Employee-First Learning: Global L&D Leaders Share Their Expertise
Driving employee engagement and promoting well-being is never easy, but trying to achieve these goals when employees are working from home is even more of a challenge. In May, we gathered learning and development leaders from around the world to share their experience and expertise in Udemy Connect, our virtual conversation series for People leaders. We’ll share some of the highlights and key takeaways here.
Managing the whole employee: Speaker spotlight
Neil Penny, Lead L&D OD Consultant at Adaptavist guided a discussion on employee well-being. Neil described Adaptavist’s three-step approach to employee well-being: recognize, connect, and reward.
The first step of “recognize” focuses on accepting the fact that the current conditions are not normal and it’s important for managers and leaders to be realistic about what’s possible at this time. Adaptavist created a well-being session for the whole company to specifically talk about mental health and reducing anxiety in these difficult times.
The next step, “connect,” is designed to recreate water-cooler moments that don’t happen automatically when everyone is working from home. In addition to coffee drop-ins on Zoom, Adaptavist launched Lockdown Luxuries, an internal podcast where employees share details about their home workspace and what they’re cooking, watching, and listening to. Neil says, “This is a great way to get to know each other and have some fun.”
For the “reward” step, all staff members received access to the Disney+ streaming service for a year. Adaptavist employees have been appreciative and enthusiastic about this reward, both as a resource for their children and themselves.
Managing the whole employee: Key takeaways
Neil’s presentation reinforces the importance of having social events completely unrelated to work to give employees opportunities for water-cooler moments and informal conversations. Whether it’s a Zoom coffee chat, a Slack channel, or something else, look for ways to promote casual connections.
Tapping into your employees’ intrinsic motivation is also key. What are they most excited about and what do they love about their work? In difficult times, our intrinsic motivations are what get us through.
Finally, Neil reminds us of the importance of accepting that this is not a normal situation. When we keep this fact in mind, we can be more realistic about what’s actually possible from our employees at this time.
Planning for the next phase of employee engagement: Speaker spotlight
Dana Sednek, Head of Learning Enablement at Intuit shared Intuit’s approach to creating a learner-centered experience.
Since working from home in mid-March, Intuit’s learning team has taken a constantly evolving approach to supporting employees with learning resources. Dana shared a few of the principles that guided Intuit’s approach, such as addressing known and existing pain points and considering the employee life cycle to keep content relevant as the situation evolves.
Planning for the next phase of employee engagement: Audience tips and tricks
We asked event attendees to share their experiences and advice with others. Here are a few of their observations, tips, and tricks.
- My working from home (WFH) standards flexed to include and be supportive of background noises and children doing Fortnite dances in the background! Professionalism went down, but empathy to connect with others went up.
- Now we see a lot more discussion about wellness, work/life balance, appreciation, and better self-management practices.
- I feel like I’ve actually developed deeper relationships with colleagues. We’re not just sticking to business in our conversations anymore. We’re asking how each other is doing and really paying attention to/empathizing with the answers.
- Try to find the silver lining and encourage people to take an opportunity to develop themselves and build a culture of continuous development.
- Pulse check-ins and surveys have proved sustained engagement levels.
- We’re making a mandatory R&R day for all team members.
Planning for the next phase of employee engagement: Key takeaways
Dana highlighted the importance of creating learning pathways for every employee persona. Understanding who’s learning and why will help you streamline communications and materials to enable meeting employees where they are.
To drive engagement, Dana recommends creating flexible and relevant programs such as microlearning and peer-enabled learning.
The slide below includes Dana’s key learnings — such as publishing and iterating in real-time — and plans for the future such as using learner behavior to guide learner-centered design.
Employee-first learning: Speaker spotlight
Amanda Aymar, Senior Employee Program Manager at Prosper, provided an overview of the LEAP (Leading Employees at Prosper) program. Employee engagement surveys at Prosper showed an inconsistent experience with company managers, so the program was initially designed to give all managers key skills to support their teams and the company’s mission.
With the sudden announcement of working from home in mid-March, Prosper’s L&D team chose to keep the training as scheduled, shifting it to a virtual setting.
Prosper first introduced Udemy in 2018 and Amanda says it was the obvious choice for the LEAP program since it provides reporting and makes it easy to assign pre-work so learners are already familiar with the concepts and class sessions can focus on how to apply the subject matter.
Employee-first learning: Audience tips and tricks
We asked attendees to share which soft skills matter most to their employees right now. Here are a few of their answers:
- Change management
- Flexibility & adaptability
- Effective communication (especially virtually), verbal and written communication (email etiquette)
- Empathy (emotional intelligence)
Next, we asked attendees to discuss how they’re ensuring learning programs address employee needs. Here are a few of their recommendations:
- Constant conversations with client base
- Using EQ 2.0 Assessment to support workshops
- Land a feedback program, developing a personality assessment tool for self-development, team effectiveness
- Prioritizing work/life balance, self-care, and preventing burn out
Employee-first learning: Key takeaways
In a world where business priorities are constantly shifting, remember to be empathetic and stay human. This means employee-first learning initiatives should prioritize goals that are human-centric followed by goals that are focused on the business’s bottom line. Amanda suggests prioritizing learning initiatives that engage people managers because they will, in turn, keep individual employees engaged.
Amanda also recommends using survey tools to get a pulse check on your organization during times of uncertainty and build your virtual training strategy around this data to bolster engagement. Find a few more of Amanda’s tips and tricks in the slide below.
Employee-first learning: Investing in employee well-being speaker spotlight
Rashmi Sharma, Global Learning & Wellbeing Lead at Unilever for Southeast Asia & ANZ began her presentation with a few eye-opening numbers, including the fact that 1 out of 2 employees have reported they are severely or moderately affected mentally by COVID-19 and leaders report being distracted 48% of the time.
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Unilever defined three clear priorities for the company: protecting its people, ensuring business continuity, and future-proofing its business.
Rashmi shared a few of the tactics Unilever has put in place. Some countries such as Australia gave employees a pre-designated slot such as Friday post noon, for ‘deep work’. There are no meetings scheduled during this time, and employees can spend the time learning or focusing on big projects.
Unilever also provided a number of resources to help employees adapt to working from home, including help with setting boundaries and creating clear priorities. Some examples of innovation were Malaysia launching a Unilever for Unilever remote child care program and the Philippines launched their #LearnFromHome challenge, which also incentivized learning by donating to charities based on the number of courses Unilever employees completed.
Employee-first learning: Audience tips and tricks
We asked attendees to share some of the ways they’re prioritizing well-being at their organization. Here are a few of their answers:
- Drawing and sketching with family members
- Extra check-ins for 15 minutes each morning
- TGIF gatherings (30 minutes on Friday for socializing and not discussing work)
- Telling people it’s okay to turn off video and encouraging them to shorten meetings
Employee-first learning: Investing in employee well-being key takeaways
Rashmi cited research by Deloitte that found that for every £1 spent proactively on company culture and wellness initiatives, companies see a £6 return in the form of productivity and contributing to the bottom line. Unilever’s internal research undertaken has discovered similar trends, demonstrating that well-being initiatives aren’t just nice to have — they can lead to real business results.
Content curation is a powerful approach, especially when you’re trying to move quickly. Focus on putting together curated resources that employees can access if and when necessary.
Finally, remember that it’s just as important for leaders to take care of their own well-being as their teams’. Be sure to provide resources that support your leaders and role model positive well-being behavior for them, too. A checklist of questions which comprise a well-being check-in is helpful to start getting leaders to talk about their own well-being.
Wrap-up: Final thoughts from participants
We asked participants to share what they’re currently experiencing and their plans for the near future. What does the new normal look like? Participants said that the increased number of people working from home means a greater emphasis on learning platforms. This transition involves the need to keep virtual sessions engaging and balance “face-to-face” (practice and social learning) with online courses. Many attendees described a need to establish deep human connections through virtual means, create an environment of trust online, and gather regular feedback.
Looking to the future, attendees said they’re planning to launch surveys to gather insights on sentiments and identify training needs. Some participants said they are considering how to use platforms like Slack to enable interaction and connection while helping employees share their learning experiences. Others described creating learning paths for beginner, intermediate, and advanced learners. One key concern was mitigating against Zoom fatigue and coming up with alternative ways to create connections outside of Zoom.
Many L&D professionals are finding themselves providing support outside the traditional wheelhouse of productivity and engagement. Some of the programs they’ve launched include Udemy watch clubs (like book clubs, but organized around a Udemy course), meditation sessions, chess classes, and virtual pubs and coffee hours.
Looking for more ideas to help you take an employee-first approach to learning at your organization? Check out the resources we’ve curated on our Learning Resources for Leaders page.
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