For a small group of people around the world, May 25, 2019, was a day long anticipated. On that day, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect, upending how technology developers and businesses approached consumer data management.

It was a challenging moment, and organizations went one of two ways. Most — about 75%, according to Econsultancy research — approached the problem as a bureaucratic hurdle and expensive annoyance. They tried their best to make the future resemble the past.

The remaining group of organizations saw the regulations for what they were: a signpost. Instead of minimizing, they extrapolated and invested. They used the new law’s requirements to push their organizations into achieving better data structures, processes and systems. Today, those companies enjoy benefits that go far beyond checking the compliance box. They have more useful data, higher response rates and happier customers, and they make more money as a result, according to Econsultancy research.

For the training industry, a similar moment of opportunity to remake itself came in the guise of the lockdown caused by the coronavirus. Suddenly, in every sector, standard operating procedure became useless. Teams reformed ad hoc, processes were reimagined on the fly and new leaders rose to the occasion. The coronavirus outbreak forced businesses to rethink how and where they work. Even when the risk is over, there will be more video meetings, less time spent in central offices and infrequent business travel.

The only way to evolve and adapt through a crisis is to learn. Training leaders must respond to this moment with solutions for individuals and organizations today and moving forward.

The breakneck shift to remote work has not sparked new trends so much as thrown existing issues into sharp relief:

    • Learners were already pressed for time and attention, but now they must enroll in training activities without the pull of in-person interaction.
    • The need to rapidly add new skills had grown steadily, but now, it is exploding. For example, research by Econsultancy and MarketingWeek found that 69% of organizations report significant change to their customer journeys, which has implications for the skills sales professionals need.
    • Disparate teams were often geographically separated, but now, they consist of individuals spread far and wide.
    • While there has always been a need to accommodate different learning preferences, now, training must fit the individual in his or her virtual setting.

Despite these challenges, training professionals’ core task remains: to raise skills and foster learning. Indeed, as companies struggle to adapt their models to rapidly evolving customer behaviors, their job has never been more important.

Now is the moment to invent, plan and promote new approaches. To make the most of the digital leap they are experiencing, training organizations must adapt and take on characteristics of digital startups, including being assertive about their value, nimble in their execution and realistic about their consumers.

Assertive

Learning professionals have always needed to be good at listening to people and understanding data, but now, more than ever, they must excel at communicating their vision. Learning is not always viewed as a strategic tool or competitive advantage, but when wielded correctly, it’s both.

Smart leaders recognize that their best hope for transformation and growth lies in their workforce. People adapt more quickly than systems or infrastructure do. They are also the source of creativity. In just three weeks, the share of executives reporting that their organizations made product or service innovations during the outbreak rose from 22% to 47%, according to Econsultancy and MarketingWeek research.

The ultimate purpose of training is to help the organization deliver on its strategy, but executive management must be a partner in shaping learning goals. Unfortunately, in a 2019 Econsultancy survey of learning and development (L&D) professionals, only 44% said that they were in regular communication with executive leadership about strategic direction.

It’s especially easy to relinquish an increased — or even stable — budget in the current economic conditions, but the outbreak is forcing instant change on businesses. With lean budgets for investment in new hires or technology, upskilling an existing workforce is the fastest and cheapest route to transformation. L&D leaders must be able to communicate this fact effectively in order to make an impact on the business.

Nimble

With business strategy in mind, training can blend overarching goals with specific needs. For example, many business-to-business (B2B) companies struggle to change long-time employees’ mindset to modern, customer-focused thinking. At a strategic level, learning through inspiration, mentorship and industry examples can shift their attitudes while implementing new digital skills.

Learning tools have proliferated, and today’s training professionals can assemble a learning stack comprised of a variety of complementary solutions, which they can quickly deploy to meet a given challenge. In fact, Training Industry research has found that most organizations offer multiple training modalities. Likewise, leading organizations offer and encourage broader choices for learning, with soft skills complementing job-related training.

Realistic

One of the advantages that startups have over established players is their focus on a single way they can improve on what has come before. Often, that single focus boils down to asking as little as possible from the customer and trying to create an effortless experience. These startups recognize that people are not interested in their brand story or even their products. Customers just want to solve their problem, and the best startups help them do so.

This problem-solving approach can be useful when planning the training stack, especially in a time of flux, when employees face new questions with old answers. The aim here is to easily access valid, relevant knowledge and training in the most compact way possible. This approach does not mean distilling everything into 90-second video clips. Rather, it places the emphasis of investment and communication on the speed with which learners can move from problem to solution.

Businesses of every size are working to survive under unique, changeable conditions. Risk, stress and uncertainty define workers’ lives, and learning is one of the few tools we have to mitigate these challenges. No one wanted this opportunity, but by emphasizing the value of learning for effective change, building a stack of responses and relentlessly pursuing an effortless experience, training leaders can improve future outcomes for their company and its workforce.

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