Everyone’s talking about “doing more with less” and “recession-proofing” your business, but what does this actually look like for L&D professionals?
We thought it might be helpful to share how we’re ensuring OpenSesame is preparing for an unpredictable market. So, we sat down with Tina Jones, OpenSesame’s Talent Development and Learning Programs Manager, to chat about adjusting learning strategies, helping employees succeed in the unpredictable world of career navigation, and the impact skill-building efforts have had on the OpenSesame team. (The conversation below has been edited slightly for length and clarity.).
Tina! Thanks so much for your time, it’s exciting to get to learn more about how OpenSesame is adjusting to the circumstances of today. Let’s start with the big picture: How are we at OpenSesame helping our staff navigate the unpredictable world they face today?
Tina Jones: Hey, yeah, happy to be here!
You know, navigating an unpredictable world is an interesting concept to me: Before the pandemic we believed that our world was predictable, but I don’t think it really was. We just let ourselves think that. And related to that, I think we often underestimate the power of self-awareness—how it’s a key part of our being able to navigate hard circumstances, and how crucial it is to the foundation of successful communication.
When I think about how that relates to L&D at OpenSesame, it tells me I need to look for opportunities that help my colleagues pause and think about themselves differently. The better they understand themselves, the better they will be able to show up for whatever problem we are trying to solve, no matter the complexity level.
This is a pretty essential part of our strategy, regardless of the economic outlook—it’s an effective message for getting leadership buy-in. But, today, self-reflection skills are more critical than ever. Across the company, we’re prioritizing skills that relate to building self-awareness and career advancement (think cross-skilling and reskilling). And we remain focused on the foundational courses that influence organizational culture, since our staff will lean on this culture to support them as things get more turbulent outside of the workplace. Our philosophy of care, communication, and collaboration needs to be really strongly felt right now.
Whew, that seems like a tall order. How do you know where to start?
TJ: Great question. It starts with listening: When deciding what to prioritize and where the most impact can be made, I listen to those who will be affected at all levels of the organization, including managers, leadership and individual contributors. I ask managers what their teams need, I ask leadership what our organization needs to be successful in the future, and I ask everyone what they think would make them perform better in their roles.
Now, listening is more than just having a conversation. To listen means to follow through and provide learners with the content that’s important to them. And to always be asking for feedback. The hardest part about my role is removing my own ego and bias on what I think is most important right now, and instead focusing on what I’m hearing is important to my colleagues. I rely on candid conversations and feedback to empower me to deliver material learners actually want to engage in. Because when the material matters to learners, that’s when you’ll see consistent engagement, even in uncertain economic times.
Since you mentioned managers specifically, let’s dig in there a little. What tools are you providing managers and leaders to help them set their teams up for success during these times?
TJ: Oh, so we actually have a few different programs that help team leads develop the skills needed to be successful (even before taking on a management role).
First, we have an Emerging Leaders Program designed to help those interested in leadership and management explore what those roles really mean. It’s also an opportunity to do some self-discovery—remember, I said that was important!—to ensure that the role is the right fit for them. And if it’s not, that’s ok! Management isn’t the right alignment of skills and interests for everyone; I think it’s so important for folks to be able to explore the technical and emotional requirements of leadership before a team is depending on them to do the work.
Ok, so after completing the Emerging Leaders Program, the next opportunity is our Leadership Skills Development Program. This is the next step for those who decide they do want to lead a team, so it focuses on building skills related to managing people and applying those skills in practical situations.
And, something I’m really excited about, our People Team is starting new, ongoing manager training, too. So, on a regular basis, we’re providing targeted training on the issues we hear our managers are facing right now. Again, this is where the listening piece comes in: Right now I need to be really, really listening to ensure managers feel equipped to help their teams navigate change.
The last thing I want to mention is our Career Ladders project, which aims to help managers develop their teams. We’ve broken down each role in each department and mapped out the trajectories to get there. Each individual team member’s career ladder goes over the key competencies for success in the role, as well as a transparent way those skills are measured and scored.
Most importantly, though, the career ladder framework shows individuals future roles they can grow into, and the skills they’ll need to get there. This helps learners see potential areas where their skills would be transferable—so if they find themselves growing and loving a different area of their role than what they’re currently responsible for, career ladders can give them ideas of how to effectively transfer those skills to another department and succeed in a different role.
This gives managers a clearer picture of the roles within their department and what their team members need to be successful. It also helps them work more effectively with individual team members on their long-term vision for their professional development. All of these things are tremendously important for employee engagement and retention, and we all know how crucial retaining your top talent is when times are tough.
Wow, we keep you pretty busy don’t we?
TJ: There’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure!
Any tips for those wondering how you get it all done?
TJ: Well, as OpenSesame’s L&D Manager, I have the luxury of using our own product for employee development, and I’ve found we have a number of features and resources available that help me to get the most of our elearning catalog. One example is the Smart Lists feature, it saves me tons of time by narrowing down the content related to the learning objectives I’m trying to achieve. Then there are the pre-curated lists made by our Curation team, which they can turn around at incredible speed. Just like any OpenSesame customer, I can reach out to them directly when I need additional guidance or ideas on what content is the best fit for my learners, and their expertise is so helpful.
These two things save me so much time. So rather than spending hours looking for quality content, I can focus on more specialized and strategic L&D work while having peace of mind that the foundational training we need across the organization is being delivered in an effective, timely way. Especially in these “do more with less” days, reclaiming your time like this is key.
Ok, so back to the big picture—what effects do you see these efforts having on the OpenSesame team?
TJ: The most important question of all, right?
For me, it’s been encouraging to see how our investment in the longer-term picture is helping employees. As we give managers more clarity on the skills and expectations associated with each role, they’re better able to communicate those expectations to their teams. And their team members not only get to feel more secure in their current role, but can better envision what their future at OpenSesame looks like.
Retention is such a critical part of organizational success, and we know managers have a huge impact on retention. That’s where I see us having one of our biggest impacts, especially as economic recession looms: We’re using L&D opportunities to help our staff not just feel supported here right now, but for the long haul. That ultimately helps us keep recruiting, hiring, and onboarding costs down. And it makes it a lot more enjoyable to come to work, too.
Hey, who doesn’t want work to be more enjoyable, right?
TJ: Exactly! Especially when the world can be stressful enough on its own. Helping people navigate those stressors here and see a bright future ahead—that’s really what Learning and Development is all about.
So, is your L&D department ready for the economic uncertainty of today? We put together this free workbook to help you prepare, whether that’s making the case for preserving your budget, finding areas where you could save money without compromising quality, or prioritizing the activities that will make the biggest difference for your learners.