The working world moves fast. The half life of a learned skill is five years. The average lifespan of the commercial software used by workers is between six to eight years. Devices start becoming obsolete in three years. Risks, industries, and social pressures are constantly in flux, so it’s not surprising that one of the most valuable skills for organizations is agility.
Last year, the ability of companies to transform was tested in so many ways. Between the pandemic, protests, and other changes, every organization and every individual was forced to change in some way. We’re not coming out of the pandemic the same as we went in — many businesses pivoted to address new needs, and many workers found themselves in new roles or working from home. And, of course, training programs changed too, with in-person learning going remote and new training priorities displacing the old ones.
We’ve all come through the last year transformed, and with that comes a new awareness of what training means for an organization. It’s not just something you need to do to keep your employees up on the latest products, or to tick a box for compliance. Training is about transformation — both for the organization and for the individual learners.
Training for the transformation of your organization
Agility has long been touted as one of the most important characteristics of an organization. When an organization can adapt quickly they’re more resilient, they innovate more, make changes quickly, and are more engaged with their employees.
While tradition dictates that smaller companies tend to be more agile because there are fewer people and rigid business practices, the pandemic showed that’s not necessarily the case. PespiCo, for example, was hard hit by the supply chain issues of the early pandemic and launched two online direct-to-consumer sites in a month. Meanwhile smaller organizations, like restaurants, competed by offering curbside pickup or cocktail kits. These changes show that it’s not the size of the organization that dictates the ability to change and adapt – it’s the willingness to learn.
According to McKinsey, agility starts at the top of any organization. Leadership must be willing to adapt and change, and so to encourage that mindset, it’s important to look at the leadership training being provided to executives and future executives.
Old-school leadership training doesn’t necessarily prize agility. According to the Harvard Business Review, pre-pandemic traditional executive training tended to serve the perceived needs of the organization paying for it — companies interested in training the leaders that will best serve their own interests in the future.
The pandemic, however, showed the business world the value of adaptability, and also sparked creativity and innovation in executives. Leaders suddenly found themselves thinking on their feet, and making snap decisions – and many of them liked it. Training Industry interviewed a cross-section of executives who said that the limits the pandemic put on them forced them to become more creative, communicative, and people-focused.
The skills executives said that helped them most weren’t organization-specific skills, such as how to perform a specific task important to one company. They were people skills — adaptability, communication, and creativity — which helped them be agile in a crisis, and more importantly, helped their organizations become agile as well.
Training for the transformation of your learners
While the transformation of the organization is important, learners have changed as well over the last year. Many employees have learned to work differently, and many may be returning to jobs that don’t look exactly like the ones they left more than a year ago.
The world has also changed, and your workers will need to change with it; the social unrest of the last year means many of the companies who made promises about racial equality will have to follow through, which will mean diversity training for some employees and changes for others.
Many employees will also want to improve their skills so they can be resilient and prove value to current and future employers. Although it may concern some organizations to train workers for future jobs, Jill Popelka, President of SAP SuccessFactors, writes in the Wall Street Journal that lifelong learning — for all employees — is the key to companies’ transformation.
“Learning is the strategic enabler to create a culture of resiliency and drive business transformation,’ writes Popelka. “Investing in people’s growth is investing in the company’s growth. Because no matter how big or small, business transformation is always a people transformation.”