Table of Contents
Importance of Training and Development Activities.
Improved Employee Morale and Satisfaction..
Increased innovation in new products and strategies.
Enhances company profile and reputation..
Training and Development during Corona-virus.
Before the sessions.
During the sessions.
After the sessions.
In today's competitive business environment in which everything is in flux due to constant innovation and a rapidly changing external environment, organizations need to be dynamic in their approach to implement changes within business processes to sustain competitiveness. Branicki, Steyer& Sullivan-Taylor (2019) mentioned that one of the best ways to develop and sustain competitiveness is to focus on the development of the organizational human resource. Ramalingam, Wild & Ferrari (2020) also agreed with the view and suggested that HR managers and business owners need to be on a lookout for various HR development opportunities to facilitate organizational growth. Given its importance in terms of organizational productivity, reduction in turnover and reduction in errors, it is not surprising that organizations invest significant time and resources in training and development of employees.
However, the advent of Coronavirus, which eventually became a pandemic, is changing the current business environment in an unprecedented manner. Business organizations are now entering a “new normal”, as the outbreak of virus became more widespread, with increased uncertainty and volatility in business. With imposed limitations on both travel and in-person business activities, working professionals are forced to stay at home resulting in disruptions in millions of business activities and transactions. A report by McKinsey on the effects of coronavirus on workplace learning suggests that workplace learning is emerging as the earliest and one of the hardest-hit business activities (McKinsey, 2020). The report further mentioned that through June 30, 2020, roughly one-half of every in-person program has been cancelled or postponed in Europe, North America, and Asia.
Still, businesses cannot afford to put capability building on hold. Companies cannot simply push the pause button on critical workplace learning. According to a report from the Manpower Group which includes a survey of US employees, learning and development are an inherent part of a holistic needs structure which results in employee and organizational success (Branicki, Steyer& Sullivan-Taylor, 2019). The current situation can be regarded as the black swan moment for innovation in workplace learning, which presents a novel opportunity for businesses to transform their approach towards organizational learning, even a companywide aspirational transformation. This paper presents a review of current literature on training and development to recommend actionable strategies for organizations to continue delivering and enabling value-creating efforts in HR development during the times of coronavirus.
According to Casalino, et al. (2019), the training presents a prime opportunity for organizations to expand the knowledge base of its members. Even though such training and development activities can be expensive for organizations, such activities provide both organizations and employees with benefits that make the investment worthwhile. Some of the common benefits of training and development activities, suggested by researchers are mentioned below.
Jehanzeb & Mohanty (2018) in their research on HR development activities and job satisfaction mentioned that the investment in training is important in an organization to show its employees that they are valued. Such activities facilitate the development of a supportive workplace and lead to increased job satisfaction and morale by making them feel challenged and appreciated through training opportunities.
Moreover, a robust HR development program ensures that the organizational workforce has consistent background knowledge and experience. This is especially relevant for basic policies and procedures in the organization, as all employees need to be aware of procedures and expectations within the company (Koirala&Acharya, 2020). This also supports the financial objectives of the organization by increasing workforce efficiency.
Bos-Nehles, Renkema& Janssen (2017) reported that it is often easier for organizations to justify the investment on tangible equipment than to rationalize spending on training. However, the research suggests that a 10% increment in organizational education level leads to an 8.6% increase in productivity across all industry types. Increased training and development activities also encourage creativity and innovation in an organization.
Implementing a sound training strategy facilitates the development of brand image and makes the organization a prime consideration for mid-career changes. It also helps to makes the company more attractive for those who want to improve their skills by capitalizing on the opportunities associated with the organization.
Every member of the organization has some sort of weaknesses in terms of their workplace skills. Organizational training programs allow organizations to address such weaknesses by strengthening employee skills. Development programs also help to reduces weak links that rely on others to complete basic tasks and facilitate the development of an overall knowledgeable staff with employees who can support each other and work independently without continuous help and supervision (Lord & Fenton, 2020).
Coronavirus has changed the way business operates and is creating new problems for learning and development (L&D) professionals (Fernandes, 2020). Organizations are implementing work from home and are scaling to protect workforce operations and efficiency. However building effective work from home practices into office-based teams is not an easy task, especially when it has to be done with an instant effect. L&D teams have beginning to understand their priorities and capacity. This has led to a radical switch from simple learning programs to building an effective online learning platform. Barua (2020) mentioned the impact on training and development according to organization size. As per the authors, the pressure on L&D operations is decreasing in smaller organizations.
This is mainly because face to face to virtual shift requires considerable investment, and smaller organizations are not capable of bearing such cost. Thus, they are cutting their costs and even eliminating their learning programs to move forward more efficiently. Concerning mid-sized organizations, the spread of coronavirus is putting a lot of pressure on HR managers as they have to help the entire workforce shift to a virtual learning ecosystem. The degree of such pressure is even more in large enterprises, as large businesses with distributed workforce are struggling to build infrastructure and sufficient capacity to move learning programs online. Bartik, et al. (2020) stated that many of the larger enterprising are discovering that they do not have adequate infrastructure to support virtual delivery of learning material, let alone running high bandwidth online programs.
Vnockova (2020) suggested that navigating the implications of coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented and the first and foremost priority of organizations should be to ensure supporting its workforce and clients across the globe. Globally, organizations are shifting from face to face interactions to remote work as a response to the pandemic. Remote working has turned out to the new reality of organizations. Lord & Fenton (2020) proposed that remote workplace learning and development can be used to ensure effective HR development during times like coronavirus. Whether it’s about reskilling current teams or building workforce with tomorrow’s skills, organizations need to implement online communication tools to embrace a continuous learning mindset.
In addition to this, Koirala & Acharya (2020) mentioned that supporting members of the organization at a distance is also helpful in alleviating the concerns of employees due to extended closure and training cancellations. This is important as it provides a sense of routine and normalcy during a time that is both disruptive and concerning. Furthermore, almost all of the researchers mentioned the importance of online learning platforms to keep organizational members up to date and to scale learning to remote members. However, according to Bedi (2020), this shift to online learning can be a difficult experience for organizational members accustomed to facing to face learning. The authors further suggested that this makes it important for learning and development leaders to ensure ease of implementation by simplifying the adjustment.
However, Craven, Liu, Mysore & Wilson (2020) suggested that many learning professionals tasked with shifting the in-person approach of the organization to virtual and remote access merely execute a "copy and paste" of the traditional classroom into a virtual class are not the most effective approach. Authors further mentioned that HR managers need to rethink the entire process of what works in brick and mortar context and to evaluate it form a new perspective to develop sound online equivalent. In addition to this, new practices should not be simply anchored on what the technology is capable of but should start from the insights related to empirical and learning evidence. Bill Shinao, a professor at Bentley University suggested that it is important to create smaller topical ‘pastures’ during online classes. For instance, training and development managers can use 8-10 minutes to "graze" on the topic on online channels, while the same activity needs 20-30 minutes in an in-person approach. Moreover, between pastures, trainers may need to reinforce the discussions.
The online training session should be tailored according to the audience. Such sessions should take into account not only the anticipated learning outcome, but should also consider the receptivity and motivation of the audience. Also, as the business environment moves toward a world better accustomed to distribute and remote work, training and development can become a lot less one-dimensional and more collaborative. This will be facilitated by the democratization of learning and sharing process, in which everyone can participate and become a learning hub. McKinsey (2020) further mentioned that to continue delivering and enabling value-creating efforts, organizational learning leaders have several tactical steps that they can consider to adapt programs and delivery, protect employees, and expand and establish virtual live learning.
McKinsey also reported that there is a marked increase in digital and virtual learning programs, even though such programs were already on the rise before the advent of coronavirus. Learning leaders can also implement strategic measures such as strategies for digital learning which they can develop during this period of social distancing. This will facilitate the emergence of learning capabilities that can stand as a positive long term outcome of this sobering period. Brassey, Christensen & van Dam (2019) suggested that organizations can undertake the development of a learning response team to create a more comprehensive picture of the way they can adapt to this new environment. Such a team can include members from all relevant stakeholder groups such as learning-delivery personnel, HR business partners, and platform technologists.
This is especially important given the importance of data and information to facilitate sound decision making during the initial period of organizational changes. In addition to this, Kraiger, Passmore, dos Santos & Malvezzi (2020) mentioned the importance of post-learning and suggested that HR managers need to counter learning retention limitations in the virtual learning approach. Authors suggested that to do so, trainers much space out learning over time and should repeat the learning outcomes in various contexts for contextual transfer of knowledge. Furthermore, such an approach can be facilitated during virtual and digital learning journeys from business cases, pre-reading and structured debates to post-learning reflection groups, or hands-on projects.
Jehanzeb (2020) described a complementary approach to instil learning in the organizational members by providing support at the right step in the business process. The upside in virtual delivery of training and development provides leaders with opportunities to enhance the experience of employee learners. Leaders can do this by tying communication to the individual motivation of the learners such as company purpose, community, and personal purpose. Another way is to have senior leaders become role models by actively participating in virtual courses. Moreover, whenever possible, learning leaders should include socio-learning components such as discussion boards in addition to the participant journey which, rather than focusing on individuals working at their own pace, focuses on a group of individuals participating in the program together on their schedule.
Agarwal & Chatterjee (2020) also shared a similar view and further added that it is important for leaders to reinforce the link between long term capability building and business outcomes in these rapidly evolving times. Learning is not something that occurs only in the discrete, one-off event; it should be approached as a part of a much wider learning journey that is tied to business outcomes. Incoherence with the aforementioned findings and suggestions, Semmer & Tschan (2020) mentioned that in today’s uncertain environment, organizations should also consider scenario planning techniques. Authors suggest the formation of a cross-functional learning response team that should concentrate on practising decision making and communication under a variety of possible scenarios. Such as whether travel restrictions and maybe the virus is seasonal. This will enable the organization to form contingency plans to mitigate the impact of adverse factors and to take into account the possible future circumstances into decision making (Beltran, et al., 2020).
Moreover, L&D teams need to work out their priorities and capacity for delivery, which entails a radical switch to online working from face to face learning programs. Gloria &Uttal(2020) mentioned that simply translating the face to face interaction into a virtual experience is ineffective and inappropriate. Learning leaders need to be clear about the possibilities and should avoid doing everything simultaneously. Simply put, no one can stare at a computer screen for 8 hours or be expected to spend 3 hours on videoconference. HR managers should look after their staff by developing a new policy to ensure that employees are taking breaks regularly. In addition to this, a more holistic approach is also suggested for effective training and learning during this time of coronavirus. Looking after the physical and mental health along with their technology needs is also important. Managers should not be insensitive while allocating workload and should consider that people are under significant pressure due to the widespread virus and their responsibilities for their family. Rather than making them sit for hours of courses, offline reading should also be encouraged to build some flexibility in the learning process (Sterns & Spokus, 2020).
Organizations can learn from Adobe regarding the implementation of virtual training sessions. Unlike most companies, Abode was already working on replacing most of its face to face training and development activities with virtual sessions. According to senior director of global talent development of Adobe, Danielle Clark said that we had been planning a big push to intensify online coaching and training next year, but this (coronavirus pandemic) has certainly accelerated that. Social distancing and workflow disruptions did not have a significant impact on Adobe's training and development efforts, as the company was able to redesign the company's class sessions and transfer them online in less than 24 hours. This level of productivity is staggering, considering that even major companies are still struggling to effectively operate during worldwide lockdowns.
Fisher (2020), from Fortune magazine, presented an analysis of Adobe’s work practices and suggested 3 key suggestions for employers who would like to follow suit. Fisher suggested that while developing virtual training and development capabilities in an organization, less is more. This is because, given the ease of delivery with online classes, the first impulse of most managers is to shift as must training and development content into online mediums as soon as possible. Deciding on what should be included in the training program is complicated; however, L&D professionals should consider what is it that organizations most want their employees to know regarding a given topic and which can be implemented in their daily operations. Cook & Grant-Davis (2020) mentioned a similar finding regarding the overabundance of content and suggested that employers should look at what they are offering through online mediums and should cut it into half.
Another key aspect that Fisher came across is that organizations should avoid one-way communication. Once organizations figure out what is it that they want to deliver to their employee, they should present the information concisely and should make it interactive. Grantz& Looney (2020) also mentioned that the lecture-style delivery method does not work in a virtual medium. The rule of thumb at Adobe is to ensure that around 50% of their training sessions should be interactive. To make training sessions interactive, Adobe trainers run polls, invite audience comments; pose questions, and moderate panel discussions. The company even rolled out a worldwide platform for its employees to share observations and tips regarding organizational practices and employee training needs. Finally, companies can also undertake the development of online coaching platforms to facilitate organizational training. Adobe used an online coaching program named Pulma to provide one on one skills coaching through video chats and in-app messaging.
While most of the research suggests some tips and strategies for HR managers, Hodges, Moore, Lockee, Trust & Bond (2020) postulated that HR managers and L&D professionals do not have to do everything on their own. A significant number of organizations and their members are still trying to ascertain what is happening at the moment. L&D professionals and managers can share challenges and probable solutions so that everyone can deal with the problem together. Furthermore, many laid-off specialists and consultants can help organizations to tackle the issue of training and development. Brinkley-Etzkorn(2020) reiterated the same point and added that as teams are working remotely, organizations need to assure their wellbeing through regular communication. Offering support and building time for social activity are important along with understanding that employees are already grappling with their issues during the pandemic. Companies will be judged according to their behaviours towards their workforce during this crisis. L&D activities should not further exacerbate the problem and should act as a solution to the problem.
While everyone knows that during worldwide lockdowns and disruption in organizational operations online channels should be used for virtual delivery of content. Organizations need to create community fell in virtual sessions to effectively engage employees. To do so, organizations should undertake the following:
In addition to this, organizations can also use the key points suggested by the Adobe case study, namely, decreasing the quantity and improving the quality of online materials, avoiding one-way communication and using online coaching platforms to facilitate better delivery of the learning content (Koirala & Acharya, 2020).
HR managers should also focus on employee wellbeing while delivering L&D content. Supporting and encouraging employees during this time is also a responsibility of HRM. L&D professionals should strive to improve the engagement and morale of employees (Beltran, et al., 2020).
Moreover, L&D professionals should also understand the value of partnerships and should contribute to an external vendor to get a competitive advantage. With significant interest surrounding virtual learning, it is recommended that training professionals should form partnerships to develop just in time solutions to reach a dispersed audience (Cook & Grant-Davis, 2020).
HR managers need to remember that they are breaking new grounds and helping to build the future of HRM practices. Things will not be the same after the end of this crisis; organizations are approaching a new sense of normality. L&D professionals and HR managers have the opportunity to transform their role in an organization and should act accordingly. The heartening acknowledgment is that there are numerous resources currently available to help the development of a new system that can facilitate employee training and development through remote access. This is an opportunity for L&D professionals to showcase their agility in terms of minimizing business disruption and improving organizational performance. This is an uncertain and scary time for training and development in the organization, however, with change comes innovation. Highly adaptive organizations will be able to leverage their talent and creativity to meet the evolving needs of the market.
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