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From challenges brought about by the pandemic to advice on ROI measurement and best practices, senior HR leaders touch on solutions to redesign learning for maximum impact.

There has never been a more important time for L&D to be adaptable and agile. In almost every role and every industry, we need to reimagine the way that employees learn. Therefore, we at Human Resources Online (HRO) took the opportunity to partner with Coursera, and seek out HR & learning leaders in Hong Kong for a conversation on ways to redesign learning for maximum impact.

HRO’s Aditi Sharma Kalra had the opportunity to moderate this panel discussion on the topic ‘Developing a business case for learning’. The speakers included:

  • Eklavya Bhave, Senior Regional Director, Asia, Coursera
  • Handi Kurniawan, Head, Jardine Learning Academy, Jardine Matheson
  • Pelle Ho, Director, Talent Development and Engagement, FWD Insurance
  • Winnie Tsien, Head of Human Resources, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, Jones Lang La Salle

In this article, we explore key insights from the discussion most relevant to L&D decision makers. Read on for the conversation excerpts.

#1: A rollercoaster ride: Ups and downs for L&D emerging from the pandemic

The increase in learning uptake during the pandemic implied that employees were keen to develop and grow in their roles. Equally, employers recognised the need to retain critical skills & talent, and did so by leveraging on managers to engage and develop their teams in areas where there was a definite skills gap. While keeping content relevant and current remains the number one priority for L&D, the panellists agreed that the overall learning strategy must ultimately take into consideration the different stages of the organisation’s learning journey, roles, and learning needs of employees.

One way to address the diversity of learning needs is to democratise learning by making programmes accessible and affordable. Companies are also moving away from quantifying the impact of learning by number of training hours to instead focusing on how the new skills acquired benefit the business.

#2: Big wins: What’s working well in L&D?

Some examples of successful L&D strategies shared by the panellists include:

1. Investing in easy access to high-quality digital learning content to curate and share learning as a community. This ensures L&D is aligned to business priorities while addressing the diversity in learners’ needs. Initiatives can be taken to ensure activation and engagement with learners in the digital space. One example is to give grants or incentives to learners who share what they have learnt with their teams, which further contributes to a positive learning culture within the organisation. A big advantage of digital or blended learning is that the overall cost of delivering L&D programmes can be significantly lowered while reaching a larger audience.

2. Focusing on sustainability by accelerating the building of skills and capabilities internally. While the focus in the past was on ‘buying’ talent, there is now a shift towards leveraging on current talent pools to fill up hard-to-hire positions and plug gaps in hard-to-build skill sets. Programmes to build internal capability include rotations, stretch assignments, expansion in scope of work, and expansion in span of control to accelerate employees’ readiness to step up. There is also significant growth in the use of automation and robotic process automation (RPA) to support business functions.

3. Learning experience and relevance of learning content. It is important to help employees see the relevance of the content to their current roles. To deliver digital content more effectively, strategies can be deployed in designing learning content such as role-playing game (RPG) simulations to get learners to take on certain roles and practice required skills, and online whiteboard sessions.

#3: Pain points: Ongoing challenges in an increasingly hybrid workforce

The first challenge highlighted was getting people to take ownership of identifying their own learning needs and seeking out the best training options. In a hybrid working environment, there is a greater demand for flexibility in the way employees choose to learn as well as the content they want to learn. Thus, motivating employees to seek out learning opportunities is what companies want to focus on. Another challenge is for the organisation to remain resilient and persistent when it comes to L&D as outcomes and impact of learning may not be immediately measurable. Companies need to give employees time to digest what the learning means to them, and apply the skills in their daily work. As such, difficulty in measuring ROI for L&D remains a challenge, especially with online learning and digital content becoming mainstream. One way to address this is to observe rates of activation and engagement – but ultimately, it boils down to instilling a positive learning culture.

Lastly, with the shelf life of skills and knowledge getting shorter, employees need to see the relevance and value of upskilling in not only carrying out their day-to-day responsibilities but also in taking additional responsibilities or new roles. It will be important to showcase examples of people within the organisation who have upskilled or reskilled and as a result, experienced career growth.

#4: Strategy levers: Developing a business case for learning

In a spot poll, event attendees said that the biggest challenge they faced when it comes to learning is the ever-changing skills requirement (32%), followed by buy-in from stakeholders (28%) then, relevance of content (16%). Cost & investment, and having in-house expertise ranked the lowest in terms of concern. Yet, making a business case for a learning revolution seems harder than ever.

According to Eklavya Bhave, Senior Regional Director, Asia, Coursera, CLOs should focus on five aspects with the underlying factor being the ability to link learning outcomes to business objectives:

1. Understand the business: CLOs need to be clear about the company’s product lines, areas of growth, areas that the competition is stronger at, and external factors affecting the company such as regulatory, technological, and buying behaviour changes.

2. Stakeholder management: Understanding the challenges faced by the various stakeholders will provide better insight into the business priorities and how skilling and learning can address their challenges. Building this relationship with the stakeholders is important as they need to see the learning programme as a partnership rather than something imposed upon them.

3. Invest time and effort in areas of maximum impact: Tap into areas that match the company’s strategy, such as digital transformation.

4. While investing in digital upskilling, do not neglect real life skills: At the heart of every business is its people. In the last two to three years, interaction with partners, clients, colleagues, and customers has changed drastically due to hybrid working. We see a lot of stress resulting from change management. Preparing employees for such changes will protect their mental wellbeing, an issue that has been sorely neglected in the past.

5. Think of the business impact that can be created by upskilling: Consider the impact of upskilling in a holistic manner – if it is increasing the lifecycle of the employees, if it is increasing retention, and if it is building skills that will enable employees to become more adaptable.

#5: Measuring ROI on L&D beyond number of training hours

Our panellists believe that partnerships are important before any milestone checks. Before starting any talent development programme, there must be conversations with business leaders to understand the business roadmap and how to push it forward from a learning and talent point of view. While not all programmes can be measured quantitatively, there are data points that organisations can look at after delivering the upskilling programme. For example, if the employees have gone through digital literacy upskilling, we can look at rates of technology adoption, turnaround time for solutions, and confidence among teams in terms of implementing new technologies and solutions in their day-to-day work. Employee engagement to gain sentiments around learning can also be indicative of how the programme has added value.

Another key indicator is employee retention rate. Most employees will want to work in an organisation that invests in them. They are also more likely to stay where there is greater internal mobility brought because of upskilling. By retaining this talent, employers can reduce their dependency on time-consuming and expensive external hiring.

Conclusion

With a prestigious set of panellists at the ready, we took the additional opportunity to probe them on the one skill that is hardest to build, but the most necessary. In an increasingly competitive business environment where companies are scrambling to upskill technologically, the most sought-after skill, according to our panellists is surprisingly, empathy. Empathy, they all agreed. goes a long way in creating a better workforce, from interaction between colleagues to understanding customers better to offer better products, services, and solutions.

HRO and Coursera wish to thank all the speakers for their support and insights shared in this conversation. We are confident their experiences will benefit the HR & learning landscape in Hong Kong.


Image / Coursera webinar

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