Recent events have challenged every part of our personal and professional lives. Yet, the disruption has served at least one positive purpose: To reveal the depth of what learning and development (L&D) is capable of delivering.
L&D has long been recognized as a value-adding function of the business, but it’s taken a global crisis to demonstrate that learning can operate at an even more strategic level than previously understood. In fact, many organizations struggling to survive have discovered that learning is a powerful business continuity strategy.
Previously, executives, leaders and employees have enjoyed just one dimension of the contributions learning can make to an organization: the ability to disseminate information, build new skills and competencies, and magnify capacity. In the process, L&D has contributed to organizational culture and results. However, this was just the tip of the iceberg.
Enter COVID-19 and the upending of business as usual. Organizations were forced to pivot overnight in many cases. Employees needed to adapt to different and challenging ways of interacting quickly. Processes changed and new systems and software were instituted. True to form, L&D responded by supporting reskilling, business transformation, and shifts to digital channels and strategies – as well as by nimbly adjusting content and methods to meet challenges and ensure continuity of individual capacity.
But in many organizations, L&D has done much more, distinguishing itself and offering services associated with supporting continuity of additional elements required for overall business continuity.
Human Connection Continuity
Decades ago, researchers Deci and Ryan determined that connection is one of the three powerful psychological needs people bring to the workplace. This awareness has recently become increasingly acute. In a study I conducted with Advantage Performance Group, respondents reported that isolation was the second most challenging dimension of working from home (right after focus and ahead of technology glitches).
Interestingly, L&D has found itself at the center of data gathering efforts around this issue. The training director in a professional services firm I work with conducted weekly well-being surveys. The L&D manager for a manufacturing client didn’t collect new data but mined employee assistance program trends. Other organizations used their employee monitoring software not with an eye on productivity but rather to identify individuals and parts of the organization that might not be engaging or communicating sufficiently.
Organizations then used available data to create strategies for keeping staff members connected; many have leaned heavily into learning and development activities. From targeted webinar series to development coaches and partners, L&D took quick action to promote learning that offers human connection continuity in service of business continuity.
Organizational Connection Continuity
While maintaining vital connections among employees is important, ensuring strong connections between the individual and the organization is also necessary to safeguard the strength of a business during both normal and unusual times. L&D professionals facilitated this through developmental experiences that reinforced the big picture and learning that reminded people their role in the mission, vision and needs of customers.
During this time of heightened levels of stress and anxiety, learning has also played a role in helping to maintain the well-being of employees and their ability to contribute despite volatility and uncertainty. Training capable of capturing learner attention delivers more than learning outcomes; it delivers opportunities for people to help regulate their nervous systems by offering something productive to focus upon.
Additionally, during this time many organizations dramatically expanded their offerings related to mindfulness, work-life balance and leadership skills to support the holistic well-being of teams. This helps employees continue working, contributing and thriving despite challenging conditions.
In the months and years to come, we’ll likely be able to trace greater engagement, discretionary effort, retention and loyalty back to the efforts of L&D. And in this way, learning will have become the ultimate business continuity strategy.