Posted by Paul Powell ● October 13, 2016

Managing Learning in Times of Organizational Change

change_management-1.jpgChange is a constant in today’s fast-paced, competitive business environment, yet learning & development organizations are too often left on the periphery of the change process. Even when L&D is directly incorporated into change management planning and execution, ample attention may not be given to how the change impacts the learning function itself.

Here are five tips for learning leaders to effectively manage learning in times of organizational change.

Understand the Change Drivers

During times of organizational change, especially those that require improvements to the bottom line, it can be easy for learning leaders to worry about whether their learning budget will be cut or if their annual training plans will be supported from the top. Rather than ducking into a conference room with your training managers to plan for potential budget reductions, instead seek opportunities to be a key part of the leadership engine that powers the change strategy. Embrace the change by proactively engaging stakeholders to understand the change drivers and strategic goals. Listen carefully for what is mission-critical. Honestly assess whether various L&D initiatives are critical to accomplishing these strategic goals, and if they are, make that case to the stakeholders. If your assessment reveals that existing L&D initiatives are not truly adding value to organizational goals, then it’s time to adjust the learning strategy accordingly.

Position L&D as a Change Champion

As potentially unsettling as change can be for the learning organization itself, consider what it feels like for other functional areas in which longstanding processes and systems are being overhauled or even eliminated. View the role of L&D as providing support to business units during times of change, rather than worrying about how the change affects L&D. Senior leadership is looking for go-to partners who can communicate, reinforce, and clarify their strategy throughout the organization, and functional areas are looking for help to perform and contribute in new ways. The learning organization typically has cross-functional knowledge of the business, creating a perfect opportunity to be a key driver of change and performance improvement. Offer C-level learning, and prepare employees to participate on performance improvement teams, both of which can significantly contribute to operational effectiveness and boost the speed of organizational transformation.

Take the Opportunity to Modernize L&D

Watch the On-Demand Webinar: Innovation in L&D: Building a Modern Learning CultureUse the change environment as an opportunity to modernize and improve your learning strategy. If your learning organization remains mostly locked into traditional classroom and computer-based training, leverage the change to inject the L&D organization with virtual instructor-led training, microlearning, and social learning. With proper audience analysis and understanding of the evolving company culture, times of change may be the right time to investigate, test, and deploy more effective ways to develop content or deliver impactful learning. Consider competency-driven, self-paced learning, with incentives for individual learning activities. Think through ways to harness or recognize informal learning that is already taking place around the company. While some of these examples may not work perfectly for your company or clients, use times of change to consider and explore what will work.

Become a Student of Change

During times of change, L&D leaders need to be relentless learners themselves, examining everything from their own professional habits to the methods and processes that their learning teams deploy. Change often requires a forceful response, and whether it's implementing a new L&D model or tool, or seeking to better understand how new learners in the workforce access, retain, and apply learning, you should be investigating and staying abreast of it. Become a student of change management and the concept of change itself. Take the time to learn everything you can about case studies in which others have successfully navigated similar climates of transformation. Study and learn to incorporate principles like volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) into your professional toolkit so that you have a frame of reference for situations you might incur, and strategies to deal with them.

Be Courageous

Ultimately, learning leaders need to remain a voice of reason, delivering sound and proven learning practices that lead to targeted outcomes. If you believe a change initiative is negatively impacting learning and performance efforts, or that stakeholders are following a soon-forgotten corporate fad, you should speak up, continue to consult, and present your case in an evidence-based manner. Applying the tactics listed tips above should not mean abandoning sound principles of learning.

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Topics: Change Management