This year has been an excellent test of everyone’s adaptability. In order to survive various calamities that arrived with the year 2020, organizations have had to quickly find new ways to work and meet changing market conditions.
Fostering this kind of adaptability, however, is no easy feat. It requires companies to invest in employee learning and encourage risk-taking.Take Netflix for example: The company began in 1997 as a mail-order DVD rental service. But as customers began consuming entertainment via personal devices or the internet, the business pivoted from physical DVDs to an online streaming service—and now a content creation company. This is a multi-threaded change that sparked a transformation in the film and entertainment industry and required a new set of skills from their employee population.
Business leaders today agree that encouraging employees to take chances—in a calculated, thoughtful manner—creates a company culture where teams are not only more likely to quickly react to change, butembrace it. But amid the challenging economic circumstances brought on by COVID-19, many organizations want to mitigate risks, with employee safety at the forefront of that risk mitigation effort, rather than ignore or actively search for opportunity.
Learning also plays an important role in creating an adaptable work culture. Employees who regularly push themselves outside their comfort zone through learning and developing new skills, or working on stretch projects, are more likely to cope with uncertain situations. When learning and curiosity is rewarded in a workplace, employees feel more encouraged to keep up with new trends, skills and processes.
Businesses—and by extension the individuals that make up those organizations—that encourage risk-taking and learning are themost adaptable. But in light of the current pandemic and its dramatic effects on the modern workplace, it’s worth asking: Are organizations still following this truism? And how has this crisis affected workplace cultures that historically valued risk-taking and learning? At Cornerstone, we have launched the Cornerstone People Research Lab to answer these questions and continuously have these conversations as we evolve.
The Preliminary—But Promising—Research Findings
Cornerstone People Research Lab has launched a multi-year research project with the consulting and education firm Leapgen. Among other topics, this survey of 1,000 workers will study changes in how and when employees learn at work. It will measure worker sentiment towards workplace learning and how often they are encouraged to take risks—accounting for conditions from before and after this crisis. We are now in our second sample of the research.
Originally, the project hypothesized a decrease in risk-taking and learning due to the pandemic. And though it’s still uncertain what the coming months and year will bring, the research has so far revealed the opposite to be true: Despite enormous amounts of change, risk-taking is still being encouraged and learning is still important to employees.
Despite The Crisis, Risk-taking Isn’t Off the Table
A 2012 study on the 2008 economic recession suggests that organizations’ willingness to innovate during a recession decreased significantly whereas before the downturn, they were extremely entrepreneurial. Many predict the same to be true for the COVID-19 crisis, which has alreadynegatively impacted the global economy.
However, our current findings do not align with these assumptions: In 2019, when this research project began, we asked employees whether or not they felt that their company encourages risk-taking and if they felt comfortable making mistakes. Over one-third (34.5%) of respondents agreed with this statement overall. Earlier this year, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, we asked this question again and, shockingly enough, found that this number had increased by 4%. And perhaps most interesting, it grew the most among respondents from small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Our survey also asked employees whether or not they felt their company allowed forcontrolled risk-taking, or making changes that have a lower risk of failure. From 2019 to 2020, there wasn’t a drastic change in these overall responses except for those coming from employees at large enterprises: According to our survey, companies with 5,000 or more employees feel more encouraged to take controlled risks in 2020 than they had last year.
This increase in risk-taking is less surprising when observingcompanies like Medtronic, a leading medical device manufacturer that shifted its business strategy to make ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic. Airbnb, an online marketplace platform for vacation rentals,made a similar strategy shift. Faced by the sudden collapse in travel, the IPO-bound start-up now offers online events focused on cooking, meditation and other activities that users can join for a modest fee. Organizations still want employees to take risks—and are making sure they feel comfortable doing so—in order to find ways to innovate and adapt to the current, unprecedented situation.
Learning Is As Important As Ever
The negative effects of the COVID-19 crisis on the global economy have forced companies across industries to make budget cuts, compensation reductions and, in worst case scenarios, institute furloughs and lay-offs. Historically, when a company experiences a financial setback, the learning and development budget is one of the first to be reduced.
But according to our research’s findings, cutting back on L&D right now is a counterproductive decision for any company hoping to keep current whilst retaining & engaging their employees: In their 2019 and 2020 responses, employees regarded learning as one of the top four benefits that their company offers, alongside job security, competitive pay and attachment to an organization’s mission.
The research project is also looking into the top ways that employees prefer to learn. Thus far, we’ve found a majority (78%) prefer to learn through experiences while others want to learn in-person via a training facilitator (66%), self-guided online courses (59%), microlearning (58%) or through a coach or mentor (55%).
In breaking down these findings, we found that they support two notable claims, the first being a correlation between L&D investments and business success: Employees at high growth organizations, or companies that are growing faster than 10% per year, are the most satisfied with the learning resources available through their employer. We also found that coaching might be the superior learning method for certain high-tech companies, since 68% of these respondents stated that they prefer learning from coaches (compared to 55% average across all industries).
Learning is an integral part of any organization. Without it, calculated, effective risk-taking cannot occur. Employees must be prepared with the skills necessary for making thoughtful decisions and taking leveled chances—especially when the present is unprecedented and the future is uncertain. We recently had a customer tell us that "eLearning has become a business continuity requirement"—and we agree.
As business theorist Arie de Geus once said, "the ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage." Constant learning not only produces smarter companies and employees in the short-term, but it may be the key to creating a more sustainable economic climate for everyone, despite present and future disruptions.
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Taking A Company-Wide Approach to Learning & Development
There’s a lot of coordination that goes into a company’s learning and development programming, from identifying skills gaps and creating engaging content to scaling initiatives company-wide. And because there’s so much complex planning involved, organizations can sometimes get caught up in the details, and overlook how L&D fits into broader organizational goals. A recent survey—titled "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change"—from Cornerstone People Research Lab (CPRL) and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) found that only 55% of organizations believe their L&D programs are well-aligned with their company’s overarching strategy. But CPRL and HCI’s survey reveals two logical ways to overcome this challenge. First, there’s a need for L&D executives to participate in strategic conversations around organizational goals to ensure that L&D planning aligns with broader business plans. And second, it’s important to share responsibility for learning effectiveness. If facilitating continuous learning is a part of everyone’s role, it becomes easier to integrate it organization-wide. Promote Cross-Departmental Collaboration and Responsibility To better align L&D efforts with overarching business goals, learning executives have to participate in strategic conversations about organizational direction. For instance, when business leaders gather to discuss goals and KPIs for the coming year or quarter, HR and L&D leaders should be involved in those conversations. And the opposite is also true: Business leaders need to help direct the learning outcomes framed against those goals. According to the "Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey from CPRL and HCI, only about half (51%) of learning leaders report being involved in these discussions. During these business planning discussions, it’s important to establish accountability, especially among people managers. CPRL and HCI found 67% of people managers report being involved in the creation of content, but only 47% are involved in the accountability for the results. By holding more people accountable to the success of L&D programs, it can be easier for a company to spot pitfalls or opportunities for improvement. It creates shared goals for measuring effectiveness, and establishes a process for making changes. For example, by getting people managers involved in L&D initiatives, L&D leaders can work with them to get a better understanding of a specific team’s skill gaps or what reskilling or new skilling solutions will work best for them. All leaders in an organization, in fact, should be eager to participate and own their team’s newskilling, reskilling or upskilling efforts. Ask a people manager in the IT department to reiterate the importance of learning to their team, and track the amount of time their employees spend on learning content. This approach will not only create a shared commitment to continuous learning, but can also help leaders outside of L&D and HR get a better idea of what content or formats work best for their teams and recommend adjustments accordingly. Continuous Learning Is Everyone’s Responsibility Aligning overarching business plans and strategy with learning and development efforts can improve each’s efficacy. The more cross-departmental collaboration that exists, the more information that HR and L&D leaders have about their workforce and its needs, strengths and weaknesses. And with more accountability, all stakeholders in an organization can become more involved in ensuring the successful partnership between L&D and a company’s overall strategy. To learn more about the findings from Cornerstone’s "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey and its recommendations for using cross-departmental collaboration and accountability to help with L&D efforts, click here to download and read the full report.
Why supporting neurodiversity is essential for any successful workforce today
When we think of diversity in the workforce, we typically think of it along the lines of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. But focusing only on those four is its own sort of constraint. To truly create a successful and diverse workplace, you need to ensure you're also embracing neurodiversity too. Understanding neurodiversity In the late 1990s, a single mother in Australia named Judy Singer began studying Disability Studies at University of Technology Sydney. Her daughter had recently been diagnosed with what was then known as “Asperger’s Syndrome,” a form of autism spectrum disorder. As she read more and more about autism as part of her studies, Singer also suspected that her mother, and she herself, may have had some form of autism spectrum disorder. Singer describes crying as she realized that her mother, with whom she'd had a tumultuous relationship throughout her childhood, wasn’t purposefully cold or neurotic as she had thought. She just had a different kind of mind. In her honors thesis, Singer coined the term “neurodiversity.” For Singer, people with neurological differences like autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or dyslexia were a social class of their own and should be treated as such. If we are going to embrace diversity of race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc., then we must embrace a diversity of the mind. The following video is an excerpt from the "Neurodiversity" Grovo program, which is available in the Cornerstone Content Anytime Professional Skills subscription. Neurodiversity in today's workplace Recently, neurodiversity has become a trendy term in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging spaces. And many organizations are working to hire more neurodivergent people, as well as give them opportunities to thrive at work. That’s why, at Cornerstone, we recently produced a series of lessons on neurodiversity. If your organization hasn’t prioritized neurodiverse inclusion yet, here are some reasons why it both supports your people and organization. 1) Neurodivergent people are underemployed Neurodivergent people, especially people with autism, are widely under-employed, regardless of their competence. In the United States, 85% of college graduates with autism are unemployed. According to a 2006 study, individuals with ADHD have higher rates of unemployment than individuals without. However, there is no evidence that neurodivergent people are less competent or less intelligent than neurotypical people. Organizations are missing out on talented people. 2) Neurodivergent people are more common than you may think Neurodiversity manifests in many different ways. It can encompass autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette syndrome, and many other conditions. And as scientists have learned more about what makes someone neurodivergent, they're identifying more and more people. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 160 children have some form of autism spectrum disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in every 162 children have Tourette Syndrome, and roughly 8 percent of children under 18 have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. And that's just children. How many adults, like Judy Singer's mother, have struggled their whole lives without a diagnosis? People who are neurodivergent are everywhere. Diverse organizations are stronger Diverse organizations and teams not only have better financial returns than less-diverse ones, but they also perform better. Having the different perspectives presented by people who are neurodivergent can help your team solve more difficult problems. Different perspectives and different ways of thinking lead to creativity and innovation.
Why Selecting a Leadership Development Program Is Way Too Complicated
Many organizations face a leadership gap and cannot find the talent needed to grow. We could blame the retiring baby boomer phenomenon, the free agent nation, or the lack of investment made in developing leaders. But since blame is a lazy man’s wage, I will not entertain that debate because there are too many options out there for developing leaders. There are many leadership development programs in the market. In minutes, with a simple Internet search or over coffee with your head of human resources, you can discover myriad high-quality leadership development programs that you could use in your organization to develop leaders. The problem is not finding a good program, but in choosing one. Answer the Right Questions So how does one choose? The problem we face in evaluating leadership development programs is that we get caught up in evaluating the content rather than asking a simple question, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Each organization is unique in how it answers this question. And that is where the secret lies. If an organization can select a program that matches the answer to the question above, the selected program will likely be the right one. After all, each leadership development program is very good in some way. It is not so important which one you select. It is important that you use the one you select. In other words, the key is to not let it become another un-opened binder on the bookshelves of your management team. Be An Effective Leader Let me give you an example: If an organization’s answer to the question above is, "We want our leaders to be proactive and focused on the things that drive results," your choices are narrowed down to only a few programs that would deliver on that answer. And if I had to pick one program that would deliver on that answer, without hesitation, I would choose, "The Effective Executive" by Peter F. Drucker. It is a classic, and all five of the behaviors of effective executives taught in the book remain vital skills that any leader should practice if he or she wants to be effective in his or her organization. In the book, Drucker teaches that effective executives: Know where their time goes Focus on contribution and results Build on strengths Concentrate on first things first Make effective decisions This is not a book review or a plug for "The Effective Executive," though I do believe if you had to choose one set of skills to teach your leadership, it would be the five from Drucker’s book. This is a challenge for every organization to simplify the selection of leadership development programs, and ask, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Answering this question clearly will help you choose the right program. After all, many programs are excellent. The secret to success is not in which program you choose, but that you get people to apply the program you choose. Photo: Can Stock