There is a multitude of research that shows that people want to work for companies that can demonstrate a strong learning and development ethos.

And yet according to Capita’s recent ‘Reimagining HR survey’, reskilling has taken a backseat during the pandemic with only 13% of HR professionals considering it a priority. How do we make sense of this disconnect? Is it the same dynamic at work that Gartner found in their 2020 Shifting Skills Survey where 60% of HR leaders report CEO pressure to ensure the right skills for the future, alongside 69% of HR executives reporting more pressure from employees to provide development opportunities that will prepare them for future roles? If so, what is it that we need to do to address the gap, give employees the opportunities they crave and businesses the skills they need?

It would seem that emergency tactical measures, such as retaining existing customers and being more operationally efficient, have overtaken long-term strategic goals such as employee learning and development. However, if this continues it will prove to be a false economy as we’ve observed the importance of companies being able to adapt to extreme challenges, to pivot their business models and prosper through rapid and dramatic changes. Those who have done this successfully employ people who are able to adapt and learn new ways of working very quickly. And despite the very many and varied technological advances societies continue to make, people and people-know-how are the key to successful transformational activity, no matter what sector you are in.

The secret to survival

Adaptability is not a new concept. The reason why we – as human beings – have survived so well, is our ability to adapt to many different environments, and importantly our ability to learn from each other. It is a part of the human code that enables us to thrive. How can organisations put that latent advantage to work to the benefit of both companies and individuals?

Let’s look at it from a biochemistry angle; learning is emotional – at a physiological level our ability to both learn and retrieve existing knowledge is impacted if we are in fight or flight mode. To thrive we have to have a degree of psychological safety and security. We need to have our curiosity and interest triggered. Our ability to learn is predicated on these building blocks being in place. To integrate new information, learn and adapt our behaviour in response to that learning, we have to be in a state of relaxed alertness. This is the so-called ‘flow’ that enables peak performance.

To support this process, organisations need to look at designing flow moments – they do not just happen. Individuals increasingly find it hard to clear away the clutter to find the time and space to do their best work. Which is why it’s important to provide ways that people can learn in contexts that are often very challenging by making it possible to learn at pace and scale. This includes interpreting what they need, signposting the required elements and clearly showing where they need to get to next to achieve the best results both personally and organisationally. Technology, and AI in particular, can help us do all of this and more, but only if there is the right data to build from, designed and handled in the right way, and an organisational and cultural context that makes this change a welcome enhancer not a threat. Key to this is keeping the emotional cadence that underpins learning in order to deliver outcomes where both individuals and teams can work towards a shared purpose.

Learning is the glue that binds society. Designing effective learning strategies requires the right mix of the individual, the collective, the technological and the cultural, all working together in way that helps people unlock natural capacities to learn and grow both individually and as a group. Yes, it’s complex, but it’s possible and indeed we’re partly hard-wired to achieve it; the social dimension is important.

We know that humans are really good at big change when they work at it collectively. The lesson from the pandemic is to bring tackling change back to society, to communities, to our families. These are the things that bind us. We have all experienced an increase in our moments of reflection during the past year, and as a result we have seen movements amongst new cohorts of people wanting to be part of a bigger purpose, and this has not been restricted to any one generation. This is about discovering what’s happening around us and feeling like we’re doing something to improve our collective situation. Doing more than just surviving. Companies that link to greater purpose and design learning and growth mindset opportunities that help individuals and teams interpret this meaningfully and act will thrive.

Too much change challenges our natural adaptability and the pace of change now is too fast for us to naturally adapt. Technology has forced this, but it’s also part of the solution if we look at the way we can use technology purposely to speed up the right kind of learning, AI for example, can emulate the way a teacher gradually scaffolds your knowledge and capabilities, building your neural networks to enable you to learn. As we continue to build these tools, we will increasingly be able to anticipate what’s needed to be better prepared for the new normal. And as we increasingly operate in hybrid working contexts, where technologies augment the ways in which we work, perhaps it’s time to onboard these new capabilities a bit more like we do colleagues – let’s meet, get to know each other and understand more about how we can work together.

Technology is a powerful ally, but it needs the human touch for it to succeed.

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Written by

Olivia Lory Kay

Olivia Lory Kay

Head of Partnerships, Capita Learning

Olivia comes to learning from a career spanning emerging technology and strategic communications. She has worked as a Creative Director in a communications agency and in strategy and business development with immersive technology, bringing the worlds’ first VR product for social care to market and representing the UK at SXSW’s Virtual Cinema programme.

Caroline Freeman

Caroline Freeman

Head of Learning Design, Capita Learning

Caroline works at the intersection between storytelling, people and technology. Throughout her career she has led multidisciplinary creative teams, designing award-winning, emotionally compelling learning experiences across a range of media and platforms.

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