Google, Amazon, and Netflix have a lot to answer for. Consumers are now spoilt for choice. They expect more speed than businesses have ever been able to offer before - but as a base requirement. And this expectation has spread from B2C tech start-ups and streaming models to the biggest, most established companies in all industries.
As competition narrows to razor thin, the new metrics of success have become attention, engagement and customer satisfaction. And these are impossible to achieve without speed.
So, for every single industry, streamlining is the key to hitting the numbers that count. But it’s such a broad and nebulous concept. It’s not enough for one part of the business (usually management) to hammer the message home. It needs company wide mobilisation.
L&D has a formative role to play. Learning’s the best tool to lead people out of their comfort zones and commit to the structural changes necessary for streamlining.
Making sure the tech doesn’t flop
Streamlining is digital. That’s why companies at the tech forefront got there first. The first step towards streamlining is analysing existing processes and working how can be made more efficient.
Sometimes that just means getting rid of unnecessary bottlenecks. But, more often than not, it involves repetitive processes being automated, shared data being digitally centralised, and workflows being translated online.
Learning is essential for getting new ways of working up and running, and mining them for possibilities.
Making the digitisation stick
Automation and digitisation is faster in the long run but there’s always a teething period. When this happens, employees are in danger of disengaging - it’s hard to care about big picture improvements when the stuff that seemed to have worked fine for the past few years is being uprooted.
Generally, people want to keep using inefficient but familiar processes rather than leaping into the unknown of a new system. L&D can help them jump.
How? Firstly, involve the people who will be using it. If you get employees to play a part in choosing the processes software for the company you’ll 1) get a key on-the-floor perspective on which programmes will work best for you and 2) simultaneously develop a set of internal stakeholders.
New automation lands best with a bang. If a new way of doing things has explicit senior sponsorship, a big fanfare, and immediate benefits it’s more likely to stick around. Proof of concepts are a good way to secure the latter.
Through these, learning can also get an idea of what users will need to know to get started as well the locations of potential stumbling blocks.
Use automation to invest in human insights
Once automation software is in place, efficiency isn’t optimised. In many ways, automation is a means to the end of freeing up human intelligence at more layers of your organisation.
If every cog in an organisation turns into an autonomous actor with strategic training and understanding of how they fit into the wider picture, the business will be able to respond to the market and consumers as close to instantly as possible.
How can L&D contribute? The problem with initiatives like this is that they’re important but not evidently urgent to most learners. The trick is in managed autonomy.
You can’t teach someone to be autonomous when they’ve got no autonomy over how they learn - they might not even bother trying. But, if you give people absolute freedom they might pick up the wrong thing at the wrong time, or choose something irrelevant.
So, instead, what we advocate is going for a ‘model of shared control’ (we explain it in more detail here). Essentially, this entails scaffolding learning - guiding rather than pushing. The method begins with a high level of prescription which then tapers off as users take control of their own learning.
Personalisation is central to making this work. It’s the best way to balance user autonomy with prescribed direction. Learners are less likely to feel imposed-upon if they can immediately see the value of content.
The key is that it shouldn’t just be tailored to someone’s role in the company - it works best when suited to their personal goals, their preferred method of delivery, their preferred learning schedule, their language. With new technology this level of specificity is possible, and it’s essential in getting the traction to ensure that a genuine cultural shift takes place.
Transplanting your learning culture online
The processes aren’t the only streamlining bottleneck - it’s also the people. Siloing is a huge efficiency blocker, especially in big companies. Remote working has only made it worse.
The solution is two-parted. Firstly, people need ways to communicate more effectively. Secondly, people need to start learning from each other. The latter is hidden gold for streamlining.
Far too often, when handovers happen, there’s a hard border. Neither party can smooth the transition because they have no idea what the other’s role entails or how to help. For example, it could be something small like a marketer not knowing specifics of a business’s sales process as the pass leads over. Or it could be anything else: these are specific to each business and each role.
If these borders can be blurred at an organisation level, the whole operation moves faster. No duplication of efforts, no superfluous energy spent on unnecessary tasks, no time wasted on frustrated clarifying emails.
Getting this newfound learning and communication has to rely on digital means - even when we were in the office it wasn’t as fast as it needed to be. Luckily, there are some solutions you can bring about through new communications and collaborations software:
Interactive, peer-led workshops
Get a senior member of a department - it could be anything from product to sales - to host an online training session on a platform like Slack or MS Teams (our clients use Filtered’s virtual event functionality for this) and encourage junior employees to interact.
They should ask questions, discuss practical applications, and then socially chat about what they’ve learned after the session. It’s this kind of simple thing which is nearly impossible to do in-person at big organisations (even without COVID-19). But, through this, employees can fill in the practical gaps in the workflow.
And because there’s no room/teacher booking or external content, it’s easy to apply on an agile basis.
Communities of practice
These are already a thing at every workplace - groups of people with similar interests and skills helping each other improve. But they don’t have to just survive as we work remotely, they can actually thrive as they’re transplanted online. Online channels, groups, pages (the forum doesn’t necessarily matter) can be created for sections of a business which can learn from each other.
Employees can post questions, experiences, new information, learning resources and, most importantly, discuss them together, leveraging their shared knowledge to improve as a community.
This could range from keeping up to date with shifting regulations, to discussing new avenues opening up in the market, to sales call technique. Employees have a vested interest in keeping themselves and each other up to date with the most efficient practices. Simply providing a location is half the battle.
One of the more unpredicted casualties of remote working was the learning benefit of casual conversation. Countless small, informal solutions to individual workflow problems came from this. At the same time, communication (work and non-work) flowed easier.
This isn’t easy to replicate online but the best option is in larger, informal online spaces. These could be hosted basically anywhere: internal platforms, or applications like Slack, Yammer, or MS Teams.
Either way, the best method to get these ticking over is to galvanise more senior employees to make starting the conversation part of their day-to-day jobs. This puts learners at ease and creates an environment of open, work-wide sharing. Filtered LXP does this by matchmaking learners with potential mentors via skills signature.
The platform itself
An essential part of delivering the streamlining goods is making sure the learning itself has no blockages. A large part of this comes from the curation of content. The less irrelevant stuff there is on your platform, the less time users will have to spend finding what they want.
Similarly, the classification helps. If content is well tagged and supported by a strong search function, learners will be able to get use out of your platform as quickly as possible.
There are also the little barriers. These are underestimated points of danger: when users have to remember multiple sign ons, click through loads of pages, or deal with extraneous stuff like irrelevant images or ads. This doesn’t just slow down the individual learning experience, it makes learners less likely to try learning again (or at least when they’re under time pressure).
In turn, this delays insights, keeps older, less efficient ways of doing things alive, and creates a culture of cynicism/pessimism around digital solutions.
When we come back to work
The central theme of all our L&D streamlining suggestions has been getting the most out of the digital. Do we think that’ll change when we, eventually, get back into the office?
Essentially, no. Firstly, there’s no clear answer in most companies about what ‘going back into the office’ even means. Hybrid options are set to become a lot more common for knowledge workers. And, unless everybody’s in, remote working practices will have to stay.
But even if everyone did come back it wouldn’t mean a real return. Most of the time, the more digital, more automated, more technical solutions are faster than the analogue ones ever were.
And it’s not like innovation has come to an abrupt halt. It’ll continue to accelerate. The best thing L&D can do now is get a framework of continuous, need aligned learning in place. One that’s robust and agile enough to stay abreast of the pace of change, not lag behind it.