The learning and development (L&D) conversation has shifted dramatically over the past few weeks. The community is continuing to explore emerging themes, such as technology, data and design, but the focus of our collective effort has shifted to two topics: frontline enablement and remote learning.
On the front line, L&D teams are doing whatever they can to enable essential workers in industries such as health care, grocery, delivery, logistics and manufacturing. Behind the scenes, L&D teams are rapidly adapting their tactics to support employees who will be working from home for an extended period.
Every L&D team is facing a unique set of challenges. We’ve never dealt with anything like this pandemic before. Guidance for this situation isn’t available in five easy steps. Rather than try to oversimplify our current circumstances or project ahead into an uncertain future, let’s go back to the basics. Instead of focusing on tactics, let’s, instead, talk about mindset.
Our day-to-day reality may be changing, but the value L&D can provide to an organization has not. And this value is grounded in the way we approach our work. With that in mind, here are four concepts that should inform the L&D mindset as we do whatever we can to help our people perform in the face of disruption.
It isn’t about learning. It’s about helping people solve problems as quickly and safely as possible.
The problems organizations will ask L&D to solve will vary, from how to unload a truck to how to manage a remote team. In every case, L&D professionals must remain focused on providing solutions that fit both the problem and the reality of the person trying to solve it. Yes, they may ask people to change their behaviors and develop new habits along the way, but they must expand their tool kit; work with their partners; and apply solutions that fit, even if they were not previously standard practices. Courses and structured training programs have to take a back seat to on-demand resources, performance support and reinforcement.
Putting out daily fires may be L&D’s main priority right now, but there is also a shortlist of standard practices that they must sustain to help organizations keep moving forward. New employees still need support as they settle into their roles. Recently promoted managers still need guidance on how to lead their teams, especially in the midst of unprecedented disruption. L&D must assess their programs and processes and reprioritize to align with changing business priorities. While solving problems comes first, it’s imperative to dedicate appropriate resources to continuity efforts in the areas that will be most beneficial to the workplace in the immediate future.
New ways of doing business introduce new risks to people and organizations. For example, rapidly onboarding large groups of inexperienced employees without a plan may lead to unsafe work practices. Moving a large number of employees to work from home without the right resources may lead to new information technology risks. L&D professionals must be proactive and partner with their stakeholders to mitigate these risks before they become real problems. Learning strategies should lean into awareness and performance support tactics rather than structured training in order to keep up with the constantly changing nature of business.
Our shared circumstances will change. The situation will get better. Things may not go back to the way they were before, at least not right away, but disruption will give way to normalcy.
L&D may not know what this new normal will look like, but organizational resilience should remain a guiding theme through this disruption. Everything L&D does now should focus on people and the shared purpose of helping everyone work through this crisis together. L&D professionals should already be engaged in discussions with the management team to determine how they can help the organization evolve into a new normal. For example, how will the organization bring furloughed workers back into the operation? How will employee behaviors need to change to accommodate new business processes? These plans are likely to change several times over the coming months, but L&D must be ready to play its part nonetheless.
We don’t have all of the answers right now, and we probably won’t have many for weeks to come. As members of the L&D community, one of the few things we can control is our mindset, the perspective we bring to our work. Workplace learning has always been a balancing act. We are used to juggling an ever-changing list of organizational priorities. Now, more than ever, our professional community must remain focused and committed to doing what it takes to help our people do their best work every day.