It’s an exciting time to be in the learning industry, yet talent and learning leaders can feel overwhelmed by all the choices they have to make. They may wonder where they should focus their efforts to have the greatest impact.

Some focus on fielding large libraries of content for learners to explore for themselves. Others prioritize developing the technical skills that their organization needs. Both efforts can be valuable — even essential. However, the greatest performance improvement comes from developing the vital human capabilities that help leaders and teams work together in better ways to help their organization win.

Consider the following data:

    • A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute forecasts increases in demand for “social and emotional skills” across all countries studied and found that the most highly valued and compensated roles inside organizations will be characterized by these skills.
    • Another study of 2,000 respondents in 106 countries found that “the two skills that will be most important in the future are analytical or critical thinking and leadership.” It also asserted that “every working professional, no matter their role or function, should start preparing themselves for the increase in value that will be placed on uniquely human skills.”
    • The World Economic Forum’s 2020 “The Future of Jobs” report identified the “top 15 skills for 2025,” which includes similarly human skills: analytical thinking and innovation; creativity, originality and initiative; leadership and social influence; resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility; reasoning, problem-solving and ideation; and emotional intelligence.

These human capabilities have been referred to in different settings as “power skills,” “social skills” or even “transversal skills” (because they create value across multiple technical domains). At their heart, they are the fundamental human skills that make technical skills usable.

These essential capabilities drive personal and interpersonal effectiveness, leadership ability, the creation of inclusive and engaging cultures, and the consistent and systematic execution of business outcomes. When developed at scale, they can have a disproportionate and defining impact on organizational performance.

But creating behavior change at scale can be challenging. It also doesn’t emerge naturally from random access to a library of content. Instead, it requires you to deploy well-designed learning experiences in ways that create intentional and large-scale behavior change. As you think about your own efforts to increase these vital human capabilities in your organization, here are four practical approaches to consider.

1. Clearly Tie Your Learning Plan to Your Business Strategy

Performance-oriented learning professionals act as true business partners. They are fully aware of their organization’s strategy and the key capabilities needed to deliver the results the organization seeks. Whether informed by traditional competency models or more dynamic and modern approaches like skills clouds with graph-powered databases, performance-oriented learning professionals are constantly thinking about how capabilities drive outcomes. They also have a well-honed narrative about how developing these capabilities can help people move the organization forward — which they regularly share with leaders and learners alike.

Tip: Consider your current ability to tie your learning plan to your organization’s strategic agenda. Ask yourself, “When was the last time I shared that vision?”

Example: A talent leader inside a global electric organization was able to describe the industry’s critical trends and how his organization was positioned to address them. He was also able to explain, at a high level, how developments in smart cities, smart buildings, sustainability, smart grids, decentralized energy requirements and smart sensor technology would require an increase in specific skills inside of his organization. Most importantly, he was able to describe how improvements in the uniquely human skills of personal productivity, team effectiveness, trust, accountability and inclusion would help the organization better adapt to new ways of working and accelerate its transformation to compete in the space.

2. Design for Learning in the Flow of Work

Experienced learning professionals understand that the best development comes from a tapestry of learning moments, some big and some small, stretched over and connected to people’s day-to-day work experience as they learn, apply, reflect on their experience and learn again.

Honoring this reality, modern learning systems are moving from being catalogs of assets to being platforms for change that help to sequence these learning moments in intelligent and personalized ways that feel natural and relevant for learners.

Tip: Consider how you can leverage the power of your existing platforms to support learning in the flow of work.

Example: A technology organization deployed a multi-month development experience focused on improving inclusive leadership behaviors. During that time, learners participated in three 90-minute live, online sessions; completed an assessment; participated in coaching; and received automated “nudges” to remind them of what they were learning and to encourage application.

Example: Another organization set up a thoughtfully curated set of emails focused on specific management topics to arrive in managers’ inboxes every week. These emails were short enough for managers to read in just a couple of minutes, were practical enough to be immediately useful and had links to additional resources if anyone wanted to learn more.

#3: Leverage the Power of Social Learning

Whether through coaching or cohorts, manager involvement, or social messaging apps, smart learning designs that engage social dynamics can not only help individuals learn more deeply but also be mechanisms to spread new knowledge and behavior more rapidly throughout an organization’s culture. As people share knowledge and grow together, they build a common understanding and vocabulary that enables collaboration, innovation and high performance.

Tip: Consider how you could use your organization’s social platforms to support knowledge sharing and impact.

Example: One leader unbundled a course that was previously delivered over two days and created a series of 90-minute modules to teach live and online over several weeks. She used a learning platform with social features that enabled her to create assignments between sessions and enabled learners to post their results for others in the cohort to offer comments. As people shared what they were learning and responded to others, they built relationships, a common language and shared experiences that supported them after they completed the formal training.

4. Measure Progress Along the Way

While traditional methods such as annual surveys can be helpful, today’s technologies allow for more frequent, less intrusive and more insightful measures of learning and performance over time. As you design your learning experience, consider pushing single questions to learners periodically over several weeks to assess improvement in the human skills you are working to develop. A well-designed pattern of “pulse” surveys can not only elicit a more informative data set around impact, but it can also help create the desired behavior change by communicating increased visibility and accountability to learners.

Tip: Consider how you might build in measurement, in smaller amounts, throughout your learning journey.

Example: An organization deployed a one-day training on unconscious bias, followed by five weeks of reinforcement emails with additional tips. A few of these emails included targeted questions about what people had learned and if they saw more inclusive behaviors inside of their organization. This data was a helpful indicator of progress, and the questions emphasized the expectation that people would apply what they had learned.

Intentionality and Impact

In today’s complex and demanding world, talent development and learning leaders constantly face choices about where to focus their efforts for the greatest impact. For many learning needs, setting up platforms and portals that offer learner-driven access to videos and other resources can be sufficient. But developing the human performance capabilities vital to organizational results is too important to be left to self-selection or random adoption.

Creating true organizational capability requires intentional learning designs that leverage the best of modern practices to create behavior change at scale. This is especially true for the vital, human-centered “power skills” that optimize all the other skills and create engaging and resilient work environments where people choose to bring their very best.

Learn how you can develop these power skills within your organization. “Download this guide, “Impact Your Organization’s Results: Turn Average Employees Into High Performers.”

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