As with all significant shifts in the workforce, the Great Resignation presents opportunities for learning and development (L&D) professionals to recognize what they can learn to better manage the impact of these kinds of changes. Unlike the gradual descent of 2008’s Great Recession, this period is like an avalanche, with organizations scrabbling to retain their workforce. According to PwC’s The Future of Work, 45% of chief financial officers are not confident in their company’s ability to retain critical talent.

Yet, most organizations are overlooking a critical factor: how their cultures are contributing to this evacuation of talent.

Culture relates to how work is done in an organization — the collective action of a team. It is the differentiator between organizations that experience minute amounts of attrition and those who are stuck rebuilding their workforce. People stay and contribute within cultures of trust, equity and inclusion, leading the workplace to higher engagement, more innovation and better, business outcomes.

Chances are your organization may need to reassess and reposition itself in order to be more culturally effective for 2022 and beyond. To shift an organizational culture, both leaders and employees must learn new and different behaviors, and that learning often falls in the area of training.

Here are three ways L&D professionals improve the organizational culture as to limit employee disengagement now or in the next, workforce revolution to come:

  1. Prepare for Continuous Change

I once worked with a senior human resources (HR) leader who would begin meetings by saying, “In about 18 months, things are going to settle down.” That went on for four years! After a while, our leader realized — and helped our team realize — that change was here to stay, and eventually, the phrase became an HR joke. Through this leader’s example, we learned to think in terms of the next, best step we could take, creating as much stability as possible until a new approach was required. Being flexible and realistic became part of our team’s culture.

In contrast, I worked with another leader who, even though they were aware of disruptive market conditions, clung to old ways of doing business that weren’t working anymore. We were a stagnant team in changing circumstances, and we were unable to meet our clients’ needs, even in the smallest sense, because we couldn’t flex. The outcome was widespread frustration and disengagement.

So while it might be challenging and costly to continuously pivot, the new normal requires us to accept that things always change — for ourselves as L&D professionals, our organization’s leaders and the learners themselves. An investment with a client base could suddenly dry up. We might master one skill, but then have to pivot to another. We may train in one platform, only for it to be replaced by a better one. Nothing ever stays the same.

That can be a lot to process for those who need a routine. But there’s no prize for staying dedicated to processes and behaviors that no longer work. We have to find the next step that makes sense in this time, while being ready to release that approach for a new one in the future.

  1. Check for Low Trust

My family is currently renovating a house that was built in 1972 — which will require knocking down a few walls. Who knows what we’re going to find: Old newspapers, signs of animals or even black mold? We’ve quickly learned that taking on a major renovation means being mentally prepared with the right resources to handle the stuff that may not be so pretty.

Likewise, creating cultural change may require us to knock down a few “walls,” and in an organization, the dreaded black mold is low trust.

Low trust, a possible endemic from the turmoil of this past year, slows the pace of work and stifles innovation. If low trust has crept in, the agility of productivity falls into a “wait and see” mentality. People are too busy looking over their shoulders, protecting their territories and listening for rumors to learn new, effective behaviors. Or, as The Great Resignation has taught us, employees who’ve been thinking of jumping ship for a while find this moment to be a natural pause and take the opportunity to make a clean break. Higher trust organizations develop managers, habits and processes that are attune to flight risks well before they occur.

As you implement teams with training initiatives, ensure you’re working from a foundation of high trust, or at least be aware of the low-trust spots. Be ready to go on a slightly longer, if not painful, mission of uncovering the dimensions of low trust, like excessive bureaucracy, low morale and toxic office politics. Culture doesn’t happen quickly, and if low trust is lingering inside your organization, you can’t fake your way to high trust. You must surface those issues and choose to do something about them beforehand.

  1. Revisit Your Onboarding Process to Ensure it’s Creating a Culture of Inclusion at a Manageable Pace

Despite this perpetually changing environment, there’s at least one area that has remained true and is still true today: Onboarding people matters to their long-term success in organizations and teams.

It seems too obvious, right? Even if an employee stays three or five years, they’ll go back to how they were onboarded when they exit and talk about how impactful that process was to their sense of belonging, of being included, of being seen and of being received. Organizations can never focus too much on those first, critical experiences, from the recruitment and interview process, to meeting their managers and new coworkers.

Of course, we want to hire qualified and capable individuals who can hit the ground running, but the problem is that in this environment, we’re most likely recruiting highly-qualified people who may also be — quite frankly — exhausted.

I was recently talking with a colleague whose onboarding process has now expanded to 12 months. On one hand, that may seem excessive in terms of timeline and resources required, but the backend of a 12-month onboarding is learning information in bite-sized pieces that can be digested and integrated into the job. With the added support, they can orient themselves inside the organization and make the professional choice to stay long term.

Developing — or perhaps redeveloping — a healthy, organizational culture in today’s environment requires an investment of patience, trust and support. But the reward is a workforce that shows up authentically, does their very best work and is less likely to exit when things get tough.

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