While companies continue to come to grips with the effects of COVID-19 and its impact on business, executives and owners still have many priorities that require their time and attention. However, as is often the case in times of crisis or economic downturn, learning and development (L&D) shift from a fixed cost to a non-existent or flexible cost—it is usually one of the first victims when businesses need to tighten budgets. And yet, in my experience, in a time of crisis or change, learning and its ability to open minds and help better equip those on the front line with the necessary skills and understanding is essential to navigating challenges.

Unfortunately, learning and development being cut back or placed on the sidelines is the result of many of the traditional failings of internal L&D departments. However, while L&D may not be at the top of mind in the short-term, it must become part of the long-term business strategy. An effective L&D strategy is key to developing a more skilled, relevant, and successful workforce that will handle crises more comfortably—because whether we like it or not, change is just a part of doing business today.

So, as executives consider their strategies and priorities for 2021, I urge you to consider making L&D an essential part of your plans (though with some suggested tweaks to maximize your investment of time and money). Here are three key elements to incorporate into your L&D strategy for 2021:

  1. L&D must be more strategic.

First, any L&D strategy must deliver relevant and measurable outcomes. Todd Moran, a chief learning strategist at NovoEd, a collaborative online learning platform, reinforced this point in a recent interview I had with him, “Perhaps the greatest shortcoming of L&D teams in this regard is the lack of alignment between the perceived versus actual needs of their frontline leaders in this most tumultuous time. Lack of alignment with an organization’s business objectives may not be considered failures per se. However, they are detrimental to L&D being able to claim true support of the organization, something clearly within grasp for those forward-looking L&D teams who do harmonize these aspects.” To achieve this alignment Moran refers to, L&D must link its efforts and outcomes to the key company metrics. Any content designed and delivered must produce a measurable outcome. 

  1. L&D must become more agile and on-demand.

The reality is that what was necessary nine months ago may not be as important now due to the dramatic changes in the workplace. Moran suggested during our conversation, “With the rapid and unforeseen onslaught of COVID-19, a pure skilling focus on things like feedback models, performance support, or even crucial conversations is of exceedingly reduced value to leaders whose most pressing needs now center on absolutely critical capabilities, like leading virtual teams, decision-making in times of crisis, and building resilience.” 

As a result of the need for all business matters to be more agile and on-demand, most L&D units have shifted their efforts exclusively toward technology-based learning. However, this shift is not an effective approach. I recently discussed L&D with Michelle DiTondo, a former chief human resources officer of a global hospitality and entertainment company, and she explained, “Companies can’t just roll out a catalog of online training and think their job is done. There is no guarantee that this form of learning works for everyone, and it often fails to improve the skills required to deal with customers or employees. It also assumes that people want to learn or are motivated to learn. Often, a learning management system is more focused on being a recordkeeper than a catalyst.”

  1. L&D must be a balance of live and virtual learning.

Learning has become almost exclusively virtual for about a year now, which has been greatly beneficial for both the learner and organization. Moran explained, “incorporating an asynchronous format into L&D delivery models…empowers employees to flexibly weave continuous learning into their daily lives at the most opportune moments for them. And the added benefit of this balanced model is greater autonomy [of]…exploration of various topics…time…and in personalizing the learning experience…[which] translates to a notable increase in motivation.” 

Conversely, Bill Sherman, part of the LXbD team, an organization rethinking the live learning model by offering on-demand instructor-led-training, notes the necessity of live learning, shared his passion for in-person training with me, explaining, “Instructor-led training (ILT) is critical to an effective learning strategy, so we have focused on making it more accessible, more timely, and more engaging by bringing some of the world’s best thought leaders together, put their ideas into manageable modules, and use a team of facilitators to deliver training when companies want it.” 

So although virtual learning has become a beneficial resource for us during the pandemic, in-person training is still advantageous for both the learner and organization and needs to be incorporated into your L&D strategy when it’s safe to do so. And although L&D was put to the side in 2020, there is no doubt that 2021 will provide a perfect opportunity to refresh and rebuild your learning strategy and business model. Your updated L&D strategy will not only elevate the performance of your team and organization but also assist you with challenges and be successful in a continuously tumultuous world.

About LXbD:

Learning Experiences by Design provides live learning experiences on a variety of skills, ideas, and topics. Clients are able to choose from an extensive marketplace of live learning experiences and trainers from around the world. If you cannot find the LX you need, LXbD will utilize its vast network of thought leaders to develop it at no cost to you. LXbD also offers facilitators and trainers, certified by world-renowned speaker and trainer, Shane Green, to deliver either an instructor-led LX or your own orientation, leadership development, or other in-house programs.

About Shane Green:

World-renowned keynote speaker, author of Culture Hacker, and television personality Shane Green is a business consultant who works with global Fortune 500 leaders on customer experience and organizational culture. Shane draws upon his foundation at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and hospitality to work in multiple industries to transform employee mindsets, habits, and skills to improve customer experiences and interactions. 

As the president and founder of LXbD, Shane leads a team of professional content creators and facilitators who inspire brands like the NBA, MGMR Resorts International, Madison Square Garden, Westfield, Sydell Group, Foot Locker, NetJets Inc., Cisco Systems, United Airlines, and BMW to reprogram their customer and employee experiences to create moments worth sharing and memories that last a lifetime.