Capability Building During COVID-19

Capability Building During COVID-19

A common COVID-19 grievance of our partners and peers in the training, leadership development, and coaching fraternity the world over has been how budget cuts and shifting organisation-level priorities have adversely impacted their revenue pipeline. And while every industry and profession has had to weather its storm owed to the challenges this period has brought, several training and development providers have gone from packed preCOVID calendars to barely being able to stay afloat at this time.


A Mckinsey report released during the COVID-19 pandemic has found that roughly half of the in-person programs till June 30, 2020, have been postponed or cancelled in North America; with close to 100 per cent of them being cancelled in parts of Asia and Europe.[1] This may not come as a surprise given the social distancing requirements, even as training providers move quickly to pivot business models and adapt to the online frameworks but with limited to no budgets allocated, there is little respite to their efforts.


A Gallup's August 2020 report articulated the sentiment quite effectively by saying “Budget cutting is like pruning trees. You need to do it to help your organisation thrive in the long run. But if you cut too much, in the wrong places, you might damage the tree”.[2] So, are they receiving the requisite support to enable them to power through?


And while it is common practice to scale back on employee development initiatives when the times are tough, can organisations afford to put capability building on the backburner in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world riddled with a new reality?


Prioritising Capability Building


Our work and research in the space of leadership development during times of uncertainty is based on the model of Flow. It was developed by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and it found that it requires an alignment of mindset, capability, and challenge for individuals to reach a state of high productive action towards performance.


And at times like these, where the level of challenge is unprecedentedly high, what are organisations doing to support individuals in managing their mindset, nurturing their emotional health, and enhancing their skills and capabilities to ride this new world reality?


A Qualtrics study conducted across more than 2,000 employees globally in March/April 2020 has found that 42% of employees have reported a decline in mental health since the COVID outbreak, 66% have reported higher levels of stress, 28% of employees reported difficulty in concentrating, 20% reported taking longer to do a task, 14.7% have reported difficulty in thinking, reasoning or deciding and 12.4% have put off challenging work and 11.8% are having difficulty in juggling responsibilities.[3]


As a leadership and performance coach conducting webinars and sessions through the COVID period, the challenges that I often see across program attendees and individual clients are in line with the findings of the Qualtrics study. The common difficulties that individuals are facing currently seem to revolve around:


♦ feelings of low productivity

♦ decreased motivation

♦ increase in negative thoughts

♦ stress and overwhelmed

♦ difficulty sleeping

♦ struggles with social isolation and

♦ increased fear and insecurity over the future


So, if you are one of those organisations who understand the overall impact of investing in employee development but are restricted by budget, here are five ways in which you can prioritise your investment in capability building at this time:


1. Balance the virtual and the live: While most organisations have successfully implemented e-learning through cloud-based offerings, virtual or augmented reality, and even AI learning in some cases, the focus on instructor-led or live learning has reduced during this time. For organisations to maintain the intimacy, connection, and individual focus that comes with highly engaged and impactful learning environments, they must adopt a blended approach with the optimum balance of self-paced online and live programs.


2. Focus on Behaviour: With an increased focus on technology and digitisation across industries and job roles, organisations must continue to prioritise behaviour skills. According to a Gallups 2020 report, it has been estimated that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.[4] The pandemic has in fact demonstrated that leaders have had to carefully balance making business and financial decisions, driving productivity and performance, while simultaneously being advocates of good mental health among their teams.


Behaviour skills such as resilience, emotional intelligence, collaboration, handling difficulty, developing psychological safety and trust, motivating yourself and others, and more, have been critical to the smooth functioning of teams during Covid. A Gartner report on the 9 Future of Work Trends Post Covid-19 has suggested that one of the biggest shifts in organisational design is going to be the move from efficiency to resilience.[5] In a fast-evolving dynamic world, resilient organisations will be better positioned to quickly adapt to changing circumstances. And therefore, behaviour skills are key to getting leaders and teams to move quickly and manage change effectively.


3. Create a Platform for Individual Conversations: The pandemic has demonstrated that there is no one size fits all and that while we are all in the same storm, it has become incumbent on all to successfully steer their boat. While it is near impossible to control how employees experience the world outside the organisation at this time, creating a platform that provides the requisite guidance is important. Coaching conversations with expert coaches, emotional health sensitisation programs, support groups, and frequent check-ins will be key to addressing individual challenges as they happen.


4. Future of Work skills: As organisations continue to work from home or adopt hybrid work models even in the medium or long-term, skilling individuals and teams to develop the future of work skills will be essential. Learning and development activities will need to move away from a tick box approach to an outcome-based one. Skill-building relating to managing virtual teams, conducting online meetings, building collaboration in silos, managing mindset, innovative thinking, developing agility, building commercial awareness and more will be important to develop to ensure that teams thrive in the new reality.


5. Make it Fun and Engaging: With reduced social interaction during Covid, an almost transactional approach to life and work, no water cooler chats, lunchtime workplace gossip, or post-work plans, these learning and development programs can play a significant role in employee engagement and improving morale. Whether it is in building a network of learners or throwing in that new dimension to the employee’s workweek, these programs can provide the necessary fun and relief that we could all do with as we navigate the midphase of the pandemic.



[1] adapting-workplace-learning-in-the-time-ofcoronavirus#

[2] ways-continue-employee-developmentcovid.aspx


[4] ways-continue-employee-developmentcovid.aspx

[5] smarterwithgartner/9-future-of-work-trendspost-covid-19/


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Shubika Bilkha is a dynamic leadership and performance coach who has worked with several professionals, CXOs, and senior-level executives across corporates, industries, and educational institutions. She is a Partner of EdpowerU that specialises in working with managers, leaders, entrepreneurs, and founders on their workplace behaviour and personal leadership development. Shubika was also awarded the "Most Promising Motivational Trainer 2020" at the Mumbai Achiever's Awards.


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