Whether it’s the ‘Great Resignation‘, the climate crisis, employee engagement challenges, or just a more general step into the unknown for many businesses in our post-pandemic reality, there are innumerous new variables to think about and conquer.
Not least, keeping your workforce productive, engaged and capable. Adrian Harvey, chief executive of AI learning business Elephants Don’t Forget, points to a confluence of factors creating uncertainty:
“With the ‘Great Resignation’ on the way, 40% of employees are forecast to resign in 2022.
“I believe the vast majority are going to get other jobs, so that will just mean greater liquidity in the market, but a number of those are actually checking out.
“The greatest group that’s been affected is middle managers, who arguably are the future leaders. So I see a situation where we have a labor shortage, and that labor shortage is only going to get worse.
“I’ve got college aged kids. And the quality of school leavers as a result of COVID-19 has to be lower than previous generations or year groups, simply because they’ve been denied some of the critical learning opportunities that you get in a face-to-face environment.”
The employee capability question
Talent and re-skilling are becoming huge issues. Harvey continues: “The capability challenges are huge. I think they’re greater than ever before. When did we last have to reskill 90% of the labor market?
“I think increasingly as lack of talent and employee capability starts to impact firms’ performance, learning and development (L&D) is going to climb the importance ladder.”
“We can’t continue with the lowest cost to serve model, which is what I see at the moment.
“I see relatively unimaginative corporate training, where the majority of employees receive the same training, irrespective of what they bring to the party.
“It’s all very well to say, ‘we got our latest version of an LMS’ (learning management system). It’s still an LMS. It’s just a different color. I think the future has to be about personalized learning journeys, it has to be driven by artificial intelligence (AI).”
That’s what you might expect someone who runs a learning business underpinned by AI to say, but the potential of the tech makes it hard to disagree with.
“It’s got to be relevant to the role I’m doing and the [knowledge] gaps that I have, as opposed to some gaps that somebody thinks maybe I have, and it’s got to be in the flow of work.
“It’s got to be at scale. It’s got to be continuous. And it’s got to be owned by the functional leaders and not by a horizontal function like L&D or HR.”
HR tech left wanting
Harvey reserves somewhat less praise for the current crop of HR platforms and their influence on employee upskilling.
“I would say very little works, because if it did genuinely work, we wouldn’t be in the situation that I just outlined, where we’ve got this enormous talent drain, increasing year on year in our market.
“There needs to be much greater connectivity, cause and effect, and return on investment.
“We need to modernize the way that we upskill the workforce, and more modern technology has to be part of the answer.
“The idea that there’s a limited budget, I think is a fallacy. Budgets, in my experience, are available for anything that helps the business grow.”
Looking to the long term
Discussion turns to sustainability. What can businesses do to maintain their sustainability in the new way that we’re working and the way that employees are engaging with their own business and with each other?
Harvey says: “If you trade with the public, and you’re not connected to an environmental sustainability agenda, I think there will be a day when your business becomes irrelevant.
“I think it’s absolutely fundamental and it also runs through to recruitment of talent. If you’re currently running a business, on super tight margins, and you’ve got some really talented people in your business, I would be looking to my strategies to protect, encourage, and foster the loyalty of those employees.
“The role of the employer in this context is to create an environment where each employee can shine, where they can be the best they want to be.”
He continues: “People get confused about this word, motivation. I talk about discretional efforts.
“That’s what every employer wants from every employee. They want them to go the extra mile.
“And what causes employees to go the extra mile isn’t a massive bonus, but a bunch of other stuff. One, always personal development.
“The C suite should be sitting down thinking, what are we doing to create an environment in this company, which attracts great talent.”
The future of creativity and remote work
We finish by talking about the importance of a bit of face time. Harvey isn’t convinced by a recent New York Times article that debunks the myth of office creativity.
“The New York Times may have a vested interest; a bunch of journalists might feel it’s much nicer working from home than it is slipping into the office – but that would be a cynical response”, he says in mischievous tones.
“Yes, [full time remote work] will reduce creativity. We use [Microsoft] Teams, and it’s really convenient. It saves us money, time, effort.
“Is it the best platform or medium for creativity? No, it’s not. It doesn’t foster creativity.
“We insist in our own business that our management get together on a regular basis. Face to face works really well, with key outcomes for our business. We are pack animals; we want to be with other people.
“So much of communication doesn’t occur in one dimensional screenshots. That’s not what human communication is about.”
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