Seeing the wood from the trees – how learning & development teams can engage an overwhelmed workforce

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With the sheer amount of content available online today the battle for attention is fierce, especially within the corporate environment. How can Learning & Development teams effectively engage with learners and help them to see the wood from the trees?

Measured in clicks, views and shares, the world is awash with news, information, video, sound, pictures, e-mail and messaging, all designed to momentarily grasp attention and register, before being scrolled away.

Despite this, few are likely to argue against the value that instant access to information and communication brings to daily life. Checking transport times, finding recipes, ordering rare gifts for friends, online banking, scheduling meetups and instant dating are now so commonplace that when there is no Wi-Fi or cellular reception, life seems to come to an abrupt standstill.

Whilst this utopian blend of lifestyle and learning is commonplace outside the workplace, the truth is that inside the workplace, systems and processes are not keeping pace. Old technology and the outdated, rigid work styles of generations past are blocking companies from getting the most out of their workforce.

Barriers to engagement

A Changing Workforce

The workforce is under a constant state of change, as it is becoming both younger and older, with millennials expected to make up half of the global workforce by 2020. Having grown up with the expectation of rapidly evolving technology, these digital natives are used to having to regularly adapt to new tech and trends. Meanwhile, the current workforce is having to work longer, some into their seventies. This means there exists an ecosystem of two or three generations of workers, coexisting, but with different expectations and experiences.

Unchanging Processes

Learning & Development, like many functions of HR, has been slow to move away from paper-based manual processes. Even those that have been converted online to web forms are not truly digital, in that they are still fragmented processes that need to be micromanaged. L&D teams need to move from process-based learning design to human-centered, experience-driven learning provision.

Digital Technology

Digital technology is increasingly vying for our attention, both in the workplace and at home. The average smartphone user checks it 150 times during a day and at work, they get interrupted as frequently as every five minutes, often by work systems and collaboration tools. It is estimated that in one day, more than 100 billion emails are exchanged, yet only one in seven is critically important, and the average employee now spends over one-quarter of the workday reading and answering emails.

The modern learner in the workplace can find themselves with as little as half an hour a week to focus on training development, and given that a majority of employees say they don’t have enough time for their work, the time for quality, learning & development gets squeezed more and more.

Seeing the wood for the trees – 3 routes to increased engagement

Be human – Personalise the workplace learning experience

It may sound ironic that as a company increases the volume and sophistication of its tech, it should focus on producing more human processes – but it is exactly what is needed in order to address the challenge of a rapidly changing workforce and an outdated ‘process design’ of training.

The way people work together is changing. Short-term-teams are becoming commonplace, with people coming together for just weeks or a few months to tackle projects, then disbanding and moving on to new assignments once the project is complete.

L&D teams can discover what employees do by frequently visiting their workplaces and observing behaviour. What perspectives do these individuals hold? Are they used to longer form learning made up of face-to-face classes and courses, or are they used to short, bite-sized micro-learning such as instructional video or quick snippets of text? Which of these styles do they prefer? And more importantly, which of these is most effective?

By adapting the process to a more human-centered design, you can use your insights to create a programme of learning, digital and face-to-face, that works with and not against your workforce, improving productivity, engagement and increasing employee satisfaction.

Bring together and simplify – Shift from disconnected business processes to crafting the employee experience

Creating one portal where users can access their learning content, be that bite-size video, tests or longer courses, makes it easier to facilitate ‘employee’ and ‘learner engagement’ through simplifying access.

Learners can engage with content at their own pace and in the order they choose. They can spend more time on the most important things that will help them develop and improve.

More broadly, L&D teams can be the catalyst for the entire company to declutter, advising the business on how to save time and reduce the number of emails and meetings. L&D’s role should not simply be to deliver training, but to make people become more productive and enhance their level of engagement with the company. Time to start culture hacking your workplace?

Bring design into learning – focus on building mastery rather than delivering knowledge

There is an increasing acceptance that effective digital learning is critical to digital transformation and future success. Companies continue to increase their spend on digital content, platforms, internal skills and external services as they strive towards enhanced competency, confidence, proficiency and performance in their employees.

A design focus for learning looks beyond the specific need and considers alternatives that are beyond off-the-shelf read-and-click e-learning. Commissioning bespoke digital learning allows L&D teams to carefully craft an experience closely matched to learner needs.

With a wider look at training across the business focussed on delivering mastery, L&D teams can shift away from courses to resources, from events to continuous learning, from sulky attendance to proud competence.