If training were a person then he would be one whose head has been chopped off many times. Whenever there is a need to tighten belts, this is the easiest bit to chop off.
The responses in the Covid Era have been generally the same, with a few notable exceptions. Yet this may be the right time to up the L&D inputs in an organization.
Why we need a greater focus on L&D now
- We know that L&D interventions yield the highest ROI during transition and change. What we are going through now is possibly the greatest change since World War 2.
- Lessons learnt on customer service, distribution, production, strategy et al, are having to be relearnt and reimagined.
- The catalytic force of the virus on technology adoption, while opening new possibilities, has also mandated learning new skills.
- Leaders are having to grapple with business uncertainty, concerns around employee well-being, personal fears and the challenge of learning new skills themselves. They need a coach or mentor more than ever before.
- Survey after survey has revealed how people are experiencing additional stress because of WFH. A lot of the issues around work life balance, additional pressure, rising distrust have to do with a lack of virtual leadership skills.
- Isolation and distance have created enormous stresses on ‘team bonding’ and ‘employee engagement’.
- Many businesses are either going through or will go through some sort of reengineering of their models.
- Being prepared for the future requires a future ready workforce.
- If someone were to write a training needs manual, they could not have compiled a more comprehensive set of meta needs.
- But when jobs are being lost and salaries cut, training budgets cannot avoid the axe.
Budget cuts need not equal L&D cuts
I have observed that ‘Winner’ organisations have responded quite differently from most. ‘Winners’ are those who have consistently maintained their leadership position or have consistently outperformed the market. Here are a couple of examples.
- WPP, a global leader in the marketing communications space, has upped their training inputs significantly. Apoorva Bapna, Chief Culture Officer of WPP in India says, “We are a people business and having a motivated, engaged and skilled talent base is what gives us the edge. When the pandemic started, we had to change our priorities, along with preparing to go virtual. In the first 3 months, there was the need to keep morale high. We took up various issues. Upskilling for the digital way of being was paramount. Leveraging our partnerships, we got leading brands to run sessions for our staff. We ran many sessions on upskilling where attendance was by nominations from our various operating companies. We had over 9,000 nominations from our total employee base! In April our sessions on wellbeing had over 5000 nominations.” Global frameworks, leveraging relationships, engaging ideas and digital platform usage marks what WPP is doing. “In the next phase we have focussed on more targeted interventions, designed for high impact. One such example is the learning sessions we have conducted on e-commerce to help our people advise their clients on getting the technical and data analysis right”, adds Apoorva, “All of these were done on the back of our relationships and ideas. One can achieve a lot without a huge spend!”
- Pernod Ricard, the global alcobev leader has discovered the teaching talents of their staff and their ability to keep innovating to build engagement. Ranjeeka Sachdev, AGM – HR (also leading L&D) says, “Budgets have been cut but we have not cut down on training. We are leveraging digital learning platforms. We have rolled out global content and done a lot of work locally. Earlier we would think of calling in an external expert for most things but now we have discovered the hidden talents of our staff. Not just for domain skills but also for soft skills. We ran a leadership development programme built around the leadership attributes at Pernod Ricard and used our senior leaders. Engagement and attendance were very high as participants found it very relatable. Our focus has shifted to ‘learning from experience’. We run quizzes and leaderboards in our sessions to keep both learning and engagement high.”
How to spend the limited funds available
Mission critical training will of course need to be done. Beyond that organisations would benefit from hiring external experts for the following:
- as coaches for their leadership
- mastering virtual leadership and working
- train the trainers – teaching internal trainers and mentors’ skills on facilitating and mentorship
- personal and organisational resilience building – as organisations ready for the climb back perspectives on leadership and organisational resilience will be very important.
These times have come with a few hidden benefits that can make every hour and every rupee spent on L&D stretch even further. The explosion of online learning as people willingly reach out to learn, makes the job of participation far easier. The almost complete shutdown of the old classroom and offsite models means some automatic savings. Coupled with the move to virtual working by large numbers of people, online sessions now have far higher acceptability.
The future has always belonged to those who have believed that a good crisis should not be wasted. This is indeed the time to sharpen the people skills edge and be ready for the opportunities of today and tomorrow.