Learning can be the connective threadof the employee experience: Progressive organizations are already reimagining the employee experience. A 2022 Gartner survey found that 58% of organizations that employ frontline workers invested in improving their employee experience in the prior 12 months. Learning interactions connect individuals with their team and broader work community and make their work experience more valuable, more stimulating, and more human.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Todd Moran, NovoEd Chief Strategy Officer.

Todd Moran a learning strategist, business transformation evangelist, and digital workplace expert with more than 20 years of industry experience having held executive positions in strategy and solutions at Schneider Electric, Jive Software, and EdCast (now Cornerstone). His passion and expertise lie in educational technology, digital customer experience, organizational change management, and employee engagement. From the megatrends in learning and enterprise collaboration to technology evaluation and implementation, to the “people” side of organizational change and talent development, Todd covers the gamut of understanding what it takes to enable a successful digital workplace and deep employee engagement.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.​​

One of the more formative and impactful experiences I can share anchors around my early career pursuits helping to form a new, workforce-oriented arm of Outward Bound, OBP (Outward Bound Professional) in the late 90s. It was a master class in the criticality of creating high performance teams against the backdrop of experiential learning. Crafting and delivering this new OBP practice (still running strong today!), created a razor-sharp focus for me on how emphasizing relationship-building, effective communication, and faster problem solving create the foundations of highly successful organizations and truly performant workplaces.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

Obviously, it’s impossible to talk about today’s workforce and the modern workplace without addressing the rapid ascendance of automation and artificial intelligence. We have found in our research that the vast majority of corporate learning organizations (89%) are already using generative AI, but most individuals remain apprehensive about the technology’s impact on their professional and personal lives. How do we bridge that gap between implementation and adoption and do so in ways that benefits both employers and employees?

In the best sense, generative AI is expected to both reduce repetitive tasks, freeing up professionals’ time, energy, and focus to concentrate on intentional work and driving innovation. However, this movement also accelerates and exacerbates the existing trend towards socially isolated professional environments.

In our work, we recognize the escalating demand for learning experiences that center on human interaction and are built to create organizational alignment. To demonstrate, 52% of employees believe onboarding should either be at least one year or continuous, and 35% of employees say online, cohort-based learning is the best modality for onboarding, more than one-on-one virtual meetings (27%), mobile learning applications (22%), or virtual reality orientation (12%).

What will always remain constant is our innate human desire to connect in meaningful ways and collaborate together to create amazing products and services that drive society forward. What will evolve is how we facilitate those opportunities to connect, collaborate, and create — finding ways to foster interaction and intention from anywhere.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

Learning leaders are confronting a world upended by relentless disruption. It’s no wonder that the response has been what can only be called a radical transformation of the learning function — a rethinking of what is delivered, where it’s delivered and to whom, who drives the capability, and how results are reported.

The future of corporate learning needs to be centered on capability building. Capabilities are essential in today’s workplace because of socioeconomic trends in addition to the rise of remote/hybrid work, the increasing decentralization of today’s workplaces, and the prevalence of automation and AI:

  • Changing demographics: North America is becoming more and more
    diverse, bringing about the need for new kinds of conversations and social capabilities.
  • Intergenerational workforce: It is the first time five generations are
    working together.
  • Automation and AI: These rapid changes and the ensuing anxiety they
    bring forth in workers create an opportunity for new capability building.
  • Convergence of industries: Industry 4.0 means new sets of capabilities
    are continually needed for professional growth.
  • Agglomeration of domains: Skills and functions are now clustered
    together differently. How can a professional be prepared with transferable skills?
  • Emergence of new forms of work: Disruptors such as the gig economy,
    hybrid work, and platform work have changed what capabilities we need to perform.
  • Polarization in society: The re-emergence of culture wars and political fragmentation has permeated our workplaces.

Hence the need for a new kind of skill and competency, a “capability,” an ability that is unique to an organization and that combines cognitive and empathic skill with contextualized knowledge and practical wisdom. Distinguished from mere “skills,” “capabilities” reflect true readiness-to-perform.

Capabilities are future-oriented abilities (such as inclusive leadership, design thinking, and entrepreneurial mindset) that make individuals, teams, and whole organizations robust and resilient. They are acquired through deep capability building or intensive learning that goes beyond knowledge acquisition, practice, and application, to include awareness, social context, and courageous action. Above all, these capabilities prepare learners to confront a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world with confidence and purpose. And with more prepared, adaptable, and resilient workers, organizations are better positioned to face the future, however uncertain it may be, with confidence and clarity.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

Today’s workplaces are transforming right before our eyes: The half-life of skills is two to three years, employees are demanding to work remotely, and technological advancements are evolving at an unprecedented rate — and many professionals feel like they can’t keep up.

In the midst of such a volatile environment, organizations are discovering that cohort or group-based learning is a powerful way to impart deep capabilities in leadership, salesmanship, and digital transformation — and that cohort learning can create experiences of scale and intimacy for learners, driving performance readiness.

In today’s rapidly transforming economy, organizations are challenged to develop, upskill and reskill their employees to not only keep up but, ideally, to surge ahead. This is a strategic imperative that involves understanding where employees are skill-wise, recognizing where they need to be to thrive and bridging that gap with strategic learning initiatives.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

After more than three years since the global pandemic caused nationwide lockdowns that shifted our time away from the office and onto our screens, business leaders and their teams are left to navigate what’s being called the “next normal” in the workplace.

The world of work has changed dramatically in almost every facet. But perhaps the most important shifts have come in the ways in which we connect with our colleagues across, up and down the organization. In an increasingly complex business and economic environment, every workplace needs strong, trusting, respectful and collaborative connections among its people in order to solve complicated challenges, meet new priorities, stay competitive in a crowded marketplace and grow.

All debates aside about the return to the office, there is no denying that the pandemic has ushered in a new era of remote and hybrid work. The American Opportunity Survey by McKinsey & Company revealed that, when given the option, the vast majority of employees across industries and job titles choose to work remotely (87%).

In any organization, leadership’s top priority is to motivate people to move in the same direction toward a shared set of objectives. Today, however, achieving that strategic imperative is more difficult when we’re often not in the same room.

The ever-present ambiguity around workplace culture is still present and amplified by remote work. When is it acceptable to push a deadline or share your honest thoughts? Is facetime required? Is autonomous, quick decision-making valued or methodical consensus-building? What kind of mistakes are tolerable and which are fatal? These are the questions about culture and “workplace rules” that have always perplexed workers and that generally require years of in-person and industry experience to develop an instinct for. It’s not just individual knowledge of and understanding of the unspoken rules that are critical; it’s ways of working together successfully in light of these rules and the ability to co-create and change rules that must be learned. It can take years for a team to develop these instincts — a common language, business shorthand, shared experiences, the ability to read in between the lines, and to communicate nuances and move in lockstep with each other. And it often requires in-person experience. Together. It’s the secret reason why companies are often so intent on bringing people together in-person.

These instincts are especially challenging for new hires to learn. They are simultaneously trying to perform outstanding work, learn new technology and pick up these lived-in team instincts while the ground is shifting beneath their feet. Research shows that nearly 90 percent of employees decide whether to stay or leave within the first six months of starting a job — making a comprehensive onboarding process, in which a new hire feels valued and in alignment with their new team and new company, more than merely important. Engaging an employee from the outset is absolutely vital to the ongoing health and success of an organization.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

Whether we realize it or not, learning is both social and deeply personal in nature. Strategic capabilities — the ones that truly set an organization apart — must be learned together and acquired through experience. Knowledge shifts perspective, tests long-held beliefs, and inspires growth when debated, reflected upon, and shared.

Developing people is a visionary response to an ambiguous future. Enhancing essential capabilities such as critical thinking, innovative mindsets, and human skills builds a robust and resilient workforce that captures market share, reinforces advantage, and discovers efficiencies.

To unlock this potential, learning must be personal to the learner, specific to their role, and tailored to an organization. When new procedures are created or people are moved into new roles, training needs to offer real-world opportunities for learning that can be practiced in safe settings.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

In short, it’s an unwavering belief in the adaptability and creativity of humans. Looking back across the landscape of the last 3+ years where, born of the pandemic, the entirety of the workplace was foundationally upended across every vertical in every part of the world, we managed to figure things out, and do so in fairly short order. Plus, for the first time in the history of our existence we have 5 generations actively operating in the workplace. This translates into a massively diverse set of perspectives and mindsets with which to approach the future of work across the globe.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

I’m not certain I’d go so far as to cast them as “collateral”. However, we do see organizations putting a far more heightened degree of focus on these areas for all their employees. A notable resurgence of ERGs (employee resource groups), democratized leadership development initiatives to reach broad levels across an organization with a hyper focus on assessing and fostering employee well-being, and inclusion of wellness apps and services (e.g. Headspace, BetterHelp, Calm) as standard inclusions to employee benefit packages are just a few of innovative strategies we’re seeing being deployed across enterprises today.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

Organizations are entering the Great Convergence, where the industrial world is becoming fused with the digital world. The Great Convergence refers to a new age of globalization driven by fast-paced technological change that has drastically reduced the cost and the complications of exchanging ideas across borders. The impact of information technology has resulted in a global marketplace that is more unpredictable and uncontrollable as organizations grapple with unprecedented policy fluctuations to remain innovative and competitive in a rapidly evolving landscape.

Within our workplaces, professionals are experiencing the Great Disconnect, in which enhanced connection, collaboration and alignment may seem out of reach in today’s remote and hybrid workplace.

“Alignment” — always a corporate buzzword — is more critical than ever before

True alignment results from a collective confidence that business strategies are actually effective. This means all stakeholders feel connected to their roles and tasks and understand how the parts fit into the whole. Alignment is related to “accountability” — talent meaning and doing what they say.

Ron Carucci, leadership consultant and bestselling author of To Be Honest and Rising to Power, put it succinctly in Harvard Business Review: “When it comes to executing strategy, alignment means configuring all of the organization’s assets in the service of your stated strategy and making sure there is no confusion about what each part of the organization does to bring it to life.” This clarity and precision is challenging for a team, let alone a division or a whole enterprise to attain, in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous business environment.

Alignment is the baseline but not enough in itself. Due to the forces we discussed earlier, the context and the nature of work keep changing (different people, industries, functions, places of work), so it’s not enough to just be aligned once; it’s not “one-and-done.” Something much more deep-rooted and lasting is required. Here’s where capabilities come into play.

Capabilities are professionally bundled skill-sets (such as “inclusive leadership,” “design thinking” and “entrepreneurial mindset”) that make individuals, teams and whole organizations robust and resilient. They are acquired through intensive learning that goes beyond knowledge acquisition, practice and application, to include awareness, social context and courageous action.

Think of winning sports teams — the coaches and players seem to possess a preternatural way of communicating and connecting, with infinitesimal precision, that comes from sharing a common mission and muscle memory of different playbooks. Only when everyone is aligned quickly and ready to make the thousands of small adjustments and calibrations required to really work together will teams be able to compete at the highest level. Good intentions and strong character are not enough. Workers are often required to learn new skills and learn new ways of working together continually. This may be the underlying reason why some leaders are so adamant about the return to the office: For years it has been the only way to accomplish this process and ensure that learning and working are occurring at once. (At its most basic level, working from the same place means you can observe others in the office to pick up necessary cues.)

Fortunately, technology can be a solution. The right technology — beyond cobbled-together Zoom, Teams and Slack — can guide workforces to build team instincts and deep capabilities.

While the Great Disconnect poses an unprecedented challenge for employers and employees alike, with the paradox of organizations needing more alignment to accomplish their goals and individuals finding the connection and collaboration they require harder to achieve, it’s also an opportunity. Companies that invest in strategies and tools that offer to middle managers and individual contributors the type of learning traditionally reserved only for senior managers will have the competitive edge over businesses that remain stagnant. This organizational pedagogy transforms the type of small-group, peer-based learning senior leaders receive — and broadens and deepens it for those at lower levels. The focus is on nuanced, context-driven L&D to empower these people to be able to make sound judgments and operate with more conviction in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

1 . Business leaders becoming more involved in L&D: Our recent research reveals that eight out of ten learning & development professionals (82%) report that business leaders will become more involved in corporate learning & development initiatives over the next three years. This data reflects the need for organizations to equip their workforce with new capabilities to meet rapidly changing business priorities and the emergence of remote and hybrid work.

2 . New audiences for learning come to the forefront: In the same study we conducted, we found that, in addition to a greater emphasis on blended learning experiences, respondents also identified new audiences for learning. Currently, nine in ten organizations (89%) are targeting learning to full-time internal employees. Yet just six in ten (62%) will focus learning opportunities on full-timers in 2025. Notably, the learning and development audience will expand beyond full-time employees to include customers, external stakeholders, contractors, gig workers, freelancers and service providers. The biggest jump in training offerings for new audiences will be digital automation workers, which will rise 23% in 2023.

3 . Remote work in itself is not the problem — and presents an opportunity to be a great equalizer: Across the business landscape, the debate over remote work versus in-office work continues. To shed light on this divisive issue, we asked remote workers if they feel more or less connected to their co-workers since the pandemic began in regard to being productive and producing good work. Only 27% say they feel less connected. This indicates that the majority of remote workers are deliberate and intentional about their performance. Those who are successful at remote work tend to be highly self-aware and value the sense of autonomy and control remote work provides. In fact, according to a 2017 two-year study by Stanford University, remote workers are, on average:

  • 13.5% more productive than their office-based counterparts
  • 9% more engaged in their jobs
  • 50% less likely to quit

4. The workforce needs a reboot on learning and development — a focus on deep capabilities: Technology can solve some of the challenges presented in today’s workplaces by providing greater clarity and curated consumption of information in the right context at the right time. By using tech to provide middle managers and individual contributors with context-driven learning that can immediately be applied on the job, they can develop the situational awareness and deep capabilities they need to perform the work that aligns with the company’s goals. Situational awareness enables talent to successfully navigate working both collaboratively (within their business function to obtain diverse perspectives and buy-in) and cross-functionally. An example might be a cloud-software salesperson learning to work with marketing, legal, IT and their revenue leader to sell a complex solution to a prospect. This is the type of training executives receive to be able to “sell” the corporate strategy to all different types of audiences — staff, investors, the board of directors, etc. But too often, individual contributors and middle managers never receive this kind of premium, context-driven and scenario-based education.

5. Learning can be the connective thread of the employee experience: Progressive organizations are already reimagining the employee experience. A 2022 Gartner survey found that 58% of organizations that employ frontline workers invested in improving their employee experience in the prior 12 months. Learning interactions connect individuals with their team and broader work community and make their work experience more valuable, more stimulating, and more human.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

I am a huge fan of the American scientist and writer, Peter Senge, and rather partial to a quote from his seminal book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, that reads, “vision without systems thinking ends up painting lovely pictures of the future with no deep understanding of the forces that must be mastered to move from here to there.” Just so much realism and practicality to this statement. It’s one I return to often as inspiration and guiding principle in both my professional and personal pursuits.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

Well, that being the case, let me put Yvon Chouinard, the legendary climber, businessman, environmentalist, and founder of Patagonia top of my list then. Rather remarkable to chart his life trajectory, extraordinary accomplishments, and the unbelievably bold decisions he’s made over the last 50 years as an exemplar for workplaces, corporations, stewardship of the environment, and treatment of our planet as a whole. I’d gladly welcome the chance to have breakfast with Yvon.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

Please connect with me on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/toddhmoran/) and follow NovoEd news and developments at https://novoed.com/.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.