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In a year with so much change and disruption, I thought it would be good to connect with Sue Stoneman, the CEO and Founder at next-generation employee engagement agency, NKD, to discuss why learning is a key strategy for organisations to consider going forward.

As a team that are passionate about learning, I was keen to catch up with Sue to find out what changes of approach she has recognised as a result of the current climate, but also what changes she is looking forward to coming into the second half of 2020.


1. Why should organisations be looking to learning as a strategy for change?

In the 2020s, we are once again in a time of significant economic, social and political change. eCommerce has changed the way we do business and altered the global retail and logistics landscape, and this is only set to continue. The exponential growth of technology is not expected to slow down in the ’20s. People are giving voice to social issues such as diversity, inclusion, gender, equality and LGBTQ rights, and they are not afraid to stand up to their governments, the establishment and their employers – in the search for truth and fairness. The ’20s is also the crucial decade for us to avert the climate emergency.

These problems need solutions. They will come from new insight, new technology and collaborations on a global scale. We need to learn how to do that and organisations have a responsibility to play their part.

For organisations, the 2020s look like:

  • The growth of technology will change the way we engage and communicate with our people and customers, and therefore change the skills and talent we need

  • The baby boomer generation will be retiring, with the exit of this loyal, long-term goal oriented and disciplined group changing the dynamics of the workplace

  • Millennials will dominate the workplace and are tomorrow’s leaders; they are purpose led, driven by values, altruistic and tech savvy 

  • Generation Z will be entering the workplace; a generation of digital natives, raised with technology and social media, stereotyped as ‘social justice warriors’, searching for ‘truth’ and doing the right thing for the greater good

  • Organisations which don’t act responsibly and do ‘the right thing’ will not win the hearts and minds of customers and employees.

All of this informs why we are seeing an appetite to change the way organisations and individuals learn.


2. What changes have you seen in the way organisations approach learning in the current climate?

People are looking for the ideal way to shift ‘how learning gets done’ in this challenging and exciting landscape. It can seem daunting but simplicity and a relentless focus on the needs of learners are perhaps the key ingredients of success.

The first change we have seen in the way organisations approach learning is one of mindset. More organisations are recognising the potential value of learning. They are now convinced by the tangible link between learning, culture and performance. Organisations that prioritise learning and support people to apply new knowledge become more agile and adaptable. Learning helps them respond when external conditions).

The second change is one of experience. We are seeing a shift in how learning is imagined, designed and delivered:

  • From one-size-fits-all to personalised and bespoke

  • From classroom training to digital (“I want it in the palm of my hand, when I want it”)
  • From imposed “you’ll do this” learning to “own your own destiny” learning
  • From tick-box to value-added to achieve real shifts in attitude, behaviour and capability
  • From long training programmes to short, bitesize micro learning
  • From giving the people the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ to focusing on the ‘why’ to engage with people on an emotional and rational level
  • From taking time out to train to learning in the flow of work

And, of course, this shift is enabled by technology and a deep understanding of what learners want.2.-NKD

3. What role do you think that technology should play in the process?

Take a second to think about the possible investment you’ve made in digitalising your customer experience. Why did you do it?

Probably to differentiate yourself in the marketplace by personalising the experience for your customers, reducing costs, reaching more people, creating simplicity for your
customers which increases engagement with your brand, by providing a seamless customer experience, having more data on your customers shopping habits, and pushing promotions and deals to them that you think they’d like and want to buy.

Technology is helping your customer experience become more:

  • Scalable
  • Flexible
  • Easy to access
  • Cost-effective
  • Personalised
  • Consistent

It’s for all of those reasons that using technology as part of your learning and development strategy is so important:

  • To personalise the experience for learners
  • To be able to reach more people quicker and at times that suit them
  • To remove heavy design and administration costs
  • To track learner progress and uptake.
  • To make the process of learning so simple and compelling for your teams to engage with, that they really want to do it.

Ultimately, you want to enable employees to have choice and control over their learning journeys, just as you want customers to have choice and control over their experiences with you.


4. What do you do at NKD that works really well?

NKD has deep expertise across employee engagement and inspiring leadership. We help create great experiences for employees that will turn them into walking, talking champions for your brand. A brand that your customers will fall in love with.

A truly engaged employee experience looks across the entire employee life cycle, at what really matters to employees. At NKD, we believe that complex people problems can be solved with brain-friendly solutions. So, we draw on a number of learning, communication, motivation and design theories to create, engaging solutions which deliver tangible, positive differences way after our involvement has finished. If it doesn’t make the world of work better for our clients, we don’t do it.

Shift Thinking

by increasing Emotional Connection + Understanding

People can do anything they put their mind to and with emotional encouragement the sky’s the limit. By combining the power of people’s emotional and rational intelligence, in gentle, affirming and supportive ways, we are able to dramatically shift thinking!

Change Behaviour

by building Capability + Confidence

Do one thing differently, and then another thing, and then another. People are open to change behaviour when they see the tangible results and improvements as a result of their changed behaviour – they just need a suggestion, a little push and some guidance in the right direction.

Transform Performance

by increasing Personal Responsibility + Commitment

Continuous learning is vital to transform performance and make change stick. At NKD, we believe that for learning to be transformative, it must be challenging, achievable and rewarding, and above all, engaging and exciting.


5. What types of changes in this space are you looking forward to seeing in the future?

It’s less about change – I’m looking forward to doing some of the things we already have available and at our fingertips and doing them really well. That will transform organisational learning.

I’m not a fan of innovation for innovation’s sake: there is already innovative, affordable, engaging and exciting technology, platforms and learning experiences in the marketplace (I know, we design them). We need to make them work really hard for us. We need organisations to stay committed to their digital learning strategies and make it link to all parts of their employee ecosystem.

The biggest change I get excited about is when an organisation sticks to what it says it is going to do – deliver consistent, simple, social, stretching and engaging learning continually, year-on-year. That commitment and consistency is what will really change the landscape in this industry and transform employee and customer experiences.

I am looking forward to seeing when that realisation ‘hits’ and organisations realise that employee experience and therefore their learning experience is not only a ‘nice to have’.
If they do not make a herculean effort on creating it the best possible experience for their people, they will lose their best talent and their customers will go with them.