Last reviewed 22 April 2022

As workplaces constantly change, L&D is faced with the challenge of supporting individuals, teams and the organisation as a whole with the future-fit skills that will allow everyone to thrive going forward. In this article Judith Christian-Carter considers the value of five evidence-based principles, each one of which has at its heart the need to connect in order to ensure that the end result is a mature learning organisation.

Following on from the previous article that looked at upskilling Learning and Development (L&D) professionals, this article considers how the L&D function can build the future skills for jobs that don’t yet exist. A recently published ebook by the Emerging Stronger team looks at five core evidence-based principles that are considered to be essential in making a lasting and positive impact on organisations.

It used to be the half-life of knowledge that concerned L&D professionals, but now it is the half-life of skills, with people leaving jobs and roles making skills a top priority today. However, it is not just a matter of helping people to build the new skills required today, as by far the greatest challenge for the L&D function is preparing the workers of today for the unknown jobs of the future.

Skills that are future-fit

What are the skills that have been identified to ensure that organisations become and remain future-fit, that help them to perform well today and to adapt faster tomorrow? Here is a list of skills that are deemed to be essential for workers today and tomorrow:

  • leadership

  • creativity

  • adaptability

  • time management

  • agile learning

  • understanding bias

  • emotional intelligence

  • technology design

  • social influence

  • system analysis

  • persuasion

  • problem-solving

  • communication

  • service orientation

  • collaboration

  • analytical thinking.

As important as all these skills are, without learning engagement their development will not occur. Mature learning organisations know the principles to apply for success, by focusing on connection and clarity in order to create stronger engagement. These organisations use the following principles to build future-fit skills:

  • they connect with the right priorities

  • they connect with the right content

  • they connect to what is relevant

  • they maintain a connection

  • they improve the connection.

Connecting with the right priorities

This entails having clarity on what the organisation needs to achieve and ensuring that all learning solutions are fit for purpose. It is essential that L&D professionals connect with workers’ priorities, needs and pain points. Content and learning activities need to be relevant to the specific needs of different groups to deepen engagement, which means that a “one size fits all” solution has had its day. Likewise, scaling learning solutions across the whole organisation will fail to meet the needs and contexts of different groups.

L&D professionals now need to think first about the organisation and the learner. Performance issues must be identified and understood in order to focus on the skills and behaviours required. This is where communication skills play a significant role. The L&D function needs to be clear about the communication skills required by different groups and how these skills are linked to performance.

Connecting with the right content

This requires having clarity on how content links to the organisation’s goals. The flow of information within organisations today is vast, which means that the L&D function has a key role in curating content carefully so that workers can find and access information that is relevant to them. It is not just a matter of gathering content together but of ensuring that quality content is created to share with other people, in other words, content that is relevant and quality information that will benefit both people and the organisation as a whole.

Connecting to what is relevant

This is where having clarity about the messages used to communicate comes into play. When the L&D function is going to launch a new initiative, it needs a communication plan of how to message the intended target audience. The communication plan needs to engage everyone in the target audience by helping them to understand how the initiative is relevant to them, how it impacts on the organisation and how the outcomes will add overall value to them and the organisation.

Maintaining the connection

In order to maintain any connection, it is essential for L&D professionals to have clarity in what is expected from others. In many organisations a lot is expected of managers and the teams they lead, whilst, at the same time, these managers are facing an increasing level of challenges. Yet, it is also widely recognised that line managers are pivotal stakeholders in the learning process in having more influence on their team members’ learning than anyone else.

Consequently, L&D professionals need to be clear about what they expect of managers so that the latter are able to realise the link between learning and team performance, and what their role is in supporting learning. By working together, L&D professionals and managers have the ideal opportunity to create a culture where all team members have both the time and permission to engage in learning.

Improving the connection

Essentially, this is concerned with having clarity about how to track success and adapt. It builds on the previous four principles in ensuring the L&D function has a shared responsibility with managers. Together, the progress of learning is tracked and reviewed, and the impact on performance before, during and after a learning solution is measured. In this way required improvements can be identified and made by both parties based on evidence.

In order to improve the connection, L&D needs to engage others, particularly managers, so that there is a shared ownership of learning solutions. There is also the need for L&D and managers to understand the purpose and practice of evaluation. By having regular conversations with managers, L&D professionals can focus on the key areas that are associated with having a positive impact by using evidence to inform such conversations and to adapt learning solutions as required.

Future-fit L&D practices

Building skills that are future-fit also means that the L&D function must adopt future-fit practices, as the two go hand-in-hand. This means that the old practices, such as designing and delivering one size fits all learning solutions, need to be challenged and new practices put in their place. By looking at the practices of mature, high-performing L&D teams, provides L&D professionals with the principles to drive engagement with the future skills agenda, where the focus in each one is the need to connect to make a difference.

The skills that individuals, teams and organisations require for an unknown future also happen to be those skills needed today to deliver performance, to innovate and to improve. They are skills that allow people to be flexible, adaptable and to grow. Whilst technology can be used to create opportunities for people to benefit from these skills, it does not mean that they will take these opportunities to learn and improve their performance. The only way forward is for L&D professionals to make, sustain and improve connection as described above.