Shifts & Pivots: What the Pandemic has Taught Us

This blog is excerpted from the Performance Matters Podcast. In the episode, Trends: Shifts & Pivots in L&D, Bob Mosher discusses specific trends we’ve been hearing, seeing, and experiencing in our current and ever-evolving professional landscape. 

This post is a collection of a lot of information we have gathered over the last nine months. Since the pandemic hit, we have been honored to be a part of hundreds of conversations with learning and development professionals from around the globe discussing how this shift has affected the L&D industry as a whole.

Here, I will share two of the five ideas that we have come across; the full five ideas (listed below) can be heard in their entirety in the podcast episode.

1.   What we’ve learned overall as we’ve looked across the landscape of what is L&D and what  we have heard from several leaders across the globe.

2.     The learner and how they’ve pivoted.

3.    What have we learned about how to develop, design, and deliver the information  that has been profound and impactful throughout the pandemic.

4.    Shifts in roles and responsibilities in the learning field. There have been a couple of things that have emerged, some which have been around for a while but also new ones that have emerged out of this crazy time.

5.    Virtual learning and how has it changed the way we look at instruction. Clearly, it was the tip of the sword when we entered this back in March.  Since then, many organizations have stood up some remarkable virtual solutions.

Let’s start in general terms. I don’t know how old many of you are, or how long you’ve been in the industry, but I remember the days of 2008 when another horrific financial crisis hit our world. Of course, this is a humanitarian crisis with the effect of the pandemic.

But when the financial crisis hit back in 2008, to be honest, our phones stopped ringing in L&D. We took this on the chin when finances were thin. Unfortunately, and we’ve talked about this before, we were not positioned as a need—as opposed to want, or nice to have—resource. And many of us, frankly, were on the wrong side of the ledger paper. We got cut, so to speak.

The—if I can use this word—“exciting” side of what we’ve seen with the pandemic is that it has shown how many organizations see us very differently. I’ve talked to a number of learning leaders. I’ll give one example in particular, of a leader with well over ten years in the organization as a senior leader.  He had never spoken, personally, with the C-suite person in his company—ever.

But his phone actually rang within days after the pandemic hit. It is very telling that when a C-suite member thought to circle the wagons, he wanted to get things in order and was looking out into “how to survive in this,” L&D was top of mind.

Friends, that’s a remarkable opportunity. Here are the two words that came up almost unanimously when talking to others in the industry, “opportunity” and “acceleration.”

Opportunity from the standpoint of “Here we are now. We have a seat at the table. We are one of the first resources they are going to.” And they are not talking about courses. There is a significant shift in the “ask” from “courses” to “performance.”

This is a very different asks than we’ve been asked before and it opens a whole other set of opportunities. For one, a different conversation, and secondly, a different deliverable, which we’ll talk about in a bit.

Acceleration. As a dear friend of mine said recently, he used to deal with a bureaucratic vacuum when it came to technology. What he meant by that is that there was void which was made up of walls and barriers within organizations—frankly, IT being one of them—that we had to wait on, walk through, get the buy-in from—to get technologies into our ecosystem.

Well, look what happened with virtual technology. Many of us were asked to stand that up in weeks, if not days. No bureaucracy. Get it through procurement, get it through whatever part of IT we must so that this thing can work!

This is an amazing time for technology and learning. And so is your opportunity to get an EPSS in there, an LXP in there, and a content management system in there is greater than ever before. People are very receptive.

But—you must pivot on serving a need. You must pivot on associating that buy and that spend, not with just having one of those platforms but —back to number one, opportunity—what performance issues are you going to solve?

On the darker side, another general thing we found is that our current landscape has been exposing some cracks in the dam of our offerings. Training is not enough. A lot of workers are looking outside of our offerings for ways to serve and help themselves. We’ll talk about the learners in a minute. They are being remarkably innovative.

Now, friends, I’m not diminishing the importance of training. But what I am saying is—and I love this word—learners’ needs are very “raw” right now. They are feeling very desperate right now and that breeds receptivity, but it also breeds a level of scrutiny like we may have never seen before. The door is open—opportunity—but at the same time, we are exposed on an enterprise level around the effectiveness of how we engage, and what we build, like never before.

This is a remarkable time to shine and come out of this [situation] in a completely different place than before but at the same time, we have to be careful about just offering the same old thing to what is a very different world.

And lastly, clearly, there has been financial and budget implications but the interesting thing again—unlike 2008—is it’s not so much just an across-the-board cut, or furlough as we’re calling it today. It’s very discretionary and organizations are being careful. So, the degree to which L&D can be positioned as being vital to the organization and proactively help organizations meet the challenges of the day, be productive, support their workforce remotely and other things, the more valuable we’ll be seen.

Now let’s get a little deeper into some specifics. Learners. Let’s start with the most important people in the world, of course, right? Those who we serve. How have learners been pivoting?

I want to touch on four different things that have been talked about quite a bit, and I just love this first one. When the pandemic first hit back in March, April, May, we were clearly back on our heels. We were very much in survival mode. But what we’ve seen is a transformation—so many learners have gone from this survival mode of “What am I going to do?” to one of, “Darn it! I’m going to pick myself up by the bootstraps. I’m going to get my job done. I’m going to remain vibrant. I’m going to be a critical part of the organization. I’m going to be heard and prove my worth even though I’m at home.”

They have stepped up in some remarkable ways. Which has led to my second point, which is that many have become more independent in their ability to support themselves. And guess what! They’re also looking in new places for resources. We have a much more aggressive and impatient learner than ever before.

Back in the days when eLearning first hit, we called it “just in time.” We called it “on demand.” I think many would argue it may not have been. It might have been easily available. But I don’t know if learners would call it “on demand.”

Well, friends, we live in an on-demand world like never in my lifetime. And so, when you get up every morning and you have demands that hit you right in the face, you become aggressive and you become independent about finding those solutions.

So, the opportunity is, are the services and deliverables we offer what they are finding? Have you done some analysis on the resources that they are using? And not just of the options we offer, but have you done some open analysis of what resources in general help get them through the day?  We’d be surprised when we find out the amazing resources learners have both made themselves, that need brokering and aggregation, and the information they are finding outside of the normal means. As we emerge from this, we can be in the forefront in aggregating, curating that information in powerful ways like it’s never been done before.

Many don’t like our initial approaches to virtual instruction. Now, I’m going to get a mixed bag of reviews on this and I get it. A lot of them are remarkably thankful that we stood up our virtual offerings so quickly, but candidly, the honeymoon’s over. The wave has crashed on the beach, and there is some disillusionment and fatigue, with virtual instructor-led. In many ways our learners are looking for us to innovate and re-invent virtual instruction. And guess what? That work will  also have a profound impact on the classrooms we return to.

And finally, I don’t know about you, friends, but we’re hearing that more and more are just emotionally shot. This is difficult on every one of us. I don’t know if in my thirty-eight years of professional life that I’ve ever heard of lines of business asking for empathy content…Empathy content! Emotional intelligence content. Sure, there’s soft skills, and leadership, listening skills, how to get along and how to handle a difficult situation. Those content areas have been around forever. But the words being used today are emotional words. We must be cognizant to the pressure, the emotion, the stress, both at work and at home, that our learners are under. If anyone can do it in our enterprises, we are the most empathetic group I know in recognizing that and helping organizations work through it.

Download the full episode to hear the list of shifts and pivots in its entirety.

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