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Jumping aboard for the long-awaited digital shift

Whilst 2020 had a profound impact on the timescales involved, shifting to digital was not a new idea. Nikki Davies, Learning & Development Manager at Allianz Partners UK examines the ongoing digital transformation and how businesses and their employees can benefit.

Many companies across all industries have been planning and implementing digitalisation strategies for years. Working cultures have been changing, as have processes and procedures – many businesses had to shift away from their usual recruitment methods to take advantage of so-called ‘gig workers’, for example.

To transform a business from the inside in this way, you must start at the top. Leaders need to be fully onboard with the vision, or old processes will inevitably creep back in and stall progress. Leaders need to have the right mindset and the right skillset to manage the transformation and help their team and the business flourish during the digitalisation process as well as after the initial shift is complete. Of course, digitalisation is never entirely ‘complete’, it is instead an ongoing process, but that first stage of moving existing ways of working and serving customers over to digital solutions demands adaptable leaders who can develop and cultivate new, digitally integrated skills for themselves and their teams.

At Allianz Partners UK, like so many other businesses, COVID-19 presented a new set of challenges and a new urgency for digitalisation. We had to quickly adapt how we were going to deliver our existing leadership programme, introducing webinars to replace the face-to-face elements that support the programme with existing digital content. As many others will have found, webinars take less time and fewer resources, but deliver more flexibility and are more accessible. We were now able to enhance our leadership programme by adding supporting workshops, new content and valuable toolkits to support our leaders as they and their teams faced the most significant transformation of their careers.

When a crisis hits, whether it is an internal issue or something affecting every person in every nation on Earth, it is an opportunity to step back, take stock, review what has been done before, and decide whether those are still the right processes or if it is time for an update. Questioning ‘normal’ is vital for business success yet is often neglected as other priorities take over. It seems that COVID -19 has caused many businesses, individuals and governments to take stock in a new way, review how they run their organisations and their lives, and to reprioritise.

Businesses that step away from rigid rules and open themselves up to digital solutions find they have a wider talent pool – when you can work from anywhere, you can recruit from anywhere, you can pitch for clients anywhere and you can take your business anywhere. Transformation is continuous. Our leaders of the future will want flexibility and will have the ability to be agile in their work, using all the benefits that collaboration and communication platforms provide, using analytics to build and grow both the business and themselves. Digitalisation is a win-win.

Post-COVID business coaching – digital or in person?

After a year of enforced working from home, many roles are being re-evaluated and are moving towards either full time remote working or a hybrid of remote and office-based working. Learning and development is no different and is an element of work that has become even more important in the past year. The new shape of roles means businesses need to review the skills now required and opportunities must be provided for employees to succeed in the new normal.

Of course, the majority of employees value solving problems within a team environment and networking amongst peers, but employees need to have the opportunity to learn whenever and wherever they can and want to. Businesses need to be committed to providing a learning and coaching culture that supports employees to develop skills for current and future roles, and it is key that there is a hybrid of in-person and digital learning to ensure flexibility and accessibility. 

One strategy to support employees is through digitalisation. Today a multitude of platforms such as LinkedIn Learning or Degreed offer access to thousands of online courses, in multiple languages, to help employees develop the skills they require to meet the ever-changing needs of the business.

COVID-19 has created an immediate need to focus on skill training, especially for those in leadership roles. With stress and anxiety running high, department and team leaders need to be aware of their own mental health, boundaries and expectations and also have empathy and emotional intelligence required to properly support and effectively communicate with their teams. In the Allianz Partners UK Leadership programme (#LEAD) we support our leaders around such topics using gaming, online modules and reading through Degreed, as well as utilising webinars so that experiences and best practice can be shared, while connections and networking can take place globally.

Lasting legacy or passing phase?

I believe we should take this opportunity to think differently about professional development and how programmes can provide the necessary credentials employees need moving forward. We know that more learning will take place online or in a blended approach rather than purely attending in person conferences and events. As we witness a shift in the skills required for certain roles and the need to upskill and master new skills there will be a demand for a quick solution. In a fast changing and evolving workplace, employees and businesses will expect learning opportunities to be available.

By providing employees with access to online learning platforms, businesses are able to better respond to the changing needs of their employees in all areas of the company. Proactive HR teams can quickly and easily share content with individuals or groups of employees, to help them find relevant and valuable magazine articles, workshops, webinars, online courses, certificate programmes, and other content that will help them grow in their roles.

It’s important that businesses recognise and demonstrate that digital learning and development is not just about the younger generation or the new recruits. Different life stages bring different challenges and demands. By understanding how we can support all our employees, and making learning accessible to everyone, we hope to provide opportunities for all generations to learn new skills, refine existing skills or retrain for a completely different role if that is what they want to do.

Businesses that care for their employees, help them develop their skills and encourage them to be and do more, will see a happier, more fulfilled, more efficient workforce. Making learning accessible to everyone breaks down barriers and allows all employees to have access to the training and support they need to achieve their career goals and benefit the business at the same time.