Learning and development leaders from top European companies gathered in Paris in September 2020 to share how they are managing the new world of work and to discuss challenges and new best practices.
Senior executives from Microsoft, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Uber, Thales, LinkedIn, and KPMG shared case studies about what has worked in their organisations, while academic and corporate experts revealed trends shaping the future.
Where does L&D stand in this turbulent year, and how can you prepare for the journey ahead? Here are 7 surprising tips from this unusual gathering.
#1. A teacher, not a textbook.
This year, even more learning is going digital – a trend confirmed by Makoto Miyasako, Head of Talent Management and Analytics at OECD, and Philippe Gerbelot-Barrillon, Head of LinkedIn Learning France, who both shared data from their organisations. Other reports also highlight this trend.
The accelerated shift to digital has its drawbacks. Many people miss a sense of human connection, and creating sustained engagement in fully online programmes remains difficult, according to Alexandre Glas, VP of Product and Data at online learning platform HUH Corporate.
A common design flaw of online learning programmes is that they resemble a digital textbook, said Alexandre. But, while everyone remembers their favourite teacher, who remembers their favourite textbook? – he asked. The problem is not how to build a better textbook. “We can all have access to knowledge now, almost for free,” Alexandre pointed out. L&D’s mission should be to fill the role of a live teacher or mentor. Programmes should be designed with engagement as the main goal.
#2. The learning is the culture.
Alex Baggerman, Workforce of the Future Lead at KPMG Netherlands, has an unconventional idea. What if training, culture, talent management, leadership models, and other strategic policies were all covered under a single learning agenda?
After internal research, Alex came up with a framework that includes all roles within the organisation with their respective skills and responsibilities. This creates radical transparency – it is easy to see where everyone stands and how one can rise to the next level in the organisation. That gives people ownership of their role and career, Alex said.
An added benefit is that this framework also becomes the blueprint of corporate culture, as it brings everyone together. “We don’t need to have a culture programme. This is a culture programme. You just go to the same course and talk to each other,” Alex said. This is what happens when L&D takes the lead: a company’s values are integral to each person’s role, and people feel united around a shared cause.
#3. Expand L&D beyond the organisation.
Laurent Hamel, CLO of Microsoft France, takes the idea of aligning L&D with company strategy to a whole new level. He proposes a shared learning experience for employees and customers.
Microsoft uses the same learning management system (LMS) for both internal and external trainings, Laurent shared. That way, the company delivers shared skills and values to all stakeholders. This is the fast track to creating a shared culture that extends even beyond the company. At the same time, it is a way to upskill more people who can fill the emerging tech jobs of the future.
With learning as a key value at the very top, Microsoft is reimagining itself as an educator, delivering skills and development for all. It is an inspiring story for how far L&D can go.
#4. Diversify to reach everyone.
L&D offerings need to be adapted to various audiences for maximum impact. Segmentation has been a key principle in marketing for years, and now it is shaping learning and development as well.
Makoto, from OECD, studies how the impact of programmes varies according to demographic traits like nationality or gender. He has uncovered surprising correlations: for example, in-person and online learning modalities affect men and women differently. If a course is completely face-to-face, women had higher completion rates, whereas men complete more fully online courses.
This does not imply any essential gender differences – the reason may be that women occupy different job roles, or other contextual factors not covered by Makoto’s research. What matters for L&D leaders is that they should use data to anticipate uneven impact and unintended consequences.
L&D leaders should track learning data and use it to maximise reach. They can boost inclusion by delivering solutions suitable for different audiences.
#5. Peer-to-peer on all levels: train leaders who can create other leaders.
What if executives could become coaches who spread a learning culture throughout the organisation? Victoria Feldman, former Global Leadership Development manager at Uber, achieved this by getting them to practise together in supportive learning groups.
In a leadership programme at Uber, Victoria employed the 70-20-10 learning model, in which only 10% consists of formal training. The majority, 70%, is social – learners use new strategies and behaviours in day-to-day interactions, and then discuss what they observed in “coaching pods” of 5 people.
The programme had a satisfaction score of 94% among nearly 2,000 learners in 16 countries. The takeaway: empower leaders to learn from each other, so they can use the same strategy to coach employees. This sustained momentum means that a programme’s impact only continues to grow.
#6. Resilience is a team effort.
Employees and leaders are often told that they need to build resilience. But resilience is not simply a personal quality, said Jeremie Brecheisen, Senior Managing Consultant, Gallup. It depends on the workplace conditions.
What makes for resilient employees and, consequently, organisations? Gallup identified these 5 requirements:
- Employees know what is expected of them
- They have the equipment needed to do their job
- Employees can do what they do best every day
- They feel their job’s mission or purpose is important
- They feel their co-workers are committed to quality work
These are all factors in which HR and L&D can make a difference – from allowing people to develop their strengths, to helping them connect with their purpose. Meeting these needs measurably increases organisational resilience.
#7. Make space for “uncomfortable conversations”.
For the first time since measurement began in 2000, world events are directly tied to engagement at work, Gallup’s data shows. Engagement rose when the Covid-19 pandemic started. It dipped again when the Black Lives Matter protests began, only to quickly shoot up to record levels within a few weeks, as more people engaged with these events. This shows that “business and the things that are happening outside of that are becoming more interconnected than ever,” Jeremie concluded.
In light of this, companies should revisit their expectations about how employees relate to work. Keeping social and personal concerns away from work is no longer relevant, according to Nicholas Hamilton-Archer, Director of Executive Education at Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University (US). The best policy for companies, Nick advised, is to make space for open and honest conversations. That may push people out of their comfort zone, but it can open up vast opportunities for growth.
Nicholas Davis, Professor of Practice at Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University (US), agrees that employees and leaders should bring their whole selves to work. This applies to learning, too: a “co-designed, co-learning development journey” that factors in their preferences and values is more effective, he said.
Allow employees to connect with their passions at work, and as they lean into their purpose, the benefits for both culture and productivity would be significant.
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By Ani Kodjabasheva