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The Cost of Choice: Why Personalization is the Key to Winning Learning & Development

Personalizing your employees professional development re-categorizes L&D from a non-strategic cost center to a strategic cost saving function.

David Zelniker
Founder, LOTI
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Jan 16, 2023
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Last updated on Aug 11, 2022

If the last 2.5 years has taught us anything, it is to prepare for everything! 

We went from mass layoffs to hiring sprees, the Great Resignation to inflation-driven hiring freezes. As HR teams try to navigate the ever changing landscape of post pandemic talent management, there is at least one new trend that cannot be ignored: Millennial and Gen Z talent expect their employer to take the lead in driving their professional and career development. 

Talent development has long been a staple of the HR function, but the explicit expectation from talent is what’s changed. Career development has become the number one reason as to why employees quit, eclipsing inadequate total compensation (money), uncaring and uninspiring leader (manager), and lack of workplace flexibility (movement). HR organizations, potentially yours included, are already working on initiatives to address this new expectation but there is just one problem. The existing, and most common, workforce approaches to professional development are failing both organizations and their talent. 

This article unpacks why personalizing your employee’s professional development, and not simply providing access to a large content library or an education allowance, enables HR teams to use professional development to:

  • Attract and retain the best Millenial and Gen Z talent (those generally in the first 10-12 years of their career);
  • Help people managers keep their teams satisfied and engaged; and
  • Have a direct impact on the bottom line.

Let's dive in!

Professional Development: A problem that can’t be ignored.

Having an innovative L&D team and a strong career development program are no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have”

A recent McKinsey study found that the number one reason employees quit their job over the last year was a lack of career development and advancement. Meanwhile technology continues to accelerate faster than the workforce's ability to adapt. Advances in automation, machine learning, robotics, and artificial intelligence, mean that without constant career development, an organization risks rendering a significant portion of their workforce ineffective

  • PWC estimates that by 2030, the talent shortage and skills gap in the U.S. alone is expected to total a  loss of $8.5 trillion
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics shared that 47.8 million workers quit their jobs in 2021, an average of nearly 4 million each month, topping the 2019 average by 26%.
  • The Adecco State of the Economy survey stated that 54% of US executives believe the existing education system doesn’t teach skills needed for today’s workforce. 

The Status Quo

Today’s most common formal approaches to professional development are providing employees (1) access to large async content libraries (2) an education allowance to seek out and buy a course. Although offered with the best of intentions, both of these approaches create more confusion than clarification. They fail to address the true need of the Millenial and Gen Z corporate student:

  • Manager endorsed high quality, relevant, and time flexible courses that are focused on technical skills directly related to the project-at-hand.
  • Curation of specific courses focused on improving human skills—collaboration, critical thinking, persuasion, leadership, etc, within their team.

The Paradox of Choice

The workforce education industry is changing fast. There has never been fewer barriers to entry, and that’s enabling more and more talented creators to develop educational offerings. With this reduction in barriers comes an increase in the number of educators seeking to sell their content—we’re in the midst of an explosion in creativity where new courses are uploaded each day. Although this is a win overall for the corporate L&D space, simply supporting teams and talent by offering them access to all this new content, rather than curating and personalizing that content, is setting up organizational leaders and their teams to fail.  

The Employee Dilemma 

After months of working with Millennial and Gen Z corporate talent, the team at LOTI was able to boil down their decision making process for picking a professional development course to: 

  1. Learning outcomes: What will I be able to do on the completion of the course that I can’t do now? 
  2. Application to my job: How do those outcomes tie back to my jobs to be done?
  3. Manager Influence: Will the investment in this course be recognized by my manager?
  4. Instructor: Who is the teacher and what could I learn from them?
  5. Success: What are the prerequisites—what should I know heading into this course that will enable me to make the most of my time? 

Expecting employees to answer these questions in a thoughtful way, in the course of an already busy week (managing job expectations, personal needs, screen fatigue, etc), is the primary reason why L&D programs often see low adoption. Lists of endless options means that talent doesn’t engage in a meaningful way. Too much choice causes stress and a lack of action. Our research has shown that: 

  • Engagement with course content libraries hover around 5%.
  • Education allowances are only used ~30% of the time. 

*Please reach out if your numbers are significantly different - I would love to learn what you’re doing! 

Millennial and Gen Z talent want to upskill and unlock workplace mobility through education, but when the onus is on them to navigate through the myriad of options, the result is only a handful of employees taking action. Instead of helping, current offerings often turn workforce education into just another thing an employee “needs to do”.

The Manager Dilemma 

Responsibility continues to sit with people managers to curate relevant professional development opportunities for their teams. If lack of career development is the number one reason employees quit, and the third most common reason is an uncaring leader, providing your people leaders with an easy way to be actively involved in their team’s professional development needs to be a top priority. 

As part of our work at LOTI, I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard from people managers that they desperately want to grow the individuals on their team but “with 100 things on my to-do list today, finding a relevant and quality education course to recommend is not a priority”. 

It’s hard enough to find great teachers, a great course, why force this process on a manager? People managers prefer to act more like a coach, helping to guide individual professional development, rather than being burdened with scouring internal platforms or the internet for the best and most relevant options. 

Why Personalization? How Personalization? 

Talent and their managers don't want to be saddled with more choices, they want confidence in the choices presented. Personalization ensures that the courses taken are:

  • Rooted in the knowledge and skills most important to the success of your organization.
  • Meet individual growth opportunities as defined by people managers.
  • Include areas of interest most appealing to talent’s own professional development. 
  • Based around a community that suits talent’s learning goals.

Personalizing course recommendations for each employee means that all these factors are considered. Why is that important? Because when talent sees a direct connection between the outcomes of a course that they’re interested in and organizational growth opportunities, there is an increase in course signups, engagement, and completion. Ultimately personalized recommendations empower talent to drive their own professional development.

Personalization and the Bottom Line.

Personalizing professional development supercharges an organization's efforts to support their employees' upskilling efforts. As choice is a tax on time and attention, supporting your talent with personalized recommendations allows them to focus on what matters most—learning something new. When re-skilling (education) is prioritized by an organization, and supported by managers, employee satisfaction improves, the customer experience improves, and most importantly—you see improvement in bottom line growth (as seen in the graph below). 

The hard reality is that we simply cannot manufacture more people. That’s why it is so important to get career development and advancement right! When done well, whether internally or with the help of a 3rd party, personalized learning recommendations become a natural extension of a successful recruiting, development, advancement, and retention strategy! 

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I leave you with a question—if you had a magic wand, what would your ideal Learning & Development product, service, or program look like? And more importantly, what is stopping you from implementing it today? Please reach out and let me know! 

And if you want to learn more about how LOTI is bringing Netflix style course recommendations to workforce education and professional development, feel free to email me at david@lotiworks.com

TroopHR members also qualify for 3 free personalized course recommendations to be used at will for themselves and anyone in their organization. To take us up this offer, write to me at david@lotiworks.com or book a 15 minute call to demo the tool. 

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