Keep learning, keep working, keep going

Sponge’s award-winning Learning Experience Director, Liz Hardwell, offers 4 practical pieces of advice…

In unprecedented times like these, we all want to feel that our industry can do its bit to calm the chaos. As L&D professionals, we’re also so naturally curious about the world, it’s challenges and how we can contribute to effective, human-centred solutions. 

When I started to put pen to paper on this, it felt a struggle to say almost anything new, or relevant. Then I thought of my own team, and the advice I’ll give to them , and it seemed simple – for right now, and perhaps for wherever we go next. Above all else – keep learning, keep working, keep going. 

Here are my ideas, as an L&D professional – and a complete novice in these times – for how we all might do just that:

1. Maintain focus

You had a plan for your team, their focus areas, and how you wanted them to work and learn in 2020. So, what do this look like now? While you may need to take a fresh look at your priorities, it doesn’t mean that it all needs to go out the window. Business continuity is key. Maintain your focus on what was important to you at the start of this year and consider how you can keep the momentum, where it makes sense to. 

It might be that where your business priorities remain, how they are achieved needs to change – especially with many of us now working from home. What adjustments can you make to keep your plans alive? An obvious one might be to look at virtual, rapid or off-the-shelf digital solutions that are environment and device agnostic.

One thing I’ve advised my clients of long before the last few weeks, is that when you keep your eyes fixed on your business goal – and not glued to the training format – you’ll open your mind to how else you might achieve it. You might just do it more effectively too! 

2. … But keep an open mind

There are no crystal balls here, but it’s safe to say we also all need to be open to embracing change that comes our way. 

Whether it’s where or how we work, who we work with – or even what we produce – it will be smart to take an efficient and more nimble approach to transformation and behaviour change. Not convinced? Just look at the additional pressure on frontline staff –or the UK manufacturers gearing up to make ventilators for the NHS. 

Whatever form it takes, it’s likely that we’ll need to respond quickly. Consider which learning solutions will help you respond in the most agile ways – ask your supplier to work with you as a highly collaborative partner, and how they can deliver quality at a quicker pace.  

Remember too that demonstrable behaviour change requires a human-centred design approach. While top-down messages might be key in the short-term, over longer periods you’ll need real buy in from your learners – and that means creating desirable solutions that you can scale quickly.

3. Fill the gaps

A change of working environment, as many of us are experiencing, isn’t just about adapting to the new – it’s also acknowledging what you’ve given up. For those of us used to working in an office environment day-to-day, we might be missing out on valuable behavioural cues from our peers – it’s a key way we learn from others, and pick up best practice. How can you facilitate this virtually? Consider how you can harness the potential of digital tools like Microsoft Teams or SharePoint – make them work harder for you over the next few weeks or months. 

Some people will also be sacrificing valuable performance support in the shift from office hub to home. Guidance, advice and tips that just ‘happen’ to be hanging around at work, may not be there any more – and it’s not just posters on handwashing you need to think about. Your team may be missing out on support on everything from key processes and systems to how they speak to their customers over the phone. Sub in smart digital support now – before mistakes start to happen.

4. Learn more

Whether Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine may be debatable, but one thing’s for sure – those of us working from home have likely gained back valuable minutes, even hours, from our day. Don’t waste it scrolling through your News app.  

Think about what you’ve always been curious about but never quite found the time to engage with. It might be a new hobby or craft, or perhaps you’ll finally get chance to complete that MOOC that’s been sat in your inbox for the last 8 weeks. It’s a familiar message at this point, but creativity and a growth mindset can do wonders for our resilience and overall wellbeing. 

This has implications for businesses too. Things are chaotic for everyone, but step into the shoes of your learners for a moment. It’s likely they’ve never needed more emotional and professional support – they also may never have had this much time back day-to-day. If you take a step back and consider the readiness of your people to learn new things right now, you might be surprised at how positive the picture looks. How can you harness this to make a difference to your business in both the short and long term? 

Whether your focus is business as usual, or business as most definitely unusual, consider how you can support your people to learn new things right now. They’ll thank you for it.

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