TJ interviews: Totara Learning’s Lars Hyland

TJ’s editor Jon Kennard asks Lars Hyland what advice he can offer L&D people to help them navigate the difficult path ahead.

What are the main challenges facing organisations right now?

We’ve been closely tracking the challenges our customers have faced over the years, and we’ve identified five workplace disruptors that all organisations will be all too familiar with. These are:

  1. New technology
  2. Rapid change
  3. Remote working
  4. Blended workforces
  5. Reskilling

The World Economic Forum has declared a reskilling emergency, with over one billion people needing to reskill by 2030 – that’s just 10 years away. These disruptors are closely interrelated, so need to be considered together.

They signify a deep shift in how organisations are structured – a move away from strategies that put efficiency first, to ones that put effectiveness first. To do so, organisations today need to become much more adaptable to respond to the growing pace of change and uncertainty ahead. A lack of adaptability is the biggest risk facing organisations today.

With remote work here to stay, how can employers ensure they are meeting the needs of employees?

Countless surveys have found that most employees are keen to retain the flexible working they’ve enjoyed throughout 2020. Switching from primarily face-to-face training to fully blended online learning is now essential.

This can include live virtual learning events, structured elearning programs or a regularly maintained bank of digital resources. Maintaining open communication channels is also crucial, as well as checking in on employee wellbeing.

Everyone needs to become an intentional learner, constantly investing the time to refresh and add to their skills base

Switching to remote working can be challenging for some people, so managers should keep a close eye on wellbeing as part of their regular check-ins. However, resist the temptation to adopt surveillance or highly granular productivity tracking tools – you risk losing the trust of your people, reducing productivity and performance levels.

The amount of technology available is overwhelming for many. How can HR and learning professionals find the right tools?

There are hundreds of learning management systems alone on the market, with new tools, devices and channels arriving seemingly on a daily basis. So, we often hear from organisations that they don’t really know where to start.

My #1 tip is to prioritise flexibility over available features, and the commercial freedom to change direction in order to meet new business needs. Many organisations have responded to the rapid pivot towards remote working by adding new systems, so make sure they integrate and communicate with one another.

What should organisations do to support blended workforces?

Blended or hybrid workforces (that is, workforces comprising not just full-time workers, but also part-time employees, freelancers and casual workers) are becoming increasingly common.

Consider supporting this extended enterprise with learning opportunities, performance support and access to communication that will help keep everyone aligned and operating as one, collaborative unit – it shouldn’t matter if they are a direct employee or not.

Personalise the learning experience to take into account the type of worker they are. So, ensure your learning management system can automate how you offer a tailored experience for these different audiences.


You can go further and build adaptive learning that takes into account prior knowledge and skills. Try to be inclusive and mindful of the diversity of working practices. For instance, watch out for the ‘in-house’ team excluding part-time workers and freelancers from key meetings and conversations.

This can lead to feelings of exclusion that can impact motivation and productivity. Sharing information and regarding yourself as one team can make a BIG difference and can help uphold your end of the learner social contract.

How can organisations deal with rapid change in the workplace?

Those in larger organisations will know that it can be very difficult to change working practices quickly. This is a critical issue when the outside world is changing so fast, almost on a weekly or even daily basis right now. As a result, planning cycles have shrunk from 5-4-3-2-year cycles, to almost quarterly. There is a huge pressure at board level to redesign how organisations operate so they are fit for the future.

I would also advise organisations to look at their existing processes, and identify opportunities to remove unnecessary bureaucracy. Finding ways to easily connect people with the information they need is essential.

McKinsey research shows the average worker spends one day every week just looking for information or people to help get things done. Find ways to better use communication and collaboration technologies to ‘cut out the middleman’ and snip that red tape.

What should organisations bear in mind when it comes to reskilling?

The pandemic has hit some sectors especially hard this year. Those in retail, hospitality and travel have been forced to look for alternative employment or ways to repurpose their existing skills. All sectors are going to feel these effects going forward.

So, at board level, learning and development needs to be seen as a true strategic differentiator that will directly impact competitiveness. Everyone needs to become an intentional learner, constantly investing the time to refresh and add to their skills base. 

eAdopting continuous performance management is essential to facilitating this, ensuring managers and employees work together to identify new skills gaps and opportunities. Equally people should feel safe to actively share and support each other. Collaborative peer-to-peer learning will set the pace for problem solving and innovation at speed.

What is your top tip for organisations looking to stay ahead in 2021?

Adaptability will be the number one skill for organisations, managers and employees in 2021 and beyond. The way to do this is by combining learning, engagement and performance efforts to make the biggest impact.

Take a close look at how your HR function is currently structured to ensure it supports this deep alignment. Make sure your technology infrastructure is open and flexible to change, both technically and commercially. That way you will be able to respond to whatever surprises the year will bring. Trust me, there will be plenty…


About the interviewee

Lars Hyland is chief learning officer of Totara Learning 


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