L & D Strategy in a VUCA World

None of us can predict the future. That said, many HR and learning and development (L & D) professionals frequently try. Workforce planning. Twenty-first century skills. New technologies. These issues and more challenge us to identify “What’s coming next?” and “How do I help my organization adapt?” The new normal seems to be one of constant change and adaptation. The U.S. military defined this new state in the 1990s as VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Today’s organizations require people to be adaptable problem-solvers ready and willing to shift gears on demand. Futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler projected this in their groundbreaking book, Future Shock. The Tofflers’ advice was to focus on “unlearning.” Doing what you’ve always done will get you what you’ve always gotten. Today’s world of learning and development requires new learning and a new plan.

So, what’s your learning and development strategy to prepare your workforce for the coming demands? Consider these tips as you construct your organization’s plan:

  • Start with the business. L & D exists to serve the business. Never forget that. What business outcomes are most relevant to L & D and should guide the strategic-planning function? Which L & D strategic priorities support the core business objectives? Where do they support transformation efforts? Where do they support shifting skillsets and technologies? Your organization doesn’t have a strategic plan? No worries. What do you notice about the market? Where does change seem to be happening and how do your employees need to adapt? All of these questions can help guide the direction of your training plan. To quote a famous Stephen Covey-ism, “Begin with the end in mind.”
  • Zap the gaps. While the year might be 2019, the fundamentals of Gap Analysis are just as relevant today as they were yesterday. Based on those business initiatives, where are your gaps? Where might you need to upskill or reskill certain jobs? As you work with other functional areas of the business, what skills are still relevant and which have fallen out of date? Identify what resources will carry you forward through the gap and what systems may need to be modified or adapted in order to narrow it.
  • Change mindsets to change skillsets. Companies frequently focus on changing technological and procedural systems in order to meet the demands of a VUCA world. This is the wrong place to start. Developing the right mindset—a curious mindset—helps your employees anticipate and manage complicated and unforeseen problems. Work on building skills like inquisitiveness, critical thinking, creativity, openness, trust, and disruption tolerance (essentially managing the fear of risk taking). Your L & D plan needs to identify active efforts to grow these new mindsets as well as resources to reinforce them back on the job. Building these new ways of thinking will be the foundational infrastructure for new ways of doing.
  • Develop your AI IQ. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here. And it’s growing. While it may not yet have reached “SkyNet” proportions, all organizations have to begin considering its impact on talent development. AI naysayers frequently talk about the disruptions and job loss AI will create; however, recent research by the Gartner Group actually expects that AI will be a positive net job motivator, creating 2.3 million jobs while only eliminating 1.8 million jobs–and it will accelerate over time. What does this mean for your L & D strategy? Which skills do you need to keep investing in, stop investing in, and start inviting in? While repetitive/routine skills will likely find themselves replaced, social-creative skills (cognitive skills, social skills, communication, critical thinking, performance coaching, etc.) will increase in demand. What’s your plan for developing these skills?
  • It’s (still) all about the Benjamins. One thing has not changed and likely won’t change soon: Organizations run on money. For L & D this means two things: “What’s your plan for measuring impact and proving your worth?” and “How much is all of this going to cost us?” As you consider your measurement strategy, leading with focusing on business needs should help highlight key business metrics and translate those into dollars and cents. As you consider cost information, see what you can do to link your priorities to other key priorities in the business. By spreading out this cost and connecting it to key business drivers, you might find yourself with a few more dollars in the piggy bank.

Hopefully, these tips will help you as you begin looking at your L & D strategy for these VUCA times. If not, have you considered a Magic 8-ball? Mine says, “The future is promising.”