtual, it just does not work as well. However, what I have observed is that many corporate learning groups have taken a pause and worked to reinvent how and what they deliver for the people in their organizations. While new ideas and formats are emerging all the time, here are a few observations on the 2020 corporate learning shift:
Participant pull-not learning push
As organizations are rapidly shifting to digital operations and rethinking priorities due to the pervasive impact of the pandemic, many learning organizations have reformulated training plans. Instead of pushing out standard courses, many learning architects are addressing key priorities by asking employees to help drive the interest areas. This move from a ‘‘push’’ of current courses to a ‘‘pull’’ from targeted employees can make a significant difference when it comes to engagement in the learning process and the demand for learning solutions. I recently heard from a company in the Middle East that has been running regular pulse surveys that included training topic needs. They were broadcasting new content in various forms each week based on demand—what a great way to create participant pull for learning!
The availability of virtual platforms such as zoom, teams, google meets, etc opens up new learning possibilities for employees
Skills for now-not concepts for tomorrow
As businesses are forced to innovate with both external and internal processes, corporate learning designers are working with workforce planning teams to leverage skill forecasting to better develop new offerings. Many corporations have turned to providers such as LinkedIn Learning for on-demand skill building for today. This can be especially true for technical skills, basic understanding of AI, and other concepts, as well as managerial skills in our virtual working environments. Of course, the need for new skills can be difficult to forecast given the rapidly changing environment. Early this year, one of the local banks in Singapore quickly mobilized learning solutions in conjunction with the IT department to rapidly release tips and tricks for working virtually and safely during the pandemic. They were able to rapidly conduct short, targeted training sessions for areas from private banking relationship managers to corporate lending officers to address immediate needs—quite a great impact from a learning group!
Personal Imperfection-not Professional Perfection
In prior years, the development time for creating an online course was significant. It was generally believed that online learning content needed to be as polished as a Hollywood or at least a Bollywood production. Developing professional studio videos, perfection with editing, animated exercises, and weeks of content reviews are just not possible or practical right now. Instead, we have shifted to videos made at home with our smartphones, simple editing, and more of an ad hoc approach to our virtual learning outreach. We have seen this shift create a more personal touch—seeing the CEO in her home rather than in a polished studio can provide a more human connection. Learning has provided new avenues for leadership impact in many firms.
With the use of virtual platforms such as Zoom, Teams, Google Meets, etc. for learning and meetings, this format opens up new possibilities for attendees. While a training session held in person in Mumbai could be great, it would generally be limited to those who were able to physically attend. We now see a shift by organizations to reconsider attendance for learning events that may cross new workgroups or geographic boundaries. One corporate university for a consumer products company decided to open regionally targeted online courses to others around the world. They were surprised to see how many employees signed up for sessions at odd hours to join colleagues in other parts of the world. The virtual platforms can provide new benefits for connection and culture if learning teams are willing to shift to a more boundaryless approach.
Just as the virtual platform cuts across geographic and workgroup boundaries, it can also extend beyond employees. Opening up learning opportunities and platforms for company customers and suppliers can create positive goodwill as well as improve collaboration. In addition, some organizations are working together with non-profits to help create a positive social impact. When a financial services firm asked me to join a short Zoom session to discuss strategic human capital, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they had also invited members of the local community service groups to join. Taking an inclusive approach to learning opportunities can be a great way to make a positive impact.
The need for new skills can be difficult to forecast given the rapidly changing environments. As businesses are forced to innovate with both external and internal processes, corporate learning designers are working with workforce planning teams to leverage skill forecasting to better develop new offerings
The shift in corporate learning has been deliberate and pronounced across many leading organizations during the last several months. The global COVID-19 situation has brought unprecedented challenges to organizations and it is great to see how many organizations are creating a “New Normal” with their approach to learning and development. These shifts to encourage a pull from participants for immediate skills that can be delivered in imperfect ways seem to be making the right impact. The opportunity to rethink the boundaries of our typical training participants and even become inclusive outside our organization can create new opportunities that were not previously considered. While I do miss the opportunity to be physically present with colleagues around the world, there is a certain satisfaction of being able to make an impact in new ways from the comfort of the living room.