To paraphrase Greek philosopher Heraclitus, the only thing that is constant is change. As technology continues to permeate not only our personal but also our professional lives, this adage is more relevant than ever – particularly for businesses struggling to adapt in an increasingly digital economy.
Keeping up with the pace of technology-driven change is a challenge that transcends industries and touches every role and function. Organizations afraid or unable to embrace new technologies fall behind in their ability to innovate and create better customer experiences and, as a result, can lose out to competitors who are further along in digital transformation.
Ongoing employee training, learning and skills development should be a priority. To remain relevant and competitive as change accelerates, organizations need to do more than simply train employees – they must create cultures of learning.
Defining a Culture of Learning
Organizations want employees to perform at the top of their game. Savvy organizations understand that “the top” is not a static target – it is always shifting and evolving, driven not only by competitive pressures but also by digital transformation. To stay at the top requires company-wide support of the development of employee skills, knowledge and experiences. Employees must be learning every day, and learning must be integral to a company’s culture.
At organizations committed to this type of culture, learning becomes a natural part of employees’ daily work. Organizations provide the structure and investment to support the acquisition of new skills. When learning is an ongoing process, it is easier to adapt to change, embrace digital advancements and perform at a high level.
Assess Where You Are – and Where You Need to Be
When your organization is behind in its digital transformation and you aren’t even sure what technologies you need (or haven’t even heard of yet), it can be difficult to plan a learning and development path forward. It’s important to start with an audit and avoid the temptation of throwing training dollars at a problem you may not even have.
First, articulate the business problems that you are trying to solve, and identify if digital channels and capabilities are already in place to address the challenge. What is working? What is lacking from a process and program perspective? How can you bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be?
Next, take an inventory of the skills and competencies available across departments, and think about the skills that teams will need in the future. What skills do they already possess, and what skills do they lack? What are some ways employees can learn these skills on the job or internally, and what do they need to learn through an outside training program?
Finally, think beyond pure digital strategies, and assess employees’ business and leadership capabilities. While technical skills are important, organizations need people with business and soft skills, such as critical thinking, communications and problem-solving. A culture of learning also focuses on building leadership pipelines and preparing individuals to grow throughout their careers into roles with additional management responsibilities.
Bring on the Experts
Outsourced training is defined as using an external training partner, agency or provider for skills development. The needs analysis should make clear what new skills and knowledge the organization needs, and outsourcing can be an effective way to develop them.
There are many benefits to working with outside providers. First, if you don’t have a large L&D department, it can be difficult to provide training yourself. Training programs typically need to be delivered within a certain timeframe, aligned to certain goals and measured for effectiveness. Bringing on outside professionals also enables organizations to work with leaders in their respective fields who have the insight, knowledge and experience to push learners – and their organizations – forward. A fresh perspective on creating daily learning opportunities can also help leaders identify the best ways to deliver learning and training.
Embrace Best Practices to Reinforce a Culture of Learning
Organizations should encourage leaders, from the front line to the C-suite, to be champions of learning. They should advocate for budget, be vocal about the importance of learning, support staff efforts to reskill and raise new ideas about how employees can learn on the job. Digital, technical and managerial skills are developed by practice, and it takes support from all levels of management to foster a commitment to learning on the job and to provide additional learning experiences as needed.
Ask employees what they want, and align programs to their needs. Learners typically want training to be convenient and accessible, high-quality, and personalized to their needs. In addition, consuming shorter, mobile programs that on the go can be better than devoting multiple hours to learning.
Don’t forget about employee recognition! Acknowledge employees who proactively seek out new training and skills development; earn a new certification, credential or badge; and demonstrate that their learning improved performance. High-performing organizations demonstrate that personal achievements are organizational achievements. Managers should take every opportunity to send the message that learning is important and something to be celebrated.
Last but not least, don’t forget to be patient and think for the long term. Reskilling a team takes time, and changing a company culture does not happen overnight. Even the smallest commitments to learning can reap big rewards down the road in terms of employee and company preparation.