Learning and development or L&D is increasingly becoming a buzzword for most organizations as they seek to augment their employee development efforts. While learning and development is an integral part of human growth, its focus for the workplace has been a result of the market dynamics and uncertainties in the past few years. Employee training and development is not a new concept as everyday is a new learning experience for all employees who pick up several skills and competencies on the job, without even realizing it. However, in recent years, organizations are formalizing the process with a proper structure and approach to make learning and development more overt, conscious and impact driven.
Table of contents
- Importance of L&D for employee development
- Creating a learning and development strategy
- Learning and development process
- Tools for employee training and development
- Examples of learning and development programs for employees
Importance of L&D for employee development
As a first step, let’s understand the importance of L&D for employee development and why it makes sense for organizations to make concrete investments in facilitating the same:
Employee engagement and retention
We have time and again come across studies indicating the high costs of employee turnover. A major reason for employees to look out for new opportunities is the lack of engagement and growth potential in their existing roles. Continuous learning and development initiatives can help reverse the trend by enabling employees to upskill themselves and stay relevant in their respective fields and beyond. 70% of employees would be somewhat likely to leave their current job to work for an organization known for investing in employee development and learning. Thus, L&D will not only augment the engagement levels, but will also enable organizations to retain the top talent and facilitate growth.
Impact on the bottom line
An organization’s bottom line majorly depends on its ability to constantly innovate and gain a competitive edge. The onus for innovation majorly comes from fresh perspectives and skills that employees are exposed to. According to Huffington Post, 24% higher profit margins can be the result of companies who invest in training. With the latest skills as well as knowledge to leverage the best tools, employee productivity will increase, impacting the bottom line in a positive manner. At the same time, with the right skills, employees are also able to understand and serve changing customer needs better.
Studies show that 59% of millennials claim development opportunities are extremely important when deciding whether to apply for a position. This clearly illustrates that an organization’s commitment to employee development has a direct impact on how it is perceived by prospective candidates and other stakeholders in the market. The more an organization invests in the development of its employees, the more likely it is to become a preferred employer and brand in the market.
Resilience and adaptability
Finally, living in a VUCA world, it is clear that organizations and professionals need to keep up with the ongoing trend to stay relevant and not lose out. Organizations and employees fixated on traditional methods and knowledge are likely to fall back with competitive disadvantage. Therefore, constant learning and development is a tool with which organizations can empower their workforce to quickly adapt to the changing circumstances and display resilience. According to LinkedIN, 99% of L&D professionals feel that if critical skills gaps aren’t closed in the coming years, then their organizations would be negatively impacted in a variety of ways.
Creating a learning and development strategy
Organizations seeking to reap maximum benefits from their learning and development interventions must create a robust learning and development strategy. Such a strategy will help provide a structure to the entire process, making it efficient and effective. Here are the four considerations that can help organizations create a comprehensive learning and development strategy:
Create a formal strategy
Firstly, to be effective, the learning and development strategy must be formal. This suggests that having a written strategy which has been collaboratively created with inputs from all stakeholders is important. Simply having an understanding in conversation will not be enough. Since the strategy will stay with the organizations for many years to come, having something formal is important.
Identify objectives aligned with business goals
Next, the strategy must illustrate the objectives that the various learning and development initiatives to be carried out, will adhere to. These objectives should create a case of what the L&D initiatives will seek to achieve. It is important for organizations to align these objectives with the larger business goals to ensure that any investments in employee development achieve the dual purpose of business goals and greater engagement.
Identify KPIs or metrics
Once the objectives are set, it is important to identify the right KPIs or metrics to measure the success. While the metrics will be unique to each initiative that is undertaken, it is important to have a cluster of generic indicators to help compare the impact of one initiative against the other. Invariably, these metrics need to be both quantitative and qualitative in nature and should try to put all initiatives at the same level in an unbiased manner.
Keep it flexible and dynamic
Finally, a focus should be on keeping the strategy flexible and dynamic. With the extent of uncertainty and ambiguity, anything cast in stone is likely to be self defeating. Therefore, while the policy must be formal, there should be enough room to innovate the same and adapt it to the changing needs and circumstances of employee development.
Learning and development process: Steps to promote employee training and development
A learning and development strategy will act as an outline to guide the learning and development process. To ensure that all initiatives create a long-reaching impact, organizations can follow the below process with 5 primary steps to promote employee training and development.
Gauge gaps and employee expectations
While the first step is to create a strategy, the next one is to gauge and understand what the employees feel. Since one of the purposes of learning and development programs is to create a positive employee experience, it is important to involve them in L&D. On the one hand, the management must do a 360* analysis to understand the gaps that may be retarding the growth and progress. On the other hand, employee opinion on what aspects of learning should the programs focus on must be gauged.
Identify programs and initiatives
Based on the gaps and employee expectations, a list of programs and initiatives should be created. In case a gap exists in soft skills, workshops or sessions on the same can be conducted. Similarly, if there exist some evident biases, an unconscious bias training can be organized. The identified programs and initiatives must also align with the objectives of the L&D strategy and business goals, to ensure impact.
Decide mode of implementation and partners
Once the areas for L&D programs have been identified, it is important to decide how the implementation will take place. Firstly, the mode or the format needs to be decided. Any L&D program can be through workshops, talks, classroom sessions, etc. The idea is to identify which format compliments the identified objective to make learning most effective. Secondly, the partners to implement the program must be identified. While some initiatives can be handled in house, others require external experts. Sometimes, the experts can suggest the most effective formats as well.
Naturally, the next step of the learning and development process is to implement the initiatives. This requires a communication of the idea across all employees and stakeholders creating a case for attending the same. While some sessions can be compulsory, others can offer special incentives for participation. It is important to ensure that employees are aware about the programs well in advance to help them manage their schedules appropriately.
Take feedback and measure impact
Finally, the last step of the process is to gauge the effectiveness of the program. On the one hand, measuring quantitative metrics aligned with the program must be studied. On the other hand, feedback from employees on the quality and efficacy of the program must be gauged. Taken together, these can help organizations understand whether or not the program has been able to achieve the objectives it set out to achieve and, thereby, understand the impact. Based on the impact, organizations can iterate the process as and when the next initiative is on the cards.
Tools for employee training and development
Based on the employee development needs, organizations can identify and leverage different tools to create maximum impact. For a long time, in-person training sessions have been the norm. However, with the transition to a virtual world, various combinations of hybrid learning experiences are being established to facilitate better. Here is a list of a few tools that organizations can explore to facilitate effective employee training and development.
The most commonly used format or tool for employee training and development has been classroom sessions. These involve a one shot training module where participants are introduced to the identified L&D area over a course of a couple of days, consecutively. All the learning is captured in those few days. These sessions generally touch upon different aspects of the identified area one after the other, to give a classroom like experience with an expert facilitator and a combination of activities to make the session interactive.
The switch to remote work has seen an exponential surge in the adoption of webinars as a mode of training and development. As opposed to a classroom setup, webinars are bite sized learning modules and their dissemination may occur over a longer period than just a couple of days. While most webinars are conducted live to promote engagement, they are also available on demand to facilitate asynchronous learning. Since the attention span greatly reduces in a virtual setting, webinars are an effective way to promote learning, without overwhelming the learner with too much to absorb.
Networking and meetups
The two tools mentioned above are most ideal for employee development centred around upskilling or formal learning. However, learning and development at the workplace also happens through knowledge sharing and the entire ecosystem. Here, networking with experts, peers and meetups are extremely effective. While they may not directly add to one’s hard skills, they have a great scope to promote holistic development for professionals and accelerate their growth trajectory.
Finally, organizations are also increasingly focusing on personalized learning for employees to address their individual needs and expectations. Here investing in courses, both online and offline, can be beneficial. This is especially true for employees that are demanding learning and development support in their hard skills. For instance, one might need support in one technology stack, the other might need it for something different. Here, empowering them with different courses available in the market is a wise move to ensure the best skill sets come to the team, while also creating a positive experience for all.
Examples of learning and development programs for employees
Different organizations are at different levels of the learning and development journey. Here are examples of learning and development programs for employees that some of the most forward looking organizations are conducting and creating new opportunities for growth for their workforce.
An e-commerce platform focussed on handmade and vintage offerings, Etsy deserves credit for its continuous learning and development approach for its workforce with Etsy School. It allows Etsy Teams to conduct a series of workshops and projects to help strengthen a Team through improving member shops together and making friends. Run across different themes, these workshops facilitate upskilling, engagement and team bonding.
The tech giant, Amazon, has been true to its commitment to learning and development of its workforce by investing $700 million to provide free skills training to employees. It aims to help them further their careers in high-paying, in-demand roles, such as cloud computing. Additionally, initiatives like Career Choice, Amazon Technical Academy, Machine Learning University, Amazon Technical Apprenticeship Program illustrate their focus on employee development.
Growing from a telephone to a telecommunications company, AT&T’s focus on learning and development is exemplary. The organization invested about $166 million in direct employee training and professional development programs and delivered 16 million hours of training in 2020. Some of its top initiatives include: AT&T University, with 900 leadership and career courses, leveraging partnerships with learning institutions such as Harvard Business and LinkedIn Learning; Virtual Studios Leader-Led Training, that broadcasts live, leader-led training to employees across the globe, among others.
It all starts with the employees
Any learning and development program that seeks to create impact must keep the employee at the center. Therefore, gauging employee pulse and feedback is extremely important. Here, organizations can partner with platforms like SuperBeings to conduct pulse surveys and get insights on what their employees feel. At the same time, they can benefit from data-backed action plans to facilitate programs that address these needs.