Much has been written about the new capabilities that will be required for companies to thrive amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and in the next normal. These needs add to the already significant demands on organizations to upskill their employees in the face of digital transformation.

Prophet’s 2020 global research study “Catalysts in Action: Applying the Cultural Levers of Transformation” found that for companies impeded by legacy talent models, focusing on “Enabling the Transformation” – one of four key pathways of cultural change – can help accelerate transformational progress. Enabling the Transformation relates to the Mind of an organization – its talent and capabilities. Our research found that “developing training to upskill talent” is one of the fundamental levers to produce a true change in an organization’s Mind. Importantly, building new skills and competencies brings the existing workforce along on the journey so that they have the opportunity to remain relevant, even as organizations reimagine where and how to source needed capabilities going forward.

Learning & Development is at Its Tipping Point

Learning & development opportunities are now a key factor when selecting an employer – and the demand for growing employee skills and competencies in the workplace is only poised to accelerate. An estimated 65 percent of children entering primary school today are expected to work in jobs that don’t currently exist, requiring skills that may not even currently be contemplated, let alone thoughtfully incorporated into learning curricula.

Meeting the accelerated demand for modern skills development and relevant learning experiences has elevated the important role played by learning functions and departments. The time is now to ensure that employees receive real value through engaging learning and development content that can be applied and translated to day-to-day work to drive measurable business impact.

4 Steps To an Enhanced Learning Model

At Prophet, we’ve synthesized adult and transformative learning theory to develop our AR2 model (with credit to my colleague, Tony Fross) for designing and delivering compelling learning & development experiences. The four steps of this model (Absorb-Recall-Apply-Reinforce) are designed to ensure learning experiences support both thinking (synthesis) and doing (application).

Below we walk through each of these four steps, to help you on your way to enabling transformation in the “Mind” of your organization:

1. Absorb

Initially, what is being communicated is still just information, not knowledge; the key is making the information something that the recipients will want to convert to knowledge. First, define clear learning objectives to ensure the information presented is targeted and relevant. Then, consider varying how recipients will consume the information to sustain engagement and stimulate different mental muscles. How might you deliver information in a way that requires recipients to alternately read, see, listen to and feel this content?

For example, Prophet worked with a large global appliance manufacturer, which needed to broadly upskill its marketing organization to enable digital transformation. We designed a full learning curriculum, in which one key module was focused on helping marketers to truly understand and embrace their target consumer segments. The segmentation data was translated in a way that brought these consumers to life, versus treating them as data points on a page. An immersive exhibit allowed the marketers to “choose their own adventure” in terms of when and how they consumed information, versus presenting it at them. Rich material within the exhibit included visuals that invited participants into the kitchens of these individuals, versus just reading this information. Participants were also actively engaged through the use of an augmented reality app, which allowed them to unlock quotes and videos to hear firsthand the voice of the consumer.

2. Recall

The Recall step is where learners “try” the content in preparation for its application in context. Studies show that every time a memory is retrieved, that memory becomes more accessible in the future, so Recall focuses on retrieval and continual practice. Today’s virtual learning platforms offer plenty of functionality to find creative ways to aid recall. Real-time quizzes and visualization of results through tools like Mentimeter help drive instant engagement, while the breakout function offered within Zoom enables small groups to consider a thought-provoking question and how it links to what they’ve learned.

For example, with this global appliance manufacturer, our learning curriculum included designing 2-week gamified online “Expeditions” around key topics related to digital transformation. After first absorbing the information, participants were engaged through quick quizzes, with points awarded for correct answers. Participants could also earn points and badges for posing questions, commenting and sharing related information, all ways of driving recall as well as a sense of community and competitive spirit.

3. Apply

Within the Apply step, learners must be guided to do something with the knowledge they’ve gained in the context of their job. Adult learning is most successful when knowledge is made clearly relevant to the learners and their lives. In fact, organizations can’t afford to not drive toward application within their learning & development programs; the Apply step is where knowledge is connected to meeting key business objectives. Applying knowledge in a simulated and supported environment ensures individuals are equipped to apply this knowledge again when they’re faced with a similar situation in their day-to-day work. Tools such as templates, action plans and job aids (like checklists) both support and drive successful applications.

For example, a capstone of the learning curriculum for the global appliance manufacturer was a 3-day summit for their top marketing leaders. Action planning often gets crammed into the final module of a session, but an “apply as we go” approach was taken instead. Time was carved out each day to iteratively build action plans, applying the knowledge gained each day to build and refine the thinking. Teams for action planning were carefully constructed to mirror typical working teams, to ensure the action plan would be relevant to real objectives, versus a theoretical learning exercise. Finally, the summit incorporated mechanisms to drive accountability, such as sharing action plans with peers and inviting feedback.

4. Reinforce

The fourth and final step is to Reinforce. This means both creating incentives to sustain new behaviors related to the knowledge gained, as well as developing long-term opportunities for reinforcement (to ensure knowledge is not forgotten over time). Simple incentives, such as social kudos or visible symbols (e.g., a custom notebook, with a checklist insert), are fun and effective. The most powerful incentives, however, are ultimately those that are incorporated into development objectives and performance management, to help embed the learning within day-to-day work and expectations.

For example, the learning curriculum for the global appliance manufacturer paved the way for a more expansive effort to transform and embed digital capability within the marketing function. The skills taught throughout the learning curriculum became core to job expectations for the company’s marketers, and each marketer was expected to apply the knowledge gained to help the company evolve toward world-class consumer-led marketing.

Why the AR2 Model Matters

Relevant, compelling learning experiences – designed through approaches such as the AR2 model – are necessary to help companies make the leap in leveling-up their workforces around critical new skills. Executed as part of a comprehensive learning and development curriculum, these learning experiences create greater employee capability, engagement and ownership in enabling a company’s transformation.

If you’re looking to pursue a reskilling agenda and want to understand how to adapt employees’ skills and roles to the post-pandemic ways of working then our Organization & Culture experts can help, get in touch today

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