L&D Takes More Critical Role in Business Success


We won’t go so far as to call 2019 the “Year of Learning,” but the way things are shaping up, the increasing need to upskill and/or cross-train workers may force employers to pay dramatically more attention to corporate learning, and soon. The big question, of course, is whether that attention will translate into dollars.

According to a new report from Gartner, the top three priorities for HR executives this year are building critical skills and competencies, bulking up leadership strength and improving the employee experience.

In terms of learning, those align neatly with the executives’ view of top business priorities, which are:

  • Growing the business.
  • Improving operational excellenceExecuting business transformations
  • Innovating for success
  • Optimizing costs.

The links between these goals and improved learning is obvious. In order to grow the business, “We need to acquire and develop new capabilities to support our growth plan,” one executive told Gartner. To execute business transformations, “We’ll have to establish a foundation for compensation excellence and identify HR technology solutions to enable future growth and operational efficiencies,” said another. To innovate for success will require an organization to “find ways to differentiate itself in a flooded market” while keeping a lid on costs, said a third.

L&D leaders see the need to prepare workers for digital disruption most acutely, with 85 percent calling it a top priority. Share on X

If employers truly feel that kind of urgency, they need to actually do something: Only 33 percent of employees said they had received training in some kind of emerging skill over the last three years, Gartner said. Just 39 percent believe their workplace is evolving to keep up with business changes. On the other hand, 81 percent believe at least some of their current skills will still be relevant three years from now.

In addition, 67 percent of business leaders said that their companies would no longer be competitive if they didn’t become “significantly” more digital by 2020.

All of this is particularly noteworthy in a tight labor market. Brian Kropp, group vice president of Gartner’s HR practice, noted that barely more than half of workers worldwide, 53 percent, have a strong inclination to stay in their current positions. That’s down from 60 percent a year ago.

Not surprisingly, L&D leaders see the need to prepare workers for digital disruption most acutely. Eighty-five percent see it as a top priority, compared to 73 percent of HR heads and 52 percent of recruiting leaders.

Preparing the Workforce

To prepare their workforce for an increasingly digital business world, Gartner says employers should focus on:

  • Developing “Connector Managers.” Forty-eight percent of HR leaders say their organization’s managers don’t effectively develop employees. To address that, companies should develop “connector managers” who take an “employee-centric approach” and use the company’s broader network to help employees develop meaningful connections among their colleagues. Such managers, Gartner said, “triple the likelihood that their direct reports will be high performers, and increase employee engagement by up to 40 percent.”
  • Demand-driven succession management. Most organizations expect more than 40 percent of their leadership roles to be significantly different within five years, Gartner said. Yet 47 percent of HR leaders believe their company struggles to develop effective leaders while 45 percent said their succession management efforts don’t produce the right leaders at the right time. The solution lies in “demand-driven planning,” in which HR leaders anticipate the leadership needs necessary for an organization to achieve its strategic goals rather than simply fill vacancies.
  • Employee experience. Today’s employee wants their workplace experience to match the dynamics of their personal life. The solution here is more human than technical, Gartner says: HR needs to improve its listening skills. And that doesn’t mean conducting more surveys. Companies must start treating employees with the same empathy they do their customers to determine what they really value. The payoff? “Supporting what employees value increases employee performance by 20 percent,” Gartner said.

Talent is the new driver of business success, suggested Sari Wilde, managing vice president of Gartner’s HR practice. Consequently, that means organizations must help workers develop critical skills and help them grow into leaders. That especially critical, she said, “given that less than two-thirds of managers think their employees are able to keep pace with future skill needs.”

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