ArticlesArrow image
Navigating complex workplace challenges: strategies for people leaders

Navigating complex workplace challenges: strategies for people leaders

Written by:
Bo Dury
Date created
October 25, 2023
Last updated:
April 12, 2024
5 min read
Table of content
Ready to upskill your people and
transform your business today?

We offer a scalable employee training solution. It lets you continuously upskill your people and expand their capabilities.

Plan a meeting
Key takeaways

• HR and learning leaders are facing challenges related to leadership and transformation, employee well-being, talent management, change management, and career planning in the evolving workforce landscape.

• Three key areas of tension for learning leaders include organizational set-up and stakeholder disruptions, siloed systems hindering impact measurement, and the need for support for managers on a personal and team level.

• Four transformation waves - AI, green transition, changing demographics, and evolving work expectations - are triggering HR challenges and reshaping job roles.

• Inspiring case studies from UNLEASH World showcase solutions adopted by learning leaders, such as supporting managers with actionable data and implementing scalable learning initiatives for large groups of employees.

• To prepare for the changing future of work, HR and learning leaders should embrace key behaviors like taking ownership, experimenting with new technologies, and proceeding step by step towards the bigger picture.

A snapshot of HR and learning leaders' conversations at UNLEASH World.

Leadership and transformation, employee well-being, talent management, change management, and career planning – these diverse themes are significantly shaping the roles of HR and learning leaders across the globe. As organizations adapt to socioeconomic and technological trends, people leaders face the task of navigating a more complex landscape of workforce challenges. 

The question that arises is: How are HR and learning leaders addressing these critical themes within their organizations? Where do they encounter challenges, and what innovative strategies are they devising to overcome them?

In this article, we delve into these questions, based on our key takeaways from UNLEASH World conference, including:

  1. Three areas of tension for learning leaders
  2. Four transformation waves that trigger HR challenges
  3. Inspiring case studies illustrating how people teams are discovering solutions
  4. Key behaviors of future-fit learning leaders.
A poll by Speexx on the most relevant topics for people leaders.

3 areas of tension for learning leaders

During the event, business leaders from various companies opened up about their unique challenges. Among these discussions were Achmea's focus on fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce, Nestlé's quest to make learning more immersive, BNP Paribas' aim to create impact with a constrained budget and P&G’s focus on fostering resilience within their teams.

These diverse conversations merged into three overarching areas of tension that learning leaders are currently facing:

1. Organizational set-up and stakeholders disrupt long-term strategy

People leaders find themselves in a difficult position to develop long-term strategies for organizational success. And the issue roots itself in their organizational structure which is largely decentralized and inefficient.

For many HR teams, the decentralized approach has led to confusion in areas like learning initiatives. Questions arise as to whether these initiatives should lie within the central HR team or a separate team, and who should control and prioritize the budget for upskilling solutions.

But there’s another aspect of this setup which hinders the development of long-term strategies for enhanced company performance. When business stakeholders request solutions they expect quick fixes. Pressured to solve issues in a short period of time, HR teams struggle to implement long-term solutions that address talent performance and engagement issues across different business units.

“Our biggest priority right now is to get a grip on all Learning and Development requests coming in from across our business, and being able to understand the value they bring for the business and for our employees.

By having a Learning and Development triage, this would help us prioritize areas of focus, and also speed up the delivery of solutions. Our main goal is to move towards an employee-centric support with development. Having a clear idea of who the key groups are, and what they need to drive both business growth and individual development.” Geraldine Murphy- van Kuijk, Global Digital Learning Lead at Heineken.

The result? It becomes challenging for people teams to sustain high engagement in learning programs and provide career development opportunities for talent, a frequent reason for employees leaving a company. Moreover, they are not creating long-term strategies to design a skills-based organization, implement technology-driven learning interventions, or establish career pathways for diverse talent.

“AI won’t solve things on it’s own, it needs to be directed, put into context and embedded into existing change management processes. It’s uplifting to see that learning providers understand this, and are thinking along with us for solutions that will work. Next to that, there needs to be focus, as we can’t do everything at once. We need to prioritise, together with our business stakeholders.” L&D manager at Adidas.

2. Siloed systems and platforms hinder impact measurement

It's not just the way the organization is structured that restricts HR's ability to influence the business strategy; it's also the fragmented systems and platforms in place.

“Our HR and learning platforms need to work well together and be learner-centric. However, this isn’t the case right now, and it means we’re often not getting the right insights to know where we’re having the right impact and where we should focus our efforts.

Sometimes our complex systems slow down important new initiatives that would foster innovation.” Geraldine Murphy- van Kuijk, Global Digital Learning Lead at Heineken.

In essence, current platforms don’t function as one cohesive ecosystem. Systems such as HR-platforms, LMSs and LXPs are largely disconnected and fail to provide full value to both talent development and HR. And one significant shortcoming is data.

The data generated by these systems is isolated, making it difficult to analyze employee needs and measure the impact of learning initiatives.

Data is crucial for HR teams to oversee and adapt their initiatives. With disconnected platforms, there's no stable foundation for analyzing all employee data in one central location. As a result, HR leaders can't accurately track their business impact, such as the effectiveness of a leadership upskilling solution. And more importantly, they can't make the necessary adjustments to enhance future impact and collaborate effectively with stakeholders.

3. Managers need support on a personal and team level

HR teams have a common talent group to prioritize - managers. Leaders have the highest influence on team performance and retention in every business unit. But they’re struggling not just on the team level, but on a personal level as well. 

When we break down their team-related responsibilities, we can understand the pressure that leaders endure. They must achieve targets, oversee the well-being and development of individual team members, communicate team goals, and recruit the right candidates.

Moreover, there's a personal dimension to their challenges too. Leaders cannot effectively guide their teams if their own well-being is not a top priority. They require the skills and support to strike a balance between work and personal life.

The challenge for people teams is to evolve support strategies for managers. These strategies need to be personalized for individual managers, yet implemented at scale.  

“I’m in charge of the development of our young and very bright consultants. They learn hard skills very quickly, through online courses, and readily gathering certificates. However, it’s different for soft skills, as their manager needs to give them concrete feedback for them to realize that they need to improve in this area.

One of our biggest challenges is how to empower busy managers to drive the development of their teams. This includes giving them feedback as well as helping them practice and apply their skills.” Anastasia Womack, Head of Early & Emerging talent at Capgemini.

“As a scale-up with high growth ambitions, we need our managers to develop fast and lead and develop themselves as well as their teams. However, each manager’s needs and growth path is different, so how can we support them best, and at scale?” VP People Growth at a sustainability-related scale-up.

4 waves of transformation triggering HR challenges 

If we take a broader view at learning leaders’ challenges, it becomes clear that they are all triggered by fundamental waves of transformation.

Muriel Péricaud, former French Labour Minister & Corporate Director, unpacked why HR managers have to adapt their strategies and may struggle with current changes. Muriel breaks this down into 4 waves of transformation:

  1. AI has a huge opportunity to increase the efficiency of HR processes, learning journeys, and business operations, but to fully utilize this we need to upskill and reskill every level of the workforce. 
  2. The green transition is displacing industry skills - workers will have to reskill and adapt to meet consumer expectations and government policies. This is especially true for vehicle manufacturers shifting towards electrification. 
  3. Changing demographics: the shortage of talent due to an aging population will increase migration into the Northern Hemisphere. This means diversity and inclusion policies will become even more crucial to optimize the available talent pool. 
  4. Work expectations are changing: talent wants purposeful, autonomous, and flexible jobs, where they feel included in defining the direction of the organization. 

Muriel predicts that by 2030, 50 to 80% of current jobs will either be (mostly) re-created and transformed or entirely disappear. This transformation is significant for HR leaders.  All four transformation waves indicate that the job roles, as we currently know them, will undergo change. The systems we put in place to address evolving skills and workplace expectations must be flexible and adapt to these new realities.

“HR shouldn’t aim to be a ‘business partner’ anymore. HR should be a builder and chief orchestrator of a purpose-led, autonomous, inclusive workforce.

You will have to invent new systems and educate and support management. But above all, the world needs kindness, empathy, and people-centric leaders.” Muriel Péricaud, former French Labour Minister & Corporate Director.

Inspiring case studies: How learning leaders are finding solutions

Despite these challenges and waves of transformation, UNLEASH highlighted the solutions learning leaders are adopting. 

Here are two case studies that address significant HR challenges like organizational structure and collaboration with stakeholders, systems and data, impact measurement and manager support.

  1. Supporting managers with actionable data


    Standard Bank faced a significant challenge in its decision-making processes. Most decisions were based on gut feeling, primarily because there was a notable lack of access to the right workforce data at the right time.

    Solution in a nutshell

    To address this challenge, Standard Bank, initiated a comprehensive change management program aimed at democratizing data. This approach didn't simply involve making data available to all but also emphasized the strategic use of interventions at the right moments to achieve better outcomes. For example, they used nudging techniques to provide managers with insights into team members who hadn't taken their holidays just as holiday requests were being approved. This ensured that conversations regarding employee well-being occurred at the right time, avoiding unnecessary delays.

    Key takeaway

    HR leaders have to start with the specific challenges and issues at hand. While data can be a powerful tool for transforming decision-making and behavior, it has to be used strategically and in alignment with the organization's goals and the well-being of its employees.
  2. Scalable learning initiative for one million hairdressers


    L’Oreal operates in a competitve retail market. Traditionally their sales strategy depends on leveraging online marketing, website purchases and in-store locations. But the business identified a new channel to increase the sales of their beauty products - the hairdressers and stylists, spanning over 110 countries, who hugely influence customers’ choice of products. How can a retailer upskill a large group of deskless employees with their new business strategy?

    Solution in a nutshell

    To tackle this challenge, L'Oréal, implemented a mobile-first learning initiative designed to engage learners effectively. This initiative successfully reached one million stylists around the world.

    Key takeaway

    It’s important to understand your target audience. Learning teams should be conducting research to discover the best channels to reach their learners and identify where technology creates the most scalable, impactful and cost-effective intervention.

The next steps: Three behaviours of future-fit learning leaders

HR and learning teams find themselves in a transitional phase characterized by increased complexity in their work. However, this shift should not instill fear or panic. Instead, it presents a promising opportunity to adapt, innovate, and construct more robust data, technology, and learning systems that align with these changes. 

To prepare for the changing future of work, HR and learning leaders must embrace these key behaviours:

  1. Take ownership.

    Even in a complex environment where a lot of factors are at play. Understand the broader picture and identify the most critical challenges for your organization and proactively address them.
  2. Experiment.

    Especially with new technologies such as AI. Don’t be afraid to get started, reflect and learn, and always have a clear goal of what you want to achieve.
  3. Proceed step by step towards the bigger picture.

    In a time when there's a lot happening, prioritize and reflect in collaboration with your business stakeholders. Actively seek connections and share insights with learning leaders in similar positions. Understand that while youcan't do everything, you can set yourself up for success by communicating expectations, preparing for scalability, and moving in the right direction.

At Lepaya, we help global business leaders navigate this complexity. Reach out to us to participate in an impact workshop to set up your program for business impact or request a demo showcasing how our AI can enhance the impact and scalability of your learning initiatives.

Ready to upskill your people & transform your business?

We offer a scalable employee training solution. It lets you continuously upskill your people.

Book a call
No items found.
No items found.
Lepaya Image

About Lepaya

Lepaya is a provider of Power Skills training that combines online and offline learning. Founded by René Janssen and Peter Kuperus in 2018 with the perspective that the right training, at the right time, focused on the right skill, makes organizations more productive. Lepaya has trained thousands of employees.

Read more

Related articles

View all posts