Titans of industry such as Jack Welch and Sam Walton have emphasized the need to read and heed the harbingers of disruption and proactively embrace change before it is forced on us. Decades later, this advice continues to hold true more than ever. We live in a world where the frontiers of knowledge are continuously being pushed. New super-specialisations are developed every day. Consequently, the universe of opportunities waiting to be unlocked through multidisciplinary thinking also continues to expand.
In such a universe, organisations must rethink how they approach the capacity building. It is no longer viable to bank on hiring as a sure-shot method of acquiring specific niche talent when needed. The talent market is highly fragmented, with several hot skills being in crucial demand. organisations must identify broad buckets of vital skillsets and build talent reserves that can be deployed when key opportunities present themselves.
Today, especially given the pace at which innovation and disruption create potential avenues for new business, organisations must be prepared for the possibility that the skills to pursue key blue-sky opportunities may not exist. Partial or adjacent skill sets can be leveraged by developing the additional capacities required, enabling organisations to quickly ramp up teams and capitalise on such opportunities.
Learning and development take centre stage in such a situation. An organisation’s learning and development function must be closely aligned with businesses and be keyed into the potential directions in which each business may develop. As innovations create the need for multidisciplinary skillsets, developing talent that can straddle disciplines becomes a key enabler. Maintaining such a focus across the organisation enables the learning and development function to capture the broad buckets of intermediate-level skillsets for which they need to develop talent pools through appropriate programs.
When the organisation anticipates an opportunity for a new multidisciplinary project, then they have already partially developed the required capacity. They can then run the appropriate programs to equip them with the next level of skills required for the opportunity. This facilitates the speedy deployment of resources to new multidisciplinary projects, creating an agile organisation that is future-ready and capable of speedily capitalizing on opportunities in a VUCA world.
Digital skills are an example of a broad skillset required to function in an organisation where remote working is commonplace. The digitalisation of our world has been inevitable for some time now, a journey that has only been accelerated by the impact of COVID-19. This will further accelerate the advent of the gig economy, which will significantly alter the composition of the workforce. Learning and development programs will play a key role in equipping the existing workforce with the skills required to adapt to the paradigm shift in how work is done and how people collaborate.
Learning and development are also a critical pieces in the change management journey of any organisational transformation. Transformations typically involve an infusion of new talent intended to supercharge the organisation’s growth journey, whether through the mergers and acquisition route or simply through the setting up of new functions. Their success depends on their ability to work with existing talent towards the achievement of larger organisational goals. For this, existing talent must buy into the transformation and feel that it offers them personal growth and that they continue to be valued by the organisation. Upskilling programs help them adapt to the new paradigm and clearly message that the organisation remains invested in its success.
The current state of the talent marketplace firmly places the advantage in the hands of candidates rather than employers. organisations must clearly distinguish themselves from competitors for talent in terms of the employee value proposition that they offer. A culture of learning can be a powerful differentiator. The onus falls squarely on the learning and development function to support the leadership in establishing this culture. The goal should be to build an organisation that the talent market perceives as a career accelerator focused on providing development and opportunities that keep employees ahead of the curve. The additional benefit to the organisation is that a culture of continuous learning also spawns a culture of curiosity, which acts as an internal driver for growth.
Curious, driven employees with a desire to keep growing eventually develop into leaders who then strengthen the culture of learning, furthering this virtuous cycle and creating more leaders. The result is an organisation with a growth mindset, where people’s careers are accelerated, and leaders are built.
Given how essential learning and development programs are to organisational success, organisations must invest in driving the appropriate programs. However, one of the reasons that organisations hesitate to do so is the inability to establish clear linkages between these programs and their eventual outcomes. Like many other functions, which evolved from support functions to strategic business partners, such as IT, Finance, and HR, the learning and development function must make the same shift and become business outcome-oriented. Establishing more evident linkages between learning and development programs undertaken and business outcomes allows for organisations to justify a greater investment and sustained focus on the same.
Learning and development programs are a vital building block of organisational success. The opportunity to build a sustainable competitive advantage based on learning exists. The onus is on the learning and development function to own the transition towards strategic business partnership, to build an agile and future-ready organisation, and to establish a culture of learning and curiosity that can act as an accelerator towards the organisation’s efforts to develop capable leaders.