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Pepperdine | Graziadio Business School

Talent Management During the COVID-19 Crisis—Part 2: Employee Development

Employee on video conference call

During tough economic times, two of the first things that get cut are advertising and learning and development. While I understand the desire to trim spending during tough times, it has never made sense to me that you would cut something that is intended to bring in more customers and another thing that is intended to make your employees more productive. It seems to me you would want to invest more in those items during difficult times (unless of course you don’t really believe you are getting a positive return on investment). I’m no expert on advertising, but I can address the importance in investing in L&D—especially during the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic. 

The Importance of Investing in Employee Development 

Learning and development should not be viewed as a cost—it’s an investment. If done properly, I truly believe that organizations reap a strong positive return on that investment. After all, it is the best way to increase the asset value of your organization’s most valuable asset. If you believe you can get a positive return, there is no reason to stop during the crisis (and if you don’t believe you’re really getting a positive return, you probably shouldn’t be doing L&D during good times).

Fortunately, there are many ways to continue developing your people during the COVID-19 crisis. Just because we can’t send people to classrooms, it doesn’t mean we can’t develop them. And if we remember that the most important concept in executing L&D plans is the 70-20-10 rule, then the current crisis actually offers a lot of opportunities for exemplary developmental experiences.

The 70-20-10 Rule

The 70-20-10 model was first published by Morgan McCall and his colleagues at the Center for Creative Leadership over 30 years ago. After studying successful executives, McCall and his fellow researchers discovered that 70% of what we know and what we know how to do stems from actual on-the-job experience. 20% comes from other people (coaching and mentoring). The remaining 10% comes from classroom learning. So even though we currently can’t send people to (face-to-face) classrooms, 90% of our development should come from other methods anyway. Let’s take a look at what 70-20-10 development can look like during this crisis.

Obviously the most important piece of this trinity is experiential learning. Not only is it still possible, the crisis offers many opportunities to plan for experiences that both add to employees’ learning and optimize work output. So many of us have had the nature of our jobs changed by the necessity of working at home. If you manage people, give some thought to how you might redeploy people in a way that helps get the work done while providing developmental opportunities for people to have new experiences and gain new skills. If you’re an individual contributor, think about what experiences or skills you want to explore—then propose to your manager what you have in mind.

Learning from others is a vital part of everyone’s developmental portfolio. Just because most of us are working from home doesn’t mean we can’t create coaching and mentoring relationships. One note of caution: too many mentoring relationships tend to be informal and frequently have little value over time. As with all aspects of employee development, coaching and mentoring should be conducted with intent and planning. Specific goals and milestones should accompany any coaching or mentoring program.

When most people thinking of learning and development, classroom training comes to mind. Personally, I’m a big fan of classrooms as I’ve spent most of my professional life in them. However, let’s remember that 70-20-10 tells us that classroom learning is just a small (but vital) part of our development portfolio. Fortunately, the virtual world gives us just as many (if not more) opportunities to learn. There is no shortage of online courses available and many educational opportunities that were scheduled for classrooms can be migrated to an online format as quickly as you can say, “Zoom.” This applies to everything from K-12 education to university courses to corporate learning.

Employee development is always important. Not only does it add skills, knowledge, and expertise to our workforce, it drives up engagement and drives down turnover. The coronavirus crisis doesn’t eliminate the need for continual development nor does it necessarily make it more difficult. While execution will require some thought and effort, the recipe for development is pretty simple. Think of what your employees’ developmental goals are, then create a three-dimensional portfolio that includes experiential learning, learning from others, and coursework. Remember, working from home and learning are not mutually exclusive.

Learn More About Talent Management During the COVID-19 Crisis

This article is part of a series on talent management during the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Click a link below to read more: