The Science of Learning: How to optimize learning by focusing on employees' innate talent & abilities

Sumant Joshi | Blog Author
Sumant Joshi December 02, 2020

As upskilling the workforce takes center stage in L&D’s list of priorities in today’s rapidly evolving business world,  70% employees still believe ‘they don’t have the skills they need to do their jobs’.

However, with skilling needs shifting more rapidly than before, especially given the rise of digital transformation and everything changing around it in the organization, more and more leaders are turning to L&D to upskill and reskill their employees quickly and more effectively.

Successful organizations often stand out from the rest when it comes to organizational learning and capability development. Their HR, L&D as well as other business functions co-own learning, with a more structured approach in terms of leveraging tools and procedures to optimize capability building; and according to McKinsey, ‘the most effective capability builders take more action than others to maintain and improve their capabilities’.

And, there is a point to be made about how L&D can optimize upskilling and reskilling initiatives, and learning as a whole by focusing on employees’ innate talent and abilities. Every one of us is better at something than a team member, while another colleague could be better at something you are struggling with. This has more to do with one’s innate talent than the other’s inability to do the same as naturally as the former. And, as research suggests, reinforcing one’s innate talent helps them learn better and master their skillset.

The challenge before L&D remains how to foster this innate talent by structuring learning, delivery and practice around the employees, as well as leveraging advanced approaches like personalization and AI-enabled recommendations to make the learning more relevant.

Strategizing Talent Development

One of L&D’s key tasks is to manage and develop its employees in strategic ways that support overarching business objectives. As such, McKinsey’s ‘Elevating Learning and Development’ guide explains L&D’s strategic role in these key areas:

  • Capability Development

A key priority, capability development is at the top of every L&D leader today. As skills become dated and irrelevant, the value of the human capital depreciates and it requires thoughtful investments in L&D programs to retain the value. Successful organizations with effective leadership development programs are said to outperform others by twice as much earnings, while organizations that invest in their leadership development during transformative times are 2.4 times likely to succeed.

  • Engage and Motivate

Engaging and motivating employees is no small feat, and requires a synergy of intent and approach, one being offering learning opportunities to develop new skills and further their careers. According to research, lifelong learning can contribute heavily to happiness at work. Given the right engagement and motivation, employees will grow in their roles and most likely opt for newer challenges at work and remain at the organization.

  • Learning Culture

Be it digital transformation, embracing emerging technologies or attracting top talent and achieving competitive advantage, there’s little doubt that continuous learning has emerged as a major priority in today’s day and age. Driven by both employees and L&D, continuous learning is driven largely by the culture of learning pre-established by the leadership or L&D as whole. With the continuity of jobs becoming proportional to their ability to learn in-the-flow of work, an effective learning culture is what helps employees understand and accept learning for future growth.

Aligning Learning to Foster Innate Capabilities

After identifying business objectives, organizations need employees that are capable of delivering them, be it immediate or long term. While there are organizations that don’t focus on assessing employee capabilities, there are few that do it only at a very high level. That becomes a major hurdle when it comes to aligning learning to develop employees’ capabilities.

Organizations that don’t assess capability gaps are prone to missed opportunities both in terms of business as well as talent development. Successful organizations are known to take a strategic approach to capability assessment, with strong focus on a robust competency model.

However, the work doesn’t stop at assessment. Once the required capabilities are identified for range of functions or roles, L&D must then gauge how and which employees are most likely to perform better and which ones need a different approach or can be suited for a different skillset and reskilling.

Aligning learning to develop innate talent can be effectively done through a mix of digital learning and personalization tools. As the key focus of delivering training is to help employees develop the required skills and transfer their learning to the job, tools like an AI-powered learning platform and ready-to-use courses that are curated and customized to create an ideal learning path go a long way in optimizing training programs and leadership development initiatives.

While, L&D professionals are privy to the challenges unearthed by the ‘digital’ world of today ushered in by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, very few organizations seem to have invested in large-scale transformation initiatives. While agility and adoption remains a key strategy, the rapid advancement of digital work environments means, L&D can no longer delay their digital transformation, which will eventually make or break the training programs going ahead.