Thinking Like A Stakeholder During A Pandemic

Thinking Like A Stakeholder During A Pandemic
Summary: The pandemic flipped the script on stakeholders. It's now about heightened uncertainty, risk, and change, the three elements requiring relevant and timely knowledge. The time has come for learning to step up and answer their stakeholders' call of, "Our people need to be ready for anything at anytime!"

A Conflation Of Moments For Learning

This pandemic is certainly wearing on all of us. You may not realize it, but your learning role is the lifeline stakeholders so desperately need during this time of extreme uncertainty. They need you to help them acquire the right knowledge addressing and navigating the very murky waters of the pandemic. You have an invaluable and essential role in making a tangible difference. Time to step up and embrace this opportunity!

This period, a once-in-a-lifetime event, is far from anything your stakeholders have ever experienced. Naturally, they want to get through it unscarred, we all do, and return to some form of normalcy. The question you must ask is what "normal" will look like and what value we can contribute to helping others get there.

This pandemic is causing significant issues, but an optimist would say there's always a silver lining. Focusing on the plentiful potential opportunities that exist within these unfortunate events is what will get us through. Like the pandemic (and in spite of it), these opportunities don't usually come around often, but they are the ones that will become part of our new reality and normality. You have two choices, either to wallow in the misery of this event and the loss of what once was or to move forward discovering the silver linings and opportunities to bring to your stakeholders.

Instinctively, a pandemic is the last place you'd think to find new opportunities. The pandemic is a conflation of moments that place the learning role, along with analytics and technology, front and center. Mark my words, this moment will bring on the glory and golden age of workplace learning. If mishandled, however, it could further undermine workplace learning's already fragile credibility.

Glory? Golden age? Really? You're either thinking he's lost it or, that's a pretty bold statement to make, prove it to me, homey! I accept the challenge.

Sincerity Or Lip Service?

Follow me for a moment. Pre-pandemic, organizational stakeholders viewed learning, especially eLearning, as relevant but not necessarily something scaling up the priority list. That said, when surveyed senior decision-makers rank employee learning near the top of their priorities.

Intrinsically, they may sincerely believe this to be true. It always comes down, however, to appeasement of matters at hand (squeaky wheel analogy) with their sincere intent getting lost to the immediacy of daily operational demands. From anecdotal observation, leadership would often place passing effort executing, let alone planning, a proper learning strategy.

One thing is certain; the pandemic has flipped the script on stakeholders in every business segment. Consequently, the opportunity presenting itself for L&D is about stepping up and being the white knight to the rescue. The pandemic is certainly about dramatic uncertainty and change. This transitions the learning role from a "hey, please improve employee performance" to the expectation of "hey, we need our people to be ready for anything at anytime."

The Uncertainty Of Uncertainty

Risk and change are constant stakeholder realities and taught to them within their formal business education. I know, because I was educated this way and I teach this to my accounting undergraduate, postgraduate, and CPA programs students (all future business leaders).

Even though risk and change aren't in their complete control, both are usually targeted and limited within specific activities and environments. This makes it somewhat manageable. The pandemic is the "black swan," where risk and change are no longer targeted and not limited to one area or activity. The pandemic is indiscriminate. It's an equal opportunity risk deployer and widespread change agent.

Business leaders are facing uncertainty as they've never encountered it before. While they try to put on a brave face, they recognize this uncertainty fosters further uncertainty and unpredictable outcomes. Like the proverbial alignment of planets, the pandemic is bringing risk, change, and performance elements into complete and unexpected alignment and focus. Pre-pandemic, they were able to appropriately manage these preoccupations. Current circumstances, however, are a very different and unexpected beast pushing learning to the top of their strategic needs.

This high degree of uncertainty, risk, and change is usually perceived as a bad thing. But consider that it can present unique opportunities if the organization is equipped and adept at leveraging the knowledge and information they possess and know what knowledge they need to acquire.

You Don't Know What You Don't Know

So how does learning as the "white knight to the rescue" come into play? Consider this. Risk, change, and performance require a strong foundation in knowledge and information, especially for employees. For years, learning's relevance was to improve operational performance, but as a result of the pandemic, performance is now taking a back seat to managing risk and change.

How does learning help with risk and change? Simple, both aspects engage with the unknown. Both play into the saying "you don't know what you don't know," but your stakeholders and the staff need to know something in order to plan and execute appropriate decisions. The logic is simple; the unknown is about making it known, and this requires learning.

This is where you come in. Learning may not be the resource to provide the answers for making the unknown known, but you have the ability to make it happen. Your skills are to assess what they don't know, assess the quality of what they already know, assess what they need to know, and then design a process to ensure they acquire, and more importantly, apply, these valuable insights.

Agility, Adaptability, Flexibility

More than conducting a needs/skills assessment, it's essential to adapt this newly acquired knowledge to specific needs and deploy it in a timely manner to mitigate risk and appropriately navigate change. This is the moment to leverage the myriad of available learning technologies. Simply put, eLearning is your source for developing agile, adaptable, and flexible learning opportunities.

eLearning, however, is more than just online courses. The term encompasses all learning technologies required to design, deploy, and evaluate learning taking place. But for many practitioners, learning technologies and eLearning courses are often incorrectly seen as the panacea to their stakeholder needs. Even then, much of the eLearning is poorly produced or deployed, further exasperating their stakeholders' patience.

eLearning and the associated learning technologies are not meant to be a quick fix. These technologies are additional tools to develop meaningful learning solutions that resolve the issues at hand. Here's a hint, for stakeholders, the "e" in eLearning is about efficiency and effectiveness, not how it's deployed online or otherwise.

In an environment where your organization faces unpredictable change and unforeseen risks, these technologies become your go-to tools but not a replacement for your core skills. Both elements must complement each other to deliver results-focused learning outcomes. This technology, however, is crucial to how learning will take place moving forward. Stakeholders and employees alike require what I refer to as "knowledge relevancy" and "knowledge immediacy."

Using over-applied jargon, it's time to shift your paradigm. Agility, adaptability, and flexibility are what learning technologies contribute to relevancy and immediacy. First, stop reacting to learning requests. This makes you an "order-taker," and your stakeholders have no time (or patience) for this approach. They need their enabling functions to be proactive. So, get off your butts and out of your cubicles/offices and become part of the risk and change conversation. Second, rethink how you develop and deploy your learning solutions. Move on from designing "courses" to addressing targeted knowledge and skill requirements, including thinking about when they are needed, how to apply them, how they can be accessed at any time and from anywhere and through any device.

Where Do You Go From Here?

Granted, we're all living in unprecedented times and experiencing some unique moments. So, take a moment to imagine what stakeholders and employees are experiencing. The pandemic is all about uncertainty, and no one is comfortable with not knowing what to expect. Rather, consider what uncertainty offers in terms of opportunities. For stakeholders, the uncertainty makes the organization less complacent, allowing it to try new things, new approaches, and be more innovative. All in all, the pandemic's silver lining is to make them more agile and fluid.

Agility and fluidity are also opportunities for workplace learning to take center stage. The uncertainty and reduction in complacency require a constant feed of knowledge and information. Those involved with technology recognize this, but those responsible for learning are still waiting for the memo. Stop waiting and start acting. As I've repeatedly stated since the start of the pandemic, this is the time for those in learning to shine. Your opportunity has arrived...grab on to it!

Please share your thoughts and feedback with us. We would 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!