Eric Duffy

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7 min read

Why It’s Time for L&D to Disrupt Itself

Articles L&D

We live in a time of immense change.

Artificial intelligence, internet of things, augmented/virtual reality — these are technologies of society-molding magnitude. All that we can say with confidence is that their impact will be profound and widespread.

As an individual, this is thrilling to contemplate. As an organization, however, it can be daunting, and even downright frightening.

A Threat of Existential Proportions

The coming wave of technological disruption will leave no organization or industry untouched. This is a fact that nearly every Fortune 1000 CEO has already taken on board: 90 percent believe their industry is going to be disrupted in the near future, though just 11 percent believe their current workforce has the right skills to compete as business needs change.

But the most forward-thinking leaders have realized something further – that while organizations have weathered disruptions in the past and gone on to thrive, there’s something new and different this time around, because the pace of change isn’t just rapid, it’s accelerating.

That means companies won’t just have to reinvent themselves once in a generation — they’re going to have to reinvent themselves continually.

Most organizations simply weren’t built for this kind of continual change.  This is why the C-suite is increasingly understanding the importance of investing in learning and talent agility.

L&D Is More Important Than Ever

There’s never been a more thrilling time to work in Learning & Development.

For too long, learning hasn’t garnered the kind of respect it deserves because learning’s impact has always been hard to measure.

But today, the business imperative for learning couldn’t be clearer. Every organization has a critical and continual need to fill skill gaps, and the only two ways to close them are to hire externally or develop them internally.

Given how much more costly it is to hire externally (buy) than to develop internally (build), L&D can show clear ROI by increasing the rate of internal mobility through up- and re-skilling existing employees. Further, millennials now say that training and development is their No. 1 benefit, meaning L&D’s impact on retention has never been greater.

Clearly, this is L&D’s time to shine.

But if L&D is to succeed, it’s going to have to adapt as well. In a new era of continual disruption, it’s only fitting that L&D disrupt itself, too.

The World’s Changing — It’s Time L&D Changed Too

This may be an uncomfortable idea for many folks in L&D to entertain.

But gone are the days when picking an LMS and filling it with content you license or create yourself was enough to meet your organization’s learning needs. This model made sense when you knew that the things your company needed to learn were going to remain relatively static for the foreseeable future. But given how fast things are changing today, it’s simply impossible for L&D, on its own, to keep up.

Instead, the only way for organizations to become truly agile is for L&D to evolve from teaching employees to providing the conditions in which employees can teach themselves.

So what does L&D need to do to evolve with the times?

To answer this question I recommend you put yourself in the shoes of your end-users – the employees at your organization – and try to understand what they really want from you. Because just as your organization realizes how important it is to stay on the cutting edge in order to remain competitive in our time of change, employees themselves realize this as well. There are three key questions for you to help them answer:

  • What skills should I learn?
  • How do I learn them?
  • What’s in it for me if I do?

Answer the above for your employees and L&D transformation is yours.

What Skills Should I Learn?

The answer to this question in years past was fairly simple. In an age of continual change, it’s become anything but.

Most organizations at one point or another have hired consultants to perform in-depth competency assessments to determine the skills they have and the skills they need. These assessments often take years to conduct, and only once they’re finished can the learning organization update its programs accordingly.

At a time when many technical skills have a half-life of just a couple years, this approach has become impractical and ineffective. By the time you’re able to complete such a lengthy assessment the business will have already changed.

So what is L&D to do? The answer lies in data — lots of it.

The truth is your company is producing all the data you need to understand both what skills are in demand and what skills employees have. You just need a way to capture, understand and leverage this data on a real-time basis. Just as importantly, you need to find a way to serve this information directly to your employees so they can make informed decisions about what to learn without having to be directed.

Find a way to harness big skill data and you’ll be able to empower employees with the information they need to guide their own learning and professional development in alignment with what your organization needs.

How Do I Learn Them?

We know from observing usage patterns amongst our customers that as much as 99 percent of the learning content that employees consume lives outside of the LMS. This represents a tremendous shift from even five years ago.

Much of this content lives outside of your organization. There’s so much of it, in fact, that L&D simply doesn’t have the bandwidth or resources to curate it all on a continual basis, even if it did have the in-house expertise to do so effectively.

The best way to tackle this challenge is through a combination of crowd curation and machine recommendation.

As powerful as recommendation algorithms are becoming, there’s still no substitute for human curation. Fortunately, employees are learning all the time — just not always within your corporate learning system. You can leverage the wisdom of the crowd by giving employees a reason to share what they’re learning with their peers.

What’s in It for Me If I Do?

It’s no surprise that most companies struggle to get their employees to learn. It’s a problem that has vexed many a CLO, and seems to belie the fact that employees rank learning and development benefits so highly.

The answer is quite simple. Your employees are busy, and if they’re going to spend what little spare time they have on learning, it’s imperative that they understand what’s in it for them. Unless they can clearly see how learning will affect their career growth, you’ll inevitably struggle to engender voluntary learning activity.

This is why we strongly believe that the learning and talent functions within organizations should begin to merge. New roles with new skill requirements are constantly emerging, and L&D can help generate more learning by showing employees how they can qualify for and fill those roles by learning new skills.

Your organization will begin to develop a true culture of continual learning when employees begin to see and believe that the skills they learn actually result in career advancement for themselves and their peers.

Be Bold

There’s never been a more exciting – or pivotal – time to be involved in L&D. Learning has never been more vital to your organization’s future, but success will require doing things differently.

The faster the world changes, the more important it is to act boldly and not settle for incremental improvements.

Categories: Articles L&D

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