If nothing else, 2020 has been a year of change, learning and innovation. But the COVID-19 pandemic also uncovered serious gaps in the skills and leadership qualities required in today’s workplace — issues that can only be solved by learning and development (L&D). For example, while some leaders and employees rose to the challenge of remote work, others failed.

What can L&D professionals do to better prepare employees for change? For starters, we need to pause and identify critical skills gaps and recognize the impact they will have on our organizations going forward. When leaders and employees lack the skills required for today’s business needs, it impacts the bottom line. Poorly trained leaders and teams lead to revenue loss, reduced client satisfaction and increased turnover.

Ultimately, skills gaps and lack of employee development hold back business growth. A stagnant company cannot provide value to its employees or clients. To ensure you are prepared and poised to deliver growth, it’s time to reassess your current programs and curriculum to address these gaps now.

The Opportunity for L&D

The status quo has changed, both in the way we conduct business and the way we deliver development opportunities. L&D teams must now align with overall growth strategies; partner with the business; and act as a horizontal organization, supporting all functions of a company in order to lead change and fill skills gaps. This new era of L&D requires a more intentional approach to developing employees to meet today’s and tomorrow’s needs.

Here are a few steps that can serve as a catalyst to filling the gaps at your organization:

1. Identify the Skills Necessary for Success

You need to know where your skill gaps are before you can start filling them. In L&D, we have thoughts about where the gaps exist, but to truly understand what your business needs, look to managers and team leaders for guidance. You can start by asking three questions:

    • What does success look like in the future for these roles?
    • What skills do we have now?
    • What can we do to fill the gaps?

Assessment is key. Assess employees’ competencies (current skills), their output (abilities) and department goals (achievements). This data will help you understand where you are now and what you need to do to achieve your goals. Once you have this information, you can begin closing the gaps with learning opportunities — classes, experiences, coaching and feedback.

2. Choose the Right Methods for Developing the Necessary Skills

In today’s business environment, virtual learning is the new norm — but that change doesn’t mean you should discard all or our valuable content and start over. What it does mean is that you assess your current offerings and thoughtfully determine how to deliver development in a remote workplace — and leveraging technology is a must. Use your learning management system (LMS) as your main portal, and determine how to convert your current curriculum to serve the needs of your organization.

Additionally, you should add any new required competencies for employees and leaders to the mix. What new skills do they need to work and lead in a virtual environment?

After assessing what currently exists and what you need to build, map your current offerings to the required competencies. Remember that learning happens in many different ways. eLearning is currently a popular method, but consider videos, podcasts, webinars, “fireside” chats with experts, interactive games and role-playing. These methods can create innovative learning opportunities for the entire organization and extend your reach beyond the traditional classroom.

3. Engage Employees, and Boost Retention

Long videos and monotonous lectures are the kiss of death when it comes to keeping employees engaged and, even more importantly, making sure they retain their new knowledge. Employing the latest trends in adult learning and storytelling will help not only engage employees but also hold their attention to make learning stick.

Engagement and retention happens through a two-pronged approach to learning and development. Firstly, ensure your trainers are skilled in facilitation, both for in-person and virtual learning. Educate and coach them on the concepts of storytelling, presentation skills and emotional intelligence. Help them leverage their voice, body language and words to create excitement around the topic and resonate with their audience.

Secondly, help facilitators embrace technology to keep their audience awake. They should pause and ask questions; request that cameras stay on; or use polling, chats, breakout rooms, icebreakers and open discussions. As learning leaders, we spend a lot of time researching and preparing, often to see only a fraction of the key elements retained. So, when trainers conclude workshops, make sure they ask each participant, “What will you do differently tomorrow because of what you learned today?” It’s a great way to assess the value you’ve created and how they plan to keep the learning alive.

Is There an ROI?

When it comes to filling skills gaps, return on investment (ROI) is difficult to measure. How can L&D professionals create a return on investment that the business can see?

There are several metrics that you can review to gain an understanding of the impact and effectiveness of learning programs. Beyond examining retention, progression and turnover rates, use:

Exit Surveys

Exit survey comments and interviews will give you an idea about why employees are leaving. Departing employees are usually forthcoming with ideas for improvement.

Manager Surveys

Gathering data from managers is a great way to understand the change they see in their employees. Ask managers if they have seen improvement in their employees following training.

Focus Groups

Employee focus groups are a way to engage your constituents and demonstrate your support of their development. Employees always have ideas about what they need, since they are the ones at the front lines.

Post-training Surveys

Robust training evaluation surveys are a great way to target specific data points to ensure your classes are meeting the needs and expectations of employees.

Client Surveys

Client performance ratings can be clear indicators of which team members have improved their skills and are delivering more value. Client surveys can also be an opportunity to enhance your curriculum to continuously meet clients’ emerging needs.

The L&D organization has a pivotal role in the success of employees and the company. By aligning learning strategies to the business, however, you can secure a seat at the table. People are the most important asset to any company, and the L&D team has the greatest opportunity to protect, preserve and grow those assets.

The future of learning is here, and a strong, agile and skilled workforce is a business necessity. With so much at stake — the development of future leaders, client success and revenue — now is the time to take a close look at how you plan to grow your employees to drive the business forward. The right strategy and focus on employee engagement can help any organization successfully pivot in our ever-changing environment.