Learning in Diversities




Within the last decade or so, learning has become much more than a side topic within HR circles. In fact, it’s become a primary focus for professionals, especially when it comes to talent acquisition and retention.

And there are lots of challenges that need to be addressed or just add to the overall ability of an organization to educate its workforce. Before you can really start the process, however, you need to know where you are going.

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“I think learning is most effective when you star t with the end in mind; what are you trying to accomplish? I think the learning just layers on top of that,” said Jim Mason. He’s the director of learning solutions for ADT.

The Next Generation

Let’s start with the most obvious challenge/consideration, the generational diversity of the workforce.

Generally speaking, the current workforce is made up of four different generations.

  • Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
  • Generation X (1965-1980)
  • Generation Y [Millennials] (1981 – 1997)
  • Generation Z (1998 – Present)

There are several sets of numbers out there from different organizations on the breakdown of how many workers represent each generation. For the purposes of this discussion, we will accept millennials make up the largest group of workers.

Millennials want to learn. Their tenacity for new information and skills is only matched by the generation that follows them: Generation Z. A recent ManPower Group survey of 19,000 working millennials across 25 countries found 93% see ongoing skills development as important to their future careers. For HR professionals seeking to engage and retain talent and develop future leaders, learning has to become much more than a “perk”. It has to be a true benefit to the employee.

In fact, it could make or break the opportunity for a company to land a high potential employee.

The same ManPower Group study found 80% of millennials say the opportunity to learn new skills is a primary factor in considering a new job. To add to that 93% say they want lifelong learning and would spend their own time and resources on further training.

What does that mean for learning in the War for Talent?

“The basic premise and the way I like to approach learning is, in a corporate environment more than anything, we don’t hire people to know things. We hire people to do things,” Mason said.

The Way to Learn

It’s not enough to consider only the generation of the worker, but also how the worker or workers learn information and skills best. We will refer to this as the cognitive diversity.

According to the Harvard Business Review:

“Cognitive diversity has been defined as differences in perspective or information processing styles. It is not predicted by factors such as gender, ethnicity, or age. Here we are interested in a specific aspect of cognitive diversity: how individuals think about and engage with new, uncertain, and complex situations.”

In plain terms, understanding how employees think and process information is a key to success.

So how do you pair teams based on cognitive diversity?

First you have to understand the cognitive differences between people. In his book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, author Scott Page details the four dimensions involved:

  1. Diverse perspectives: the way people represent situations and information; how they confront situations and differences.
  2. Diverse interpretations: they way people categorize and classify information. To one person, a co-worker may be focused. To another, the same co-worker is analytical. To a third person, the co-worker is detail oriented. All three are true, but they are different interpretations of the co-worker by someone else.
  3. Diverse heuristics: the way people create fixes to problems. Some like to talk through the issues; others write first then talk; some fight first and talk later.
  4. Diverse predictive models: the way some people analyze a given situation while others look for a story.

Learning within Different Cultures

Companies and their workforces have gone, for a lack of a better word, global. With employees in so many different locations, it’s easy to see how workers can have a set of cultural dimensions that impact the learning strategy.

For the sake of argument, let’s look at Company A. It has manufacturing plants in seven different countries. And they have to train employees at every single one. When you figure in the multi-cultural aspect of the workforce… that mission becomes more complicated. An employee in Brazil may perceive time differently versus an American employee. The American may want to spend only 2-3 minutes each week training whereas the employee from Brazil may want to spend an hour each week training.

Needless to say, when designing a learning program, cultural diversity is important to the program’s success, especially when you consider, for instance, language.

READ: Using Metrics to Improve Your Learning Programs

Jim Mason from ADT agrees. Before working with ADT, he was the Director of Learning Development for TGI Fridays. This was always a primary focus of their learning strategies.

“I think, how do you use video and imagery that doesn’t require language,” Mason said. “How do we translate learning into Spanish and Portuguese and Haitian Creole here in the U.S.? We’re in 60 countries. So, rather than try and translate something into 30, 40, 50 languages, how do you use imagery that doesn’t require words.”

And there is another layer still.

While it is still general practice for employees of a particular company to work in the same location, it’s become more acceptable to telework, A basic analogy would be to work from home. A lot of companies are allowing employees to work from home or work in different locations around the world. For instance, it is becoming less uncommon for companies to have a central headquarters for C-Level and leadership-related employees, but the majority of the workforce work from different locations and in some instances, different countries.

That further deepens the already accepted difficulties of cultural diversity.

Where is learning headed?

Learning, as it has been doing for years, is changing. For Mason, the focus is shifting away from certain technologies, namely Learning Management Systems, to being more accessible for workers, especially the workers who are not at a computer all day. How do you get learning to them?

“I think you’re going to see a lot more like Facebook where you can click a button that pushes something out to Facebook. I see a future where you can be on YouTube, and click a button that tells your learning record you just watched a particular learning video,” Mason said. “I’m also hearing Learning and Development people talking about the user experience and the learner experience and how we make learning seamless.”

“The theme here is that we’re bringing learning to the point where it doesn’t feel like an event. People are able to consume knowledge as they more seamlessly throughout their day,” Mason said.

Jim Mason is the Director of Learning Solutions for ADT. He is a speaker for the HR Exchange Live: Corporate Learning event scheduled for September 19 & 20, 2018. Register here.