With a global recession looming, executives are seeking refuge in cost-cutting, with learning as one of the first items on the agenda. Yet, it is precisely in times like these that organisations must prepare and be ready to respond nimble to the challenges ahead. Investing in learning is one of the most effective things leaders can do to support employees, the organisation and society in times of slow growth. In fact, a lack of consistent investment in learning, both in good times and bad, is one of the reasons why companies fail.
Investing in your company’s human capital will help you survive the economic crisis.
In recent months, the signs have become clear that business confidence is falling in times of weak growth. And with it, employee morale, investment, and the innovation needed to respond as an organisation to the challenges of an ever faster changing world.
Instead of cutting budgets, managers should focus on continuous learning opportunities that support employee engagement and well-being. Because in times of recession when the cost of living is rising, we see that the fear of making mistakes and being fired increases. If managers continue to invest in employees, even if not through expensive training, this will support employee morale and improve retention. Not only will employees not leave the company. An employer who can offer growth opportunities and perspective will be more attractive as a potential employer for young ambitious talent. Because even though we are in an impending recession, we see that the demand for talent is just as big a challenge for companies.
In addition to wellbeing being put under pressure by the threat of recession, we also see the widening capability gap as a downward spiral on employee morale. Skills that used to offer a lifelong perspective no longer seem relevant in the near future. This puts even more pressure on the well-being of employees, but also on the performance of the organisation and its partners in the ecosystem.
Learning needs a holistic approach that does more than address ad-hoc skill shortages.
Learning as an organisation with engaged employees is not just the responsibility of L&D, which to my discontent is often still seen as a cost in the organisation. Learning is an effort of everyone, the employees, the manager, the executive team and the ecosystem they are part of. Learning organisations focus on learning from a holistic approach that goes beyond teaching (temporarily) useful skills. Think for example of supporting (and recruiting for) competencies that support learning with a growth mindset, such as curiosity, openness, creativity, resilience entrepreneurship, optimism and consilience.
This does not require expensive training or programmes, but initiatives and adjustments in teamwork aimed at respect and understanding. Think of introducing the Why-question in (performance) conversations, when giving assignments, changing strategies or working methods, etc.
Purposefully asking the ‘why’ question should be a habit in order to have a mutual understanding about why this is important for the employee, the organisation and possibly even society. It seems simple yet in many organisations and cultures it is still seen as a negative question and even a leadership undermining one. Yet from the many conversations I have had with international leaders, this open questioning culture easily supports a learning culture and especially engagement.
Innovation in support of lean learning strategies and learning ecosystems
In addition to changes in teamwork to support the learning culture, other often inexpensive solutions can contribute to knowledge sharing, engagement and the learning culture of the organisation.
In these times the symbiosis between man and machine is becoming ever simpler, learning also takes on a new dimension. Making learning ‘lean‘ from an abundance of data and innovation, ensures that learning can happen in the moment of need. Here we focus on learning without often time-consuming and expensive training for onboarding or when something changes the employee is supported by technology. This method of workplace learning not only allows for lean learning but increases productivity and greatly reduces the chance of errors.
Another simple and inexpensive implementation of technology that has been on the rise in recent years is microlearning supported by gamification and possibly linked to confidence-based learning and coaching in a combination of personal and AI support. An approach that Andrew Stotter-Brooks Vice President Learning and Development Etihad Aviation Group used during the huge downturn in the aviation sector in 2020 and which prepared the teams for a faster take-off after that difficult period.
Development of learning strategies with continuous improvement to avoid failure of implementation
In my new book Learning Ecosystems, I not only discuss a learning culture based on competences and commitment supported by new innovative technologies. I also provide a simple roadmap to develop simple quick-win and lean learning strategies that evolve with the business and support growth for everyone involved in the ecosystem.
This is necessary because of what I see as the 3 most important reasons why innovative learning often fails within an organisation;
- No C-level engagement and therefore no priority for the growth of the organisation with a human-centric approach.
- No in-depth discovery of future-proof opportunities and too much focus on problem solving with a short horizon.
- Not all stakeholders are involved in the discovery phase, which means there is a lack of support for those affected by the transition
The above are just a few tips to look at learning from a different perspective than costs. Learning as an organisation is necessary now to be nimble in times of slowed growth and an impending recession. Companies that invest in a growth mindset now, with engaged and eager-to-learn employees, will be stronger and take a growth lead.
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