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Why I’m excited about both the future of training – and the future for Alate

In this long-form blog, I share what I believe the future can hold for companies who care about the development and performance of their people and who are willing to grasp the opportunities of a hybrid, more purpose-led way of working and learning. Please read on and join the conversation.

Part 1: a landscape of opportunity for all

Hybrid working

Every day I see a different prediction about the future of flexible and home working. Some predict upwards of 70% of those who can work from home will do so at least part time. At the other end of the scale some, including those with a vested interest in commercial property, are proposing a full-scale return to the office. Whoever turns out to be correct over the next decade, I think there are some factors that we’ll see influencing how and where people work in the coming years.

The power of values and culture

The last year has brought into sharp focus the values which individual companies are actually living by. These may or may not be the same values they tell their employees during their onboarding or stick up on their website. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of companies over the last year who have really dialled into their values to help them keep their companies on the growth track AND support the engagement, well-being and productivity of their employees.

Having a culture that embodies the company’s values sends out a clear message to current and future employees, shareholders, customers and partners. Those who stand out attract the best-fit people in all of these areas. Employees will go to the employers who reflect their values and working-style preferences. Richard Tang of Zen Internet says compellingly through Zen’s values, ‘happy staff means happy customers and happy suppliers’ and Matt Phelan of The Happiness Index has the data to back that up.

Focus on capability versus hours

I was talking recently with a friend about the difference between being paid for your time and being paid for your brain. Managers who don’t trust their staff to work flexibly want them back in the office because they fear they won’t put in the hours. If you’re a fast-growing tech company, it’s not the hours you’re worried about (actually the issue is more likely to be stopping staff from working too many hours). What you’re concerned about is the outcomes and deliverables that move the company – and the individual – forward. That’s about what people do, not where they do it. Coming into an office should be about collaboration, connection and chance conversations.

I hope we’ll see more companies focus on employee capability and business outcomes over the presenteeism that has been prevalent in so many companies.

Of course, there are threats and challenges as well as opportunities. It’s not a one-sided picture and there’s a lot of groundwork to do to create the environments in which individuals and teams can thrive in this context to the benefit of the company. But I do see companies who are already a long way down the road and there’s an opportunity for more to join them.

The importance of collaboration and teams

At the same time as everyone has been stuck at home in their bedroom/kitchen office, the power and importance of team working has probably never been more important. We’re dealing with change and a vast array of unknowns. The power of diverse, collaborative thinking is key to finding innovative solutions to new problems. We adapt by learning and collective learning is hugely powerful. As my friends over at Squadify have demonstrated ‘A rock star team beats a team of rock stars’. I hope that companies will invest the time and effort to really understand what makes high performing teams and harness that power for individual, collective and company growth.

Part 2: why this makes me optimistic about the future of learning

We’ve all had to focus on an entirely virtual delivery model for training and learning over the course of 2020-21. Just as companies have recognised that staff can be productive working from home, so too they have recognised that virtual training delivery works. It’s a mindset change that helps to open up thinking about the optimal blends for training delivery.

But it’s more than just delivery modes. We have an opportunity to think deeply about why and how we invest in learning and development. Here are some of the areas we might think about:

Learning as a way of life and a way of work

When we’re out of our comfort zone, we have two choices: to learn or to freeze. People speculate what the ‘new normal’ will look like. Others talk about ‘getting back to normal’. Well, until someone finds out how we can time travel, there is no going back. The world will never be the same as it was in 2019. And I don’t think it’s helpful to think in terms of a ‘new normal’ (OK, confession, I massively over-used that term after the banking crisis!). A ‘new normal’ implies a degree of long-term stability that I suspect won’t happen. What we can think about is the current normal, an ever- evolving world in which some things remain quite static but others turn on a dime. And that means being curious and open to new experiences and ideas. It means always learning. That’s not always easy but it becomes easier when we see learning as part of our every day not an event we go to.

Conscious and deliberate development

My reward is seeing the difference my work makes. Helping individuals, teams and companies to develop and grow. That doesn’t come from ‘sheep dip’ or ‘cookie cutter’ training events. It comes from focusing on the outcomes. I believe there’s an opportunity to increase that focus on purpose and outcomes. To be conscious about why we’re providing learning and development and deliberate about the results we want to see. As a practitioner in the Brinkerhoff High Performance Learning Journey methodology, we begin with the end in mind. We identify the desired business and performance outcomes. Then we design everything to work towards these.

That leads to picking the right mix of delivery modes – the blended approach of in-person, virtual, on-demand and the mix of different media we might choose to support this. It leads to creating the right climate – support, resources, structures and processes - to embed behaviours and strengthen results. And it leads to a more flexible approach that maps to the rhythms, cycles and pressures of the real world in which we all operate.

I hope more companies who engage external training and learning partners like Alate will see it as a long-term partnership in which success is mutual and synergistic.

The human touch

There’s a fabulous quote I took from a respondent to an IBM CHRO study some years ago. He said ‘We hire resources but then human beings turn up.’ Training is not about showing or telling someone what to do and expecting them to do it. It takes months of concerted effort to build solid habits. (Have a listen to Azzy Aslam’s podcast Changing Habits, Changing Lives to learn more about forming habits). We now have a much better understanding of how our brains work and how to develop the habits and behaviours that will deliver the results we want. There are barriers and blocks to change at every step and it’s important to understand these and work together to overcome them.

I’m digressing slightly to give a big cheer here for all those companies that recognised the part they play in the well-being of their people. Those who stepped up to support individuals and teams through their own personal journeys during covid. As the saying goes, ‘we are all in the same storm but we’re not all in the same boat.’

Let’s continue to recognise each individual’s own path and help them to build the learning and development journeys that work for them, that deliver personally meaningful outcomes and business results. That way we build transferrable skills and resilient, adaptable humans.

Part 3: What we’re doing at Alate

So that brings me to why I’m excited about the future for Alate.

I like to look at the positives and I’m sure a few of you are critiquing this blog with all the downsides I’ve glossed over. There are challenges a-plenty and I’m not naïve about those. Nor am I downhearted. As my hair gets greyer, my curiosity and interest in what makes us tick, what drives our productivity and performance, seems to grow. I’m ambitious to take the business on its next stage of development and to support companies, teams and individuals on their journeys.

Everything we do at Alate is tailored to the specific needs of our clients. That means understanding and working with culture and values, the specific rhythms and ways of their business. I've been listening to clients, tapping into my network and digging into all kinds of research to explore different ways of supporting our clients on their journeys. It's helping to shape our roadmap and create new opportunities.

We’re investing in our future. (I have the voices of Lorrin White and Allan Merritt from my season 2 Revenue Riser podcast in my head now talking about the different business cycles of investment and growth). The process of thinking about how we’ll be working and learning in the future pre-dates covid but covid has accelerated investment. We've invested in specialist media production hardware and software – everything from podcast production to video and animation creation.

We’ve invested in making virtual sessions as good as possible from lighting, sound and high-speed internet. In fact, I now have separate full FTTP (fibre to the premises) and FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) connections into my office so if the main one fails mid-session there’s a back-up. Delivering virtually to a room full of people is different to having everyone on Zoom and we’ve invested and experimented with different methods and tools. Hybrid training is part of our future. And investment won’t stop there. We want to be on the front foot, providing the best blended learning experience possible whilst maintaining the specialised, tailored service that differentiates us.

But, back to mindset, I’m excited because I think leaders, employees, investors and customers want companies to be the best they can. We’ve been forced by circumstances out of our comfort zones and thus, by default, into a learning mindset. Now’s the time to harness that energy and to think differently about what ‘success’ will look like in the future. Companies that are excited about the future, who are flexible and agile, who are deliberate about what they prioritise and genuinely care about their people, have an opportunity to excel together.

I, for one, want that for my business and my clients. How about you?

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