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We need Business Leaders who are Champions of Modern Workplace Learning

A study released by HP along with Harvard Business Review announced,” The ability to train, recruit, and retain people with the right skills for the right jobs” over the next 3 years is the most pressing worry keeping executives awake late in the night.

We all know this isn’t a new trend. Learning & Development has emerged as a significant area of concern for HR professionals across the globe in the last 5 years. Notwithstanding the pandemic, business environment is transforming. Technology, global connectivity, a younger and more diverse workforce, shifting consumer attitudes all mean that HR, like the other business divisions, needs to constantly be on their toes to retain and grow the talent they have.

Learning at the workplace has evolved tremendously in the last couple of decades. EPALE lists the 8 steps in the evolution of workplace learning; starting from Group Learning through Storytelling to modern E-Learning, that hit mass inflection with the launch of the HP computers in the 70s. Which brings us to the question, where are we now?

Ushering the age of Learning Experience
We are in the age of Learning Experience, a term introduced by Josh Bersin; A Netflix-style, personalised, on-demand, mobile learning experience that focuses on the needs and style of the learner. It harnesses the power of AI and democratises learning by allowing employees to create and share knowledge. The result is higher engagement and productivity, and an enhanced sense of employee wellbeing.

However, one common thread that connects workplace learning through the ages is the need for Leadership championing. Over the years, L&D professionals have emphasised on the need for executive buy-in in workplace learning. Executives are the public faces of the organisation, both internally and externally. They have the power to shape organisation culture; thus they need to embrace and advocate a learning culture for their employees to follow. After all, leadership is about walking the talk!
Linkedin’s 2020 Workplace Learning report had 83% of L&D professionals saying they have the executive buy-in needed to fund and rollout L&D initiatives at the workplace. What’s lacking is the championing needed to promote and encourage learning at their organisations. It’s near impossible to push a coherent agenda and make a case for any learning exercise without the backing of internal champions who believe in the outcomes of the activity.

What’s needed, now more than ever, are leaders to hold a very different mind-set from their predecessors; one that trusts and enables employees to put forth, rather than commanding it. A great leader is one who acts in service of others, trusts, and empowers employees to do things on their own.

Another value leaders can bring to learning is of foresight. One of the crucial responsibilities of a good leader is to understand the direction of the business, the industry and of jobs within the company, and plan for the future. This includes keeping employees abreast of the changes to come, committing unconditionally to supporting them through it, and offering advice to help employees plan for these changes. So leaders need to provide ongoing momentum for people to use their own initiative and decide for themselves, “What am I going to do next?

How can leaders be champions of learning at their organisations?
Internal champions are invaluable resources for workplace learning endeavors. So what are some ways leaders can evangelise learning through the organisation?

1. Creating and Curating content for Learning
56% of employees from a 2018 Linkedin survey said that they would spend more time learning if their manager directed them to complete a specific course in order to gain or improve their skills. A cool idea is for leaders to showcase their domain expertise and indulge in a peer learning activity that promotes learning. Employees place immense trust on their company leadership to recommend what’s good for them.

2. Offering Access
One innovative idea that seems to be picking ground is offering personal access. Employees oftentimes are unable to get the opportunity to meet and interact with the top leadership to their organisation. Awarding a coffee chat with the CEO, or a chance to spend the day shadowing a VP all day will definitely bring excitement and energy in learning initiatives at the company.
3. Participating in Learning and/or Teaching
When senior leaders share content that they are following, books they are reading or courses they have designed, it’s bound to attract learners to those topics. This is known as Transference. In a workplace study, 75% employees said they would take a manager suggested course.

4. Adding learning metrics to performance evaluation
One of the major learning challenges at the workplace is the lack of time. Almost all L&D studies show, employees are passionate about learning, but just don’t have the time for it. Leaders here need to show empathy but also be strategic in their planning. Learning and growth needs to be an organisational goal, one which gets accounted in for the time employees spend “working”. At Google, employees are famously required to spend 20% of their time, working on other projects that they find interesting. Such strategic and top-level mandates facilitate a learning culture.

5. Recognising learning achievements
Recognition is a useful tool to encourage learning among employees. A pat on the back, appreciation from bosses and peers, a chance to win a small gift; these are just things that make the employee feel valued. Such tactics also work well to encourage other employees.
Leaders need to focus on redesigning organisation’s incentive systems that have traditionally leaned towards rewarding employees for loyalty and also include employees showing initiative, innovation and passion.

In a post Covid19 world, we are looking at a paradigm-shift in workstyles, workplace needs and the learning needs of the modern organisation. The leaders are the public figures of the organization. They have the power to shape culture from the top down and advocate for the importance of continuous learning and growth. Learning solutions like BHyve, that focus on the experience of learning, can be a tremendous help to leaders looking at enhancing the effectiveness and enjoyment of workplace learning. So leaders, it’s time to step away from looking at workplace learning as a checklist and dive into ways it can lead the digital transformation of your organisation!

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About the author, Ross

Behavioural leadership coach committed to bringing more soul into business and reducing a leader's stress in managing their people

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