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Ops 4.0—The Human Factor: Powering the learning and development engine

Is your organization equipped for continuous capability building?

Passionate about the “human factor”: helping people develop broad skills and deep functional expertise. Experienced operations practitioner, faculty member, and author.

Around the world, labor markets are running hot. Companies are struggling to fill vacancies and retain experienced staff amid record resignation rates. In this environment, a robust learning and development engine is fast becoming a critical asset. The ability to upskill your people assists both the supply and demand sides of the labor challenge. Effective capability building helps companies to fill skill gaps using staff they already know and trust, and those people relish the opportunity to learn, develop and grow their roles, aiding retention.

In an earlier blog post, we discussed the importance of individually tailored learning. High-performing personnel develop their capabilities along two axes: a broad foundation of general skills on the horizontal axis, and a deep spike of specialist expertise in the topics that matter to them most, shown on a vertical axis. The resulting T-shaped skills profile is unique to every individual.

An effective learning and development engine must be individually tailored, too, helping individuals to grow their own skills so that collectively, they provide the organization with the pool of capabilities it needs to meet its objectives. Such an engine involves three distinct components (exhibit).

The learning and development engine powers a continuous capability building process
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  • First, a clear, customer-back picture of the capabilities the organization needs. As we’ve argued before in this blog, that picture should be based on customer expectations—in other words, built from the customer back. Efficient, digitally-enabled processes and skilled people create the most value when they improve the experience of customers.
  • Second, systems to track skills within the organization and incentives for individuals to invest time and energy in developing their skills. Leading companies create a skills matrix for specific roles, for example, along with a multi-level system of credentials for individuals who can demonstrate those skills. They link the achievement of credentials to a range of financial and non-financial incentives, including career progression options and access to further learning and development opportunities.
  • Third, experiences, tools, and resources that enable employees to acquire and apply new skills as they work. That is likely to involve a mix of methods, including traditional classroom learning, self-service digital training, stretch assignments, on-the-job support, coaching, apprenticeship, and mentoring.

Most importantly, an effective learning and development engine is one that keeps on running. The organization continually updates its assessment of the skills required to support customers, and continually expands the content and tools available to develop those skills. And individual employees are always learning as they work, continually expanding both the breadth and depth of their T-shaped skills profile.

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