If you’re a golfer, you’ve probably received the instruction at some point to “hold the club like a baby bird — not so tight that it can’t breathe but not so loose that it flies away.” It’s aggravating advice when you’re on the course (as most golf-related advice is), but it’s remarkably wise when it’s put into practice — whether on the golf course or in business.
As a result of COVID-19, we’ve all had to drastically adapt the ways we live and work, and resilient organizations and leaders have been more successful than others. What sets them apart? They have struck the balance between holding onto the past too tightly and letting it go entirely. In doing so, they’ve allowed their operations to adapt to rapid changes without letting go of their mission, vision and goals.
In other words, they’re resilient.
In this first article of a two-part series on resiliency in a pandemic series, we’ll look at resilient training systems. As a learning and development (L&D) leader, it’s not enough to look at new realities and accept what has to happen to keep the business humming; you must strategically plan and identify which systems to hold onto and which to let go of in order to be resilient and successful.
A 2016 analysis by BCG and Princeton researchers and published in Harvard Business Review revealed that public companies were six times more likely to be delisted in the next five years than they were 40 years ago. Even more concerning? It’s happening earlier in the companies’ life cycles. This trend is due to the fact that organizations are not adapting to near-constant market changes. In short, businesses fail because they’re not resilient.
Resilient organizations adapt to change by following a few key principles:
The COVID-19 pandemic is unique in that even the world’s most brilliant minds are unable to pinpoint when we’ll return to “normal life.” In fact, we can’t say with certainty that the post-pandemic world will be the same one we knew before. Therefore, it’s important that leaders adapt in sustainable ways, including leaders in learning and development.
Modifying systems to get through the next few weeks or months will backfire if the current situation goes on much longer and/or permanently changes how the market operates. Assess your L&D program, and identify your Band-Aid solutions — the ones that will fall apart first when push comes to shove. Then, take action to find realistic, sustainable solutions that will work not just for the near future but in the long term.
Finally, communicate. Early communication about your sustainable changes and the rationale behind them will pay dividends in gaining buy-in and making your department more resilient. When employees accept a new way of doing business as being “here to stay,” they’ll be faster to adopt it.
Accelerate the Digital Transition
One of the most obvious sustainable changes L&D leaders can make is accelerating the shift to digital and online learning methods. We’ve seen how companies that were ahead of the digital curve have seamlessly navigated the transition to remote working and virtual learning, allowing them to outperform competitors. This type of agility is key to business resiliency. The less time you have to spend familiarizing your employees with digital platforms when the need arises, the more productive they will be.
As an L&D leader, you can ask your company’s workforce and peers which learning modalities work best so that you can quickly narrow down your options and invest in the right ones. Start with tools that will enable you to perform the most critical learning tasks, such as a user-friendly and accessible learning management system (LMS), eLearning technology and online topic resources. As you implement new digital systems, solicit feedback to gauge whether they’re working effectively and then shift as needed.
The pandemic has made the shift to digital operating models a necessity — and one that’s likely here to stay. Resilient companies recognize this new reality and pivot quickly to mitigate disruption and drive productivity.
Control the Controllables
Right now, there’s a lot that’s out of our hands — for example, not being able to go into a physical workplace, hold live instructor-led training (ILT) sessions and workshops, or prevent our kids from having a meltdown during a video call.
But there are elements over which we still have authority. Resilient leaders make a list of what they can realistically control — for instance, how learning flows throughout the company — and what they can’t, such as how consumers make buying decisions. Then, they plan for both.
Be prescriptive about the controllables; putting clear systems into place and communicating them will provide much-needed structure. Then, create contingency plans for the uncontrollables. Anticipate potential scenarios or outcomes, and proactively plan how you’ll address them. Creating buffers will ensure your L&D department is resilient, not caught on its heels.
Understand Customers’ New Mindsets
Just as purchasing behavior changed after 9/11, the 2008 economic crisis and any war throughout history, consumers will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with altered buying habits. It’s reasonable to expect they’ll be more apt to invest in digital platforms that enable them to do daily activities — like working, shopping or visiting the doctor — regardless of whether they can physically leave the house. In fact, since the pandemic began, telemedicine and web conferencing software use have grown 613% and 500% respectively, according to TrustRadius.
Additionally, we can assume consumers will be cautious when they do leave home, so as an L&D leader, it’s important to create a program to train employees on the steps needed to keep themselves and customers safe and to communicate those steps broadly as reassurance. Your company will be seen as a trustworthy, proactive business that puts the customer first.
You have what it takes to create resilient L&D programs and systems, but do you know how to help leaders instill resilience into their teams? Find out in the second part of this series, “Building Leader Resiliency in the Face of a Pandemic.”