Any company that wants to survive understands that learning and development (L&D) isn’t an option anymore. Effective L&D is key for empowering (and keeping) employees, future-proofing your company, and boosting business performance, to name just a few reasons. But to do L&D well, it’s critical to choose the specific program, expert, length, and locale that’s right for your people and their needs. With all the new solutions and technologies out there, it’s finally possible to close all of those terrifying skill gaps – but only if you’re on top of the latest L&D concepts.
What Is Learning and Development (L&D) of the new era?
Learning and development is the process by which an organization ensures that employees at all levels have the optimal skills and attitudes required for productivity and profitability. Let’s break that down a bit.
A company might sponsor L&D, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the service is delivered at the workplace. Some L&D programs occur at universities and colleges, at retreats and workshops, and, of course, online during WFH.
“Employees at all levels” means that there is never an employee who has learned too much. New hires require onboarding, while many recently-promoted managers have no management training and must take a crash course. Even seasoned executives might need guidance through an IPO or for soft skills. Employees should never stop learning – that’s why a continuous learning and development strategy can work wonders.
“Optimal skills and attitudes” is all about the concept that succeeding in the workplace demands more than skills. We are all, in a way, people managers. Cooperation and communication is often a matter of a positive attitude.
“Productivity and profitability” signifies that corporate learning and development need to use a sane approach. The cost-effectiveness of any program should be considered when evaluating your next L&D initiative.
Look at employee learning and development this way – if you don’t do it properly, then your organization is running some serious risks. A lack of learning and development programs is basically the number one reason for people to quit a job, often so that they can work for a company that actually does provide development opportunities.
On the other hand, if you take a proactive approach, then learning and development skills enhancement really pays dividends, such as:
All of us HR folks know the high cost of replacing employees, which ballparks to around 1.5 times the yearly salary of the person being replaced. And that’s just the direct expense. It’s also revealing to think about the disruption that sudden turnover causes, such as overtime payments for those who fill in. Plus, there’s the stress on the whole team resulting from employees needing to scramble to cover for lost productivity.
The close relative of an employee who stays at their job due to L&D is the one who becomes more engaged as their skill level goes up. Engagement has never been a hotter topic as the stories of quiet quitting make their rounds. If you want to avoid the drain on resources, morale, and productivity caused by disengaged employees, L&D is probably your ticket.
If you’ve just completed a skills gap analysis, you could be shocked by estimates of skill shelf life. It means that, to keep up with competitors, you might need continuous development efforts. But don’t forget the increasing relevance of soft skills. In a labor marketplace that demands great interpersonal communications and self-management, training for soft skills is (at least) right up there with the latest technology management.
The advantages of a learning and development plan are not theoretical. Take, for example, the case of Fyber, which creates monetization technologies. Already considered an amazing place to work, Fyber still wanted to promote internal talent mobility. By initiating a personalized learning and development career path, the company ramped up internal recruitment to 30% of all employees.
As companies realize the huge importance of recently-skilled workers, learning and development trends have taken off in many directions.
- What’s Being Taught – Skills are changing fast. But how are they changing? It’s truly a dynamic situation and requires HR to stay on top of what their specific workforce needs, and be aware of movements in their industry. For example, here are some of the top soft skills as determined at the end of 2021 – but we’ll need to wait for another survey to check what happened in 2022.
- How it’s Being Taught – Covid-19 increased the number of ways that people learn, and improved the methods behind them. This translates to new preferences on the settings that employees want for L&D programs. For example, multi-experience talent development actually relies on an L&D platform to determine the best ways for employees to approach their next upskilling initiative.
- Who’s Teaching It – Some L&D programs have totally gone online and mobile, as trends like gamification and microlessons appeal to the growing numbers of younger generations in the workforce. However, “traditional” learning and development specialists are still the main source for instructional expertise.
L&D Professionals and Mentors
Each type of expert in the value chain of learning programs comes with advantages and disadvantages, while being the best choice for only certain types of instruction.
Different L&D Roles
There are lots of people out there, teaching lots of things, from diversity consultants to the employee sitting next to you who is amazing at Excel. For the sake of simplicity, L&D experts can be divided into three categories:
Trainers are both external contractors and internal specialists who teach a specific subject for a course of limited duration. An example of a trainer would be an instructor for a programming language. Trainers are great when it comes to a precise area of knowledge, but don’t go far beyond that–a fact that makes them less suitable for complex subjects like soft skills.
Mentors have expertise in a certain field of business and they impart lessons from their experience onto employees who are now “in their shoes.” There are two types of mentors:
- Internal mentors work with the employee in the same company, so they are not professional instructors. They have the advantage of exact knowledge of the organization, and can be involved with the employee for a long time.
- External mentors are hired as part of an engagement. They might not know an employee’s company thoroughly, but have been in very similar situations, and probably have a much stronger teaching background.
Coaches are all professionals who guide an employee in pursuit of better performance. Coaches are not meant to tell their clients what to do. Instead, they use a neutral mindset to look at the employee’s situation and then rely on a question-answer format to lead the employee towards their own conclusions. When it comes to personalized employee development, there is probably no better option than a coach, who tends to specialize in areas like communication and negotiation. However, in order to approach an engagement without a bias towards how the employee should behave, coaches usually have no work experience in their client’s industry.
Required Skills and Certifications
Another thing to know about coaches and mentors is that they do not require any learning and development certification. Still, many companies start their search for coaches through the International Coaching Federation. This group requires all of their members to have taken at least a few central coaching courses, so the ICF promises basic certification. Other coaching certification groups of note include the Center for Coaching Certification, the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, and the Co-Active Training Institute. Keep in mind that certification doesn’t equal quality, so finding the best match for a coaching relationship (which tends to be close and a bit personal), demands effective research.
HR’s Role in L&D
Cooperation between the human resources department and the people at L&D is vital for making the most out of your efforts. There’s a lot riding on the importance of skills related to many HR initiatives, including onboarding, succession planning, and change management. The learning and development manager is the address for making sure that these activities are linked to a training component, which is prepared on time while also being convenient and effective.
But HR can also go a long way towards promoting and leveraging L&D programs. Because they are in constant contact with employees and managers who need skills, HR staffers are the link, in a way, between suppliers and buyers. For example, HR coordinates between employees and L&D for:
- Career development
- Listing skills required for open positions
- Getting management on board for upskilling programs and internal recruiting
- Ensuring that employees are aware of talent development opportunities
In the case of organizations that can’t justify an independent L&D department, this support is even more essential. Particularly in a smaller company, where people often “wear many hats,” up-to-date skills are a necessity. In this situation, HR learning and development programs must pay even more attention to effective L&D concepts.
L&D Strategies and Best Practices
When you think about how many skills are involved in each role, and for each employee in an organization, the task of L&D can be a bit daunting. However, by getting organized and using the right tools, HR/L&D professionals can easily get a handle on the situation.
Types of L&D Programs
L&D programs can be described in a few ways:
- By skill – take a look at any L&D glossary to get a sense of how many skills are out there. The easiest way to classify them is according to two major types – hard skills and soft skills. Typically, it takes longer to learn a soft skill than it does to acquire a hard skill.
- By expert – as described above, trainers, mentors, and coaches are all part of delivering L&D. As a general rule, trainers cover hard skills while mentors and coaches are more suitable for soft skills.
- By setting – over the Internet, through one on one coaching, classrooms, and even mobile phones; these are just some of the options for the setting of L&D programs.
Employee Development vs. Leadership Development
Employee development is a general field that is dedicated to improving the skills of all workers. Within this activity is leadership development, which seeks to build the skills, knowledge, and talents required to lead people. In short, leadership development is a part of employee development.
L&D Programs vs. Training & Development Programs
Similarly, training and development is a subset of learning and development. Trainers are those who teach specific skills, often during short courses. But the skills they teach are still part of overall L&D programming, which also includes long-term learning objectives.
DEI and DEIB in L&D Programs
One special area of L&D is programs that educate employees about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). To solve issues such as institutional racism and unconscious bias, all employees should undergo this type of training. It is important as younger generations see DEI as an essential aspect of a workplace, while such initiatives also provide business benefits.
How Long Does an L&D Program Last?
Just as there are many types of L&D programs, there is also a wide variance in course length. It all depends on the type of program and on how long it takes the employee to reach their goals. For example, workshops or group sessions can last a few hours; other programs, such as GrowthSpace sprints, can take anywhere from 4 to 10 weeks and last for about an hour per session. Finally, there are long-term L&D programs that are ongoing.
L&D in Large Companies vs. SMBs
Small and medium businesses sometimes have fewer resources than large companies, but, in a way, they have an easier job when it comes to L&D. Determining what skills your workers need, and then organizing the right course for them, is relatively simple when only a few people are involved. In comparison, larger companies require more skills for more people – but they also have more resources and even L&D experts on staff. Plus, there are many tools to help HR/L&D teams to create and implement all sorts of programs.
L&D Programs and Tools
There are a whole range of frameworks, models, and software that make L&D programs easier to design. As an example, for the crucial task of identifying what skills your people need, there is a skills matrix. In addition, L&D requirement analysis often occurs alongside other projects. It might just be the case that you have already looked at employee capabilities during other HR initiatives such as an end-of-year review. You’ll also find that learning and development metrics are an essential aspect of every L&D program, and for that, you’ll need to set goals using a model like GROW or OSKAR. Finally, in order to manage the entire effort, there are software solutions like a multi-experience talent development platform.
The Steps for Creating an Effective L&D Program
Speaking of goal-setting, this is one of the basic steps taken for creating an employee development plan:
- Analyze skills. To figure out what kind of skills are present at your company, and to determine what’s missing, map out the capabilities of your employees and then decide what you’ll need in the future by examining strategy and industry trends.
- Set goals. Use a goal-setting framework like SMART and a template based on schedule, skill gaps, performance, etc., to arrange your objectives visually.
- Find experts. Make sure to source those who specialize in the skills that your workers need; don’t forget to check that they have a great reputation and will fit on a personal level with employees.
- Evaluate. Assess the program and the expert at least twice – halfway through the process and after it ends. There are numerous measurement tools that you can use, such as Anderson’s, CIRO, and ROI.
What Makes an L&D Program Successful?
When trying to find the best way to choose your L&D program, looking at the wide variety of L&D programs and practitioners out there, one theme stands out. That factor is personalization, or the lack of it. For example, there is a movement nowadays towards what is called a “7 star experience”. For L&D programs, this means finding the best fit for an employee’s needs through a customized, convenient program that uses an ideally-qualified expert. In addition, clear proof of value must be demonstrated through an objective method.
It all boils down to assessment. Both employees and managers need to buy in to a course and subsequently decide if it was worthwhile or not. This can be accomplished by evaluating the program according to ROI or other data-driven techniques.
How GrowthSpace Ties Everything Together
By now you’ve seen, the subject of L&D covers a lot of ground. It goes to show how rapidly the field is maturing due to the demands of companies to deliver effective skill-building programs.
Perhaps the most important news in the industry is the creation of learning and development software that automates and greatly improves the entire L&D experience. Through proprietary technology, GrowthSpace engages employees on a personal level by matching precise skill needs with top experts in those areas. The world is discovering how GrowthSpace truly delivers on the promise of personalized talent development.