For years, we’ve understood the pivotal role of learning and development (L&D). The discipline is generally recognized as central to building the skills, capacity and culture required to deliver business results. And L&D professionals increasingly find themselves with a seat at the table where mission-critical matters are addressed.

However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, L&D has gone beyond pivotal to pivoting. Many leaders in this arena are engaging in significant adjustments designed to respond to challenging business conditions. They describe an evolving and expanding role centered around emerging needs and the opportunity to innovate and add value like never before.

One of the most visible pivots that L&D professionals were immediately faced with was enabling organizations and people to engage and learn remotely. The migration of assets and individuals to virtual platforms has been top priority. At the same time, many L&D functions have found themselves making other profound changes to what they do, how they do it and the contributions they make in the process.

“I’ve become a crisis management resource.”

Stephanie is responsible for delivering learning to financial professionals. Tried and true methods worked well for this audience, then the pandemic hit. Nearly overnight, priorities and needs shifted. No longer able to wait for the next workshop or webinar, these finance folks needed answers. Their issues were more varied than ever before, and it quickly became clear that corralling topics and skills into unified learning events was not possible. Stephanie realized that her response had to mimic the urgency of the situation.

So, Stephanie pivoted and created a crisis resource center. She collected articles, videos and podcasts and catalogued them for easy access. She used the firehose of questions and challenges posed by her clients to inform her work. And she engaged them in sharing tools and links they’d found. Within weeks, she had created a go-to platform with the resources people needed.

But, realizing she could – and should – do more, Stephanie instituted office hours. She redeployed some of her former teaching time to be available by phone or video to answer questions. Uptake was slow initially, but word got around. Before long, her office hours became a virtual watercooler around which financial professionals would gather to share stories, resources and support. That’s when she realized that she had evolved learning into the realm of crisis management response.

“I’m at the forefront of employee wellness.”

Erik is responsible for people and culture within a high-tech manufacturing firm. Known as a strategic thinker, he earned a reputation for offering learning solutions that delivered measurable business results. Then, everything changed. Given the essential nature of the organization’s work, some employees remained onsite while others were required to work at home, creating great strain for the highly connected workforce.

So, Erik pivoted in response to the concern and upset demonstrated by the workforce. He made it his and his team’s business to reach out and check on employees to determine what they needed. Hearing themes around disconnection and isolation, he established “Talk it Out Tuesday,” an informal, virtual drop-in meeting that allowed people to check up on each other and offer support. He began conducting regular emotional temperature checks via pulse surveys. His team offered short weekly webinars addressing the issues reported by employees. As a sense of calm returned to the workforce, it became clear that Erik had moved L&D to address another strategic priority: employee wellness.

While the disruption and devastation delivered by this global pandemic should not be minimized, silver linings exist. And, fortunately, the learning function has not just stepped up to the challenges but has evolved and expanded its capacity and influence with its ability to pivot.