HR and learning and development professionals are used to being dynamic, working with leaders and managers to find solutions to business problems, which may or may not involve training. But what about how we handle workplace skills? How dynamic are we here?

Many of us are familiar with the annual flurry of training requests towards the end of the budgeting year. Often, those requests seem to align more closely with a need to spend an allocated budget than they do with any large-scale or long-term plans for training. It can feel highly reactive and disempowering – an uncomfortable state of affairs for those used to planning, consulting with leaders and posing solutions.

So I was pleased to come across this research by Gartner that focuses on how to change this situation by adopting a dynamic skills approach that makes upskilling ever-relevant to businesses and to its people. It’s a couple of years old but still highly relevant, with Covid highlighting how sudden change has affected us all.

Here’s an overview of the research plus some insights into why this approach to skills strategy development matters so much to HR and learning and development professionals.

Reacting to training requests

You’re not alone if you’ve ever felt waiting for training needs to arise (e.g. managers identifying skill gaps and then requesting training) isn’t effective for learners or for organisations. The Gartner research suggested that in organisations using a reactive skills approach, employees could only apply 54% of the skills they’d built after a year. The data shine a bright light on the problem: a reactive rather than dynamic skills development approach doesn’t work for anyone.

Predicting the future

The research also addresses another common scenario: the predictive skills approach. This initially sounds more promising – it involves trying to plan in advance what skills will be needed – but, as the researchers found, it’s even less effective than the reactive approach. Their data suggest that staff can only apply 37% of the skills they learn through a predictive skills strategy. Fortunately, among these rather depressing statistics, there’s a solution: a dynamic skills approach.

Dynamic skills approach requires an organisation-wide approach to L&D

A dynamic skills approach is collaborative because it harnesses everyone’s expertise. For example, learners are best placed to know which specialist skills they’ll need at the time they’ll need them. HR team members can help learners articulate their skills needs and build them, while leaders can link these skills to the organisation’s strategy. A dynamic skills approach can take many forms, for example:

  • Communities of practice/specialist networks: Learners who work together to share knowledge and solve problems, respond to changes in their fields far more quickly than they would via traditional learning.
  • Just-in-time support: Providing resources that people can dip into as and when they need support shows respect for everyone’s time and makes the most of the immediacy of learning management systems.
  • Regular reflection on skills: Regular conversations about skills development within teams and between managers and staff help to highlight when a new strategy is needed or skill-related priorities have changed.

The benefits of this approach

Gartner’s data indicate that when organisations apply a dynamic skills approach, learners can apply 75% of the skills they’ve developed after a year. That’s a win-win for many. Learners are able to build the skills they’ve identified they need and also feel heard and see their expertise is recognised. As a result, they’re more likely to stay with the organisation long term. Organisations benefit from increased retention rates along with their upskilled staff, and can also top-quality candidates who are keen to develop. Leaders gain insights into their workforce members’ skills and expertise – a great help given connections within organisations have become loose and even broken, thanks to the stresses of Covid.

An empowered HR team

Taking a dynamic skills approach also benefits HR/L&D teams. Being able to work in partnership with leaders is our ultimate goal after all, and this approach places us on equal footing with the people who matter most: leaders and learners. It also makes the most of our specialist skills and helps demonstrate our value to senior colleagues. 

However, it takes time to change direction, particularly when that change involves a 180 degree turn from reactive to super-responsive. It also takes commitment from those involved to see it through. But the benefits of the change are clear – for our colleagues, our organisations and for the learning and development profession.

Sources and Useful Reading

  • Employee skill development: How can leaders help staffers effectively apply new skills?  Read here
  • Developing a dynamic skills strategy.  Read here
  • Stop training employees in skills they’ll never use. Read here
  • Organizations need a dynamic approach to teaching people new skills.  Read here
  • Gartner HR research finds employees are only applying 54 per cent of newly learned skills.  Read here
  •  Revealed: how to harness HR’s “dynamic skills approach”.  Read here
  •  Your employees are failing to apply their new skills. Read here

Would you like to know more about
applying a dynamic skill approach to
your learning and development programme?