The Impact of Coronavirus on the Talent Landscape: Reflections from Global L&D Roundtables

April 1, 2020

COVID's impact on the Talent Landscape

I recently hosted two roundtables with over 30 global L&D leaders to discuss the impact of this unique moment on industries, organizations, L&D departments, and most importantly, the employees they support. 

Our goal was to offer connection, create community, and hold space for support—something we all need a little more of right now. We discussed the unprecedented challenges they are facing, what practices they are putting in place to overcome these challenges, and how they are navigating this new world of work arm-and-arm with the business.

Our conversation, the collaboration, connection, and community brings me hope and confidence that we’ll get through this, together, and be better for it. Below are my biggest takeaways. 

In a virtual world, L&D orgs are uniquely positioned to help

People everywhere are having to navigate a myriad of challenges from job loss or the stress of job insecurity, to navigating new schedules at home, adjusting to digital tools, and finding ways to stay productive in a drastically different work environment. Personally, I have a renewed sense of gratitude and appreciation for all of the teachers out there.

Organizations around the world who find themselves having to immediately invest in their existing employees to help support them in ways they simply haven’t had to before. People at work need support, require flexibility, and are hungry for new skills—skills to cope, skills to stay productive, and beyond. 

The silver lining here is that many organizations have been making the move towards virtual and online learning experiences over the years. This isn’t new. In fact, in our most recent 2020 Workplace Learning Report, we found that 57% of L&D pros expected an increase in their online learning budgets in 2020, compared to just 27% in 2017—and this was before most of us were mandated to work from home. What is new is the pace at which organizations are having to move in this direction, all at once. It’s unprecedented. 

Gone are the days when L&D had to fight with the business to be heard, let alone move towards online and virtual learning experiences. Now all of the sudden, the business case required to gain buy-in from executives just got a whole lot easier. Executives across the globe are asking L&D leaders to have a seat at the table—a seat that previously felt unattainable until now. L&D has an offering that hundreds of millions need right now, putting them in a position to be a tide that lifts all boats. That seat holds power and as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. 

L&D’s impact will be directly correlated to the depth of business relationships

One of the biggest challenges L&D leaders face is staying connected with the business, every step of the way. This connection is the difference between making an impact and just making content. If you don’t have those relationships, then now is a great time to build them—especially with people leaders. Your first and second line managers are arguably your biggest points of leverage, and they have likely never been so eager to help their employees than they are right now. 

Perhaps now is a good time to switch the narrative. Try not to think about your L&D organization as the only one accountable for people development. Ultimately, people leaders are accountable. Learning cultures—even in crisis—are created by leadership, catalyzed by L&D, powered by data, and sustained by employees.

This new environment is enabling these connections. It will be the strategic L&D leaders that take this moment to build deep relationship currency with the business so when this is all over, their learning strategy is fully aligned to the business strategy. 

The speed of change is record breaking

L&D leaders are facing this unprecedented challenge and calling the biggest audible of their career, fundamentally changing the way they go-to-market. They are also being tested with a level of prioritization that they have likely never faced before. For example, many L&D pros are in the throes of stopping all instructor-lead training (ILT) and looking for other online and virtual solutions to offer continued development. In many cases, this means re-skilling and re-deploying their ILT facilitators into digital gurus. 

While this may feel like a daunting task, the L&D leaders I spoke with recommended starting small and iterating. They stressed the importance of being agile, shooting to get it 80% right, and removing the pressure of perfection. For example, after working with the business to align on needs and objectives, back into a flipped classroom virtual experience where necessary. Look for opportunities to build in pre-reads, online learning, and/or activities prior to the virtual session, and save “classroom” time for discussion and workshopping. Following up with additional activities or online learning can also improve retention of what was discussed. This model helps increase engagement by cutting down on the amount of time learners are passively listening to a facilitator and increases active participation. 

For  virtual experiences, don’t exceed 90 minutes. Attention spans and distractions are even more important to keep in mind when running a virtual learning experience, and keeping sessions short and sweet can help improve engagement.

Don’t waste time building custom content if you have a platform like LinkedIn Learning. Spend your time on the aspects of the learning experience that require human interaction or where the content is truly unique to your organization. 

It’s a good time to consider building new channels to encourage learning. Consider creating weekly “playlists” of learning content to send out with other scheduled communications. Include resources like LinkedIn Learning courses, podcasts, apps, and articles. A quick way to curate these is to identify which employees across teams are the biggest consumers of learning content and ask them for recommendations. Another option is to get a pulse for what your employees need by sending out a quick engagement survey. If you are leveraging an engagement tool to get a pulse on how your employees are doing through this crisis, then weave in a question on learning needs to help you meet the learners where they are. For example, L&D leaders shared that the top themes last week were anchored in mental health and remote work. This is consistent with the trends on our LinkedIn Learning platform with Mindfulness Practices, Microsoft Teams Essential Training and The Six Morning Habits of High Performers all hitting the top 10 course list last week. 

Lastly, continue to keep in mind how challenging it may be for your team to go through this change. Your team is depending on you to lead them through this. This is where a change management model can come in handy. At Linkedin, we leverage a framework called Leading Through Change, pioneered by Mike Derezin, VP of Learning Solutions at LinkedIn. Regardless of the model, don’t underestimate the challenge and importance of leading compassionately. Forbes just released Corona: Leading through Crisis and I personally found a few helpful tips as I think about leading my own team at LinkedIn. 

This is the moment to prioritize learning

This is not the time to stop learning—it’s time to prioritize it. Employees need to quickly learn new skills, they have a hunger for community, and they have a desire to feel supported by their organization and their direct leadership team. L&D is uniquely positioned to deliver on all three of these needs. It will take relationship building, ruthless prioritization, agile design, a willingness to make mistakes, and a lot of creativity. But if we can rise to this moment, then I believe L&D’s seat at the table will remain much larger for years to come. 

Our conversation was a great reminder for me about the power of connection, the beauty of community, and what can be accomplished when we collaborate. No one person possesses all the answers, but together, we have the potential to be greater than the sum of our parts.