2011: A Year of Living Dangerously

In an ever more complex and volatile business environment, organizations must leverage all the resources of a global firm to develop and provide for learners and leaders.

<p><em>In an ever more complex and volatile business environment, organizations must leverage all the resources of a global firm to develop and provide for learners and leaders.</em><br /><br />In October 2007, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at a record high of 14,164. By March 2009, the Dow had sunk to 6,469, and much of the business world reeled from the shock of the recession represented by the remarkable drop in that single measure. Many companies were making significant changes in how they delivered learning and development to their organizations. To better understand the effects that the recession had created as well as what the longer-term learning landscape might look like once the worst of the carnage was over, Duke Corporate Education surveyed senior learning and development leaders.<br /><br />The study, completed in October 2009, sought to gain insight in two broad areas: the ways in which the delivery of learning and development had shifted and what these leaders forecast that L&D would be like in 2011 and beyond. Duke CE spoke at length to 40 L&D professionals and surveyed another 100 online. These results came primarily from companies with earnings more than $3 billion in North America and Europe.<br /><br /><strong>Drivers of Change</strong><br />Only 4 percent of the sample reported that little was likely to be different in their 2011 L&D activity. Of the remaining respondents, 37 percent forecast that things would be dramatically different, with the balance of the sample suggesting that things would be somewhat different in their organizations.<br /><br />As Duke CE sought to understand the primary causes for this level of change, three factors combined to suggest how companies would enable learning in 2011. The first driver for many respondents was a real reduction in travel, making traditional face-to-face learning experiences rare. A second driver for respondents was a budget reduction that affected some companies and industries quite dramatically while leaving others relatively unscathed. The third driver was the recognition that virtual means for delivering learning experiences had become much more useful than a few years ago. Taken together, L&D professionals were forced away from travel, asked to be thoughtful about expenditure and surprised by how far technology had progressed, making virtual delivery means more viable. The events stemming from the recession created the need for a much more thoughtful mix of methods for achieving enterprise-level learning objectives.<br /><br />Respondents also reported a renewed emphasis on an issue that has been important to L&D professionals for decades &mdash; demonstrating the value of an L&D investment. Whether an individual company&rsquo;s L&D budget was directly affected or not by the recession, the large majority of respondents reported that their own clients&rsquo; expectations that L&D investments should create tangible value were stronger than ever. A number of shifts in approaches to learning and development were driven by this need to deliver real business value.<br /><br />Interestingly, senior line executives revealed that they were not interested in arithmetic proof that L&D produced direct ROI; in fact, most executives were quite impatient with such calculations. Instead, these clients wanted to see that the results of L&D investments yielded individuals, teams and organizational units more capable of delivering what the business strategy required. If that connection between learning and the likelihood of improved business performance could be persuasively asserted, in most cases that value proposition was satisfying enough. A significant number of companies in the survey planned substantive changes in their strategy, and L&D professionals from those companies will work very hard to make sure that the L&D investment produces the capabilities and competencies the new strategies require.<br /><br /><strong>Matching Methods and Outcomes</strong><br />Survey responses revealed that in 2011, L&D professionals will take advantage of the broader mix of learning delivery methods now available in the marketplace. Face-to-face learning experiences will continue but will be used in specific cases. The use of virtual learning methods will increase dramatically, sometimes in combination with more traditional means. And the interest in making learning a genuine byproduct of ordinary work is accelerating.</p><p>Although travel and budget cuts are forcing careful evaluation of learning methods, by no means is the traditional face-to-face program dead. In cases where behavioral change, networking and trust building are important outcomes, respondents indicated the investment in a face-to-face program is favored. But in the absence of those sorts of outcomes, other learning mechanisms are getting a more careful look.<br /><br />Learning that revolves around knowledge transfer can now be accomplished through the use of more engaging virtual means. Because technology has come so far in the past few years, 66 percent of respondents predicted an increase in individual, self-paced e-learning without the active involvement of an instructor and 88 percent of respondents reported a likely increase in the use of a virtual classroom in 2011. In such cases, an instructor would lead a learning session using a webcast or similar delivery mechanism. Combining virtual learning with face-to-face events also appears likely to increase. Seventy-nine percent of respondents suggested that this blended approach was likely to be used more frequently in 2011 and beyond.<br /><br />Respondents also indicated that learning is moving closer to the work. As questions about the value of an L&D investment are asked, an attendant conversation about how to make ordinary work a more compelling and effective way to learn becomes more frequent. If companies can instill habits and routines into work groups that improve the quality of the learning that occurs every day on the job, L&D will have found a way to improve the impact and applicability of the learning and the cost-effectiveness of their efforts. Respondents reported strong interest in making learning a natural byproduct of ordinary business.</p><p>It&rsquo;s also clear from the study that there is enormous curiosity about how L&D can harness the power of social networks to encourage spontaneous, organic learning across the enterprise, but respondents remain puzzled about how to achieve that sort of result.<br /><br /><strong>A Focus on the Future</strong><br />A significant portion of the study sought to understand how the knowledge agenda for 2011 and beyond was likely to be different than it had been previously. The study asked respondents to rate 13 topics in terms of how likely each was to receive more emphasis in the future than it had in the past. </p><p>Seventy-one percent of respondents indicated that managing volatility, complexity and ambiguity is a topic that will receive greater emphasis in 2011 and beyond. Similarly, 89 percent of respondents indicated that cross-boundary work and collaboration are of increased importance as well. Tucked between those two results, 74 percent of respondents predicted increased emphasis on leadership development.<br /><br />In this sense, leadership development continues to be important simply because it is the responsibility of L&D to contribute to every leader&rsquo;s ability to achieve the results the company&rsquo;s strategy seeks. At the same time, an extraordinary number of respondents described leadership development as being about two new needs.<br /><br />First, L&D must help leaders equip themselves with the knowledge, the tools and the attitudes they need to make sense of the volatile, complex and ambiguous environments in which their companies operate. If the right development occurs, those leaders will then be able to strategize against such a dynamic and unpredictable backdrop, and that sort of strategic thinking will be crucial to the future success of every global business.<br /><br />Second, respondents reported that a leader&rsquo;s ability to leverage all of the resources of a global firm against the complex problems that businesses face is also a determinant of success. Accordingly, leadership development must be about learning to melt boundaries between organizational units; cultures both organizational and national; and demographic groups, particularly different generations. Taken together, these are two new areas of emphasis in the development of global leaders, and L&D organizations must work with their talent management colleagues and others in the company to think about how to supply leaders with those abilities in the years not far ahead. Leadership development remains an important part of every business&rsquo;s strategic future, but the world in which companies operate and the nature of the problems they face will test every L&D professional&rsquo;s ability to deliver new learning in new ways.<br /><br /><strong>A Glimpse of the Future</strong><br />The past three years have tested learning and development professionals and their organizations. What has emerged from all of the difficulties of the recession, though, is a reaffirmation that L&D counts, perhaps more than ever. The challenge is to embrace the fact that the familiar ways of doing work and of demonstrating value may not be sufficient in 2011 and beyond. Instead, there is the opportunity to be more thoughtful about how to use a wider range of learning methods, to demonstrate the value of work in meaningful ways, and to develop a generation of leaders with the knowledge, behaviors and beliefs that it takes to grapple with a new world of business challenges and opportunities. All in all, it appears that L&D pros have a pretty interesting set of problems to solve.</p>