I asked ten friends what they wanted from an employer. Their answers varied – “I want to have fun”, “I want to follow an authentic leader”, “I want to work in a transparent environment”, “a business that has a meaningful purpose” etc. etc.
There was only one consistent theme: development. Nearly every person stated that their primary desire is to grow – “I want to be able to pivot and evolve”, “I want my career to be all about self-modification and adaptation”, “the company should be all about facilitating connections between the greatest source of inspiration, my peers”, “I expect to be constantly challenged to learn”.
It was a small and young survey (most were NYC millenials) but I think it’s important because I believe that learning and development is becoming the most valued benefit and valuable capability for today’s organizations.
In some ways this is not new news. Everyone knows that personal growth underpins professional success and so it stands to reason that companies that can offer this to their employees are going to be much more attractive than those who don’t. What’s different now is that it seems that the expectation for development is more extreme, that this expectation is extending beyond early career into whole career, and that people are valuing learning as an ends in itself (as opposed to a means to progression).
In addition, organizations are realizing that learning is also an essential part of commercial growth. Innovation is no longer about developing and testing insight-based concepts; it’s about experimenting with minimum viable products and quickly learning what works and doesn’t work. This is why many large corporations are currently investing in capability-building programs around disciplined experimentation, lean start-up and intrapreneurship.
So, all this to say that the ability of organizations to learn and develop is going to make or break, and this creates both an enormous threat and enormous opportunity for corporate L&D functions. A threat because most follow a corporate university model (all about delivering training curriculums based upon audience needs based upon level/role) that doesn’t feel well-suited to delivering the type of learning experiences that are going to be needed; and an opportunity because the stage is set for L&D to evolve and put itself at the heart of business instead of being merely a part of HR.
So what could this look like? Here are four ways that L&D could evolve to take advantage of this opportunity.
1. Shift from a university model to an expansive learning ecosystem
Offer resources not courses. Curate the world and bring together the most powerful and cutting-edge learning tools and experiences. Build skills around how to get the most from this ecosystem and empower individuals to chart their own course. Make available a portfolio of inspiration, experiences, knowledge and access that stretches way beyond training, and that everyone has access to.
2. Focus on knowledge and networks as much as skill building
Get really clear on where the most useful knowledge lies and make sure your organization is exposed to it. Most often this knowledge will come from people who have been there or who are doing it, so identify which networks these people are part of and make sure you are too. Insist that every employee actively participates in external networks, advise them where to focus and hold them accountable for bringing back and packaging the most useful stimulus.
3. Partner more closely with strategy, innovation and insights
Work with these business leaders to identify what they need to learn in order to be able to make the right decisions, and develop a plan to help them do just that. This doesn’t mean doing research; it simply means making sure that the development activities that people experience are directly connected to the commercial agenda, both in terms of nature and timing.
4. Teach everyone (and leaders in particular) how to train
Training is a skill that can be taught and the best trainers can quickly and powerfully change the way people think and behave. No-one forgets their favorite teacher from school. Imagine a world where every employee, from CEO down, had the skills to be able to effectively pass on their skills and experience to those around them, either through short choreographed learning experiences or simply in the day-to-day. Not everyone would deliver training courses, but everyone would be on the hook to be training everyone around them all the time.
I believe that L&D can and should become more influential, impactful and central. The need is there and what it will now take are a few HR visionaries to lead the way and innovate around learning.