atd’s “The Value of L&D Professionals Is Soaring”

I recently downloaded a copy of this new atd publication, you can get your own here.

Seeing the title I presumed this was going to be very much a puff piece with atd (The Association for Talent Development, formerly ASTD) jumping on the bandwagon for how there is some kind of new and exciting ‘future of work’ where L&D functions will be all conquering in up and re-skilling colleagues for bright (digital) futures. Below are some thoughts section by section as I read through the document…

False pretences

Remote work forced L&D professionals to pivot quickly from in-person training to virtual, online development while still maintaining a strong company culture, assessing and facing organizational skills gaps, and tackling other compliance, organization development, and individual development needs

Page 3 “Introduction”

I would argue that the above statement, from the paper’s introduction, is simply not true for many and in some ways is a false hypothesis for the entire paper. Many had little/no “pivot” needed due to existing models of digital learning and communications. I am also often a critic of the “company culture” idea, from what I have seen and read over the years I would say the presence of team cultures both promote and undercut any centralised idea of vision and working practices/culture. The “this is the way things are done around here” idea of a company culture rarely crosses organisational silos IMO.

L&D professionals became important stakeholders in diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion initiatives. In some organizations, L&D leaders own DEI. In other workplaces, they are consultants or critical players in DEI strategy

Page 3 “Introduction”

For the North American audience of atd, DEI has, of course, been a massive issue in the last few years. However, it should have always been central to talent-related initiatives and I have been on a few good webinars this year with long standing DEI advocates criticising much of what has emerged within the corporate world as a response to BLM and other initiatives. Of course people need to be aware of expectations (or you risk bad behaviour being normalised) but L&D approaches to DEI have been shown to be poor solutions to the issue(s).

Skills questions

Two in five HR leaders acknowledge they don’t know what skills they have in their workforce.

Page 5 “L&D Pros Play a Major Role in Upskilling and Reskilling”

I’ve argued before that competency models are useful in the above situation – at least for some level of developing an understanding of what to do next. A previous employer made much of their “bring your whole self to work” initiative so that no one felt uncomfortable, be it for a DEI or other reason. This was a great initiative in many ways but also raised questions, for me, about how far that can realistically go given that work has always sought the common elements between us (shared skills, knowledge and common behaviours) and avoided ‘trickier’ elements that make us all different. Ultimately recruitment really needs to be better if this a challenge – we are encouraged to apply to roles very specifically, there is little chance to really explain who we are and leverage the random non-role-specific skills and knowledge.

There is much in the report on the “skills gap” and solutions include “hiring more gig or freelance workers” – it really feels a shame to me that, on both sides of the Atlantic, we have ended up in a position where companies have failed to develop staff and the expense of up/reskilling has too often been pushed onto the worker. This is identified, to an extent, via data from Gartner:

Employers fail to future-proof skills. Labor market analysts Gartner TalentNeuron predicts that 30 percent of the skills workers needed three years ago are nearing irrelevance. The World Economic Forum places the figure at 42 percent. Skills programs are not keeping pace with shifting requirements.

Page 6 “L&D Pros Play a Major Role in Upskilling and Reskilling”

This supposed pace of change is used as an argument against competency/capability models as requirements change too quickly. However, I remain dubious that such skills are disappearing/changing. Even “digital skills”, mentioned on the same page as the above quote, often build upon existing skills. We are rarely talking about ripping up the rulebook and starting again from nothing.

L&D operations

TD functions overlook the value of internal partnerships, “Only 40 percent of TD professionals collaborate extensively—most often working with HR, business or strategic planning teams, or business function leaders. Although reskilling and upskilling has strong benefits for the organizations, the report showed that only 38 percent of TD professionals partner with senior executives to assess skills gap needs.”

Page 7 “L&D Pros Play a Major Role in Upskilling and Reskilling”

Whenever I see numbers/arguments like the above I do wonder how talent development and L&D departments get into such positions. Obviously silos exist, and L&D can be side-lined into marginal roles but you always have a route to the top via reporting structures so, at some point, you should be getting (some of) the correct information to partner with people to improve the organisations performance.

The following section on “Invest in Your L&D Professionals” is fair enough. The data from the industry, that has come through in various reports over the years, that suggests L&D staff are undervalued and not invested in is always a worry. Ideally L&D pros should be leading the way, clearly showing others how they are engaging with learning, bringing benefits back to practice, etc. There is some irony, however, in a paper talking about the rapid speed of tech/digital skill changes to then be selling their own capability model and certificates. The assumption, presumably, is that you need to be doing these atd programmes on a regular basis.

“Modern Learners Expect Employers to Invest in Career Development”

This section is fine, although I would argue this is nothing new and “learners” should really be ‘workers’ or just ‘people’. It might be the more socialist elements of my mentality but the logic that employers do not have a part to play for everyone (including L&D themselves) to develop is just alien to me. That said, if someone is happy ticking along in a role that is fine – however, they would need to be demonstrating high performance and be aware that a lack of engagement with opportunities might, one day, put their position at risk.

The report finds that 73 percent of high-performing companies have internal mobility strategies.

Page 19 “Modern Learners Expect Employers to Invest in Career Development”

The above is one of the more interesting stats – taken from HCI’s Talent Pulse 7.4 Recruiting from Within and Developing Internal Mobility Strategies – and is probably one of the things that could be taken away for (at least bigger) organisations to use internally in justifying talent management initiatives.

I did a bit of work a while ago around L&D for workforce planning consultancy so I tend to to advocate for such talent initiatives, having seen it done well, and therefore it is good to see the report encourage “a strategic workforce plan” to be in place. Career paths are also something that is encouraged, whilst my experience would suggest the ease that these can be created varies a lot between industry it is nonetheless good to seem them called for.

False conclusions

This data supports the need for TD pros to increase learning events and provide them in different formats (mobile learning, microlearning, gamification)

Page 21 “Modern Learners Expect Employers to Invest in Career Development”

Wow, “events” is not what we should be talking about. Proper re and upskilling are hard to support and hard for the individual to go through. What should be on offer is appropriate experiences for the roles you need with as much personalisation as possible for the different knowledge and skill starting points of your people (be they new hire or not).

Unfortunately the report is also somewhat ‘industry report eats itself’ at this point, justifying arguments based on reports from LinkedIn, Deloitte and others including atd’s own blogs.

The following “Recommendations” section starts with:

The reality of digital transformation and developing a future-ready workforce make the strategic need for robust L&D functions in organizations apparent.

Page 22 “The reality of digital transformation and developing a future-ready workforce make the strategic need for robust L&D functions in organizations apparent.”

This is pretty much what I was expecting from the paper (see my intro above) but the argument is confusing (or I’m being stupid). “The Value of L&D Professionals Is Soaring” yet “only 16 percent of organizations invest in the professional development of their L&D teams to a high extent”. Therefore, the paper is trying to justifying talent management and new L&D approaches but organisations do not seem to be on board. Thus it is indeed a puff piece to make L&D folks feel important whilst it would seem many remain not important in their organisations?

The often ignored realities of talent management (#8): The office as a tool for workers, not a stick to hit them with

The future of work and the hybrid nature of future organisations continues to be of news. I would first caveat the rest of this post by saying it is really about office workers (not those in other workplaces):

My view on what workplaces now need to look like is that the nature of what the office is has to shift.

We have seen some of this already, for example the office as a recruitment and culture tool in being “cool” with pool tables and the like in the pre-Covid world to attract talent. This will continue to some extent, especially for young people who appreciate social experiences as well as the informal learning offices can provide.

Where we are now is in a position where an office can be seen as an enabler. Gone are the days, for those organisations who made the shift to more remote work, of enforced drudgery. Instead we can see the office as being something ‘to be used’ rather than using us.

The office can be an enabler for relationships, interaction, etc but we should now use it in more specific ways than in the past. Many of us will be used to this – for example visiting other offices to meet people, for specific meetings, etc. This now needs to be extended to everyone, including those who traditionally worked 100% at a set location. In the past I have worked in both quiet and noisy open plan offices, office layouts where small teams sit together as well as environments where most people have their own room. None of these are ideal. Indeed the backlash to open plan continues:

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/07/open-plan-office-noise-stress-mental-health-mood-work-employment-employees-welfare

Personally I have struggled with enforced home working more than I perhaps expected. However, I think this is due to the lack on in person interaction and social events. As we shift back to being able to choose where to work (fingers crossed for the Covid situation), a clever talent strategy will enable workers to choose where (not just office/home but anywhere) and when to work but with the benefits of collegiate experiences centred to that.

Indeed if I think about past experience much of this is long running, for example having meetings with suppliers at a coffee shop rather than the office as a break from screentime and the environment. The real challenge for orgs, is time tracking and productivity. Here talent management needs to be smarter in terms of goals and outcomes rather than screen time and time on task. Using the office for two hours of productivity in a meeting may well be more valuable than a 9:5 day of dealing with emails or other task.

Viva la viva

I’m a bit slow on this but been catching up today with last week’s Microsoft Viva announcements. It seems I partly missed this as the posts, that I saw at least, had instead picked up more on Microsoft making a bold prediction that Black Mirror-esque creepiness is going to be mainstream employee experience in the future:

Anyway, away from that slightly odd video, here is a good introduction video to Viva:

Donald Taylor picked up on Josh Bersin’s good summary here:

Personally, my initial thought was – “oh, great, ANOTHER platform”. With a bit more digging, Viva is clearly a lot more interesting than I thought. MS are looking to put a layer over Teams, SharePoint, etc and surface (pardon the pun) to the user a more personalised work experience. Rather than building Teams out to do this, as I had previously presumed, we have a different model here. Huge potential for us to finally “put learning in the flow of work” and facilitate knowledge/information sharing in new ways. However, like with Teams, it will take organisational approaches to drive people to work in ways that make the data, information sharing, etc actually helpful.

No doubt there will be a considerable consultancy market here – especially considering the knots people seem to be able to get themselves into even with the existing stack of tools like the classic issue: “do I save this file in email, Teams, shared drive, Onedrive….?”.

It is particularly interesting that by charging extra for this, Microsoft are acknowledging this has considerable value add (or at least they think it does). This isn’t just another tweak to M365 based on new AI, an aquisition or other tech. This is something where they have pulled together different things into a clear new, priced, product.

For learning/HR pros this could be a major market shakeup – see the Bersin post for more on that. The partnerships with LMS/LXP companies, for example, threatens to create an API monopoly, i.e. there is a risk that traditional L&D vendors will only be able to sell to companies if they are in the Viva network. One suspects the monopoly and merger authorities on both sides of the Atlantic will be keeping an eye on this – as should all HR/L&D pros.

The often ignored realities of talent management (#7): It is the little things that count (in the office)

Having returned to an office environment for the first time in a while I have realised that a number of things I used to be quite dismissive of actually matter quite a lot, this might be my “reality” rather than a wider set of rules but here goes:

  1. Fresh air – it makes a huge difference if you can get it, i.e. if your windows actually open rather than being in a glass box.
  2. Open plan vs smaller offices – I have often been critical of open plan in the past but starting in a new environment of (nearly) one-to-one offices (many people having their own and others sharing in small groups) has made me think again. It is very tricky to know how best to interact in a small office environment if you are used to open plan. What is too much noise? Is it okay just to interrupt people to say hi? These are “organisational culture” type issues I have been generally dismissive of in the past but my experience has made it clear – you need to be clear to new joiners what the expectations are. I would say my best past experiences are of small office (approx. 6-8) layouts where an immediate team can be based together, discuss as appropriate, avoid bothering others too much and be a clear “unit” for those coming from elsewhere.
  3. Screen glare is really bad – sun onto screens does not work. I used to involuntary cry when leaving the office at one of my old jobs and I am now wondering if it was artificial light glare on the screens.
  4. Intranets, Office 365 profiles and social tools – okay so I am an advocate for these anyway but if your organisation has them then you should HAVE to use them, to be transparent and help with working out loud yes but simply so newbies know who people are.

There are other things I have noticed too from shifting from a work from home routine:

  • Shoes hurt.
  • I talk to myself. A LOT.
  • Daily faff of commute, desk setup, etc. really is a waste of time and money.
  • Face-to-face meetings are useful but Zoom is fine. Face-to-face social activities are far more useful.
  • I am very very unfit and really need to do something about it! 🙂

10 years on: the end of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) in England (and “Creative” approaches to the job market)

This post is a little early, as applications were no longer available from Jan 2011 but we are now basically at the 10 year point for the EMA closing in England.

It is still available elsewhere in the UK.

First the bad, I worked in Further Education (16 year olds +) when the EMA existed and it created problems. The college I worked at had a very “them and us” divide within the student body between students who wanted to be there to learn and students who were (at least seen by their peers) only there to claim the (small) allowance. The insinuation was that some of these “just turning up” people had other sources of income (for example drugs) or simply were attending for something to do, a small amount of cash and/or to keep their parents happy (to the point where there were accusations that tutors were intimidated to report attendance even when learners were late or absent).

@TheIFS report from 2010 reviewed the impact of the EMA and if closure was a good move: https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/5370

Even with my concerns over the previous experiment (see above) where might an EMA style system fit in the future? I would argue that an EMA would be more effective in the 18+ age range as a form of Universal Basic Income. As a guaranteed income, it could allow adults of all ages to continue their personal development and formal accreditation whilst potentially not having to take as huge a pay cut to try a new career route via apprenticeships, etc. In such a scenario we would ideally “top up” salaries to some previous level, meaning mortgages remain affordable whilst people take time to “reset” their income generation, or at least can sell a house with slightly less pressure that what redundancy or other enforced change of career normally brings. This “top up” would be similar to how some unemployment schemes work worldwide, i.e. you do not just baseline everyone to a minimal level of income, and encourage more mid-career reskilling and moves to sectors needing people.

Yes, this would be hugely expensive but given that state finances have gone out of the window in 2020 (even more than in 2008-2019) perhaps not in a bad way. This is of course timely given the current state of the job market and the need to think of “creative” solutions for the future: