Remote work has fractured traditional methods of learning, Rick Western proposes a new way of implementing learning and learning frameworks
Prior to COVID-19 and the build-up of today’s rampant uncertainty, coaching and mentoring played critical roles in professional development. On-the-job training from more experienced professionals historically provided individuals with real-time guidance and feedback to help them build new skills while advancing their careers. The transition to remote and hybrid workplaces has disrupted these coaching relationships, leaving employees at all levels without the critical support they need to succeed.
Companies that relied on the traditional 70:20:10 professional development model – a commonly used framework for designing and delivering effective training programmes when the majority of work occurred in-person – must now be prepared to shift their strategy. The original 70:20:10 model suggests that 70% of learning occurs through on-the-job experiences, 20% through coaching or social interactions, and 10% through formal training or education. Current workplace trends necessitate that leaders adopt something closer to a 50:25:25 model to maintain the efficacy of training programmes, facilitate relationship-building, and ensure talent retention. To do so they must tap into technology and embrace the urgency of change.
The double-edged sword of technology
With many employees working remotely or facing disruptions to their normal work routines, on-the-job learning opportunities have been significantly curtailed. This has made it more challenging for employees to build new skills and advance their careers along typical timelines and pathways. Many coaching relationships require close proximity and face-to-face interaction, which can be difficult to achieve in a remote or even hybrid environment. Water cooler chats have long since been replaced by a few minutes of small talk at the beginning of Zoom meetings – a replacement that has bigger implications on learning and development than we may imagine because it has reduced opportunities for the kind of organic mentorship that can grow out of informal conversations.
Current workplace trends necessitate that leaders adopt something closer to a 50:25:25 model to maintain the efficacy of training programmes
The distance technology can sometimes create between us needs to be bridged with carefully architected social interactions that encourage peer-to-peer learning without feeling forced – something much easier said than done. Mentors might put regular check-ins with mentees on their calendar, senior leaders might reach out to younger colleagues to introduce themselves, or the human resources department might organise virtual-friendly activities like a book club to ensure some different activities are facilitated.
Technology may require employees to be more intentional about fostering the kinds of coaching relationships that were once the norm, but it also creates an opportunity for companies to place a greater focus on formal training. Largely out of necessity, many people became much more comfortable and proficient with technology during the pandemic. This degree of access creates a whole new world of possibilities for virtual learning that did not previously exist because of the perception that online education was not as effective as live training. There are now a host of high-quality virtual learning and development programs for almost every industry that can deliver interactive professional development courses.
Leveraging technology as a training tool can have the added benefit of addressing social justice components of an organisation’s overall ESG commitments. Without the burden of requisite on-the-job experiences, companies can set their sights on recruiting a much more diverse cohort of talent from a wider range of geographic regions. Virtual education can help ensure that individuals from all backgrounds have equal access to professional development opportunities – provided that employers are also sensitive to the factors that could inhibit employee performance such as the cost of childcare and home office expenses.
The urgency of reimagining professional development
An effective learning and development programme that takes into account the reality of new working situations has become incredibly important in the past few years. Within companies that have experienced layoffs and those that are still seeking top talent, employees are increasingly being asked to, if not expected, to wear many hats. This requires an agility and willingness to embrace change that has not always been part of the corporate lexicon. Escalating uncertainty around the world has made it all the more critical for employees to be equipped with the appropriate skills to remain adaptable.
Several industries are now experiencing a diminishing pipeline of C-suite-ready leaders. The retail and energy sectors have been particularly hard-hit by a new generation of employees who regularly move between companies and careers. As a result, some organisations are finding themselves without appropriately trained senior leaders at a point in time when competent leadership is most needed. Investing in leadership training for employees at all levels can help fill the gaps when a decision maker pursues another opportunity or the company is looking at a sparse pipeline for senior talent.
Investing in professional development across departments and title levels that meets the needs of a modern workforce can also help retain employees who might otherwise look for a more enriching opportunity. Providing employees with the support they need to grow signals that the company cares about their professional aspirations, not just their contribution to the bottom line. Demonstrating a commitment to the individual person can go a long way towards fostering inclusivity and showing appreciation – both of which encourage engagement as well as long-term loyalty.
A revamped 50:25:25 professional development model offers a flexible yet effective way to do so. By shifting some of the focus towards coaching and formal training sessions, companies can take advantage of the digital tools available to them while fulfilling employee desires for greater flexibility and inclusivity. The pandemic undoubtedly shattered traditional approaches to learning and development but it has also created room for improved training models that are as adaptable as their trainees need to be.
Rick Western is the CEO of Kotter, a change management and strategy execution firm.