Design Thinking Is Helping HR Make L&D More Friendly

With online courses, podcasts and new tech tools giving employees more ownership over their professional development, what role should HR now play in learning and development? Even if learning is not directly administered by HR, it still needs to be involved in guiding and facilitating program development and advising on the latest thinking about effective training techniques.

There is no more one size fits all solution to L&D. Today employees need and want more individualized learning plans. In fact psychological studies have shown that people have different ways of learning according to their personality. “Strategic learners”, “deep learners” and “surface learners” will be more likely to acquire new skills when programs are adapted to fit their personality and the way they learn. The challenge is creating L&D programs that can be adapted to individual learning needs.

HR as an architect

Design thinking is a new method being adopted by HR to meet the modern employees’ demands. Following the digital trend, Deloitte and Columbia University’s Global Trends in HR course for HR professionals promotes the idea of transforming HR’s approach through design thinking, stating that 79% of senior professionals now rank it as a high priority when meeting talent challenges. But what does design thinking actually mean?

Design thinking encourages practitioners to create new processes from a designer’s perspective, focusing on improving the experience of the user. Utilizing design thinking in HR encourages professionals to create new processes based on the needs of the modern employee. Borrowing from UX (user experience) approach, we’re even seeing more and more HR professionals on LinkedIn changing their title to EX (employee experience) professional.

There are four things HR can do to redesign L&D programs to be more EX centered:

1. Become a content curator

HR is in the best position to design and tailor modern L&D programs that reflect their organization’s objectives. Jason Wingard, Dean and Professor of the School of Professional Studies at Columbia University, emphasizes the need for HR to take on a content curator role. While maintaining employee ownership of learning is important, he says HR should still play a part in crafting L&D programs that guide and incentivize employees to learn more of the skills that are specific to the company’s needs.

While they like having options, employees are regularly bombarded with an overload of information, notifications and video clips. Deloitte reported that workers are being interrupted up to every five minutes by workplace applications and tools. Two-thirds of knowledge workers claim they don’t have time to do their jobs. Help them cut through the noise by curating a smaller amount of content and tools that will help them reach your organization’s objectives.

Keep in mind the needs of the modern learner. Most won’t watch a video longer than four minutes and today marketers have only between 5 to 10 minutes to catch their attention. With these statistics in mind, be sure to select content that will really speak to your millennials’ learning needs and address their key concerns in the workplace.

2. Turn your managers into mentors

Today managers are often overwhelmed with meeting KPIs and bottom line priorities set for their team by the executive level. At the same time, they’re told to find extra time to spend on coaching their employees. Having a team with a high learning agility greatly increases managers’ ability to reach key objectives, but they won’t spend time on it if their performance is being assessed solely on financial indicators. Make it easier for your managers to become great mentors by re-designing the process to address their needs and concerns.

Signal the importance your company places on L&D by taking coaching into consideration when conducting performance reviews. Instead of simply asking “How much revenue did their team bring in this year?”, ask “How many new skills did their team learn?” If your company conducts manager reviews, ask employees if they feel they’re getting enough coaching from their manager. This will allow managers more flexibility in the way they balance their employees’ coaching needs with meeting bottom line objectives.

Introduce user friendly HR tech tools which will help them meet their coaching objectives easily and on the go.

3. Facilitating peer to peer learning

It may seem straightforward but one of the most effective learning strategies today is peer driven learning. Fifty-five percent of Google’s L&D is administered through an ecosystem of over 2,000 peer learners. The program, Googler to Googler, effectively puts employees into HR’s role of planning and training peers on a variety of different skills. In 2013, roughly 2,000 employees volunteered to teach a class.

Google may be what modern companies aspire to be, but following Google’s lead is a difficult task. In spite of being eager to learn and develop new skills, Deloitte found that employees only have 1% of their week to spend on learning. Getting peers to actually spend extra time devising training courses may not be feasible, but promoting peer coaching is.

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Encouraging peers to give each other regular performance feedback, whether during 360-degree reviews or informally will create an environment in which people are more open and attuned to helping their teammates develop.

Already it’s estimated that 80% of learning occurs on the job through interactions with others. This will be increasingly essential as teams begin working more and more in a cross-functional manner. It’s also less time intensive and more cost effective than setting up formal HR administered training courses.

Allow your employees to explore new options within the company by making learning across departments available. Sourcing talent for open positions within your own company limits the task of onboarding and provides you with a diverse multi-skilled workforce. Giving your workforce the right tools to connect with others will facilitate an increase in knowledge sharing and break down departmental barriers.

4. Adopting tech friendly L&D for a tech savvy workforce

Millennials want more L&D on the job but this doesn’t have to break the bank. Rather than having HR spend time and money devising expensive formal classes, companies are now investing in new HR tech tools that fuse millennials’ not so secret attachment to their smartphone with their desire for real-time learning. Digital learning tools such as podcasts, online courses, webinars, blogs and tools that foster daily workplace collaboration will give your employees more options to accelerate their professional learning plan

Steffen Maier

Steffen Maier is the co-founder of impraise a web-based and mobile solution for actionable, timely feedback at work. Based in San Francisco and Amsterdam, Impraise turns tedious annual performance reviews into an easy process by enabling users to give and receive valuable feedback in real-time and when it’s most helpful.