CEO of AllenComm since 2003.
Corporate leaders have long understood that demonstrating value to shareholders must include navigating and managing change. From the early days of Kurt Lewin’s change management model, it has been well understood that companies need to adequately prepare for both sudden unexpected shifts and gradual changes.
The current economic and health crises have propelled organizations toward long-overdue examinations of the role of employee training and development in shaping corporate readiness. It’s often said that 70% of change initiatives fail. While the Harvard Business Review has estimated that number is actually around 10%, it should still be no surprise that failure to adapt to changes due to the coronavirus can have far-reaching ramifications for employees and stockholders.
Although industries have seen several sudden disruptions due to advancements in technology, sudden changes due to Covid-19 have revealed unexpected challenges. Some organizations quickly overcame or adapted to these challenges; others have not. Moreover, as the CEO of a company that provides corporate training solutions, I’ve observed that the difference between the two types of organizations is the heavy use of learning and development teams or performance consultants to further organizational readiness.
So, perhaps it would be beneficial for business leaders to expand upon their definition of “readiness” to encompass the supporting role their learning and development teams can play. While it’s important to categorically separate technology and infrastructure preparedness from people readiness, L&D teams have a unique, multi-faceted role in both.
The Role Of L&D In Corporate Readiness
For this discussion, readiness is a state of preparedness of persons, systems or organizations to meet a situation and carry out a planned sequence of actions. The first step for human resources and L&D is to define how these resources come in to play both for corporate readiness and, more specifically, organizational readiness activities.
Unfortunately, L&D groups are often overlooked in preparatory stages, as their role is typically focused on specific areas of curriculum and learning design. Too often, decisions on processes for change management end with well-detailed power points and technology purchases at best. However, I believe that money and effort would be better spent preparing both people and culture for change.
So, how can L&D better support the organization? Let’s review the specific roles L&D should take:
Support: Building a culture of organizational readiness includes leadership training around promoting resiliency among employees and flexibility of action. This means deploying specific training programs with executive participation and endorsement.
Mapping: Organizational change often requires restructuring and reorganizing departments. So, the process of performance mapping to determine key organizational competencies for day-to-day operations should be expanded to foster cross-training and certifications. Moreover, organizations should consider the skills needed to prepare for novel situations and unexpected demands on the organization. Preparation needs to go beyond the proverbial fire drill.
Staffing: Economic crises also tend to entail significant hiring or layoffs. As we have seen in the recent Covid-19 crisis, L&D personnel are well-suited to support marketing or internal communication teams. Very few organizational groups besides L&D have detailed cross-knowledge of the organization and its roles.
Additionally, the competency maps determined by L&D should play a key role in hiring practices. For instance, create hiring practices that consider the roles or skill sets needed to navigate change. It should come as no surprise that L&D organizations might get downsized early-on during economic crises. But, for organizations thinking about readiness, I believe the reflex to downsize L&D can point to a lack of planning.
Breaking Down Organizational Readiness
According to Bryan Weiner’s 2009 article on organizational readiness, this “multi-faceted construct” refers to the determination of a company’s members to implement a change, as well as their belief that they can do so. Weiner said, “Organizational readiness for change varies as a function of how much organizational members value the change and how favorably they appraise three key determinants of implementation capability: task demands, resource availability, and situational factors.”
L&D has a critical role in all three areas. A good first step for learning leaders and their executives would be to rank their involvement in the following areas:
• Skill, knowledge and competency acquisition
• Recruiting practices
• Learning culture
• Promoting leadership and resiliency
• Crisis management.
• Training content and assets for specific, sudden challenges
• Contingency plans for uncommon events (e.g., hacking, economic changes, etc.)
A true measure of an organization’s commitment to readiness will be seen by the command and control of the information and communication systems around corporate readiness. Taking steps to ensure that certification management and key change management competencies are measured would seem like common sense. However, I’ve found that data from learning management systems, learning portals and other learning experience platforms often aren’t integrated with business intelligence systems.
Preparing For The Unexpected
L&D teams will need to have a larger role in the planning and preparation of organizational readiness initiatives. Recent lessons from the challenges I’ve observed as clients navigate the pandemic has made that evident. Corporate readiness is a vital piece of organizational success during disruptive events. Where organizational challenges require human capital solutions, employee training and development teams must not only support the organization but also lead change.
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