The Learning Coach: A desire to connect

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Written by Jane Daly on 8 March 2021

The desire to connect is at the heart of human nature, it is also where trust is often broken.

Human connections are defined by the energy exchange between people. When connections are formed, they create emotional bonds and interactions. These bonds often grow from mutual experiences and are strengthened by the sharing of stories and by the storing of memories.

Professionals responsible for corporate learning will no doubt be trying to connect their learning priorities with those of their organisation. These priorities are often overwhelming and, in the rush to get the learning mobilised, we can often forget to embed some of the simple but fundamental things required that connect people and support them to thrive at work.

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” - Brené Brown

In the new normal (digital-first) world of work, most people are reporting a level of disconnect which some describe as feeling lonely in a crowded room or even as feeling virtually alone. Supporting people to learn in this context will be even harder, but this friction gives us a unique opportunity that we can only explore if we stand back and reveal a wider field of view.

The secret is to start with simple things that make a big difference, like making sure everyone knows what learning portfolio is available for them

Even before COVID-19, Gartner reported that only 21% of highly engaged respondents of their modern employee experience survey reported having a ‘high-quality worklife experience’.

The same Gartner study found that trust was at an all-time low, particularly in HR, causing nearly 80% of respondents to hold back on being open because they felt uncomfortable to be honest about their experience at work. It will be no surprise to discover that these already unfavorable statistics look like they will be impacted further in 2020. 

So, what can professionals responsible for corporate learning learn from organisations like Gartner? Well, Gartner recommends exploring non-traditional listening techniques to connect people, because employee surveys can be misleading.

They suggest taking an evidence-informed approach by gathering additional visibility into multiple sources of employee opinions, behaviours and attitudes to create more holistic 'voice of the employee' (VoE) insights.

VoE is not a new concept, but the significant growth of VoE technologies combined with the rapid growth of employee monitoring tools is set to transform the way people connect at work forever. This does not mean change for the better or for worse, but it does mean unprecedented change is already in motion.

The insights generated from VoE initiatives and remote monitoring tools could be incredibly valuable to professionals responsible for corporate learning because they could allow learning to be contextualised, adapted and tailored, something that L&D has struggled to do for many years.


These insights could also allow L&D to view patterns and trends alongside other data & analytics generated to increase our capability to work smarter because we are evidence-informed.

EY are one of the leading lights when it comes to exploring their employee voice. EY have built a belonging barometer because through extensive research, they found that when people feel like they belong, they are more productive, motivated and engaged. These are the same conditions needed for Learning to thrive and have a chance to be applied and sustained.

The belonging barometer research highlights that a sense of connection is one of the key ingredients of more successful, adaptive and balanced organisations. They identified four interesting traits, in particular, that they say all change makers (like us in L&D!) must build into our thinking:

  • Diversity and belonging are workplace expectations.
  • Regular check-ins prevent workers from checking out.
  • Is exclusion a form of bullying? Women seem to think so.
  • The emotional barometer: respondents feel ignored across the board.

Business in the Community (BITC), the oldest and largest business-led membership organisation and dedicated to responsible business, say that one of their top priorities is to inspire, engage and challenge their members to create a skilled, inclusive workforce today and for the future. BITC have published a case study on the belonging barometer which they say is fundamental to achieving sustainable success.

Learning is the lifeblood of great organisations and one of the main pathways to connect people but without people truly feeling a sense of belonging, learning has little hope of surviving.

McKinsey’s valuable guide on Elevating L&D, a must-read for any forward-thinking L&D professional, states that the learning function of an organisation has a strategic role in five areas. One of them is to create a values-based culture.

McKinsey’s research states, ‘As the workforce in many companies becomes increasingly virtual and globally dispersed, L&D can help to build a values-based culture and a sense of community. In particular, millennials are particularly interested in working for values-based, sustainable enterprises that contribute to the welfare of society’

Our desire to connect people must become an intrinsic part of our L&D architecture, strategies and approaches. Only learning functions that can provide proof and evidence of how it builds a sense of belonging will thrive as we move forward, just saying you do this will not be enough anymore.

The secret is to start with simple things that make a big difference, like making sure everyone knows what learning portfolio is available for them, how they access it and how it equips people to be more connected and employable because these are the main reasons people cite for leaving a company.


About the author

Jane Daly is the founder of People Star and People Who Know.


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