What does the future L&D leader look like?

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Written by Amrit Sandhar on 5 October 2021 in Features
Features

Are you looking to be a transformational learning leader? Then don't miss Amrit Sandhar’s comprehensive exploration of the skills you will need

According to The World Economic Forum, the rampant pace of technological improvements will mean more than 1 billion people will need to be reskilled by 2030, and that by 2022, 42% of the essential skills needed to carry out existing roles are expected to change. Closer to home, a recent report by McKinsey, shared how ‘30.5 million UK workers (94% of today’s workforce) lack the full suite of skills they will require in 2030 to perform their jobs well’. The same report shares how reskilling in approximately 75% of the cases is going to result in economic benefits to organisations. Add to this the fact that a recent Microsoft survey shared insights of how ‘41 % of the global workforce is likely to consider leaving their current employer within the next year’ and that in the same McKinsey report, 94% of employees said that they would choose to stay at an organisation longer if they felt there was investment in their career development, and it’s easy to see the clear business case for L&D to address this urgent issue.

L&D has often been accused of being detached from their organisation, launching initiatives which don’t take into account the strategy and flow of work. We often hear of how learning needs to be in the ‘flow of work’, but that implies L&D knows the flow of work across the organisation. For L&D leaders to be credible and connected, they need to have a detailed understanding of the organisation’s strategic objectives, understand the skills and resources that are going to be required to deliver this, have an awareness of the role’s employees carry out across the organisation, and how these are undertaken currently. All too often initiatives are launched that have no bearing on the strategic objectives of the organisation and detached from how people actually work, resulting in little uptake or engagement, and a questioning of the value of L&D.

For L&D leaders to be credible and connected, they need to have a detailed understanding of the organisation’s strategic objectives

 

Critical for current and future L&D leaders will be their ability to be fluent in reading and analysing data. Without metrics, it’s hard to identify challenges, engage leaders, and measure progress. With so many competing and often conflicting agendas across organisations, how do L&D leaders ensure the serious skills shortage and reskilling required to deliver the strategy is addressed? The ability to use data and data visualisation to paint a rich and compelling picture will be a key skill to ensure L&D has the buy-in it needs, as well as the analytical mindset to measure improvements and impact, to support the strategic objectives of the organisation.

Much has been debated about how we learn, from science, pseudo-science, to opinions of authors and practitioners. While we might talk about growth-mindsets, neuroplasticity and the role of emotions in learning for example, L&D leaders need to understand how we learn. Having a greater understanding of learning from research by scientists such as David Eagleman on how the brain works, an appreciation of memory on learning, teaching people how to think rather than focusing on the transfer of knowledge, and taking a more holistic view by appreciating the impact of for example, meditation on creativity, will be important when considering learning formats and methods. Having a greater appreciation of how we learn, will allow future L&D leaders to consider broader learning opportunities available, rather than jumping on the latest tech platform, VR or AI solution. That’s not to say these aren’t effective, but we need to consider how effective they might be in the context of each individual organisation and the diverse employee base within them.

Diversity and inclusion is a strategic objective across many organisations. Much of this has to do with the organisational culture, as it does with driving greater innovation and creativity. Cognitive diversity is only possible if we have a culture that accepts and embraces differences. It’s difficult to see how any organisation could be focused on diversity and inclusion without having an environment of learning as a critical part of their culture. Future L&D leaders will need to take into account their diverse workforces made up of a range of cultures, ages and experiences. How and where each of these employee groups work, learn and develop will differ, as will the learning formats required to engage with them and support their upskilling/ reskilling. There’s still work to be done – according to the CIPD’s Creating Learning Cultures report, while 98% of learning practitioners want to develop a learning culture, only 36% feel that they have developed one.

Future L&D leaders will need to work across teams and departments, to consider the organisation overall – being aware of the experience of employees, taking into account the purpose, mission and values and consider how well these are demonstrated across the organisation. They will need to work closely with their employee engagement colleagues, to understand the experiences of employees and how these can be improved, because if the culture is resulting in talented people leaving, no matter how robust and relevant your L&D strategy might be, it will be of no value. This will also require an understanding of the wellbeing of employees, their experiences of working remotely, their development needs and aspirations.

While there’s no doubt a large part of the focus of all future L&D leaders will need to be on working on an organisational strategy focused on upskilling and reskilling, this will be need to be connected with the flow of work, and involve an understanding of the data points that help a greater appreciation of the current challenges within that culture. A culture that embraces learning, will only be possible if these leaders have a curious mindset, an agile approach to quickly respond to the changing needs of the organisation, and importantly, be aware of the experiences of all employees, no matter where they work.

Amrit Sandhar, founder of The Engagement Coach 

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