Learning & Development - COVID-19 Action Call: a Conversation with Elliott Masie

In response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and its unprecedented impact to business and employers, i4cp holds a weekly series of standing calls to help Learning and Development leaders navigate this unpredictable time.

The second of our series of weekly COVID-19 coronavirus business response video calls for learning and development leaders was well attended, and not surprisingly as we were joined by a special guest, Elliott Masie, the founder of the MASIE Center and a long-time industry analyst and thought leader. i4cp CEO Kevin Oakes and Elliott led a dialogue on a range of issues and concerns for L&D leaders in these unprecedented and challenging times—here are four key themes that emerged.

1.     Learning and development can really step up and be heroes to their organizations. The L&D community has great skillsets for what is needed now—people really need to learn new things quickly, from how to work from home, to new practices like social distancing/etc., and in some cases rich skillsets such as trainers who need to switch from the in-person classroom to the virtual classroom.

Elliott gave the analogy to one of his favorite movies, Apollo 13, and specifically to the scene where the NASA engineers dumped all of the same equipment available to the astronauts in the damaged spacecraft on a table to creatively problem solve for a situation they never planned for. Similarly, L&D professionals need to “work the problem” and think creatively with the tools at hand.

Elliott recommends they think very broadly and beyond traditional training, and instead become a performance and learning support function. Fortunately for many this will be an acceleration of change already underway, and not a sudden nor temporary shift, as this focus aligns with many existing trends in the industry already, such as the increasing focus on learning in the flow of work, performance support, micro-learning, etc. Elliott recommended thinking differently by coaching leaders to have virtual coffee meetings in the mornings or similar calls at the end of the day. In general, L&D needs to stay focused on helping people feel and be productive, noting that many are afraid for their jobs now, while also warning against the trap of becoming the group therapist.

2.     For some there will be great opportunity for upskilling in the weeks ahead. Kevin noted that one CLO recently suggested that this feels like a once in a lifetime opportunity, with so many captive learners to upskill / reskill. Elliott agreed, but stressed that the timing needs to be right: if people are stressed about just making it through each day, and have plenty of work to still do, then now isn’t the time to focus on upskilling (or any optional training). One call participant in the chat put that point well: “My reality. . . trying to figure out what our (internal) customers want, have an appetite for, and can handle.”

We asked a poll question on this topic, and 23% said they were using this time to focus on upskilling or reskilling the workforce, and another 32% were thinking about doing so. One call participant noted that they have some employees who can’t work from home, can’t work at the office (due to safety concerns), and who they plan to retain—so providing upskilling opportunities is perfect for them during this time. And one call participant even noted the connection to other trends leading to the need to upskill anyway, such as the growth of automation and AI leading to job role changes.

3.     L&D professionals need to support virtual leaders, remote workers, and virtual training. For proponents of remote work and virtual classroom training, this current period offers both a great opportunity and some risk. In many cases, leaders will discover that employees can be very productive (or even more productive) when working remotely. The same holds true for virtual training when it is delivered by trainers who are skilled at delivering in an online environment. It is important for L&D to provide support to these endeavors, because the risk also exists that if remote work or virtual training do not go well in the coming weeks, that skeptics will be emboldened to dig in and say “I told you so… virtual doesn’t work at our organization!”

4.     L&D can enable connections and content. Some L&D professionals have noted a resurgence in the use of their LMS or LXP platform, as employees with newfound downtime quickly wanted learning content on working remotely, time management, handling stress, or a range of other topics. Additionally, the opportunity to leverage the employee base to create content is understood by several organizations. This week we polled call participants on whether they are enabling greater user-generated content than before: 28% said yes, and another 28% said they were thinking about doing so. Elliott noted an uptick in this area but stressed that perhaps more important than connecting people to new content was helping to connect people to each other. In other words, don’t expect employees will necessarily want to learn or upskill by taking asynchronous e-Learning modules on their own, but rather might want virtual classroom or other team-oriented learning activities and coaching to ward off any creeping loneliness or isolation.

In addition to the recording above, please see the many resources at our i4cp Coronavirus Employer Resource Center.