According to respondents from KPMG’s U.S. CEO Outlook 2016 survey of 400 CEOs, we are entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and it’s upending business models and demanding an entirely new way of thinking about business. No matter what term we use to describe the shift in business we’re facing today — change, transformation or disruption — skilled and engaged employees will be key to overcome obstacles, strengthen brands and, in the end, ensure business success.
But what happens when this change creates short- or long-term uncertainty? Will employees stick around? Will they want to be a part of the transformation? Strategic learning initiatives focused on employee development and performance throughout the time of change are crucial to employee engagement, retention and the stability of the company. According to a PwC survey, 22 percent of millennials — the largest workforce age group — identified learning and development programs as a top employer benefit.
First, identify key players. When an organization is anticipating major change, the executive team must identify the people essential to usher in business change, and who is capable of ensuring success while crossing the finish line. For example, if an organization is going through an acquisition, who would ensure a smooth transition? What qualities do these people have? If new technology innovation is critical to outpace the competition, who will lead product development, rollout and ongoing communications? Or, if an organization wants to reinvent its brand identity, who is critical to drive the evolution? Who are the ambassadors at each level of the business?
These are the employees who must be engaged in the learning and development process from beginning to end. And, change often means budget constraints. So, investing in a core group of people who can create a ripple effect and help drive change throughout the organization will be a determining factor for strong business success.
Next, create a framework. Once the key players are identified, outline a learning program that maintains engagement and hones the skills needed to drive the company through change. When outlining what the learning program needs, there are three drivers:
- Needs: What does the company need from employees to overcome, drive through or accomplish the change ahead? This can range from leveraging microlearning to fast-track knowledge around new messaging for sales to deploying simulation-based technical training to ramp employees up on new technology.
- Desires: What are the employee’s desires? What an employee wants, or expects, can often be overlooked by leadership. The desire for recognition, advancement and the degree to which what the employee wants aligns with what the company wants can dramatically increase employees’ chances for ultimate success. One must balance business needs with employee desires to engage and retain involvement.Capabilities: Do the employees have the capability to achieve the need? In a global economy it takes three to five years to make a seasoned professional fully productive. Companies that use their learning and development organizations to drive change can accelerate skills development, and dramatically improve employee engagement and retention.
By identifying the company need, employee desire and the capability required, the executive team, along with the CLO, can successfully build a framework for what the learning program must incorporate and accomplish. Another critical component to the framework is the length of the learning program. The initiative must keep employees actively involved, drive interest, and answer the employees’ desires throughout.
Last, stay involved and communicate. Even with the perfect learning plan in place that addresses the need, desire and capability to drive change, employees won’t buy in to it or stick around for the transformation without hands-on executive involvement. When the leadership team leads a learning initiative, those involved will feel special, appreciated and part of an integral group in the organization.
How should leadership get involved? Imagine a large, global media company is undergoing major brand and messaging changes. Since this transformation is important to every member of the company, each employee is a part of the learning initiative. To maintain leadership involvement, the company decides on a high-touch, top-down rollout for the learning initiative. First the C-suite is taught the new messaging and brand. Then they teach their direct reports face-to-face, and they teach their direct reports, and so on. This high-touch, top-down style of education ensures each team is personally instructed by a leader and keeps every employee involved and engaged.
No matter what change, transformation or disruption a company faces, employee engagement and retention throughout the process is crucial. Employees will determine success. Well-thought out, planned and executed learning initiatives are integral pieces of a strategy to make sure each employee feels like an essential part of what will drive business success.
Doug Stephen is senior vice president for the learning division at CGS. To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com.