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What are the top issues that human resource (HR) and leadership, learning, and talent development (L&D) professionals are focusing on as they look to train the next generation of leaders?

The findings of our 2020 HR L&D Trend Report reveal some useful answers. According to the report, the most important business challenges include managing change, engaging employees, and attracting great talent. 

Improving change readiness

The biggest business challenge HR and L&D professionals are hoping to address in 2020 is change readiness. They want to know how to create a more change-ready organisation. 

That’s not surprising. The business environment continues to change at an increasing rate. Leaders who can effectively support people through change can minimise the negative effect change has on both individuals and the organisation.

Unfortunately, a lot of organisational leaders don't take advantage of the research-based tools for change management that are widely available today. They still view change as something they must struggle through. This lack of understanding extends and deepens the resistance that comes with any change they attempt. As a result, people in the organisation see each change as a negative disturbance rather than a positive opportunity.

The best companies we've worked with have a “change happens constantly” mindset. They see change as something that helps them get to where they need to go. It’s critically important that leaders of organisations find ways to be comfortable with change. Every single business in every single market is experiencing fundamental change. The ability to manage through change is imperative.

Developing leadership skills

The 2020 survey asked which skills are most crucial for leaders. The top three answers were listening, coaching, and building trust.

When asked a follow-up question about the key leadership development areas they would be focusing on, HR and L&D professionals identified coaching skills, emotional intelligence, and performance management as their top priorities.

The respondents stressed that it was important for leaders to create trusting, positive relationships with their people. They agreed that leaders must know how to achieve clarity, manage relationships, have good conversations, and build trust. Although these are often considered soft skills in the business community, they are essential for effective management, particularly during times of change and uncertainty.

Strengthening soft skills with coaching

Business leaders are often sceptical of soft skills training. We disagree. Our research has shown that people trained in a core set of skills can become the type of leader people want to follow.

Our Coaching Essentials programme teaches the LITE model — four important skills that build trust and emotional intelligence. Madeleine Homan Blanchard, head of Blanchard’s coaching division, suggests that leaders use the four-step LITE model to bring coaching skills into their management repertoire.

The L in the LITE model stands for Listen to Learn. As Madeleine explains, “Listening is one of the most essential skills any manager can have. Good listeners focus on what the other person is saying and respond in ways that make others feel heard and valued.”

The I in the LITE model stands for Inquire for Insight. “Great managers draw their people out,” Madeleine says. “They ask questions that allow employees to share insights and ideas that can benefit projects, tasks, and the team. Asking questions helps the manager to understand underlying motivations and what’s driving people’s behaviour.” 

The T in the LITE model stands for Tell Your Truth. “Being honest builds trust and authenticity; it allows managers to share information that’s needed to help their employee move forward,” Madeleine explains. “Many managers are afraid that being honest will hurt others’ feelings, but in all actuality, a truthful exchange can empower others.”  

The E in the LITE model stands for Express Confidence. “When managers express confidence in their people,” says Madeleine, “it builds employees’ self-assurance and enthusiasm.”

Teaching coaching techniques and encouraging a strong coaching culture within an organisation deepens its leadership bench strength and prepares it for disruptive change. 

Addressing the challenges

When asked how they were going to address the challenges of managing change, engaging employees, and attracting great talent, the HR and L&D professionals indicated that they would focus on digital learning, curriculum design, and agile change management. 

HR and L&D professionals want to make learning more accessible and “bite-sized” by using digital learning tools. They want to redesign curriculums for more personalised training, with greater focus on learning journeys. To develop agile change management, they want to encourage a growth mindset about change and build staff capacity for change.

These are good places to start, but it is important to remember that simply granting people access to learning content doesn’t mean they’ll gravitate toward consuming it. The best organisations create experiences that encourage people to actually use the content they've been given access to. Technology offers the means, but it is important to create a strategy that makes learning enticing. 

2020 promises to be a year where change continues to accelerate. As the work environment becomes increasingly complex, leaders must find new ways to leverage and scale the productivity of their workforces. The results of this year’s survey show that HR and L&D professionals are adapting to meet this challenge.

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