Coronavirus, Learning, And Crisis Management...Opportunity Knocks

Coronavirus, Learning, And Crisis Management...Opportunity Knocks
Brian A Jackson/
Summary: We're living in a rapidly changing world and your business leaders are looking to you to help inform, educate, and communicate the changes taking place. Are you ready to do so? Are you prepared to take on the challenge? Amid a crisis, this is learning's opportunity to prove its strategic value.

A Silver Lining Within A Worldwide Virus

This may come across distasteful, and possibly insensitive, but the coronavirus, or more accurately COVID-19, presents a wonderful opportunity for learning practitioners. And to be frank, it's fairly obvious why. The moment has come for learning to capitalize on the current health crisis by riding in on a white horse, figuratively of course. It's every practitioner's time to shine and to step up to the plate. eLearning is a quandary for both practitioners and leaders alike. Like the middle child of a family, leaders either overlook it, mainly because it fails to live up to expectations, or pay too much attention to it for the wrong reasons. This health crisis presents the right reasons. eLearning is the gateway tool to validate learning's purpose and to build credibility with business leaders.

I don't mean to be indelicate, and I know it sounds crass and opportunistic to suggest capitalizing on the COVID-19 crisis. The reality, however, is that your leaders are desperately seeking lifelines to ensure business continuity. The one, and exceptionally important, lifeline in times of crisis is the need for knowledge and education. Knowing what's going on comforts people searching for answers. This means workplace learning and knowledge forces you into your leaders' line of sight....for all the right reasons.

The question to ask yourself is whether you're ready to step up? Do you know why or even how to answer your leaders' call? If you don't, you should! These opportunities don't come around often, and in this case, at the expense of a crisis.

Educational Crisis Leadership

If the COVID-19 crisis teaches us anything it is that this won't be the last crisis we'll experience. From observation, enemies in a crisis are complacency and indecision. Your leaders don't want to experience this. They also expect those around them not to be complacent and indecisive. Even though many activities within the organization have or are scrambling to put into place contingency plans, those involved with the learning function rarely see themselves as an essential need. But you are! In times of need and crisis, learning is more than essential, it is vital.

Embrace your vital and essential role. Avoid complacency and indecisiveness by developing an "educational crisis leadership" (ECL) strategy. What's ECL and what does it mean for practitioners? It's about intelligently fulfilling your learning role to deploy and disseminate knowledge in a timely, systematic, and targeted manner across an organization. Having a plan in place offers your organization agility allowing you, the learning function, to:

  • Provide operational and business leaders appropriate knowledge as they require it so they can act on key business decisions
  • Communicate the right knowledge to the right employees at the right time so they can act on change and respond to crisis needs
  • Communicate relevant knowledge with external stakeholders such as suppliers, customers, regulators, and even government

Essentially, the learning function becomes their vehicle to deliver stability and consistency during volatile periods while building institutional competency.

Is This Actually Happening?

In recent days, you've probably received actionable messages from companies about how they're addressing the COVID-19 situation. I've received emails from Hilton, Air Canada, Expedia, Cadillac, Costco, and Best Western (to name a few) explaining what actions they're taking to reassure me all is well.

While admirable, these messages are hopefully more than marketing ploys. I believe in most instances they're genuine. If so, it's safe to assume the leaders behind these organizations are committed to making a difference. Why do I say this? Many of the emails explicitly speak to actions they're taking with their staff to defend against COVID-19 and how their customers, you and me, should interact with them.

If you haven't noticed, these organizations are actively managing risk and change in very fluid economic and social circumstances. Naturally, managing risk requires knowledge; managing change requires knowledge; and, managing both will affect future performance. Doing this effectively requires immediate and rapid deployment of employee knowledge.

Taking A Lean Approach To A Crisis

Ultimately, this is about training and competency development. It speaks to the "Lean Learning" philosophy I coined. For you to develop an ECL strategy you must incorporate lean concepts into your learning approach and strategy. What are these "lean learning" concepts? It's best explained through the T.R.A.In.E.R.S acronym I developed. Let's describe each in more detail:

T is being timely. Being timely requires employees to have the ability to access knowledge and learning when they need it. Do your learning solutions do this?

R is about being relevant. This is delicate since most practitioners believe everything they produce is relevant. I hate to break the news but much of it isn't. Relevance within a lean approach and in a crisis is about delivering the most valuable knowledge and targeting immediate concerns. Do your learning solutions do this?

A is about agility/adaptiveness. Again, many practitioners will complete solutions and move on to the next. Your learning solutions should be easily adaptable so it can rapidly address new realities when and where it's needed. Do your learning solutions do this?

In is integrative learning. Your leaders don't want learning to be an "after-the-fact" occurrence. Nor do they want to disrupt existing productivity by having employees sit out for some type of training. Seek integrative learning opportunities within the workflow or capitalize on work downtime. Do your learning solutions do this?

E is about efficiency. Efficiency is avoiding waste, energy, efforts, money, and time doing something or producing a desired outcome. Lean thinking strives to maximize available resources to achieve efficiency. Develop learning solutions utilizing existing resources and deploy it to maximize existing operational resources. Do your learning solutions do this?

R is for resourceful. Being lean is about using what you have and extracting the most value from existing resources, not seeking out more. So, before you try to convince stakeholders to purchase the latest learning technology, consider and use what you already have in place. Do your learning solutions do this?

S is about being seamless. Learning technologies offer the opportunity to make your efforts blend into the workflow as well as across various learning methodologies and platforms. Effective learning isn't about one methodology; it's about being comprehensive and integrative (see the "In" above). Employees should have the ability to access the learning they require without restriction and obstacles. Do your learning solutions do this?

A New Reality: Where Do We Go From Here?

Listen. We're now living in a very different reality compared to a few weeks ago. Everything will change for everyone and hopefully for the better, but only time will tell. Whatever our new world will look like in the coming weeks, months, and years know that learning will be the common denominator to get us through it. Take pride in what you do. You're all central and essential in helping people get through tough situations and helping them solve problems. Realize that your value isn't only in the learning you produce but in how you're able to deploy it effectively to everyone, especially in times of need and crisis.

During this time, I'd like to extend my knowledge and expertise to anyone who requires it without obligation. Should you require support, guidance, counsel, or simply just want someone to lend an ear please don't hesitate to contact me through Twitter. My handle is BizLearningDude.

Please share your thoughts and feedback with us. We’d enjoy hearing about your efforts. And who knows, it may be the topic of our next eLearning Industry article. Also, please check out our LinkedIn Learning courses to learn more about developing your business credibility for your learning efforts. Please share your thoughts and remember #alwaysbelearning!

Please be safe and please stay healthy.