2010 left a distinct footprint thanks to budget cuts. As executives grapple with last year’s effects, they must prepare for the trends, challenges and opportunities this year will bring, and learning and development teams must provide the programs and resources to help companies thrive and remain competitive in years to come. Chief Learning Officer magazine spoke with three learning and development professionals who shared their opinions on how to make the most of current resources, meet industry benchmarks and create platforms for future success this year.
Vice President, Human Resource Development, Liberty Mutual Group
2011 is shaping up to be a pretty challenging year. The economy is going to miraculously rebound — overnight, apparently — and all of those boomers, with their 401(k) accounts fully restored, are going to retire, immediately and without warning. The demand for managers and skilled workers will far outstrip the supply, and our best employees are going to be swooped up by aggressive competitors, leaving job positions with no one available to fill them because unemployment is going to drop instantaneously. Learning and talent professionals must act immediately to minimize the impact of these changes.
I’m kidding. That’s not it. The real problem is our leaders. They don’t really know what they’re doing because we have undergone such a radical transformation over the past few years. Current management and leadership techniques are simply no longer relevant. In fact, if we don’t do something immediately, a revolution will occur, anarchy will prevail, and learning and talent professionals will be solely accountable for the downfall of business as we know it.
To say that 2011 will be a challenging year doesn’t even begin to tell the story if we believe only a fraction of what we read and hear. Is the hype any worse this year than in years past? A little, maybe. But what is worse — much worse — is the current business environment and, more importantly, the mood of the people with whom we work. Everyone is afraid of what the coming year will bring. And fear can cause us to do things we ought not do.
As a result, the biggest challenge learning professionals will face in 2011 is staying focused. Specifically, we need to find a way to avoid worrying about the things we can’t control and spend more time working on the challenges we can influence.
The best ways to survive, and even thrive, in 2011 are to:
1. Remain internally focused. Be aware of what is happening in the general business and political environment, but make sure to deliver the solutions internal customers really need, as opposed to what vendors, pundits and others say they should need.
2. Develop staff expertise. Learning professionals know how to do some things that others don’t, and this expertise can provide real value when applied to business challenges. This is the year to prove that point through unquestioned expertise.
3. Be realistic. 2011 will be challenging. And while challenge can lead to opportunity, it also can lead to unrealistic expectations about what is possible. Figure out what can really be done and then do it incredibly well. Failure to deliver will not be tolerated in this business environment.
Really, 2011 is just another year with another set of challenges. If we stay focused and do our jobs well, we will be just fine. If we panic, we will deserve what we get.
Executive Vice President, LRN
Our leadership development programs are out of sync. We have been developing leaders for a bygone era of stability, orderliness and command-and-control hierarchies. We have thought that soft capabilities like inspiration and creativity are too fuzzy to matter. As CLOs, we have been spending money, likely more than on any line item in our budgets, trying to imitate the past rather than help invent the future. Even our words are wrong; the term “talent management,” for example, implies tight compliance and monitoring that actually impedes rather than encourages creativity. It should be about inspiring and unleashing talent, not restricting it.
Inspirational leaders can change cultures and influence people in deeper and more meaningful ways. Their leadership includes the greater pursuit of meaning in work, new levels of trust and transparency, the forging of sustainable — not situational — values rooted in human, social and environmental purposes, and the understanding that how we do something today is far more important than what we do. Inspirational leaders not only understand these realities, but also inspire principled performance from others and lead organizations to new levels of success and responsibility.
We need leaders who look beyond the old ways of demonstrating power over people through coercion and motivational rewards. Instead, a new standard of leadership is being demanded that inspires people to unleash their passion, potential and ability to connect and collaborate. Researchers and other thought leaders have echoed these themes repeatedly in the past several years. A 2010 IBM study actively called for cultivating creative leaders. Thought leaders such as Dave Ulrich and Daniel Pink have described the tremendous importance of a values-driven culture, pursuing significance and the role of inspirational leaders. Many organizations are realizing that before they can become great companies, they must first be good ones.
It is also becoming clear that organizations with inspirational leaders and a values-driven culture provide many tangible benefits, including greater financial returns, higher engagement and better responses in times of crisis. But the greatest return in this creative economy is the nurturing and development of innovation. When employees are invested, they commit their intellectual capital in new and creative ways. For example, more than 70 new products, many of them quite substantial, have emerged from Google’s culture of innovation from the ground up.
As CLOs, it is time that we recast leadership development and break away from the past. It is time to be on the frontier, not in the backwater. It is time to welcome the word “inspire” into our leadership vocabularies and models. And while we are at it, let’s rethink the traditional “20 people in a class every quarter” approach to leadership training and move to a solution that is scalable, blended and available to leaders at all levels, not just a select few.
Director, Global Learning, Kelly Services Inc.
As the talent pool continues to evolve with the economic recovery, engaging employees and providing them with opportunities to learn and grow is more important than ever. This applies not only to full-time employees, but also to contingent employees and customers alike. Learning organizations will have the opportunity to increase the value of services they provide by partnering with internal HR, product and sales organizations to use learning as an engagement tool for internal employees and extend solutions to these external stakeholders.
The most valuable asset for any organization is the workforce, the people who interface with customers every day and drive the business. As the job market starts to improve and new opportunities become available, employees need to see that their companies are willing to make an investment in them. Sales and product organizations must have awareness of the talent pains running rampant through all industries. At the same time, permanent employees may be looking to leave their current employers, and the demand for contingent workers is increasing. Companies are carefully evaluating the need to hire permanent employees in the current unsettled economy. Contingent workers may eventually become permanent and need incentives to stay. Customers without large training budgets or internal training organizations will appreciate the opportunity to leverage vendor relationships for technology solutions and content that provides development opportunities to their employees, keeps them engaged, encourages employer loyalty and creates or maintains the employer brand. An agile learning organization that can provide solutions to help alleviate these pains will increase engagement in permanent employees and strengthen customer relationships.
To take advantage of this opportunity, the appropriate infrastructure must be in place that allows an extended enterprise of employees, customers and partners to access learning. The catalog of solutions must be broad and deep enough to satisfy the learning needs and styles of diverse audiences. This includes an array of delivery methods consisting of Web-based courses, e-books and opportunities for learning and collaboration in a social environment, among others. On top of that, content needs to be packaged to provide easy access to relevant topics that aren’t too overwhelming or too sparse. This balance is key, but it is also challenging to achieve satisfaction for so many different audiences with varying levels of interest and expertise. Communicating the value of learning solutions for each audience in a way that is meaningful to that specific group is essential to gain adoption. There is no one-size-fits-all plan.
One of the expected business results is increased net promoter scores from customers and candidates, demonstrating improved satisfaction. Happier, more engaged employees with the opportunity to increase their skills can have a direct impact on revenue and margins. In addition, offering learning solutions to customers as a way to engage their employees can generate top-line revenue for the organization and build customer relationships that lead to greater commitment.
Larry Israelite is vice president of human resource development at Liberty Mutual Group. David Greenberg is executive vice president of LRN. Julie Curtin is director of global learning at Kelly Services Inc. All can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.