Rob Field Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The last 6 weeks have seen some pretty seismic shifts in the world of work.

Large parts of the workforce have been uprooted from office environments and are now suddenly forced to adapt to working from home, sometimes in less than ideal conditions.

How has L&D responded? What opportunities are there to continue and to adapt to this new world? I have heard multiple times that this is the moment for leaders to lead and make their mark. But how? What support are they being offered? What exists to help engage them and rapidly develop the skills they may use to not just cope but the thrive?

Elizabeth Howlett has published a couple of recent articles in People Management on how to manage remotely. Interesting reading. Underperforming employees and Learning and Development are two areas of focus.

My question is how much focus is there presently on supporting managers and leaders during this highly important time? How will their behaviour, focus and engagement of others help to increase productivity, keep those around them motivated and maximise the impact this can have for the organisation. Most organisations have a limited capability to deliver effective online development. Of course, we all use Zoom, WebEx and other tools to communicate, but how much is learning-focused? And of that, how much is skills-focused rather than knowledge itself? There is some excellent content out there, however, much is passive and knowledge-based as opposed to having to apply a skill in real-time with real people. Effective leaders must make good decisions quickly, often based on limited information. They must serve as a rallying force that keeps employees on track and be able to have the conversations necessary to engage those around them. Organisations with the strongest leaders are the ones that will survive and thrive.

Harvard Business Review suggests that leaders need to receive feedback, engage in self-observation and practice self-management as part of the development process. Knowing what feedback is needed is critical. Who is observing is also massively important and how and when to practice needs thought and consideration.

Imagine a world where individuals could have a specific development programme that was designed for them. Coaching, individual activities and exercises designed to develop and practice specific skills, feedback and the chance to watch back. What about a small cluster of managers, four or five perhaps, but not enough to make up the normal size of a cohort that would warrant a programme? Maybe even a larger number of managers but with a specific issue and skill to practice in order to consistently execute a particular approach. Challenging…Yes. Impossible…No. Already available.

The ability to effectively blend all these approaches is the key to getting the maximum value from any learning intervention. Of course, there will always be areas that we would prefer to do face to face and perhaps should do face to face. With planning and consideration, most can be adapted to still be engaging and supportive.

With travel retracted and organisations seeing how well many have adapted, the question is likely to be ‘do we need to travel?’ and of course with the economic impact organisations will be looking for cost savings.

We have had some interesting conversations with clients and already piloting programmes with live, virtual skills learning with both groups and individuals focused on a series of short 30-45 minute exercises, aimed at developing specific skills to enhance manager effectiveness. 

What support is there to ensure manager and leader success at this critical moment? Virtual development isn’t the future, it is now and with 2020 looking like a pretty tough economic year virtual needs to finds its place and make its mark.