Introduction to learning under uncertain conditions
Have you noticed something recently, and it’s not for good? Have you noticed a decrease in the overall quality of communication with the customers you expect to serve? If you do, then good! I’m not going crazy…well, maybe a little, but that’s conversation for my therapist. It’s not just a coincidence; There has been a significant decline in customer support since the pandemic. The question is whether those responsible for employee learning and development (L&D) should be held accountable? Or are practitioners justified in claiming, “Hey, it’s not our fault?”
See, I get it. Times are tough for almost everyone. Inflation is rising rapidly (and not just in the US) and, unfortunately, COVID-19 continues to be an economic scourge around the world. But in all this one thing is persevered which is known as the Great Quit or the Big Quit. While many factors are causing real disaster for companies, any kind of customer service decline is the result of the big exit. But Big Cute is about managing current and new employees and supporting existing needs efficiently. More on that later.
Now, if you still don’t know what great resignation is, well, you might be the only one. Simply put, it’s a unique economic situation resulting from the pandemic’s two years of remote and hybrid work arrangements that have caused people to rethink what they do, how they do it, and where they do it. You may say, but frontline workers did not have the option to work remotely! True, however, they were most adversely affected by several extended economic shutdowns and often unexpectedly lost much-needed income during lockdowns and extended slow periods. Naturally, they look for new and more secure jobs and roles. They were. As a result, companies scramble to fill significant shortages in key frontline positions. But they faced a vicious cycle, losing their existing employees who sought other sources of income from more secure and valuable roles (Big Cute) and then quickly having to hire new, untrained staff.
Admittedly, the history of modern employment has seen such a large number of employees rethink their life priorities in all sectors and seek meaningful and financially rewarding work. While all of this is happening, companies are increasingly challenged to maintain staffing levels and, in turn, maintain the quality of products and services that we, as consumers, expect to receive. It’s not happening, at least not as well or as consumers expect anyway.
Labor shortages and labor allocation problems are causing significant frustration among the general public and consumers; Simply put, this is what you feel in a bad interaction with the company. While nothing can be done about Big Quiet, the question is, who should shoulder the responsibility for this poor service and support? Internally, everyone must shoulder some responsibility, but some deserve no blame, such as employees, especially those who want a better life and better pay and more secure income. Think about it: If you work in an unpredictable, unwelcoming, or even hostile work environment, you’ll also enhance your resume.
Is the company to blame? You would think so and chances are everyone is looking for a scapegoat. But for many internal functions, some factors are beyond their control. Now, this is not to shirk their responsibility to help solve the problem, but rather to appreciate how they have to address this concern. While it is up to a company’s leadership to ensure that operational processes run smoothly, it is also the role and responsibility of their internal support functions to reduce stress. Yes, the spotlight is on you, Human Resources (HR) and Learning & Development.
You see, in the volatile times we’re currently living in, company leaders expect their proactive functions to step up and respond to needs. When primary operational activities are down, especially during economic downturns or uncertainty, support functions are expected to increase. The two support functions missing in action here are human resources and learning and development. Naturally, they treat people like that! Other supporting functions (eg, marketing, finance, IT) do not (and these functions have their hands full with other issues at the moment). Both HR and L&D are front and center for smooth operations of a company.
Why is learning and development necessary step by step?
Human resources and learning and development, two essential enabling functions, are not meeting expectations. For HR, many external economic factors are affecting their ability to resolve high turnover issues and exacerbate employee recruitment and retention. This is not to excuse them from responsibility, but to work with what they can control. For L&D, however, things are slightly different. You see, remote work or not, pandemic or not, customer service, or any essential/core skill for that matter, is something that needs to be continually developed and well supported, not just for training examples but for the employee’s tenure. . .
Customer service is more than funny and polite. It ensures customer satisfaction with specific company processes and policies around problem-solving and critical thinking skills. I’m not going to go into specifics since each company will have their own approach to solving customer problems. But the key is for employees to possess and apply these skills, and not randomly apply what they are experiencing at the moment of interaction.
How can education and development adapt to economic uncertainty?
Let’s agree to accept a collective truism, economic uncertainty is everyone’s new reality. If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s to never say, “It can never happen!” Again the reality is that things will happen, even things that seem impossible or unimaginable (eg, pandemics, the 2008 financial crash, major environmental problems, etc.). These economic flows are beyond our direct control but will ultimately affect every individual. L&D, however, is in a unique position to develop proactive measures that will not necessarily eliminate risks, but can mitigate and reduce their impact on the organization. How do you do it? Well, let’s find out?
You must first develop a practical learning strategy. This is where the wheels fall off for many practitioners. Many will claim, “Yes, we have a strategy, we have a bunch of courses in development.” Or the company’s stakeholders will focus on what they think employees need to learn, rather than what they expect employees to do. As I repeat, it is never about “learning”, it is about “doing”.
An active learning strategy must align with the company’s mission, and subsequently, help it meet performance expectations. I have written about this repeatedly and even published a book on it, Trainer’s Balanced ScorecardSo please access this resource.
If you have learning strategies, it’s time to revisit. Often practitioners will develop one, feel proud of doing it, and then shelve it without another glance. Time to dust it off and, possibly, redo it. If you want to make sure your stakeholders see the value in what you have to offer, I strongly suggest that you be proactive, interview those who need your services, conduct a needs assessment, and determine what the company needs for the future, and not just now. . .
Next, develop a learning contingency strategy. Well, now you’re probably saying, “Yeah, but we just made a learning strategy like you asked us to! Why is that?” The answer is, what if things don’t work as planned? Or, should I say, expect the unexpected. Your stakeholders refer to this as risk management. And while they have an initial strategic plan, they also have offensive scenarios in place. These are what they call “what if” situations. You need to ask the same questions by creating learning situations based on their contingency plans.
Then, you have to be strategic and ready to be a guerilla. Yes, learning initiatives are well planned, designed, developed, tested and fully implemented, but what if you need them now? You can throw all that right out the window! Ask yourself, if your stakeholders brought you an immediate need, could you respond? Can you meet their needs and solve their expectations?
This is not the time to lie to yourself and pretend you can. You have to be honest. If you are unsure, conduct a drill simulation with a key stakeholder Approach them and ask if they might be forced to come to you with an immediate and unexpected employee development emergency. Then see if you are able to respond in time. Assess your weaknesses and consider why you don’t have the resources you need and where to reallocate your available resources. You will want to make this a recurring event.
Finally, you must leverage your learning technology. One thing for every practitioner is learning more technology. But the saying “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind. For your stakeholders, the “e” in e-learning (which includes any learning technology) stands for “efficiency” and/or “effectiveness,” and it should mean the same to you. Your technology can equip you to address many of the previous points. Any e-learning technology will help you design real-time learning that employees can access anytime and from anywhere. It is strategic and practical and will influence your stakeholders and operational partners.
Consider using data collected and compiled through your learning management system and assessment/testing technology. Analyzing (or analyzing) this data, if you collect valuable internal user information, can provide you with insight into employee and organizational needs. Trust me on this, I have contributed to becoming a multinational in global customer support based on this analysis alone.
It’s up to you
This article is like taking a spoonful of bad-tasting cough medicine, but it’s not meant to be accusatory. Rather, to shine a spotlight on the relevance and importance of the role that learning and development play in the context of business operations and performance. Your leaders want your efforts to succeed…so, please prove them right!
Please share your thoughts and feedback with us. We will be glad to hear about your efforts. And who knows, it might be the subject of our next eLearning industry article. Also, please check out our LinkedIn Learning courses to learn more about developing business credibility for your learning efforts. Share your thoughts and remember to #alwaysbelearning!
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