Until the day people can be grown in labs and have microchips directly implanted into them, HR will continue to serve the unenviable task of managing an increasingly independent and reactive workforce.
Just how independent and reactive? The recent COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant economic downturn saw substantially increased employee willingness to move to lower paying jobs in more ‘recession-proof’ industries like tech, R&D, and e-commerce.
Where does that leave companies that don’t belong on that list? It’s not unreasonable to assume that even your most loyal talents have been browsing Jobstreet lately.
Simultaneously, it’s fair to expect that the CEO and top level management have grand plans (as CEOs are wont to do) of how the organisation must pivot if it is to survive. Visionary though these plans may be, they mean nothing without people on the ground executing.
With the top management contemplating a change in direction and the people on the ground entertaining a change in careers, what strategies should HR practitioners employ to bridge this new divide and ensure sustainable development?
Does your company have an HR strategic plan?
Specifically, one that involves (among other things) total, up-to-date clarity of the organisation’s short and long-term goals, the current skill gaps among employees, and the appropriate learning interventions?
If you answered no to any of the above, it may be time (read: it is time) to sit down with the team and put one together.
The term ‘team’ here doesn’t just mean the HR department. It means ‘The Team’. It’s vital that you include the CEO and other Department Heads in the discussion. Although HR may have the best general overview of the company, individual Heads will know their own departments like the back of their hand and can provide valuable insight that may be invisible to outsiders. The last thing you want is for performance to drop mid-year and have leaders question why they weren’t consulted during the planning process.
Now that you have the greatest lineup since Marvel’s Avengers, it’s time for a little SWOT-ting.
A SWOT analysis examines the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of your company. By including everyone in the analysis, you get the most accurate and up-to-date information. Knowing where your company stands, you are able to set goals with a reasonable certainty.
1. Map learning to company goals
Let’s assume the goals are set in stone. Let’s also assume these goals are so effectively translated through the layers of hierarchy that employees recite them verbatim in their sleep, to the horror of their significant others.
In short, everyone understands the ‘why’ and the ‘what’. HR’s job is to map out the ‘how’ by working backwards.
- Identify the skill sets and working knowledge base needed by all employees.
- Identify the skill sets and working knowledge base needed for specific job functions.
- Identify current skill sets and working knowledge of employees.
- The difference between that current and needed skill set is the content syllabus.
This is of course a very surface level explanation, but it addresses the steps needed to devise an intentional plan of action. Learning doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive, but companies that want tangible results cannot expect to pay nothing. However, it is crucial that any costs incurred be justifiable based on step number four: to the best of your judgement, it must be expected to provide learning that helps the organisation reach its goals.
Beneath the surface, the plan can be as nuanced as is necessary. Annual goals are often broken down into quarterly targets, and learning calendars can be similarly organised.
This can be highly individualised based on the company. Perhaps a firm needs everyone to be more deeply familiar with a new product, but it needs its sales team to be upskilled immediately. Perhaps it just needs one sales rep to be upskilled. Perhaps the sales team is already overburdened and an external employee needs to be onboarded instead. Possibilities abound.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all plan for every company, we do have a guide showing how a learning plan can be mapped to company goals that you can then customise to fit your organisation.
2. Create an environment conducive to learning
First, pretend everyone at the company despises anything to do with learning.
Sure, there will be a few outliers who truly enjoy learning. You won’t need to convince them. For the rest of the workforce, imagine you are the unfortunate mother who has to convince her 500 children to eat their vegetables.
Sure, they know it’s good for their health, but still – ew.
So what might mom and dad do to coax their kids into making room for spinach and broccoli?
They might want to center rewards around the consumption of vegetables. However, the rewards must be varied or their children’s adherence to the diet will crash.
They may punish their children for not eating vegetables. This is dependent on the punishment being administered without fail. Additionally, it breeds resentment towards what is seen as an abuse of power. It may be necessary to sometimes play the ‘bad guy’, but only as a last resort.
Parents may also try to make the vegetables taste less like vegetables. They may deep-fry it in crispy tempura batter, so that the outside is delicious. Within, the essence of the vegetable remains. It is now tasty and nutritious (albeit slightly less so).
Now, instead of using threats, short-term rewards, or diluting value, what if they let their children go hungry in a house filled with vegetables?
Answer: there’s no way the kids will go hungry – they’d eat the vegetables.
Now back to the workplace.
Companies must face the reality that learning isn’t a conventionally fun activity, and for that simple reason many just won’t do it until they have to – and therein lies your strongest weapon.
Even the most learning-averse among them must learn at some point. They procrastinate and delay, but there are moments when it’s a matter of survival (or proposal deadlines). During these moments, you better believe these employees would love to learn. Can you predict exactly when these moments happen? To some degree, but it doesn’t matter.
Those parents can’t predict exactly when their kids will get hungry either. They just ensure the house is always well-stocked with vegetables that are easily accessible. They knew that eventually, survival instincts kick in and the kids wouldn’t just eat their greens – they would devour them and grow up healthy and strong.
Your employees are not going to fail their teams and the company just because they don’t like learning. Eventually, they will seek out the content they need. Your job as HR is to make sure that content is well-stocked and easily accessible to them. Don’t fight human nature, work with it.
Want to know our not-so-humble suggestion for that quickest way? Talk to us here.
3. Set meaningful metrics & track ROI for learning
This is why it’s important to map learning to goals. The next step – or steps – allow us to monitor the effectiveness of whatever interventions we have put into place.
Step 1: Lay out the starting point
Whatever a learning intervention is meant to improve, the baseline must first be obtained and laid out in a quantifiable way. This is where your company stands pre-intervention.
Some of these may need the expertise of those from other departments, so don’t be shy to ask for help. Need a more accurate estimate of the current true per unit cost of a product? The folks in Finance would love to help.
Step 2: Measure during
Collect relevant data as the intervention is ongoing. Some types of information, like employee engagement, are best obtained when memories are still fresh. Additionally, this gives the best opportunity for swift corrective measures, including a premature termination of the programme.
Step 3: Measure after
At the completion of the intervention, what is the new baseline measurement? If HR has been diligent about collecting and acting on data during the intervention, there is very little reason why there would be anything but improvement here. The actual numbers may be higher or lower than the initial projection, which is a matter that will have already been communicated with decision-makers.
Step 4: Repeat or rinse off?
Considering the cost – benefit ratio of the intervention, should it be continued? Are cheaper alternatives available? Are there more urgent goals? No one can decide on this but the company itself.