We are living through an intense period of disruption. Pandemics, climate change, inflation and other economic storms all contribute to our experience of the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous (VUCA) business environment. Yet, business must go on and employees still need to be regularly upskilled through training.

With budgets tight and expectations high, it is especially important in the VUCA world that training programs have a tangible impact: one that can be measured and contributes to meaningful change in any organization. To achieve this impact, learners need to be able to apply what they’ve learned back on the job for improved performance over time.

It is up to employers to create an ecosystem of continuous learning and development (L&D) that motivates committed, engaged learners to excel and perform at their best.

In order to deliver training that improves human performance, consider these five factors:

1. Treat L&D as a Strategic Business Partner

Rapid change in the way we work requires employees to continuously update knowledge and skills. This is reinforced by the acceleration of technological progress, which also has an impact on training and learning methods.

To deliver real and lasting value, L&D objectives must be closely aligned to the strategic objectives of the company. As the company strategy changes, so must the L&D program, making it a dynamic partnership rather than a static one.

Indeed, the partnership should be a two-way process. L&D, by nature, understands the skills needed to operate within the VUCA business environment. Training managers should continuously look for skills gaps and use their findings to influence the strategic plan. L&D can anticipate business needs and position itself as a strategic business partner, relying on a solid evidence base to take decisions about team development.

L&D should contribute to a positive company culture, providing opportunities and support for people who wish to learn, create and grow. The culture should broadly align with the values, norms, attitudes and behaviors that shape the organization.

Too often, the training function is considered a “cost center.” However, by delivering strategic programs that improve performance back on the job, L&D is more likely to been seen as a valuable business asset.

2. Enhance the Learner Experience

A positive and dynamic learning experience is crucial to engaging learners, keeping them motivated and open to change. Experiential learning is a key component of this experience, where learners should be free to experiment and develop skills on the job.

Personalization of the learning path is also critical to success, giving autonomy to how the learner shapes their development. Today, L&D can employ collaborative and innovative design approaches (e.g., design thinking) to energize learners and keep them committed, ensuring that a mix of training modalities is fully integrated into the workflow.

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) also play a part in personalizing learning content that requires little human intervention, allowing for scalability.

The challenge for L&D is to develop long-term competencies balanced against short-term objectives, providing performance support on the day-to-day job. Once all this is in place, retention rates will improve, and learning will have a more tangible effect on performance.

3. Bring Training Closer to Work

At the heart of all these ingredients lies the principle of transferring learning into the workplace. Today’s learners are busy people, so they do not have time to engage in trivial learning topics that will have a minor impact on their work, if any.

To keep learners truly engaged, all training must be highly relevant to their day-to-day jobs. In many cases, that means using the knowledge gained from training programs and understanding how to apply those skills in the real-life working environment. The usefulness of the training should be gauged by how far it is grounded in reality and linked directly to what learners produce on the learning path, such as case studies, project work, etc.

Learners must also be given the space to experiment and try new approaches. They must not fear failure if it is not a result of negligence. Instead, learners should feel supported when they want to approach projects from a new angle, encouraging creativity, innovation and, ultimately, engagement.

4. Measure L&D Performance

As organization’s increase investment and the scale of training, there will be a greater need for L&D to measure results.

Data analytics and tracking enables L&D managers to monitor everything from engagement to performance. Using smartphones, learning management systems (LMSs), digital media and collaborative tools, much of the learning process produces digital traces that can be collected and analyzed. This data can be assessed against key performance indicators (KPIs) and provide a useful indictor of return on investment (ROI).

Learning analytics can also help in terms of:

  • Personalized learning: improves the understanding of the learning process by measuring what a learner knows at a given time. We can then recommend the most effective learning. strategies and objectives to be targeted.
  • Real-time feedback: data analysis highlights user engagement to help with improvements or redesign.
  • Learning in the workflow: data analytics help to match people so that they can help each other in the daily workflow.

Learning analytics helps L&D professionals position themselves as strategic business partners by highlighting the links between L&D and the creation of value within the company:

  • Relevant information for just-in-time decision-making:
    Live data creates valuable insights that can affect staffing decisions.
  • New ways to evaluate L&D impact: cross-analysis of data from skills development and individual/global performance indicators demonstrates the links between L&D and value creation.

5. Commit People to Continuous Learning

Your organization can excel at the previous four factors, but they will have much less impact if learners are not committed to and enthused about learning. While these factors bring about higher engagement, attention must be given to how we help learners enjoy their experience. After all, motivation is by far the best lever for performance.

A strong learning culture encourages curiosity, risk-taking and an insatiable desire to build new skills. It gives people autonomy over how and when they learn. And it motivates people to become ambitious, all to the benefit of the company.

In the past, employers indulged in too much hand-holding — telling people what to learn and then simply giving them the tools to do it. There was little incentive to take the initiative. However, that is no longer acceptable as employees are expected to take more responsibility for the direction and content of their personal development. They will need support and training to help them learn how to learn and forge a path that aligns their personal ambitions and talents with the strategic plan of the company. It is a culture change that is much needed but will likely take a long time to bear fruit.

The business world is likely to remain in VUCA mode for some time to come. With Cegos’ customers, we have seen the impact of training that leads to improved performance back on the jobL&D is then more likely to be seen as a strategic value to the business, making it easier to gain buy-in and support during tough economic times.