Jason O'Neill, Kepner-Tregoe

Modern generations of employees are eager to learn and acquire new skills and ideas, but they want to do it in a very different way than employees 10 - 20 years ago. Long training courses, lengthy professional publications and inflexible development programs are perceived as outdated, inefficient in conveying information and cause interruptions to the normal flow of work. Ironically, these legacy learning and development tools are widely used across most industries. As Learning & Development (L&D) professionals are becoming more aware of the social and cultural differences between older and younger generations of employees, the need to modernize companies’ overall strategy for employee learning is becoming clear.

To put the L&D challenge into a broader context – over the past 20 years there has been a considerable blurring of the lines between the business and personal environments that employees experience. Beginning with the “work from home” trend of the early 2000s and expanding further through the proliferation of “BYO Device” policies, globalization and flexible working hours, most employees under the age of 35 cannot recall a time when work and personal life were distinctly separate (the two have always been intertwined for them). If we explore deeper into how ideas, preferences and technologies have migrated between environments, what we see is a consistent pattern of changes (and innovation) occurring first in the personal environment and then moving into the business context. 

This general pattern is important because it provides guidance on where to look for ideas on how to design a modern workplace learning program that will resonate with the new generation of employees – look to their personal lives. Most individuals have replaced traditional information sources (broadcast news, printed newspapers and professional journals) with sources like social media, Netflix, YouTube videos, TED Talks, and eye-catching headlines from news outlets. 

Bite-size nuggets of highly focused information are consumed as ‘filler’ in daily activities rather than as planned and dedicated blocks of time. Content from a variety of sources is aggregated, filtered and selected based on individual interest or social dynamics of the person’s peer group – not based on the desire of the person producing the content. Learning takes place on-the-job, on-the-bus, on their smart-phone and not in a structured learning environment.

The younger generation has a culture which has been described by some as “impatient” and “akin to ADD;” however, this description is misinterpreting a healthy “just in time” culture that is responding to an ever-shortening half-life of skills and information, and an environment that is changing faster than most people can keep up. The challenge for L&D professionals is figuring out how to harness these trends to influence the skills and mindsets of employees in a way that will generate the impacts that the company needs.

The most important thing the L&D professionals can do is “don’t fight the trends” and treat them like a risk to the way you’ve always done things. Instead look to them as an opportunity for your employees to do part of your job for you. By simply listening and observing employee behavior both inside and outside of the workplace, you can gain valuable insight into delivery modalities, content preferences and techniques for increasing information retention that can improve the effectiveness of your L&D initiatives and bring them into the modern era.

Modernization of the L&D function is one of the many insights available in the recently released thought paper “Future-Proofing Your Organization” from the training and process experts at Kepner-Tregoe. You can download a copy of the thought paper here. To learn more about where the future of work is headed, the skills your employees will need and techniques for developing them, visit www.kepner-tregoe.com

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