Tight budgets and rapid industry changes have prompted leaders to shift from learning-based L&D to performance-led L&D. In short, training that has a direct impact on business needs.
And so, the “do more with less” approach applies not just to budgets but also to your upskilling training. It must be done on time, on a budget, and for relevant learning needs. Upskilling from within is key to surviving the economic downturn. To help you strengthen your learning initiatives, we’ve lined up experts from the L&D Collective to share their tried-and-tested tips on how to make it work for your organization.
Traditionally, L&D teams have looked outside the workforce—either to third-party training courses or hiring instructional designers—to teach employees new skills. Relying on that approach alone is no longer economically viable. Even without budget constraints, peer training is far more effective as a learning and development strategy.
To encourage knowledge-sharing within the organization, tap into your internal subject-matter expertise. This type of in-house upskilling training will foster collaboration, improve productivity, and save you precious resources.
Simon Brown, L&D manager at Jellysmack, recommends creating an internal marketplace within the organization. In other words, document the existing skills and abilities of the current workforce and then match them with colleagues who want to learn those skills.
Brown suggests starting small and simple to launch an internal marketplace. For example, start by inviting employees to complete a shared Google Sheet, outlining the skills they have to offer and the skills they would like to acquire. He explains, “Once this list is compiled, an L&D professional could handle the logistics, format of training (via distance or face-to-face) and track the feedback with learner surveys.”
Lee Savage, corporate trainer at ConnectWise, opted for micro courses to keep his help desk technicians stay on the learning path without taking time away from actual work. His reasoning? Microlearning can be completed during lunch break or between tasks when team members are taking time to reset or physically rest.
As Savage points out, “The real benefit to microlearning is that it protects the bottom line.” In short, training costs little in terms of time and money, but is highly effective.
ConnectWise technicians learn in the flow of work with “very short trainings that pack a lot of information into a less than two-minute span.” Plus, microlearning can be gamified, making it fun and engaging for employees. “If you've recently introduced a new skill or process, using a microlearning game can have some pretty substantial impacts on retention, as opposed to the standard knowledge quiz,” says Savage.
Instead of hitting colleagues with bulk email updates, Savage made use of “refresher and reminder trainings” in the form of “click and flip” activities or flow charts that take less than 3 minutes to complete. “Techs log in, get a few bites of information, and then go back to their job. They can do this between tickets with no loss of productivity.”
Lee Savage also explains that the best way to get a high return on investment on your upskilling training is to focus on internal mobility. Employees are naturally more motivated to upskill when learning is tied to a promotion or a reward. It leads to higher employee engagement and boosts employee retention.
Even if your company has put promotions on hold thanks to economic concerns, Savage says that doesn’t mean all training has to be put on hold. “Upskilling doesn't necessarily mean working toward a promotion. It’s also about increasing abilities in the current position as well as looking at diagonal or horizontal moves to fill gaps.”
Employees love to see logical career progression and growth. It helps them thrive in their current role and builds a talent pipeline for when a role opens up. Plus, as Savage says, “If there is buy in from both sides, you'll see a much higher ROI. If one side fails to see the purpose, then the upskilling effort will fail or not produce up to par.”
Knowledge-sharing communities facilitate inter-departmental interaction where employees get a chance to understand how their roles connect and intertwine to support business needs. When employees share their learnings from lived experience, peers are able to tackle work problems without outside support, saving you training dollars.
Rachel Wood, internal L&D partner at Burendo, manages six “communities of practice” where employees in different roles share best practices, ideas, and resources. It provides a safe space for team members to bounce ideas off one another, share solutions, and build mentor-mentee relationships alongside their day-to-day roles.
These communities support internal knowledge transfer through social learning. Employees can run a skills session for their community, take a coordination or administrative role to set up a social event, or sign up to become a workplace mentor. And, as Wood says, this is an effective way to retain knowledge and build organizational culture “in an environment that is seeing huge workforce migrations.”
Individuals who give back to the communities are actively rewarded in performance reviews and companywide feedback to encourage more participation. In other words, you help employees upskill from within and motivate your top talent to stick around.
Upskilling doesn't necessarily mean working toward a promotion. It’s also about increasing abilities in the current position as well as looking at diagonal or horizontal moves to fill gaps.
Diego Herrera, operations and project manager at Nub7/8, says internal upskilling programs work best if you “get that tacit information that is not documented anywhere, but is causing great impact.” He recommends calling on your top performers to share “what they do, and how they do it” with the rest of the team.
Spearheaded by their knowledge management manager Silvia Juliana Gómez González, Nub7/8 carried out this initiative in stages. First, the knowledge management team held sessions with operations managers like Herrera and team leads to understand employees’ skills gaps. In the same sessions, they identified top performers in the competencies they wanted the rest of the team to gain.
Then, the team organized focus groups with the top performers and SMEs to cover specific areas and needs that had been identified. This information was documented and stored in a knowledge bank. “Then, for specialized topics, the team held different panel-like sessions for SMEs to provide information to the audience and answer questions,” Herrera explains.
For general topics, the knowledge management team organized "Coffee Knowledge Round Tables." Each top performer or SME would sit at a table and participants would join them. After a set period of time, the participants of each table would rotate or move to another table to talk to another SME on a different topic. While this initiative was done in person, L&D teams can apply this knowledge-share strategy in a remote setting by using breakout rooms and allowing participants to move within the virtual call for online learning.
Personalized career development plans are most impactful because they take employees’ individual interests and skill sets into account. GroupM is organizing a new job architecture where roles will be matched with learning pathways.
Sophie Berner, learning and development manager at GroupM, made an upskilling plan with an excel document called Learning Landscapes. She put together a centralized resource for individuals and people managers to refer to for development planning. “Given our complex and dynamic industry (media investment) and our vast organizational structure, it provides a vital role in providing clarity and accessibility.”
Simply put, the spreadsheet is a bank of learning opportunities that individuals can use to create their development path. The first tab has simple instructions for use (e.g., filter by one or multiple categories, use Crtl+F for keyword search) and the second tab has a lengthy list. Each row is a training opportunity, and each column can be filtered by relevance.
“We break each training into Course Name, Course Description, Platform/Provider, Link, On Demand or on Calendar, Job Family, Key Learning Area, Current Skill Level, Cost and Time Commitment,” explains Berner. This allows people to narrow results to their specific needs, read more information on the course, and assess its suitability before enrolling. The document is easily accessible on the company’s L&D SharePoint page, which is their “home base” for training sessions.
Tom Palmer, founder and CEO at The Continuous Learning Company, advises companies to move from ‘direct L&D’ to ‘indirect L&D’ especially because the demands for new skills are constantly evolving. Instead of controlling the upskilling process, organizations should put learners in the driver’s seat. Palmer recommends applying the 3 C’s from Carol Sanford’s book Indirect Work: A Regenerative Change Theory for Businesses, Communities, Institutions and Humans:
For example, if your organization has been creating training courses with a top-down method—where L&D decides which training is needed and designs courses, without input from learners—it’s time to reflect on whether that method is working. Bring learners into the course creation process by giving them the autonomy to declare learning needs and provide feedback on training material.
Gabe Gloege, senior director of L&D at ETS, uses social learning as a lean tactic for upskilling from within. “The central idea is that for most learning needs that people have at ETS, there are other ETS employees who have the answer or have those skills,” says Gloege, who used meetups and topic-driven teams groups as part of their upskilling strategy.
In meetups, Gloege and his team create an event around a common learning need and promote it. The event invites employees from all levels, from beginners to high-level experts. Once people sign up and L&D facilitates the event, it's a “lean coffee-style schedule” where people ask their questions up front and then help all the participants answer each other's questions. This way, people learn what they need to learn and also connect with team members they didn't know before.
In topic-driven teams groups, Gloege and his team create dedicated groups for topics like manager development, digital fluency, or OKRs. They promote the event and engage the group several times a week with questions or resources. Participants chime in with feedback, ask their own questions, and share challenges. Experts in that topic offer advice and resources, eventually resulting in a self-solving community.
Both initiatives received a lot of positive feedback. “People regularly reach out to us after the meetups to say how useful they were. I hear about people who met at a meetup and started a sort of "study group" to learn Power Automate together,” says Gloege. Experts in the groups often get further questions or requests for help once team members have tried some of the problem-solving measures. Ultimately, along with upskilling, it builds collaboration and camaraderie.
Andres Peters, Chief Learning Officer at Maestro Group, strongly recommends developing not just leaders, but also their teams. Peters’ recommendation draws on The Pelz Effect, which states that if mid-level managers are seen to have influence over those above them, it makes their direct reports feel heard and seen as well.
So to put that into practice, Peters suggests developing leadership training programs that give managers direct access to decision-makers. This could take the form of group discussions with members of leadership and collecting feedback in a centralized spot where everyone, from team members to the C-suite, can weigh in. It could also be an office hours style environment, where managers and their team members can drop-in virtually to ask questions, get clarification, or make suggestions.
When managers are able to relay feedback and ideas from their team directly to leadership, their teams feel empowered and heard. This can help you achieve the Pelz Effect and creates an environment of trust and transparency within the company.
After hearing from these nine L&D experts, it’s clear that learning and development is more effective when it’s done collaboratively. Working in alignment with other business teams and encouraging constructive peer feedback as part of your normal L&D process will enable you to identify and tackle immediate barriers to organizational growth–without straining resources.
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