December 19, 2022
From the Great Resignation to the advent of the remote workforce, this is a time like no other in the history of work.
Employee retention rates continue to sink while the global skills shortage rages on – and all against a backdrop of the war in Ukraine, a lingering global pandemic, and a looming economic downturn. But with disruption comes opportunity. As such, organizations in 2022 would be wise to seize this moment to reevaluate their relationship with employees; to get deliberate about revitalizing the workforce for the betterment of the employee and the health of the organization.
For us, there’s no ground more fertile for transformation than the area of corporate learning. We need to regenerate the sterile programs of courseware and testing and make “learning” endemic to the culture; to nurture the culture for the wellbeing of the employee and the vibrancy of the organization.
Among other things, today’s workforce is curious, mobile, and socially aware. Although welcome attributes to any organization, traits like these can disrupt business continuity and performance if not understood and supported. And that can lead to workforce malaise, discontent, and departure. Indeed, our new world of work is one in which talent attraction and retention are top of mind. A 2020 Gallup study on workers under the age of 40 found that most employees were “not engaged” at work and “about two-thirds were not thriving.” And a McKinsey survey from this past March found that lack of career development was a top 3 reason why people left a job without another job lined up.
The path forward is through the development of a learning culture that enables employees to hone skills, explore new skills, and to follow their curiosity. We need to place greater emphasis on learning, rather than teaching. And that process revolves around the seemingly paradoxical idea of massive, individual customization.
Current organizational learning and development tools offered to employees, or mandated, are typically designed for the institution, to ensure the required information is presented and that the learner is tested on their recollection of the material. These programs are designed and aligned by and for the business and its varied, but specific operations.
It seems like a rational approach for learning new skills. But let’s step back. Way back. Plato tutored Aristotle in the manner he learned from Socrates, not by sharing information to remember and recite, but by asking questions and then encouraging and following the curiosity. The method built and strengthened critical thinking and empathy and led to a long-lasting understanding of the subject and its surroundings.
Curiosity is key to learning. We’re born with an ample amount of it, but for most of us, somewhere along the way it dissipates. The Guardian pointed out a frightening correlation between curiosity and learning in a 2020 story that aptly referenced a 2007 study, Children’s Questions: A Mechanism for Cognitive Development, by Dr. Michelle M. Chouinard. Dr. Chouinard found that children between the ages of 14 months and five years asked an average of 107 questions per hour. The story then juxtaposed that data with a 2011 report from Susan Engel, which found that the youngest children in a U.S. suburban elementary school asked between only two and five questions in a two-hour period.
Rather than focus on an academic indictment, the greater point is the value of curiosity. We need to develop ways to harness it, nurture it, and then grow together from it.
Precision learning can play a key role here. With precision learning, instructors focus on the learner’s fluency and adjusts and customizes the material to fit that individual’s aptitude and abilities.
This method, and others like it, including adaptive learning, acknowledge the simple fact that learners learn differently. Each one comes to the table with a different skillset, background, level of education, aptitude, and with distinct areas of strengths and weaknesses. Precision learning accounts for such diversity, much more so than traditional programs.
Not surprisingly the trend is gaining momentum. According to a new Market Research Future report, the “adaptive learning market size is projected to grow from USD 1.5 billion in 2020 to USD 5.4 billion by 2027, at a CAGR of 19.43% during the forecast period.”
Learning that’s tailored moment by moment, can accelerate the learning process for all involved. The resulting flood of more informed and skilled workers can directly and positively impact an organization’s ability to solve problems, coordinate between teams, and innovate. Moreover, it can facilitate what employees, especially the new, young workforce is looking for – opportunities for individual growth.
To be sure, there’s more to creating a culture of learning than simply providing new coursework and methods. “Build it, and they will come,” is not a strategy for success. The organization must take an active role in not only providing the new mission of learning but promoting it, encouraging it, and managing participation. Only after constant repetition and diligence, can a new environment take hold.
Establishing formal learning teams can help. These groups can be charged with employee outreach, as well as monitoring and measuring programs, to understand areas of success and weakness; to double-down on the former and address the latter. Reward and recognition systems for completions and achievements, are also an important part of integration and adoption. These programs can enable employees to redeem points, easily share recognitions socially, and recognize peers and managers.
Companies can go even further, providing global and “portable” certifications that can travel with an employee upon their departure. Providing such certifications in the areas of data science, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and more, for example, can send a clear message of commitment to the workforce, while helping to close widening skills gaps.
The workforce of the new millennium is different than any other, with unique challenges both internal and external to the employer. We must avoid the temptation to bandage our way through individual problems of attraction and retention with traditional one-off ideas around bonuses, raises, time-off, etc. Though important, in the grand scheme, we must pay attention to the five elements holistically: career, social, financial, physical, and community.
What’s needed is an introspective view of the organization and a strategy to revitalize the workforce, from the inside out. Developing and cultivating a robust learning environment and imbuing it into the culture will lead to more fulfilled employees. This can generate more vibrant enterprises, lead to greater collaboration and innovation, and slow the revolving door at the same time.
This story originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Gajen Kandiah is CEO, Hitachi Vantara; Ulrik Juul Christensen, MD, is Executive Chairman, Area9 Group and CEO, Area9 Lyceum.