Even relative to the events of the past four years, 2024 is shaping up to be a wild ride.
With an uncertain and shifting economy and labor market, continued explosive growth of technology (AI-centered and otherwise), several wars and global hotspots of conflict, and major elections in the U.S. and elsewhere—learning and talent leaders have plenty of factors to consider as they enable their organization’s success.
Members of the Institute for Corporate Productivity’s (i4cp) Chief Learning and Talent Officer Board (CLTO) were recently asked what their top priorities and predictions are for the new year. Their responses can be summed up in four words: skills, leadership, AI, and personalization.
Skills as the new currency. A significant trend over the past several years has been a focus on skills—as much or even more so than higher-level competencies, roles, and jobs—as a new, consistent unit across talent processes. Organizations have been developing skills databases/inventories with profiles for either all employees or at least those in specific functional areas or critical roles.
With the use of AI technology, such skills data can then be used in many ways including mapping out personalized career paths/journeys in the organizations; matching employees with open jobs, gigs, and projects; and recommending learning/training opportunities, appropriate mentors, and more. There has been fast growth of platforms called Internal Talent Marketplaces that—given the right data—can do all of the above and more.
And yet, CLTO Board members—and i4cp member organizations more broadly—have repeatedly told us that collecting employee skills data and setting up such technology platforms are not the hardest parts of this endeavor. What organizations find the most challenging—and even regret not spending more time on early in the initiative—is focusing on the many mindset, culture, and process changes needed to get the most value out of a shift to skills. These include:
- Talent hoarding by managers → Managers as developers of talent
- Heavy reliance on degrees in job requirements → More reliance on skills and experience
- Weak learning culture (“know-it-alls”) → Strong learning culture (“learn-it-all’s”)
- Focus only on specific skills required per job/role → More focus on developing adjacent skills to increase agility
- Heavily siloed organization with little skill sharing → Elimination of silos with skill sharing where needed
- Rewards/recognition for projects/productivity only → Rewards/recognition for skill building as well
- Career conversations infrequent (e.g., once a year, at most) → Frequent skills development conversations and feedback
- Little transparency around skills information → Greater transparency of skills data across the organization
- Fear of automation/AI as largely replacing humans → Focus on automation/AI as mostly augmenting humans
- Recruiters focus externally for skills needed for open jobs → Recruiters look internally as much or more than externally
Leadership effectiveness and manager capability. Put simply, leadership development is a perennial topic of discussion among the Chief Learning and Talent Officer Board members. At any point in time, about one-third of board members are reimagining some or all aspects of their leadership development programming, and another one-third are leveraging and learning from a newly revised program or approach. This has been especially true since 2020, when as i4cp’s Leadership Redefined study found, the priorities for and expected behaviors of leaders at all levels changed in significant ways (hint: Well-being-focused behaviors rose to the top of the list, and have stayed important ever since).
But in 2024, many more CLTO Board members are focusing specifically on manager-level capabilities. Both front-line supervisors and middle-managers have had their responsibilities and expectations expand significantly in recent years—sometimes with ample support from L&D and the broader HR team, but not always to the degree that would be ideal.
Having spent time focusing on reimagining higher-level leader training and programs for high-potential leaders, the time is now to do the same for the learning and support available for all managers. Organizations that fail to do so will likely see negative consequences for engagement and culture, retention/attrition, leader pipelines, workforce agility, and more.
Generative AI—the time is now. As i4cp’s 2023 study and corresponding report Is HR Already Behind in the AI Revolution? found, a relatively small number of organizations—the AI Innovators as we called them—had already jumped ahead of the pack in nine people-related Generative AI next practices. In addition, much of the focus on skills described above is powered by AI (e.g., matching employees’ skills with jobs, gigs, learning opportunities, mentors, and more).
Specific to learning, i4cp’s L&D Tech study found that a dozen AI use cases will likely see fast growth in 2024, with some becoming commonplace aspects of core talent processes by this time next year. Importantly, this includes looking inwardly and proactively preparing HR with the necessary skills for the AI revolution. Only then will HR be prepared to lead strategic discussions about the workforce implications of generative AI.
Personalization of learning is truly possible. i4cp has been tracking the trend towards ever-greater personalization of learning for a couple of decades. But the latest L&D technology, and especially platforms that use AI, are allowing for personalization to now take center stage through GenAI-enabled analysis of learning patterns and preferences. Tailored learning and development not only will strengthen engagement—long a challenge with corporate training initiatives—but also ultimately speed upskilling through adaptive learning (e.g., allowing individuals to bypass modules or experiences that they already have mastered, or tailoring content and practices to fill in specific gaps).
As 2024 unfolds, learning and talent leaders will as much as ever be called upon to enable organizations’ success through a focus on skills-centric practices, improved leadership effectiveness and manager capability, AI-driven improvements in productivity, and truly personalized learning. This year’s challenges will be many, but at this time next year the best learning and talent leaders and their teams will point to clear successes in all of these areas.