Global workforce has been in a state of flux over the past decade. An increasingly competitive business landscape, rising complexity, and the digital revolution demand a fundamental re-look at employee skillsets. Add to that persistent uncertainty, a multigenerational workforce, and a shorter shelf life for knowledge translate into an urgency around reskilling and upskilling. For organizations, investing in intangible assets, i.e. skilled employees, leaders and developing them is critical in maintaining its competitiveness and it is here where investment in L&D becomes crucial.
L&D is not just about setting aside a budget for training and development for employees. Rather, it is about mapping out the L&D strategy, which would also entail charting out its execution and subsequent evaluation. For starters, L&D is a purpose driven function rather than a standardized exercise which involves employees attending pre-determined training, adhoc mentoring etc. This is because, only a purpose driven L&D approach, informed by transformation in job roles, business models, and the overall business operating environment, can contribute to building employee capacity and capability to meet both current and future business needs.
Further, to enhance organizational capacity L&D needs to foster employee tenacity and resilience. Stanford University’s Dr. Carol Dweck produced a seminal study that highlights transforming organizations require a growth mindset, citing the example of Microsoft and its rise as a world leading business. Given multi layered change sweeping all sectors of industry, no organization can choose to not transform. Thus, in a way every organization must become a transforming entity to stay relevant. Hence comes the relevance of growth mindset among its employees. And there is evidence which supports that pays to develop one’s people, in times of change.
McKinsey research indicates that companies in the top quartile of leadership outperform other organizations by nearly two times on earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA). Moreover, companies that invest in developing leaders during significant transformations are 2.4 times more likely to hit their performance targets.
In the same vein, Singapore presents a compelling use case in terms of adopting and implementing an L&D strategy for the nation based on current and future needs. SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) is a mega initiative comprising of identifying the relevant skills, mapping them for the various industries, then rolling out skilling programs and incentives for the entire workforce of Singapore, as well as for employers based in Singapore. This program has been around since 2014, having met with considerable success in building awareness around self-directed lifelong learning by the workforce to keep in step with industry specific skillsets. SSG is aimed at developing a nationwide culture of lifelong learning, deemed critical for Singapore given its small size, unfavorable demographics and dependence on global trade and foreign talent. Like Singapore, organizations too can approach employee learning in an agile, yet outward looking way with an eye on the future and the changing nature of jobs, work, and business.
How can an L&D strategy with an eye on the future be formulated?
L&D strategizing ought to involve working with business units to address the organization’s learning needs. Given the multilayered changes resulting in greater ambiguity and uncertainty in the operating environment of business, L&D should not only pivot towards building current capacity but also prepare their employees and the existing workplace for nimbler future roles.
Preparing employees for new, unforeseen job roles requires acculturation, requires relevant training, upskilling and a learning culture within an organization.
Addressing skills and competency gaps
Technology is upending the operating environment of business. Leadership needs to recognise that technology is necessary but not sufficient for continued business success. How employees utilise, interact with technology and adapt to new ways of working will be a determining factor in making this digital revolution work for a business, but mastering tools is not in itself sufficient, rather its ability to manipulate tools to solve challenges faced by a business and be agile. Professional Development(PD) activities should be aligned to the learner and her learning needs. This means having personalised, timely and measurable employee training. PD cannot be a series of talkshops or mass didactic training sessions for the sake of training. The aim of PD at the workplace ought to be the ‘internalization of skills and agile ways of working’, thus requiring employees/learners to bring back new knowledge and continually work with peers/ colleagues to internalise this knowledge and skills.
Intertwined with addressing employee skill and competency gaps is the need for fostering a positive learning culture within the organization.
Learning culture involves attitudinal change among all employees towards learning from failure and developing a growth mindset. This requires continually increasing one’s knowledge, skills and competencies as well as developing the flexibility to thrive in an array of shifting environments. The transformation of learning culture starts from within the company and requires a positive tone be set by C suite for it to permeate. Learning in not just knowledge acquisition but internalization and embodying in day to day acts. This state cannot exist without a culture of trust and empathy. Learning from failure, rewarding learning, coaching and mentoring should be seen in the same vein as meeting business targets to perpetuate a desirable learning culture.
In crafting L&D strategy, organizations would benefit from adopting a disciplined, structured and forward-looking approach.