Towards the tail-end of last year a report on the British Council site captured our attention. In it, they identified five ‘critical’ skills that L&D leaders will need in 2023.
We read the whole thing while metronomically nodding our heads in agreement. In fact, these skills, we realised as we went along, were not just for 2023 – they were for life.
So, what are they? Can anyone pick them up? And can a grounding in behavioural science help fine-tune them? Let’s find out.
Skill 1. Strategy, planning and analysis skills.
What you’ll need. According to the report, in 2023 L&D leaders will need a strong understanding of their organisation’s strategic priorities. They will need to link learning outcomes to business objectives. They will need to know how to analyse data. And they should be able to implement L&D reporting that measures the business impact of learning. (Quite a bit, then.)
Can behavioural science help with this? Absolutely. Strategy is key in L&D – regardless of whether or not you agree that culture eats it for breakfast. Behavioural science has strategy, measurement and analysis running through its veins. How else are you to determine if a learning programme or campaign has been a success? And when it comes to planning we’re with author and behavioural science practitioner Richard Chataway who says that ‘a key benefit of behavioural science is it allows businesses to better predict how people will behave.’
Skill 2. Stakeholder engagement and leadership skills.
What you’ll need. ‘More than ever,’ says the British Council report, ‘the need to collaborate with cross-functional, hybrid and remote teams is essential to achieving business goals.’ In order to maximise both learning and business opportunities, this means taking a ‘strategic approach to stakeholder management’.
Can behavioural science help? We believe it can. Behavioural science helps us to better understand what makes us all – teams, stakeholders, customers … even readers – tick. And where leadership is concerned, having the sure-footedness that an understanding of behavioural science gives us means that we can make decisions based on evidence, not guesswork. When we have evidence to back up intuition, according to Chataway, confidence is replaced with certainty. Science helps us find that certainty.
Skill 3. Intercultural communication skills.
What you’ll need. Working across borders (of all kinds) ‘brings new opportunities to collaborate with different cultures.’ But doing so can sometimes result in ‘miscommunication and misunderstanding’. You’ll need to communicate confidently in unfamiliar cultural situations ‘through effective preparation and understanding of self and others.’
Can behavioural science help? Quite possibly. One (valid) claim levelled at the behavioural and social sciences is that it has a Western-centric bias. It relies too heavily on WEIRD sampling and studies. Yet, there are underlying tides in human psychology and behavioural universals that are shared across the globe. Some commentators even go as far as saying that all communication is, in a sense, intercultural. A behavioural lens can certainly help us better understand these behavioural universals and polish comms skills.
Skill 4. Emotional intelligence (EQ).
What you’ll need. The ability to understand your own and others’ emotions, says the report, is particularly useful for L&D leaders. It claims that ‘83% of organisations say that an emotionally intelligent workforce will be necessary’ in 2023. A higher EQ means being able to adopt an aware, optimistic and resilient mindset to challenges.
Can behavioural science help? Let’s see, shall we? According to academic Olivier Serrat emotional intelligence, ‘describes the ability, capacity, skill, or self-perceived ability to identify, assess, and manage the emotions of one’s self, of others, and of groups’.
Adopting a behavioural approach to L&D won’t necessarily transform your EQ overnight. Behavioural science isn’t an ointment that you simply rub on anything and it magically makes it better. But we will say that a greater understanding of the brain and behavioural sciences can increase awareness of just about everything – including the emotions of ourselves and others. Plus, it’s been reported that we can indeed learn to be more emotionally intelligent.
Skill 5. Advanced business writing.
What you’ll need. In order to be a well-rounded L&D leader you need to have first-class communication skills. Writing is a big part of this. Does your writing do what you want it to do? Do you fine-tune content and tone to engage stakeholders? Can you communicate complex information clearly and concisely? Bravo, if so. If not? Help is at hand.
Can behavioural science help? Undoubtedly. Science shows us how to make our words have more impact – and make that impact stick. Consider, for example, fluency effects. As we’ve said elsewhere, making things simpler and more readable makes them more memorable and believable. (And when it comes to salience, rhyming doesn’t go amiss, either.) ‘Chunking’ – breaking information into digestible bite-sized chunks – pleases our short-term memories and helps us absorb the words better.
And there is a whole heap of other techniques borrowed from the behavioural and brain sciences you can use. Bizarreness effects, humour effects, narrative and storytelling and dozens more can help make your reports, presentations, emails or any written communications grab your reader’s attention and not let go. (In a nice way, of course.)