The Worth And Future of L & D

The Worth And Future of L & D

Luckily for all of us in the workforce, we need not hunt for the solitude of the kind that brought about transformation for The Buddha.


To understand the true worth of what is known as ‘Learning & Development’ aka L&D, many would guide you to go back in time and study the life of The Buddha. After all, this founder of ‘Buddhism’ is known as ‘The Enlightened One’. However, being cognisant of the fact that in today’s digital world, you may be more accepting of contemporary examples, let me draw your attention towards Jay Shetty - an English author, purpose coach and leadership guru. To make him even more appealing to you, allow me to also introduce him to you as an award-winning host, storyteller and viral content creator. Now, that should have gotten your attention!


But that is not the reason one is showcasing him to you in a write up about the future of L&D in the world of business. The reason is that Jay Shetty also exemplifies a radical approach in the evolution of one’s learning. A graduate in Behavioural Sciences, he started questioning the modern lifestyle and desired to find a deeper purpose. Motivated by the same, at the age of 22, he gave up his corporate trappings and travelled across India and Europe, living the life of a monk. Meditating for 4-8 hours a day, he experimented with various water and no food fasts, experiencing the impact on his own body and mind. Intense meditation and study further fortified his endeavour to upgrade himself. This, in turn, helped Jay benefit and transform his community.


For the first 3 years, he helped build sustainable villages and develop food programmes that distributed over a million meals per day. The scenario post that is known to many. In an attempt to further his messages, he leveraged the digital ecosystem. His viral videos, which are a key component of the same, have garnered over 4 billion views since 2016, when he launched his YouTube Video Channel.


One might be hard pressed to find a worthier example that illuminates the importance and evolution of L&D in these times. This also fits in with the textbook definition of L&D. At its core, the ‘Learning & Development’ space is a ‘systematic process to enhance an employee’s skills, knowledge, and competency, resulting in better performance in a work setting’ as defined by AIHR.


Note also that no less than N. Chandrasekhar, Chairman, Tata Sons, pointed out at the recently concluded AIMA (All India Management Association) Annual Conference 2021 that “India is required to create 100 million jobs over the next 10 years”. A staggering figure, indeed, and one that will require a well-oiled training machine to ensure that skills are imparted at scale.


It is clear that L&D interventions benefit, both, the employee and the employer. In the case of the employee, the clear benefits are the enhanced capability and the resultant higher market value. In the case of the employer, the capability to continue delivering high-quality service to its customers and beating the competition are some of the primary desired benefits. The moot question that must, therefore, be addressed is this – is this upskilling effort the responsibility of the individual or the organisation?


The answer to this can never be black and white. Sure, any organisation worth its salt must have an L&D framework to support growth and future proof itself. It is the primary way in which it can ensure that its intellectual capital grows and enables it to ringfence itself. At the same time, individuals need to realise that in a capitalistic market that is increasingly adopting ‘skill-based’ payment models, the onus has to be on oneself to continually upgrade. No doubt that the leaders of tomorrow will be those that have invested consciously and deeply in their learning agenda, supported by their organisations.


Alignment of Goals


First and foremost, the end goals of the organisation need to be aligned with those of individual employees. Having employees invest on and acquire skills that are not aligned to the core offering of the organisation is not sustainable. Upskilled employees who do not find opportunities to utilise their skills in the organisation will be tempted by opportunities outside that are more suited to their aspirations. In effect, L&D interventions that are not mapped to the present and future objectives of an organisation are a wasted endeavour, at least from an organisation’s point of view. To counter such a development, it is important for L&D leaders to involve the employees in the decision-making when it comes to identifying the desired skills and the learning engagements in the organisation.


Imparting Learning


The days of classroom training have been numbered for a while. The intense explosion of WFH (Work from Home) on account of the pandemic, has resulted in our workforce being distributed in many industries. By all accounts, this is a trend that is likely to continue going forward, even when we can confidently say that this pandemic is behind us. From a learning standpoint, this poses an acute challenge. Much of the learning in any programme can be attributed to the interaction between the coach and the learner or even amongst the learners. While technology is available and platforms robust enough to ensure that learners have access to the knowledge and guidance they require, the same cannot replace the personal ‘human’ element that in-person training sessions provide. The only way for L&D leaders to compensate this is by connecting with the employees on an ongoing basis to provide them with the additional guidance that they need.


Impact Measurement


While not strictly a newly discovered challenge, impact measurement is now more important than ever before. With heightened levels of competition, every dollar spent on L&D programmes needs to be scrutinised. Spends in the right areas at the right time have the potential to significantly enhance the output of the employees and also to change the trajectory when it comes to new product/service development. Often, in organisations, when it comes to building skills, there is a choice to either invest in upgrading the skills of current employees or to onboard fresh talent from outside. In the case of the latter, the likelihood of the ‘old-timers’ who have not significantly upgraded themselves having to exit the organisation, increases multifold. Accordingly, L&D leaders need to design and implement frameworks that help the organisation’s leaders, and the employees understand the value and impact of the programmes.


Given the above, the L&D approach for the organisation of the future needs to be innovative and engaging to make a real difference. It needs to be one that creates a ‘Pull factor’ for learning while at the same time, providing the ‘Route’ to acquire the desired knowledge or skills. Therefore, the core pillars on which the L&D function should operate should be the below.


Enabling Learning


Access Digital has transformed learning. To be sure, one need not go and meditate under a peepul tree like The Buddha. Today, with 24*7 connectivity, everyone has access. The icing on the cake is that both, access and content can be acquired ‘Free-of-cost’. Governments and social organisations make available internet access in order to uplift individuals at the bottom of the pyramid. Both, businesses and individual creators continue to create and offer content to build their community and brand. When it comes to organisations, the mantra has to be to make this access easily available across platforms in an ‘anytime and anywhere’ model.


Appropriate Incentivisation


When an individual is connected to the internet, it is akin to be in a theme park with an ‘all-day pass’, where one has the option to choose any ride of one’s liking. On account of this, it is challenging for one to address his or her own learning agenda given that in the online world, the boundaries between education and entertainment have irreversibly blurred. Given the skyrocketing budgets that entertainment producers have access to, learning programmes face an unequal battle. Thus, organisations need to incentivise learners to focus on their education rather than on entertainment through innovative means.


Driving Learning Ownership


With the multitude of learning options available and the diversity in the learners, it is nigh impossible for organisations to cater to every employee. Therefore, it is imperative that employees pick up the learning gauntlet. What organisations can do to encourage this is to deploy ‘Learning Experience Platforms’ (or LXPs, as they are referred to). Such platforms are intuitive and collaborative and make the learning process participative and enjoyable for the learners. These are integral to a self-regulated and self-managed learning ecosystem and must be adopted by organisations that are serious about their L&D interventions.


So, notwithstanding the fact that one may not aspire to reach the illuminated levels of the Buddha or even that of Jay, the importance of learning has never been more. Couple this with the reality of shorter ‘skill lives’ and it becomes clear that this learning has to be an ongoing process. Luckily for all of us in the workforce, we need not hunt for the solitude of the kind that brought about transformation for the Buddha or Jay. Instead, we just need to step forward and partner more deeply with our L&D teams to ensure that our learning is a joint win!


Vikas Dua is an accomplished HR and recruitment professional, an author, a TEDx speaker, and a Vlogger and Blogger on HR practices. With over 15 years of high-quality experience in the field of IT and ITES, he has worked with both startups and large corporations like Wipro and Concentrix. Currently, he is the Chief HR Mentor at Attayn, an HR-tech platform focused on democratising knowledge in the academic space. He is also an Advisor to the BRICS Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Young Leaders Programme.


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