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Shift To Skills-Based: Lori Niles-Hofmann

Faced with growing skill gaps, businesses are rethinking how their work is organized. The shift to skills-based organizations is gaining traction. But what does this mean for L&D? Lori Niles-Hofmann, Senior Learning EdTech Transformation Strategist at NilesNolen, sees it as your time to shine. Find out why she recommends not reaching for the latest piece of tech, and instead focusing on what L&D do best. Explore Lori’s advice on staying in your lane and focusing on producing holistic learning experiences.

Supporting the shift to becoming a skills-based organization

Top tips to support the shift to a skills-based organization

Don’t have time to listen now? Here are some top tips from Lori:

  1. Avoid panic mode; focus on skilling: New tech isn’t always the answer. Focus on what L&D does best – helping employees develop the skills they need.
  2. Stay in your lane: The shift to becoming a skills-based organization requires a gear change across your business. Don’t try to lead. Collaborate and support.
  3. Marie Kondo your content: Take another look at your learning content. Does it spark joy? Reimagine your curriculum for your new skills landscape.
  4. Capture experience to create context: Capture your organization’s tacit knowledge, experience and stories. Provide the context new hires need.

1. Avoid panic mode, focus on skilling

As economic pressures increase, the spotlight is on spend. When every penny counts, businesses look to do more with less. This often leads to panic, but it also drives innovation. In 2001, we saw the introduction of the Learning Management System (LMS). In 2008-9, it was the move from classroom to elearning. Now we’re seeing the shift to skills-based organizations

When faced with this disruption, don’t default to panic mode. Now is not the time for L&D to look to new technology for the answer. Instead, Lori suggests focusing on the big picture. This shift is all about looking at your workforce through the lens of skills. L&D needs to do what it does best: help employees develop the skills required.

“Now we’re seeing ChatGPT. ‘We don’t need L&D people anymore.’ ‘We can just use AI to generate content.’ And do I really think that’s going to happen at scale? There will be people who take advantage of that, of course. But what I’m saying is that there’s going to be this disruption, this change that needs to happen. L&D has to be very reflective. Rather than chasing the shiny thing, do what we’ve always done best.”

2. Stay in your lane

Of course, L&D can’t be solely responsible for developing the skill sets needed for success. The shift to becoming a skills-based organization requires a gear change across the business. This needs to be set by leadership and flow through every department. From skills-based hiring and job descriptions to talent pooling and skills assessments, the new approach needs to be embedded in all your systems and processes.

Lori is clear that L&D have a very specific role to play. This isn’t a change that they should be leading, but one they should be supporting.

“Swim in your own lane. I know that frustrates people, but this is one time where L&D needs to take a backseat. What I see is L&D leaders rushing off to buy skills taxonomy and apply it. But that’s not you. You need to be in lockstep with HR, Talent, IT – with everybody. This is not your decision to do to the organization…So this is a time for L&D to focus on what they’re supposed to be doing and what they’re good at, which is upskilling. They should be part of the strategic conversations as and when and they need to know what’s going on. But I don’t think it’s necessarily their time to lead.”

3. Marie Kondo your content

As businesses develop their new future-focused skills-based approach, L&D needs to rethink what ‘business as usual’ looks like for them. This means re-evaluating everything they do – from content to tech.

Lori highlights that a lot of digital learning was produced during the pandemic. Now is a good time to look at this content again. Explore whether it has been effective. Assess the place it has in the new skills landscape. Reimagine what your new skills-based curriculum of learning experiences should look like.

“Now is a really good time to Marie Kondo your content. Pick out each piece of learning that does not spark joy. We built a lot of stuff during the pandemic. It’s time to go through it and to say, what’s working? What doesn’t work? What needs to be distilled?…Then you need to be looking at your digital learning from a skills lens. You probably were organizing against roles and that needs to be broken down. That’s more than just how you tag it. It’s really how it aligns with a skills taxonomy?”

4. Capture experience, create context

During periods of economic pressure and fast-paced change, critical business knowledge can be lost overnight. Effective learning experiences will help you avoid corporate amnesia and the skill gaps it can cause. 

Context is key and this is what new hires won’t have. Lori suggests identifying what knowledge is unique to your company. Your learning content needs to reflect the real-life complex situations that employees experience.

We need to filter our content down and be really specific about what is nascent to the organization. What is bespoke to the company is going to become quite critical because that’s the information that newcomers are not going to have. You need to be able to capture that in a lot of ways…That’s for people to really understand and embrace and internalize and contextualize why maybe things are a certain way within a company. Think of things like health and safety. ‘Why do we have this stupid rule?’ Well, we have this stupid rule, see Bob who’s missing a pinky. It’s the storytelling around it.”

A quick recap

In the wake of new economic pressure, organizations are future-proofing by shifting to a skills-based model. Lori has four L&D strategies for ensuring this change is effective:

  • Avoid overwhelm by focusing on what you do best – supporting skills development. 
  • Collaborate to support the change, rather than trying to lead it.
  • Review your content to understand whether it has a place in the new skills landscape. 
  • Provide context by capturing your organization’s tacit knowledge, experience and stories.

Want to find out more about supporting this shift to a skills-based organization? Check out the full podcast. 

About Lori

With over 25 years’ experience across various industries, Lori is an EdTech Strategist extraordinaire. As half of NilesNolen, she acts as a trusted adviser supporting edtech and skill transformations at enterprise companies around the world. 

You can find out more and get connected with Lori on LinkedIn.

On Lori’s reading lists

Find out who is inspiring Lori’s thinking on learning and development.

Gina Jeneroux

Chief Learning Officer at Bank of Montreal (BMO), Gina has her finger on the pulse of the latest learning developments. 

Josh Novelle

As Senior Director of People Experience and Insights at Warner Music Group, Josh is looking at learning through the lens of the whole employee experience.

Looking for more people, podcasts and reading recommendations? Check out our book blog.

Learn more from like-minded learning experts

Interested to hear more from Lori as well as other learning experts and your L&D peers? The State of Digital Learning Report is the place where you can tap into the minds of your L&D peers and learning experts, compare approaches, and get prepared for the year ahead.

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