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The Business of Learning – Post Covid-19

Yesterday the UK government gave its first explicit indication that it will be in the region of six months before we return to “normal” or whatever the “new normal” may be. The rapid changes we have seen over the past few weeks and months give an indication that it will be very difficult to know, control or influence what will happen over the next few months. It was only 2 months ago that Brexit happened, and Covid-19 did not exist six months ago.

Last week we focussed on some actions and approaches that those in the learning profession could take to support their organisations now and through the continuing period of crisis and uncertainty. This week we will be looking at how you can prepare your businesses for the new normal and be ready to help navigate the “new normal”.

What will your organisation look like post Covid-19?

Predicting the future is a combination of art and science and each organisation will face different challenges and opportunities as a result of Covid-19. Some businesses will prosper, some will struggle and some, will in spite of whatever support is offered by governments and financial institutions around the world, cease to exist. The one commonality is that it is unlikely that any business will look the same as it did before Covid-19.

Some businesses will have business models which bounce back, however all businesses will be operating in a new customer landscape. We will almost certainly be in a recession, there will be less disposable income, and customer behaviour will be impacted, as will value.

During a period of lockdown the opportunity to spend is more limited, will people start to question discretionary spend more? Will they be less inclined to grab a take-away coffee or lunch on the go? A period of cooking at home may inspire some to realise they can do more themselves. For others it will have the opposite effect and they might rush to eat out socialise and have someone else cook for them.

What about businesses such as fashion and gyms, will people rush to spend in these areas where they have maybe made savings over a number of months? Or will new habits have been formed?

What about those businesses who have shut down and furloughed workers? What will they look when they reopen? Will their teams return? Will their customers return?

There are also a number of industries which will thrive during the crisis either because they meet a need created by social distancing, such as games to play at home or in the garden. Or they become central to the fight against Covid-19, such as Care workers or those in the food production chain.

What about Learning?

Some are saying that online learning will grow during the crisis as companies rush to keep their staff engaged or updated and schools and other educational bodies move their delivery to online or other distance methods. However, whilst necessity may be the mother of invention, making this sort change at pace does not always produce sustainable or effective outputs. In our previous series we talked about some of the approaches learning teams should take during the crisis. Preparing for your longer-term future is something you should definitely be doing. As outlined before every organisation is different so the below are outline steps which you can apply to your situation to create a bespoke plan which is right for you

1. Get Close to your business

Get close to those who are leading both your response to the crisis and post crisis plan. What are the challenges they foresee and what will your teams need to do to respond to these?

2. Engage with your stakeholders

Responding to these challenges is a multi-disciplinary effort, you will need to engage not just your direct colleagues but those from functions across your organisation. You may find that initially the pressure falls on colleagues in functions such as strategy, product development, marketing, sales, health and safety or other non-operational colleagues who are trying to shape your response.

3. Use your response so far as a template

Your organisations response so far has given an insight into your organisational agility, its ability to learn respond and communicate. These same skills are going to be tested time and again over the coming months, both during and post the crisis. What have you done well, how do you make sure this is done consistently and you share best practice? What has not worked, what system, skill, process and cultural barriers have you faced? What can you do to overcome these? This will give you immediate areas you can focus on to develop pragmatic solutions.

4. Go where the need is

Understanding the areas which will be critical to your organisation surviving and emerging from the crisis will allow you to deploy your efforts where they will have most impact. It may be that a handful of people or functions are critical to your success of the organisation and their wider colleagues focus on these people first, be there to help understand the challenges they face, and strengthen your relationships with them. Support them to deliver what they need to and then help them to understand how you can support them more broadly to operationalise the solutions they are developing.

5. Develop you team and skills

In a similar way to understanding your organisations response, your team and functions response will have highlighted areas of strength and gaps you need to fill. Our previous series highlighted some pragmatic approaches you can take and through this series we will look at upskilling for your team. You may be missing tools or systems, but we would caution against rushing out making purchases without thinking about your wider strategy.

6. Developing and Agile Strategy

You may have found that your day to day learning approach has flexed really well to the current challenges or you may have identified some room for improvement. If you find yourself with some time to reflect and review or conversely running so hard because you are trying to keep the show on the road. This may be a good time to consider your future approach. If you want some help and support or just a sounding board feel free to get in touch.

7. Be Ready for Change

The Covid-19 crisis has changed business at lightning pace. We do not know how quickly it will end but you should be prepared for all eventualities.

If you are business that is operating differently such as supermarket, what will be the return to normal? If you have suspended operations how will you start again and every variation in between. You might have to recruit and induct whole new teams or even re-induct teams who have been furloughed for months. To remain ready you should be constantly answering the following questions.

- What happens if there are further restrictions?

- What happened if restrictions are loosened?

- What processes will have to change?

- What are our staffing implications?

- What will be different for our customers?

- What can you learn from others?

- How will we support and reassure our teams?

- How will we share knowledge across the business?

The future is uncertain but by planning and preparing for likely scenarios and building your capability to adjust and evolve your approach you can play a key part in the future success of your organisation.

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