For over three decades, I have observed learning professionals strive to earn their seats at the C-suite table. But while the phrase “Our people are our greatest asset” is now stated with the reverence of “motherhood and apple pie,” priorities and budgets have rarely followed.
I have also seen my share of transformative societal developments from grassroots movements to disruptive technology and natural disasters to social media. Some of these events have led to changes in how senior executives view training and its impact on the bottom line. However, none has been more significant than the recent bombardment of news related to sexual harassment and assault and to the power of unconscious bias to harm company reputations.
Recently, these issues seem to have become more blatant and more damaging. The impact has been seen not only in legal settlements, but also with regard to their effect on corporate brands (as with the Weinstein Company, Fox News, Starbucks and over 100 other examples). From January 1 to November 15 of 2017, companies paid out over $484 million dollars to victims of sexual assault and harassment alone, and this amount is only what has been publicly secured by the EEOC.
It has become clear that workplace culture is integral to financial success and that innovative, engaging, relevant and scalable learning solutions are crucial to business growth. Sensitive issues like harassment and bias must be addressed both within organizations and in the way they interface with customers.
This situation leads us to ask three questions: Is the current training doing enough? Do the caliber and methodology of the training deliver meaningful, sustainable results? How can organizations scale the delivery of effective learning?
Employees must be involved in a learning process that requires them to explore not only the actions they take in certain situations but their reasons for taking them. Individuals need training that allows them to experience the consequences of poor decisions in a safe learning environment – and then to contemplate them in ways that positively influence actual future behavior. This approach integrates instruction, reflection and practice making decisions in ways that are consistent with the company’s values.
Organizations must pay attention to questions like who should be hired or promoted and how an employee might interact with a colleague or customer of a different ethnicity. Opportunities to play out authentic situations similar to those faced in real life deliver sticky learning and give people tools with which to navigate stressful or complex circumstances. Ideally, this learning is available anytime, anywhere, such as in this example.
We must also be careful to balance individual rights with organizational productivity. As a result of current high-profile incidents, we are now hearing that some employees are so afraid of saying the wrong thing that they limit communication with team members or communicate only with those individuals with whom they are most comfortable (people of the same gender, race, age, etc.).
Until recently, learning and development professionals have had only three options with which to address the complex issues of corporate culture:
- Training that requires employee to travel to a single geographic location at specific times (Results show that this traditional solution is both costly and ineffective.)
- Generic, off-the-shelf online training that does not accurately portray learners’ unique business environment (These programs cannot be tailored to individual company policies and norms.)
- Custom development projects that are expensive and time-consuming (These efforts can take months or years to complete, while the business landscape continues to change.)
Fortunately, there is now a powerful fourth option that combines the immediate delivery of off-the-shelf products with the customization needed for relevance to a company’s workforce. High-fidelity, interactive learning technology is deliverable online, via mobile devices and by live facilitators. It meets the needs for compliance, engagement, flexibility, scalability and the cost-consciousness of the C-suite.
Corporate responsibility is no longer simply about “doing good.” It is essential to the financial growth of the enterprise. The integration of adaptive instructional technology into workplace life aligns individual talent development with organizational excellence. The realization of the profound effects of culture on the business has created a significant opportunity for learning and development professionals. It is our time, and we must seize the moment.