There have been many business casualties from COVID-19, but training and workplace learning seemed to be one of the earliest and hardest-hit. In early March, the consultancy firm McKinsey observed that roughly half of in-person programs planned through June were postponed or cancelled in North America, with the figure as high as 100% in some parts of Asia and Europe.

Many of these events have now been moved online, as businesses are aware that they can’t delay workplace learning indefinitely. In fact, reskilling and cultural transformation are more critical than ever. We have a unique opportunity for training to be part of the solution, to help businesses and individuals adapt and transform to the new normal, and envision a new future.

So, how can training organizations deliver on this promise?

The starting point for outstanding leadership that leads to flourishing teams and high performance is knowing your people. That’s what the latest research from neuroscience, psychology and business literature highlights as the first step in effective leadership.

Here are two reminders to help us all know our people better:

1. Hunt for Values

During 2008, and much to the disappointment of Barcelona Football Club, Argentina called up star player Lionel Messi to play in the Olympics. The club wasn’t keen for him to play; it didn’t want to risk its best player getting injured.

Pep Guardiola, then Barcelona’s manager, went against the wishes of the club and supported Messi’s value of loyalty — in this case to his home nation, Argentina. He allowed him to play at the Olympics, because he knew how important it was to Messi, despite the risk to his own and the club’s interests. There was a cost at the time, but in return, he received Messi’s loyalty.

There has been extensive research on the importance of values in leadership. In summary, the evidence is that knowing your people’s values is critical, because it helps you:

Another example of a leader who honored his people’s values was a head teacher who would say “never say no to a school nativity play” as a way to remind himself and his leadership team how critical it is, when making decisions, to consider what is important to other people. If someone asked to miss work for his or her child’s nativity play, the head teacher would need a very strong reason to say no, because family was clearly one of that person’s values. If he crossed that value, he could undermine the employee’s loyalty and create resentment. If he said yes to the request, the benefits of commitment and strengthened relationships would far outweigh any cost.

Ask yourself:

    • How well do you know your team members’ values at this point in time?
    • What could you do this week to find out more about their values?
    • What have you done to help someone on your team stay true to his or her values this month?
    • What more could you do?

2. Build on Strengths

Gallup has conducted the most extensive research into this area since it began looking at strengths-based development in 2009. Since then, Gallup has studied strengths-based practices for 1.2 million employees globally.

Before 2009, most leaders thought that the best results would come from helping people improve their weaknesses. However, having looked at all the evidence available, Gallup concluded that companies that focused more on leveraging their employees’ strengths saw better sales, profit and customer engagement.

The results are dramatic and surprising: Employees who understand their strengths are 7.8% more productive, “and teams that focus on strengths every day have 12.5% greater productivity.” In addition, “people who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job.”

Gallup research also shows that the worst thing you can do is ignore your people. The best engagement scores are among employees who feel that their leader focuses on their strengths (only 1% are “actively disengaged” from their work). The next-best scores are among employees whose leaders who focus on their weaknesses (22% actively disengaged), and the worst are among employees who feel ignored and unknown by their leaders (40% actively disengaged).

If you want your training department to be successful, you need to know your team members. You’ll achieve the best results by knowing their strengths and focusing on them (but even if you focused on their weaknesses, at least they would feel you knew them and wouldn’t feel ignored). Many training organizations train others in finding their strengths, but do they live it out with their own team?

Ask yourself:

    • How well do you know the strengths of your team members and what the best version of them looks like?
    • Can you redesign their roles so that they do more of what they are best at?
    • Can you redesign your own role so that you can be the best version of yourself as a leader for your team? (Where are you at your best in your role, and can you do more of it? Is there an area that you are not good at, which you could pass on to someone else or do less of?)

Before you think about new strategies and plans for the coming year, put in the right foundations: Know yourself, and know your people.