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Why organizational learning and competitive advantage are two sides of the same coin

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The ability to develop and enhance employee knowledge using L&D programs benefits organizations in two key areas:

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1. It helps them stay ahead of the curve: 

As organizations focus on developing their "brand" and creating a good impression, L&D takes center stage. As per data by the Universum and the DHI Group, 68% of the world's most attractive employers already have an employer branding strategy in place and believe that their employer value proposition is clearly linked to their HR/talent development strategy. Needless to say, brands that demonstrate their L&D offerings across the board will emerge as the front-runners in the potential hire's eyes.

To better understand how a robust L&D program can serve as a firm's competitive advantage, let's look at a real-life case study.

Problems faced:

 Pepper UK is a part of the Pepper Group, a diversified global consumer finance business. The firm is regulated by Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and is required to be in compliance at all times. When the pandemic hit in 2020, this became a herculean task. Other challenges that the firm faced included:

  • Transitioning employees to a remote style of working in a compliant way that met the requirements of the regulators.
  • Getting colleagues up-to-speed quickly with new mortgage payment holiday requirements and delivering a robust process to support vulnerable customers simultaneously.
  • Managing the exponential increase in customer calls and inquiries following the announcement of the payment holiday initiative.
  • Helping employees who were moving from support functions into operations to support the volume of work.
  • Ensuring that the employees felt connected.
  • Tackling issues relating to IT logistics.
  • Ensuring employee well-being at all times.

Considering that the group had a well-established L&D team, system, and processes in place, it benefited in the following areas:

  • It had an intensive induction program already in place to help experienced, high-caliber individuals with the skillset essential for operating within the Pepper enterprise.
  • It had a customized apprenticeship program for employees who joined the brand with high potential but low experience.
  • It routinely rolled out annual training plans for all employees and highlighted benefits such as certification and accreditation.
  • It had a robust system called the "Pepper Success Learning Management System," established in 2018 to support ongoing self-development.
  • It periodically engaged subject-matter experts who helped deliver "on the floor" training for new recruits and employees with capability gaps.

With such a robust system in place, Pepper took its L&D program to the next level by focusing on employee well-being when its competitors were struggling with everyday operational issues. It launched a new employee well-being program called the "PES People Matter program," which was conceived, designed, tested, and launched in just three weeks to support employees in Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Spain, and the UK. The program also won an award for innovation at the Association for Business Psychology's Workforce Experience Awards 2020. The program was clearly aligned to three key themes - well-being, connections, and leadership. It comprised of these key features:

  • People Matter Wellbeing Hub, which acted as a one-stop shop for news and information relating to an employee's physical and mental well-being.
  • Weekly Pulse Survey, which gave employees a voice and provided insights to help managers make improvements.
  • Weekly mental health online check-ins, which assessed employees' mental well-being and provided them with targeted support in real-time.

The key learnings learned from this initiative include:

  • Communication is key: Driving communication between the business and HR teams turned out to be a game-changer as it increased employee engagement and impact.
  • Trust, transparency, and openness: Through its L&D well-being program, the brand was able to foster an environment of trust and transparency. Employees felt appreciated by the brand, and employees responded by demonstrating greater loyalty.

The results?

The brand claims, "In terms of outcomes, our employee engagement (Office Vibe) score has steadily increased, as has our Glassdoor score." Naturally, this initiative doubles as a competitive edge for the company in today's cut-throat business landscape.

2. It helps attract better talent: 

For high-performing companies, the word employee has become synonymous with talent, and rightly so. However, in order to recruit talented employees, organizations must have a systematic and employee-centric L&D program in place. Organizations that commit to their employee's personal and professional development can benefit in numerous areas, such as:

  • Access to a highly-engaged and motivated millennial workforce: Research claims that 59% of millennials want opportunities to learn and grow when applying for a job.

  • The ability to portray the organization as "forward-thinking": By prioritizing L&D efforts, organizations can successfully demonstrate to candidates that they believe in investing in the "future." This means that the employees will have greater chances to climb the career ladder and learn handy, in-demand skills - an advantage that can help retain the millennial base. Millennials embrace a growth mindset today and appreciate organizations that value learning above all else.