What COVID-19 can teach us about Digital Transformation: The L&D Perspective


As I type this article from thecomfort (or confines?) of my home, the reality and severity of the coronavirusoutbreak looms large on me. Earlier in the day, my hubby and I secured “ourspots” – converting unused spaces in our living and dining area respectivelyinto our make-shift workspaces. That we could flip open our laptops, connect tothe trusty Wi-Fi to spin its magic and begin our “work” day – just like that - validated the positiveimpact of technology on our lives.

This is not to deviate from thecrisis at hand. Or worse still to belittle the havoc created single-handedly byCOVID-19, which is not just a human tragedy but is also a grave one that is dentingthe global economy. But what it is bringing out is the humanity in humans, the empathyin businesses, the digital in techand the lessons in life.

Digital Transformation and L&D

Salesforcedefines Digital Transformation (DT) as ‘theprocess of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing —business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing businessand market requirements. This reimagining of business in the digital age isdigital transformation.’ Wikipediaconcises it to ‘the use of new, fast andfrequently changing digital technology to solve problems.’

Whichever definition flies withyou, the essence remains the same. DT is inevitable for organizations intoday’s digital era. This implies the need to equip employees with the toolsand mindset to perform, and hence be skilled, in a digital environment.

And this may perhaps be thestarting point of intersection between L&D and digital transformation. Here’showTech-Enabled Learning is Changing HR’s Role. But what’s this got to do withthe Corona mayhem, you may wonder. Allow me.

Below are some things our L&Dfriends can learn from the current pandemic situation:

  • L&Dfirst, DT later

Since there is currently no vaccine for coronavirus disease 2019, the best way to protect yourself is exercising adequate prevention mechanisms rather than overthinking the medical prognosis and protocols to be followed on infection. It’s about keeping your eyes on the prize, in this case, prevention over cure.


Source:Gurnick Academy

Along the same lines, L&Dinitiatives and programs should be designed to promote the digitaltransformation of your entire organization, not the other way around. Why?Because with newer tools, technologies and processes comes the need to unlearn,learn and relearn, which can be best addressed by training interventions that focuson the key “digital skills” that your employees will need to remain competitiveand productive. The lack of adequate learning resources and training programs withregard to digital transformation can adversely affect its adoption and successfor the business.

An important point to keep in mindis, adopting a LearningManagement System (LMS) with onlinelearning content as a part of the DT journey is only the beginning. Thereis a need for a culture shift to happen for digital L&D programs to achievetheir full potential. Here’s how you can rethinkthe LMS from a digital transformation POV.

  • Focus onPerformance, not Training

God forbid, if you test positivefor COVID-19, the line of treatment that your medical practitioner decides foryou distils down to ‘your wellbeing’ and ‘restoration of health’. Theadministration of medicines to reduce fever, fluids to reduce the risk of dehydration,and supplemental oxygen (in more severe cases) are merely the steps to reachthe destination.


Source: Gurnick Academy

In a similar vein, focusing ontraining outcomes alone without their alignment to the bigger picture leads toa myopic view to employee L&D. The focus needs to be shifted to the endoutcomes, read performance.

In his 2018 article, TheDigital Transformation Of Learning And Development: Part 1, David Jamessays, “By looking past ‘learning’,refocusing on ‘performance’, and throwing off the shackles of the ‘coursemindset’, L&D can focus on activities and outcomes that impact the workitself, embed learning in the workflow and help employees grow in line with theorganization’s strategic goals.”

At the same time, it’s equallyimportant to take routines, behaviors and procedures (includes learning pieces)into consideration as the route to a desired outcome are critical to thesuccess of the performance achievement.

  • Data is King

If you were to believe every piece of information on coronavirus shared by your neighbor, which was shared by his friend, which the friend had read on her WhatsApp forward, which was…to cut the long story short, an inaccurate representation of data and facts. These rumors don’t just paint a false picture of the reality and create panic, for authorities (health workers, medical practitioners etc.) they fail to connect the dots and prescribing a roadmap to avoidance/ recovery.

Image:Dashboard showing India’s COVID status by Kiprosh

In L&D context, operatingwithout a foundation of data and business intelligence is akin to shooting inthe dark. If the impact/ end result of a training intervention cannot bemeasured or if measured is not accounted for, true personalization andrelevancy of employee L&D cannot be attained. On the other hand, makingdecisions with data helps L&D to weed out low performing programs andinvest in high-performing, high-adoption interventions that not just deliver onoutcomes but give high ROI too.

According to a research, 70% oforganizations claim they lack the necessary “digital skills” to remaincompetitive, and nearly 50% of employees claim that they would leave theirorganizations if another offered them more and better digital skillsdevelopment and training opportunities. Theverdict is out.

Speaking of verdict, in an almost prophetic manner, Bill Gates, in his 2015 Ted Talk ‘The next outbreak? We’re not ready’ had predicted that microbes might be the reason for our worry (and doom!). In his words, “If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war”. His talk wasn’t just a fear-instiller, it was a wake-up call infused with learnings, which should have dwelled upon, solutioned and implemented. *sigh*

With a good chunk of my growthstemming out of personal tragedies and challenges, I am an ardent believer inadversities as our best teachers. I am optimistic that together we will beatthis monster and emerge victorious and wiser on the other side. As for myextended HR and Learning and Development fraternity, it’s in our best interest toflip our view to COVID-19 and leverage it to fuel our drive to do better forour people. We owe it to our people.