In response to a number of current and emerging labor trends, learning and development (L&D) has escalated as a business process in need of renewal for many organizations. Digitization of the working environment, automated work processes and generational shifts have rendered many training strategies outdated and ineffective. The result is a marginally prepared workforce and a variety of stopgap measures created to address development needs, many taking shape out of necessity on the shop floor without the oversight or involvement of designated training personnel.

According to research by Gartner, only 30% of employees feel they’ve mastered the skills required for their current job — a direct reflection of the current state of training, which prioritizes transfer of knowledge and limits recall of new information. All things considered, learning and development is in need of an overhaul. While the specific details of what that overhaul actually looks like are unique to each organization, there are several elements worthy of consideration for L&D leaders planning to take on the task.

An Innovative Approach

More than any other leader, supervisors are in the best position to affect learning and development outcomes. Ideally situated for the task, frontline managers have direct access to the workforce, have a first-hand perspective of the operational challenges faced daily, and are perfectly positioned to make connections between the knowledge provided through training and the applied skills needed for the job. That said, most supervisors aren’t prepared for the role and lack the people-oriented skills required to effectively reinforce learning.

Opportunities for improving the employee experience abound. The solution, however, must involve and include development opportunities for frontline supervisors. While they can’t — and shouldn’t be expected to — have all of the answers, organizations must equip them with the references and resources they need to make critical connections for the ongoing learning and development needs of their direct reports.

An innovative approach doesn’t require a significant financial investment, but it does demand focused attention and a conscious effort to rethink process design, free of bias or preference to past systems. One of the most effective approaches is to involve the stakeholders who have had recent training experiences. More than anyone else, this group can offer valuable and first-hand feedback on missing elements.

An Integrated Strategy

Organizations should integrate learning and development into their ongoing operations. Like safety, quality or customer service, employee development shouldn’t be treated as a parallel system or standalone process independent of day-to-day operations or critical business objectives. They’re inherently connected and should be treated as such.

Companies must find ways to prioritize and provide for the ongoing learning needs of their employees. This objective can’t be limited to sharing information; it must involve the development of the applied skills needed for success on the job. Needs, preferred communication styles and strategies to bridge gaps are unique to each individual. As a result, a one-size-fits-all approach, while easy to administer and efficient to implement, seldom delivers desired outcomes and will meet the needs of only a small percentage of your workforce.

In practice, organizations should provide training in real time and reinforce learning objectives in the context of the actual challenges faced on the job. Whereas instruction intended to define what must be done and by when may have historically been enough, that’s no longer the case. More recent generations want to better understand the how and why.

For many younger employees, the option of having input into alternate approaches to time-honored traditions is also important. While some may interpreted this desire as a sign of disrespect or discord, it reflects something far more valuable; creativity and an open mind are often the catalyst for meaningful change and are prerequisites to growth and improvement.

A Transformative Design

Often overlooked, one of the greatest advancements of modern times involves our understanding of the brain, its functions and its impact upon human behavior. More clearly than at any point in time, we have an understanding of how humans perceive, interpret and respond to the world around them. Made possible through emerging technologies in brain imaging, neuroscientists can now confirm what some marketing professionals have suspected for years: We are driven by emotions and irrational by nature.

The implications of this knowledge are significant and have a direct bearing on how we approach learning, particularly for adults. On any given day, we make hundreds — if not thousands — of decisions. We make the majority of them affectively — that is, based on how we feel and not necessarily what we think. Some experts suggest as many as 95% of decisions and subsequent actions occur while operating on autopilot. Asking employees to push everything to the front of their minds isn’t the answer — and is functionally impossible.

The solution involves blending traditional training content, which is often intended to transfer knowledge, with materials or experiences designed to elicit an emotional response. While logic makes us think, it’s emotions that lead us to action. Instructional designers must recognize the need to shift perspectives and create learning objectives that go beyond the transfer of knowledge. Achieving this outcome results in a higher order of learning; a more prepared employee; and, over time, an interdependent culture — all of which are required for organizations to take on the challenges ahead.

A Sense of Urgency

Experts have long suggested the early 21st century would be the point of origin for the next industrial revolution — a new era for the working environment, one characterized by cyber advancements, autonomous processes and artificial intelligence (AI). While the rate of technological development and integration has varied, the transition into the next industrial age is underway.

The workforce must adopt the forces impacting or driving inevitable changes if it is to succeed. Putting the elements in place and making it all work together will require capabilities in learning and development that exceed the capacity of many, if not most, existing training strategies and delivery platforms. By better using the existing resources now in place, integrating learning strategies into daily operations and harnessing advancements in behavioral sciences, we are equipped like never before to create success for a larger number of employees in what promises to be an unforgiving and increasingly competitive landscape.

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