It is customary at the beginning of each year for organisations to take stock of how events in the previous 12 months are likely to shape their future. With 2016 being so momentous – the result of seismic changes in the political landscape forcing companies to reconsider their growth, people and talent management strategies – 2017 will arguably present a more uncertain future than we’ve seen in a generation.
At the very least, the Brexit vote in the UK, which will have wide but as yet unclear implications for Europe, and the election of Donald Trump, with still an uncertain impact on the global economy, have meant that crystal ball-gazing has rarely been trickier.
In the area of learning and development – specifically covering executive education and senior management training – there have been several influences bubbling under for a number of years. Perhaps chief among these is the consequences of technology. Blended learning, mixing online with classroom sessions, is hardly new, but more radical innovations in delivery will have a new impact. Not least among these is the effect of virtual and augmented reality.
The drivers of the adoption of VR in business – and particularly within b2B organisations – will no doubt come from greater investment in the technology in the consumer sector. As the state of the art improves, it will demonstrate to the C-Suite, heads of learning and development, HR directors and senior talent managers in the commercial sector that it offers clear advantages for developing their people. This year could be the one when it comes of age.
This is just one of our top five predictions for 2017. But why did we select this list? It is perfectly possible – and acceptable – to argue whether these alone are the most pressing for the C-Suite and their direct reports to tackle. So at the risk of sparking a (very welcome) argument, here are the trends that we believe, as 2017 unfolds, have already begun to change the structure and style of executive education and corporate learning.
So, in no particular order, Financial Times | IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance predicts:
- Political and economic uncertainties around globalisation will force HR managers to look increasingly to their home markets for new talent.
The growth of global trade has created much more price competition. Moving jobs abroad, the introduction of automation, sourcing talent from a larger global pool, these have made jobs less secure. And the huge pay gap between people at the top and the bottom of organisations has contributed to feelings of mistrust. Arguably, reactions to this new status quo are being played out with the apparent rise of popular protectionism seen in the UK’s Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as US president. With changing regulatory environments in many countries, HR and talent managers may need to look increasingly to their home markets.
- Buyers of corporate learning at senior executive level will expect their providers to build metrics into their programmes to measure the impact on company performance.
Corporate learning in the past has rarely been successful in prioritising the translation of learning programmes into strategy and the delivery of specific business goals for an organisation. There has been a disproportionate focus on basic tools, and this must be adjusted so that organisational needs can be better supported. Understanding the long-term overarching vision of an organisation is intrinsic to supporting senior managers who will ultimately implement it – when they are under increasing pressure and expectations to deliver business goals. Ultimately, business leaders should expect their investment in corporate learning to prove its value, and ensure the investment is managed as a strategic rather than purely tactical function.
- Virtual reality and experience-centred learning will become the new reality.
VR and augmented reality appear still to be technologies in search of real business practicality for the learning and development community. One of the most important, yet most difficult, things to achieve is to build technologies where personalised learning can be delivered beyond the current capabilities of blended learning, which integrates online delivery with face-to-face. There is little anecdotal evidence that the educational community will be the driver of VR. So, as augmented reality becomes a medium of communication in our everyday lives driven by consumer technology, the L&D sector will start to exploit the technology for key components of learning programmes. For example: in areas where people have difficulty with communication (and this is especially true for non-English speakers working in a global economy), business presentations can be practised in front of a virtual audience to help overcome stage-fright.
- Learning & Development departments will be staffed with educational or learning design experts.
As higher education systems face disruption, there will be a cascading effect whereby businesses will readjust their existing executive development programmes. As traditional degree programmes are being replaced by competency-based learning (short, buffet-style) new employees will arrive with a greater variance in their training and preparedness. Since future executives will come with an array of different skills and different levels of quality of those skills, L&D departments will need a wider selection of learning materials, delivered in composable units, and suitable for a diverse audience. Such a demand on L&D will be alleviated by hiring learning design experts.
And finally, a cynical viewpoint perhaps:
- Gurus will tell us that the political upheavals of 2016 will force a rethink on the whole approach to business, management and elitism in government – and then continue to propose all the same ideas.
Despite the political changes of 2016 and future uncertainties, last year’s HR and talent management challenges will remain as potent as ever. Companies still need literate, numerate and IT-savvy executives with empathy and cultural awareness. And staff still want to be better engaged, empowered and rewarded. But in a knowledge economy where performance is difficult to measure and reward in a fair and rational way, regardless of how they present it, gurus will continue to propose variations on an old theme.
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David Wells is Head of Communications at Financial Times | IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance. He is an experienced public relations specialist in corporate communications, business-to-business and business-to-consumer communications, offering advice on strategy and PR programme delivery. His sector experience includes print and online publishing and software, education, legal and accountancy, retail, food and drink, property, manufacturing, and consumer electronics.
By drawing on the global business coverage of the Financial Times, IE Business School’s entrepreneurial outlook, academic rigour and learning technologies, and a worldwide network of thought-leaders, it designs and delivers customised learning programmes that are relevant and measurable.