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Using Design Thinking to Embed Learning in Our Jobs

Source | Harvard Business Review  : BY Josh Bersin

Since we now expect learning to be as simple and compelling as watching YouTube, hundreds of video-based content providers and MOOCs offer free bite-sized content for us to consume on our phones while sitting in the coffee shop or standing in the subway. But corporate learning management systems remain slow, hard to use, and difficult to maintain. They’re getting in the way of employee development instead of supporting it.

At the same time, the demand for learning is greater than ever: Bersin by Deloitte’s latest research with Glassdoor shows that learning and career opportunities are the biggest drivers of employees’ willingness to recommend their company as a great place to work for people under age 40.

As I talk with learning and HR executives around the world, I hear these issues coming up everywhere. In fact, our recent research on global human capital trends shows that 84% of business leaders cite the “need for improved organizational learning” as a top priority, and 44% say it’s urgent.

Unfortunately, the problem is not one of designing better programs or simply replacing or upgrading learning platforms. Rather, there is something more fundamental going on — a need to totally rethink corporate L&D, to shift the focus to design thinking and the employee experience.

Consider, for example, the challenges that one telecommunications company faced with high turnover in its retail stores. New employees joined, tried to learn about all the product and service plans, became intimidated, and then quit. Almost two-thirds left within the first 60 days.

The traditional solution is to build a fantastic training program. You’d send the new employees to a two-week class and teach them everything they need to know about mobile phones, service plans, and pricing. But then the classes wouldn’t start fast enough, and you’d find out how expensive it is to fly people around for the courses and teach them. And once the two-week course ended, the employees would still only know a fraction of what they needed — and they’d soon forget most of that.

The telecomm company used design thinking to come up with a different approach: Rather than inject “training” into employees, it studied the job of a retail sales agent over the first nine months and developed a “journey map” showing what people need to know the first day, the first week, the first month, and then over the first few quarters.

What this process revealed is that there are some urgent learning needs that must be addressed immediately, and then there are people to meet, systems to learn, products to understand, and many other processes to master over the first year. And of course, much of this involves getting to know customers, product experts, and fundamentals of sales and customer service.

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