There’s a definite sense that we are now entering a new phase in how the learning and development sector responds to the pandemic. The restrictions placed on face-to-face learning have, in some geographies, relaxed and made real the possibility of some return, (with appropriate practical safeguards of course). However, I’m not hearing any suggestions that we’ll soon be back to ’business as usual’. We’ve had more than a year of profound change and it’s inconceivable that the resultant learning will not impact how L+D will look in the short-term. The key questions are ‘to what extent will these changes persist?’ and “has the way we do learning and development changed for good?”
In looking for answers to big questions like this it’s worth starting close to home. Last week RSVP Design launched its first experiential learning tool that has been purpose-designed for the online learning environment - ‘Emergency Delivery’. It has followed the development path that is usual for our designs, responding to a specific customer request for a solution to a specific employee-development situation. What is interesting is the nature of the development need. Here was a large multi-national organisation suggesting to us that COVID has changed workplace decision making for good, that new models of decision making are required, and that these models need to build employee confidence in making fast, agile decisions that quickly move past poor options and rapidly evaluate those with potential.
This isn’t the only one of our customers who is actively acknowledging the profound, and potentially lasting, changes brought about by an extended period of pandemic restriction. A time that has involved employees working-from-home, with increased time-flexibility, devolved decision-making, less close management scrutiny and more trust in individual accountability. Decision making is only one area that they suggest as becoming more individually focused, more de-centralised, more reliant on the employee having the tools and training needed to operate more autonomously. Time management, target setting, performance measurement and communications management are all areas coming under scrutiny as having the potential to shift to more individualised responsibility.
We recognise this as having enormous implications for the future of L+D.
Training employees to use their own faculties to operate more autonomously is not about learning facts and procedures, it’s about learning new behaviours.
At this point, here at RSVP Design, it’s hard not to whisper a heart-felt “at last”. We’ve always maintained that making workplace-change ‘sticky’ depends entirely on changing workplace behaviour - that’s what our tools are designed to do! We know that learning environments that are built around a solid core of experiential content are particularly effective in delivering measurable changes in behaviour - and this type of learning is becoming more and more essential.
The issue remains that learning tools which depend for their effectiveness solely on participants meeting face-to-face are difficult to justify in the current post-COVID workplace - it’s going to be some time before the practical L+D toolbox can be fully deployed. In addition it’s extremely unlikely that, suddenly and universally, things will return to that 'normal'. We’re expecting an extended phase of transition where hybrid approaches will be prevalent. We also know, (and this is heavily supported by the enquiries we’re fielding NOW), that the demand for traditional initiatives such a team (re)building will be big. So here’s how we’re defining the issues ahead:
We’ve got an urgent and global demand for experientially-led programmes that simultaneously address rebuilding team and organisational relationships and changing behaviours towards increased autonomous working. These programmes need to be capable of delivery face-to-face, or remotely, or some combination of the two without any loss of efficacy. They also need to be agile designs that can respond simply and locally to sudden changes in the delivery environment.
If that sounds like a tall-order to you then you’re right, it’s a real challenge. However it’s a challenge that was laid down long before the world began to hear the words COVID-19. We’ve long recognised that we are operating in conditions that are increasingly characterised by VUCA (more volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) and we’ve been designing into that space for years. So for us it’s been a case of flexing the delivery channels that our tools can accommodate:
It hasn’t happened yet but we’re on the verge of one of our customers delivering a programme, using tools such as Colourblind, Simbols or Seeing-the-Point, where a proportion of the working group is face-to-face, in a classroom, with a facilitator, and the remainder of the group is joining remotely (See https://experientiallearningtools.com/pages/products). Not as observers or working on a parallel task but fully participating in the same activities, some of the group having physical pieces, some of the group having digital pieces, and all of them trying to achieve the same single outcome!
To me that doesn’t just define what Learning and Development is going to look like in the near future, it defines what the workplace is going to look like in the near future.