How to future-proof your L&D strategy in uncertain times

Last updated: 12-07-2019

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How to future-proof your L&D strategy in uncertain times

Many of us are well aware that personal development both in and out of work is important for individuals to grow. Unfortunately, the current uncertain business landscape will impact investment in training for many employers. In uncertain times it’s often the learning and development budget that’s first to be slashed in cost-controlling measures, but this is a false economy. We must continue to learn or we stagnate.

It’s been said many times before, and let’s say it again: people are THE biggest investment any business makes year on year. Just check out your payroll costs as a percentage of sales or revenue. Depending on various industry statistics, this is likely to be between 30-50%. It’s going to be the biggest spend on any single line of your budget and, if it’s hitting 50% it will be a huge challenge getting a further spend agreed on developing your people. Ironically though, investment in training often provides a great business benefit. By increasing engagement of employees in helping identify better ways of working, efficiencies will be gained.

Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius had it right when he said: “men exist for each other. Then either improve them, or put up with them”. The message is clear – we either develop our people or inhabit a frustrating world of putting up with less than the standards we require.

So how do we make sure that L&D is not in the firing line as soon as the business faces financial challenges? By aligning your L&D strategy to the business and making a clear business case for how it will support the strategic plan.

Typical businesses work to a three or five-year plan, so your L&D activities should reflect this, thereby making your plan future-proof. Bear in mind this cycle also fits with the duration of most management apprenticeships, so you should check if you could tap into Apprenticeship Levy funds too.

Build your strategy by identifying the key goals and priorities of the business. Then take the first step in the L&D cycle and identify the knowledge and skills gaps that are likely to occur on the road to achieving these goals. With these findings create an L&D road map, setting out training programmes that are needed to support the business strategy.

Remember that most business leaders always welcome a cost-saving approach. Therefore, you might like to look at what resources you already have in the business that could contribute to L&D. Mentoring, involving subject matter experts and succession planning can all feed into your overall strategy.

Whilst setting out your road map, it’s vital to consider what challenges may present and factor these into your plan. Where are the specific risks to your business and are those down to gaps in your training or capability? Will the business suffer from skills shortages that may require specific initiatives such as upskilling operatives to perform more technical tasks?

L&D practitioners play a critical role in helping the business understand where the risks and opportunities are going to come from and how you can ensure you have the skilled staff that the business needs to respond successfully to whatever scenario lies ahead.

In the current uncertain business environment there are some realistic risk scenarios that must be considered for the future. Businesses might face financial challenges for a period of time and might need to make changes to their workforce. In this case you need to consider the knowledge and skills the business will be losing. Can you replicate those skills quickly when things turn around?

Some businesses might have to relocate parts of their operations to other parts of the world. Does your business have the right skills where you need them?

You could consider developing several parallel strategies based on different future economic scenarios. In line with those strategies, make sure you’re gearing up for the challenges you might need to face.

Once your L&D road map has been given the green light, start off by adding a clear structure and several milestones to it, showing the outcomes and return on the investment at key points. This will ensure that you’re adhering to the plan and it provides clarity when it comes to measuring results.

You might also like to consider making rewards and recognition part of the plan. This gives learners something to aim for and it also communicates to the wider business that achieving goals is rewarded.

When it comes to evaluating the learning that’s been delivered and looking at the initial results, due to the fact that the business needs have been aligned with the corporate strategy, your results will clearly show business impact. At this point, make sure to share some examples with the entire business of how the learning has been taking the business forward.

It’s wise to look at the long-term future of the business too. Try to sum up what skills the business is likely to require to be sustainable with a strong market presence in ten years’ time.

This is easier said than done however, as a staggering 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't been invented yet, but it’s the people you’re employing today who will be key to influencing how work can be executed more effectively in the future. Moreover, initiatives such as Made Smarter are helping employers to harness the power of technology by designing how we will work in the future.

What we can be certain of right now is that the way we deliver learning is going to change. Future generations coming into work will receive their training outside classic classroom settings. Instead, they will learn through subliminal learning and bite-sized learning, where they will receive little nuggets of information they need to know to perform a particular task they’re working on at that moment.

The future might be uncertain and changeable, but one thing will always remain the same – developing your people through L&D is key to helping your business thrive rather than just survive. So I’ll go a little further than Marcus Aurelius and say, “women(!) and men exist for each other. Either improve them, put up with them or lose them”.

Interested in this topic? Read Education and our future workforce: training tomorrow’s teams.

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