As business leaders and individuals grapple with the staggering impact of Covid-19, one thing has become undoubtedly clear. In order for leaders to foster organizational resilience and weather the post-pandemic storm, they must prioritize the learning and development of their workforce.
I don't mean mandated Zoom presentations in which employees multitask on the side. What I mean is flexible, passion-driven learning where employees learn what they want, when they want, and on their own terms.
Shelley Osborne, VP of learning at Udemy, offers a much-needed revision to corporate training in her new book, The Upskilling Imperative: 5 Ways to Make Learning Core to the Way We Work. In it, Osborne challenges traditional, one-size-fits-all approaches to training that are no longer relevant to modern workers--let alone those working remotely.
Shelley recommends the following to help leaders develop an effective and sustainable learning culture--with an eye toward continuous employee growth and long-term business success during (and beyond) Covid-19.
1. Demonstrate how learning drives business success
"When beginning to build their learning culture, leaders must consider that employees need to understand how their learning impacts business outcomes," says Osborne.
As businesses continue to operate with limited staff or reduced capacity, it's critical for employees to stretch their skill sets further and fill tasks and roles they wouldn't normally. Individuals are more likely to learn and seek out learning when they understand the role it plays in overall business success.
"Leaders can signal the value of learning throughout the organization by setting aside their own time for it and sharing with their teams and the broader organization what they're learning," she says. "This makes it clear to employees that learning at work is not only accepted, it's encouraged."
2. Let your employees define flexibility for continuous improvement
Harnessing the power of learning isn't as simple as rolling out more training modules or sending people to a slew of workshops.
Employees require more flexibility today than ever before, and that is especially true when it comes to learning. Because of Covid-19, parents are working double duty as busy professionals and homeschool teachers, while other employees navigate the nuances of working remotely with roommates. Bottom line: Mandating a three-hour webinar training is no longer going to cut it.
Building a sustainable learning culture means giving employees time and space to learn where and when they want. Doing so will encourage them to seek out new learning opportunities independently and allow for psychological safety and the ability to learn.
"One of the greatest leadership lessons I've learned is that we must recognize we aren't perfect and there is always room to learn and grow," says Osborne. "When you have teams and businesses that provide flexibility for growth and development, we can all continuously improve."
3. Focus on change agility
We need to do more to lay the groundwork for unexpected change. However, this preparedness can't be exclusive to pandemics and recessions. We must understand and accept that change is constant, necessary, and beneficial for surviving and thriving in today's workplace.
Osborne refers to this type of adaptability as "change agility"--seeing change as an ongoing opportunity, not as a threat or liability. And at the center of change agility is continuous learning.
"Grounding a company's culture in learning is the surest way to navigate through change," says Osborne. "A strong learning culture empowers employees to upskill themselves in the face of change, continually grow, and adapt to new challenges."
4. Continuous learning and Covid-19
If there is one message Osborne would like readers to take away from her book, it's that learning programs must evolve with the times. Traditional approaches to training (à la overhead projector and chalkboards) were built for a world we don't live in anymore. What's more, they aren't engaging for today's workers, who are accustomed to consuming digital content on their own terms. This was true before the pandemic and it's undeniable now.
Beyond modernizing the learning experience at work, companies need to transform at every level into learning-driven organizations, where working and learning are inextricably linked.
As companies continue to navigate this new environment, Osborne is optimistic that the fundamental shift toward flexible, accessible online learning is here to stay.