Being caught in the middle of the transformation storm, organizations have little to no option but to undertake the tumultuous journey of business transformation. Driven by both the changing consumer preferences to evolving technological applications to increase the efficiency of processes, business today are updating practices, infrastructure and people skills to become competitive again and to leverage the opportunities that these factors bring along with them. As business transformations bring in process changes within the company, a parallel move to upgrade employee skills is needed. With companies slowly realizing the benefits of automation and advancements in the fields of cloud computing, robotics, and artificial intelligence, their application to restructure business processes is being increasingly undertaken.
But the key aspect in such transformations becomes the skill levels of the current workforce within the company. The success of any business process being updated would finally depend on how well the workforce is equipped to sustainably execute such new processes. This makes the human capital aspect of companies far more critical for any company to undertake a successful business transformation process. Ralph de la Vega, Vice Chairman of AT&T, Inc. speaking on the reskilling process that AT&T is undergoing, wrote recently, "By 2020, 75% of our network will be software-driven. We’ve been very open about the fact that our workforce of by that time will be very different than the one we have today.” He further added “To make this transition, we’ll need more software engineers, data scientists, and network engineers. We’re engaged in a massive reskilling of our workforce to help us evolve from a hardware-based communications company to one that’s software based. We’ve deployed a combination of internal training, recruitment of tech-savvy employees and external online training.”
Such organizational demands are soon becoming industry norms. This, in turn, puts a larger focus on how efficiently are company and its employees are skilling up to meet the changing business dynamics. This rise in demand from companies has led to learning heads across industries executing more dynamic and robust Learning Management Systems. But beyond the use of LMS, L&D professionals today find themselves in need of building and sustaining a culture of constant learning. As Ralph de la Vega, Vice Chairman of AT&T puts it, “When people ask me what are the job prospects in my industry, I ask them about what they have done to upgrade their skills lately. It’s not a matter of jobs but of skills. It’s not a matter of degrees but of constant learning.”
So what can L&D experts do to ensure that the organization's workforce is ready to meet its business needs? These following options might shed some light on the issue:
Develop a culture that promotes learning agility
Learning agility refers to the human capacity for rapid, continuous learning derived mostly from experience. Agile learners are ones who are good at making connections across the varied experiences that they’ve had while letting let go of perspectives or approaches that are no longer useful; they can learn, unlearn and relearn to bring up their competency levels when better, more efficient solutions are required. People with this mindset tend to be oriented toward learning goals and open to new experiences, which makes it a mindset favorable to the current external ecosystem which demands a lot more from their employees. Employees who are able to experiment, seek feedback, reflect systematically and obtain workable solutions from the process would be able to contribute towards business productivity, irrespective of the changing market dynamics become more efficient at what they do.
Learning agility becomes important for any organization to sustain its growth trajectory. And to make this a sustainable process, HR professionals need to in ingrain such agility into the very fabric of the learning culture within the organization. Creating a culture where employees are given access to an environment which supports the diverse learning demands of the employees by providing robust learning opportunities. But beyond that, a culture which enables and promotes employees to seek feedback on their performance, to experiment with ideas and approaches and helps them in establishing connections across seemingly unrelated aspects of work can actually help the organization to make learning agiler. Although the final step towards agile learning needs to come from the employees, it becomes easier for them if the organization has a culture that supports the same.
Utilizing MOOCs properly
MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses, since their inception during the late 2000’s have been a great way to create a continuous learning program that reaches out to a large group of people with similar learning needs. This makes them a good fit when it comes to addressing the corporate learning needs that organizations have. But a MOOC based learning course often entails long courses which become cumbersome for employees to keep a constant interest in. As MOOCs are often addressed to large groups most follow a ‘one size fits all’ approach. But as companies today mostly have a heterogeneous workforce, such an approach doesn’t necessarily lead to an increase in information levels of the employees. As sustaining any business transformation finally boils down to how equipped the workforce is to actually carry forward the new business processes. MOOCs’ universal nature is central to their existence. Bringing them into the company’s learning department inevitably means considering the context of training as well as the content.
But if used strategically, HR professionals can leverage the opportunities that MOOCs create in order to fulfill the rapidly evolving learning needs within the organization undergoing a transformation. As most of these learning platforms create content through open educational resources (OER) or are a mix of OER and proprietary content, the content needs can be fairly customized to create specialized modules can address the varying learning capabilities within the company. Combining MOOCs with concepts like Gamification and Experiential Learning, HR professional can create/curate a robust learning module which is accessible by employees 24x7 and helps them learn through interactive formats and simulations. MOOCs, therefore, become an asset with Heads of Learning to deliver on the learning demands that transformation processes end up creating.
Creating a need to be self-aware
As corporate learning evolves to deliver institutional needs by using the latest tool and techniques to customize and make content relevant for the learner, HR leaders today are also responsible for ensuring a culture of self-awareness is maintained within the organization. To make learning an autonomous process that both employees and leaders alike have an access to, they need to have a strong sense of awareness of their own learning needs. Through the process of reflection, employees can understand the gaps in their working and consequently actively seek learning opportunities to build their skill sets. Without a culture that promotes employees to be self –aware of one's needs, most learning initiatives would be redundant. A group that isn’t aware of how a learning course is bound to help them would eventually drive no benefit from such learning courses. Self-critiquing and being open to feedback becomes an important part of the reflection process. Employees open to both giving and receiving constructive criticism have higher rates of adopting new relevant information provided through their respective learning processes. HR leaders who are able to build a culture that helps employees to freely understand where they lack, instead of responding defensively criticism, create a natural incentive for employees to grow and contribute to business growth.
Use design thinking
As companies have begun to depend on various MOOCs and other SaaS based learning management systems, designing the course content and delivery mechanisms with the employee in mind becomes a great way to ensure that high rates of content adoption by the workforce. Using components of design thinking, companies today can help build a more employee friendly learning modules which do not just focus on the business need but rather on building processes that make employees more impactful in their work. The traditional corporate learning management systems are slow, hard to use, and difficult to maintain. They end up getting in the way of employee development instead of supporting it. Design thinking as a principle keeps the end user at the center, around which processes and structure are created. Albeit a new concept within the realm of HR, design thinking is finding increasing application in process design and execution. A similar application of design thinking in creating learning modules by companies would have a greater impact.
Companies today that focus on creating an entire culture of career growth and learning are better at supporting in innovation, long-term growth, and employee retention, over and above meeting the learning needs of the organization. Using newer tools and techniques in accordance with design thinking combined with a culture that promotes behavioral changes within employees, HR professionals can help businesses sustain their transformation process.