Learning & Development Insights

L&D Trends 2021:
16 keys to a future-ready business

Insights to help your organization turn learning and development needs into business outcomes.

The challenge of planning for uncertainty

As many businesses start 2021 under restrictive lockdowns and challenging market conditions, we consulted with a group of business transformation leaders and industry analysts to understand the key organisational development trends that will be shaping the future of work. The result of these conversations is a list of 16 key points covering leadership, digital transformation, sustainability and learning & development.


The leaders of the future are culture builders

Remote work comes with many pros and cons, but one of the greatest challenges is to create a feeling of belonging. Culture builders understand the ambiguity of this situation and work to create a consistent culture, where trust underpins the dynamic of relationships. In challenging times, culture builders are able to align people behind a clear purpose and a shared vision that goes beyond pure financial success.

Culture builders work not to simply drive diversity but to ensure people feel included. They offer empathy not because they have been told to do so, but because they genuinely care. They encourage their teams to innovate by breaking silos and working collaboratively without having hierarchical authority over people.


1. Purpose

Clarity of purpose underpins clarity of communication. A murky vision may be a symptom of a confused strategy. Fundamental to this vision is an understanding about how the world will look in years to come, and therefore how the business will need to adapt and transform.

2. Resilience

In the rapidly changing business environment, it is rare to see the complete picture. It can be easy to shelve projects that seem uncertain. But leaders must take calculated risks and be prepared to act in imperfect settings. Good leaders then need to assess the credibility and relevance of their data, and the capabilities of those charged with execution, in order to find a way through, even when things look hazy.

3. Integrity

A leader’s sense of integrity needs to infuse the entire company and influence everything that it does. It isn’t enough to just set a good example. It requires systematic planning, clear processes and channels of communication as well as tried and tested codes of conduct. This ensures that ethical shortcomings in any part of the business do not evolve into something more damaging. While corporate culture will be influenced by many factors, the leader’s active involvement in spreading a culture of integrity is paramount.

4. Empathy

Leading an international business not only requires a working understanding of different cultures but also an awareness of the different emotional currents at play. A true appreciation of different ways of thinking and behaving not only removes unnecessary frictions, it allows leaders to tap the very best talent by taking a flexible and sensitive approach to different styles of working and thinking.


You have gone virtual, but have you truly transformed?

With remote work being imposed on virtually all industries, we have seen organisations and teams adapting to a new reality and finding new ways of working and delivering their service. Whilst this has offered a sense of transformation across most organisation, the next significant threshold lies in truly embracing a customer-centric, digital-first culture. Digital products and services which truly meet the needs of a truly digital consumer and business market mean changing long-standing paradigms for some industries. People can’t be left to sink or swim. Success in a digital-first economy requires investment in training, capacity-building, and technology. Building business ecosystems, where larger organisations collaborate with start-ups, can accelerate this transition, but this requires a strong focus on digital leadership skills to ensure purpose and vision are not lost amidst innovation.


1. Learning as a Strategy

A complex world requires leaders to fully understand complex and changing problems. Everyone is affected by technology, globalised business and political, economic and social trends. Leaders may not be masters of every subject, but they do need to understand some issues in sufficient detail to drive the business forward. In a changing world, they will need the mental acumen to master new subjects quickly and thoroughly.

2. Customer Centricity

Solutions that don't meet the needs of your customers will fail. Developing a customer-centric culture is the first step to help you shape your digitalisation and innovation agenda.

Not every executive has a natural sense of how business works, how commercial enterprises grow, and most importantly where the business opportunities lie. They may have other natural instincts – e.g. around technology, politics etc.— but a natural business mind that can grasp how commercial challenges are shifting at an unprecedented pace is key.

3. Decision Making

There are few things so dispiriting as a leader who appears to lack confidence in his decisions. It weakens the sense of purpose and belief throughout the organisation. Rather than dodge the consequences, leaders must accept responsibility and see that changing one’s mind if done fairly and transparently can be a virtue, and ‘failure’ can become an opportunity to learn.

4. Vision & Goal Setting

Tomorrow’s leaders must be able to gauge how far and fast they can drive the organisation. Setting unchallenging goals can sap energy and encourage talent to pursue other, non-strategic paths. But setting excessive goals may reflect the leader’s lack of realism or understanding and sets the organisation up for failure.


Virtual Learning: Focus on the Learner’s Experience

2020 has changed learning and development forever. The need to adapt to digital learning, while meeting new development needs arising from remote working has forced CLOs and CHROs to accelerate learning transformation. The Covid-19 pandemic has put HR and talent development issues at the core of every business. But what happens next will depend on how CLOs and CHROs leverage their influence to shape the strategy and future sustainability of their business.

Technology, which is often seen as a disruptor of many L&D practices, should be embraced as an ally and a source of opportunity to re-energise their operations. Demand for learning will always exist, particularly in times of disruption and change. L&D leaders are in a unique position to empower organisations to truly embrace learning as a priority and meet the expectations and needs of their workforce, especially when it comes to accessibility and experiential learning. The key trends we have learned from clients are:


1. Heightened personalization

Every organisation has its own needs and unique challenges. So does every individual. In this context, it is crucial that L&D leaders focus on creating adaptable solutions that don’t just focus on the specific challenges of the business and individuals, but also offers a global perspective.

2. Content is key but experience transforms

Content is becoming a commodity and is easily available online from multiple platforms, often at virtually no cost. But true transformation does not occur from ‘academic tourism’. It happens when people are truly engaged in a learning experience that enables people to assimilate the use and purpose of a specific skill. In an online environment, this is particularly hard to achieve, but L&D leaders must seek to bring learning to life. Virtual reality, online simulators and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have a key role to play in improving the learning experience.

Last year we hosted an online summit dedicated to the virtual learning experience. Catch up here

3. Ownership and on-demand

As businesses have specific needs and challenges, so do individuals. L&D leaders need to empower people to take responsibility and a more proactive role in their personal development journey. Ultimately, the role of L&D is to facilitate learning, not to take responsibility over it. Learning solutions also need to be flexible enough to accommodate the needs of participants, with on-demand and bitesize content being a key trend.

4. From learning objectives to business outcomes

Learning and Development initiatives need to be aligned to business goals and their effectiveness need to be measured against the business’s ability to achieve those goals. Hard and soft skills training.


A better way of doing business

The challenges derived from the covid-19 pandemic have impacted businesses in different ways. It has become clear that an alternative way is possible. For many organisations, the crisis has represented an opportunity to reset and rethink about the way business is done.


1. Greater focus on the social and governance roles

If environmental issues were considered the most important of the sustainability pillars for businesses in the beginning of the year, the impact of covid-19 has driven businesses to become considerably more conscious of their role in society, particularly when it came to supporting employees financially and emotionally through the pandemic.

2. Employee Relations

Employee relations, retention and recruitment have evolved. If in the past they used to be considered simply a human resources concern, they are now strategic issues. The race to find, integrate and keep the best talent is part of the growth strategy of any organisation. The impact of ESG on the millennial and Gen Z workforce is clear: they don’t simply care about salary and benefit - an alignment of values is increasingly becoming a decision-making factor for high potential candidates.

3. A new way of doing business

Investment in fossil fuels are still increasing, suggesting that those corporate decisions are not being reflected on financial and commercial strategies. As commercial departments have targets to meet, it is often hard for decision makers to move away from a big deal despite those commitments to ESG goals. So how can the people who are responsible for driving growth and managing balance sheets be emboldened to take those tough decisions?

4. Ethical handling of data

Access to a data-rich ecosystem – combined with the pressure to deliver business results – often put business executives and decision makers into ethical dilemmas. Despite increased regulatory enforcement, data misuse is still a major issue and cause of distrust in business.


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