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By Neil Edwards, Head of Consulting at Capita Learning 

It seems obvious to say, but the Covid-19 pandemic has re-affirmed just how important people are to an organisation. Remote working driven by seemingly endless lockdowns have put staff welfare, collaboration and communication right to the top of the agenda.

It comes at an interesting time for business leaders. Much has been written about the so-called ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ that looms large – a technology-driven overhaul of business operations that is already having a significant impact on the workforce.

Companies have forked out billions in tech transformation projects, but the associated skills transformation has sometimes felt like a secondary consideration. As technology evolves, the skills required should evolve too, and not just the obvious ones like digital and data literacy  

Critically, it’s the oft-underestimated ‘soft skills’ and mindsets, underpinning effective relationship building, creativity, collaboration and change agility, which can make all the difference in terms of people’s capacity to survive and thrive in the 21st century workplace. The capacity of individuals, teams and whole organisations to adapt, learn and maintain (and sometimes) increase productivity in response to manifest challenges, has been one of the silver linings of the last 18 months and this has not gone unnoticed in boardrooms. In a time of rapid and unprecedented change, the organisations which have demonstrated a prevailing growth mindset, a default of learning in response to challenges and setbacks, rather than a fixed mindset built on a need to know-it-all, have flourished.  The Learning Organisation is, in complex and ambiguous world, often the most sustainably competitive one.  

In this sense, the people agenda has finally consistently reached the top table, with HR Directors (HRDs) and Chief People Officers (CPOs) regularly becoming pivotal players on the boards of large corporations. But the question remains:  Has the work of Learning and development functions been fully recognised for its strategic criticality, or do too many C-suite execs still see L&D as the domain of mandatory training?

The demand for data-driven strategy
There is one clear reason often cited by the C-suite as to why Learning and Development (L&D) is not being taken more seriously, and that’s a lack of data.

L&D business cases still have a tendency to focus on impact metrics which are controllable and within the L&D professional comfort zone. All too often, this is in the form of classic learner level evaluation in the Kirkpatrick mould. Where attributions are proffered to broader business impacts, these often feel hazy and aspirational, rather than data-driven.

This primarily stems from the data systems at this disposal of L&D professionals. Much self-reported and 360 evaluations are conducted either manually (often with the use of our old friend Excel) or in a standalone tool such as MS/Google Forms, Survey Monkey or Qualtrix. And sometimes all of them. Activity data is often derived from within the corporate LMS or online content portals. And critically, very few L&D functions have the capacity to mine and view this data as a whole and in relation to other key people metrics, such as talent, EDI, performance and onboarding/exit data.  

The link between data, growth mindset and the learning organisation
The ‘woolliness’ and transactional nature of L&D data isn’t always up to par compared to the hard evidence, which other departments can present at board level. The priority should be to present defined, evidence-backed business cases for all L&D investments, backed by robust, ongoing and meaningful data insights which highlight how learning (and by extension L&D functions) tangibly benefit the business.

Only in such a way will L&D functions be in a position to realise the historical opportunity presenting them, which is to be at the forefront of organisational adaptation to and flourishing in the 4th Industrial, post pandemic revolution. The provision of insightful data ultimately builds trust and secures L&D leaders a right to be both heard at board level; and critically to start challenging executive leaders to play a more active role in sponsoring and role modelling positive ‘learning’ behaviours.

In short, if L&D professionals want their boards to role model the right growth mindset to their people, to inspire and reinforce learning as the bedrock of their organisational culture, they need to grow their own capacity to feed them the right data.  

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