How the world of people development will evolve post-pandemic

Now we’ve been living in these strange times for awhile. We’ve all had the opportunity to evaluate the overnight forced digital transformation and the pivot to the way we’ve had to work mostly remotely over these last 4-5 months.

Some of us long for the world of yesterday, whilst many are seeing positive benefits in the current model of working and we are all eager to see how we can shape a better way of working and living in the future.

It would be foolish to not take note and take action of the lessons we have learnt during this strange time.

In all of the constant changes, many businesses and their traditional teams have been forced to re-think what they do and more importantly, how they do it. I’ve seen this shift in my own profession, where people development teams have been made to embrace a fully digital and remote delivery method in the space of a day.

From what I’ve seen so far, many businesses are confused on how to adapt the delivery of learning, performance support and knowledge. A large number are just getting it all wrong and will inevitably hit a wall before the year is over. There are very few who are navigating this change and getting the approach right.

Of course, I’m encouraged to see more learning functions finally embrace the digital world and technology. We all know how HR can be slow to adopt new technologies so it has been a long time coming. Yet, let’s be clear here, digital learning for remote employees doesn’t mean presenting the same 100 slide powerpoint deck you have over zoom.

I feel now we are presented with an opportune moment for workplaces to rethink their approach to people development and the type of experiences they can build to improve workforce capability.

Now I don’t have all the answers (I mean who does? And if you do, please share!) but I do have some thoughts on how the traditional learning/talent/people or whatever fancy latest trendy buzzword title you call your workplace performance team, can and probably will evolve in a post-pandemic world.

Let me unpack some of these thoughts for you…

In my opinion these are the areas where I feel people development teams will be focused and can provide a lot of value in the immediate future.

Building homegrown and future talent

Although we can expect the market to be flooded with those who’ve sadly lost their jobs due to the economic downturn. I imagine in an effort to conserve costs, many recruitment teams will find their budgets and demand for external hiring needs to be low.

To me, it would seem logical in times of watching the cash for businesses to look at their current internal talent before looking to the outside world and ask, can we upskill our current talent to tackle our immediate problems?

I believe we’ll see the conversation move from buying skills to focus on how we can build skills with what we have already. This is where PD (people development) teams will come into play. You probably had some form of talent planning, capability mapping and future leader programmes in play before the world closed down. And, you can expect these to ramp up as the demand to keep costs down from new hires will be closely monitored across most industries.

So, making the most of developing current talent will be a top priority for many workplaces and one which PD teams can lead on. It’s also a win for the business in understanding how they can optimise and nurture current talent to adapt to evolving business demands.

Some businesses are quick to look outside before they look within and ask what they can do to make what they have better. Sometimes the answer to your problem is already in front of you.

Re-skilling the workforce

Just like developing current talent, re-skilling the workforce will be top of mind for many business leaders too.

The need to re-skill workforces with digital technologies has been needed across so many workplaces for years but it’s never been paid that much attention as other things were deemed to be more important. For most PD teams, delivering workshops on how to build a pointless powerpoint deck has been deemed more important than knowing how to make the most of your workplace technology.

Yet, when the overnight digital transformation came, the holes were quite quickly exposed and many people were left vulnerable due to their lack of know-how.

I’ve heard countless stories of people from loads of industries and workplaces who have no idea how to use 80% of the tech on offer to them. And, why is this you may ask? A simple answer really – these workplaces assumed their people would just figure it out and need no further support. Of course, this backfired tremendously when we were all sent home.

Many of us were informed we’d have to work from our homes for the immediate future but there was nothing to fear as we could all finally make use of the fantastic suite of collaborative tools that the business has always had. The only problem was, very few knew how.

The days, weeks and months have been consumed by many struggling to perform basic modern day tasks like setting up a video call or sharing files via cloud platforms for teams to collaborate on together. You probably heard statements like “ MS teams, what’s that? We’ve had it for how long?” and “Slack you, what’s Slack? You want me to do what now?”

Of course, not all has been lost in these scenarios though. As your local friendly LinkedIn charlatans have been prepared to give you a shoddy copy and paste job powerpoint deck generic experience to help your workforce use Zoom, Teams or Slack all for the special price of only £1599 per a session. What a bargain indeed and one I hope none of you reading this foolishly fell prey to.

Yet, it’s not just digital skills where many have been caught short. The art of real leadership has had a spotlight shone onto it. A lot of managers have been all but lost by not being able to deal with the fact that they cannot watch their teams to make sure they are doing what they should be doing. We are seeing the rise of digital presenteeism and micro-management on steroids in the remote world as many just don’t know how to lead in this environment. 

Recent research from Harvard Business Review, Gartner and Deloitte is showing how the medicore managers that probably went under the radar in the busy office environment are being exposed as they don’t have the skills and behaviours to adapt to the evolving times. Now, this doesn’t apply to every leader and/or manager in every business. Many are doing incredibly well, but once again we are seeing holes exposed within the capabilities of the workforce.

This is why I believe company wide re-skill projects will be top of mind and most certainly an area where PD teams will lead and can bring lots of value. Holes have been exposed and now it’s time to prepare people to navigate the world of today and tomorrow.

A personal recommendation from me is to focus on your workforces digital skills. Help them understand your workplace technology and how to make the most of it. This will affect your workforce and business performance more than you can imagine so get more of your people to become comfortable with what they may feel uncomfortable with right now.

Moving from a bench player to a coach and consultant

Traditionally most people development functions have worked like this:

Yes, it’s a massive oversimplification but if you work in this space, you know what I mean.

In workplace learning teams it has been the norm to play the role of an order taker and not by choice of course. Many of us have been trying to establish a different approach, one that’s centered on coaching and being seen as a trusted consultant to get to the root cause of problems. Which is encouraged if you are in the pursuit of avoiding the act of creating even more problems to solve an undefined problem.

You may, like me, find that most things that a business will proclaim are an L&D problem are not an L&D problem. But, I get it. It’s hard to have to influence every person that throws themselves at you with the “I have an L&D need” to this way of thinking. We all have to pick our battles after all.

However, this moment we occupy right now, might just be the point where we move from order takers to trusted performance consultants. Where the conversations look less like “Can you run a 3 day workshop for my team on collaboration because they need some training and it’s one of my performance objectives for this year.” to “Hey, we’ve got this problem and we’d like your help at looking at some possible solutions.”

Remember, just because someone tells you they have an L&D problem, doesn’t mean they do. It’s our job to help them unpack their problem and diagnose what they need. A hybrid approach of coaching and consulting will allow all parties to get to the root cause of the problem.

(As a bonus, here’s a methodology called the 5 whys which you can use as a simple discovery tool)

I hope and believe more workplaces will evolve their people development teams into workplace performance consultants. The problem solvers who help the business unlock what they need from their people and identify the right solutions to enable workforce capability.

Building one connected people team and employee experience

The perfect employee experience is the nirvana for many workplaces and their HR teams. No one has cracked the code on doing it well end to end yet, not even Google.

The aspirational target of building a world class employee experience is always high on every HR strategy in existence these days. But for many it remains just that same aspiration year on year. It’s almost laughable in most cases as it becomes a part of a HR buzzword bingo.

However, that could all finally change now as the workforce becomes far more dispersed across our planet. The employee experience will become more important than ever and it will be intensely scrutinised by your people and prospective future talent. If the events of this pandemic have taught us anything, it’s that people want to feel safe with an employer.

Before we can create this idyllic world-class employee experience, we in the HR world need to create a connected experience within our own teams and one where I feel (quite biasedly of course) that people development functions are at the centre of. Now a few years ago, I wrote an in-depth article about just that. In particular, I unpacked why a PD function is the most valuable component of the wider HR machine as it influences talent attraction, capability and retention.

Don’t just take my word for it though. The far more intelligent folks at McKinsey & Co proposed the exact same idea in their recent top performing workplace learning strategy research. The image below from the article shows just how important they feel the function of PD teams in the HR world are too:

How can learning professionals navigate this evolution and provide value to the new world workplace?

  • Upgrade your skills (this might just help you out)
  • Understand how to help people re-skill for a new world
  • Look to position yourself as a problem solver not an order taker. Adapt your approach, research design thinking and human centred design.
  • Be the solution architect and not just the brick layer.
  • Try some new things and see what happens
  • Break free of the mindset of traditional L&D, classrooms and what you think you know about digital learning.

As always, these are just a few of my thoughts and no doubt they will evolve and more will emerge as we all navigate the rest of 2020. I’m keen to learn from all of you too, so please do share your thoughts in the comments.


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