At Tan Tock Seng Hospital & Central Health, we concluded our yearly learning needs analysis (LNA) exercise with fantastic results at the senior management meeting. Use of learning places was at an all-time high, and we received great feedback on program utility.
The hospital's Centre for Healthcare Innovation (CHI), our new resource for learning, hosted an international conference pioneering the concept of co-learning and workforce transformation. The 2020 learning plan was crafted to continue keeping the workforce agile and relevant. Senior management endorsed the plan with a generous learning budget. But it was not to be. The COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head.
Overnight, the center, which was built for learning and innovation, was converted to outbreak use, and all training activities ceased. But only for a few days as we took stock.
The hospital has always acknowledged learning and development as the cornerstone for delivering good and safe care, building resilience and agility, and developing collective leadership. While many organizations in Singapore started to cut nonessential business activities like training, we ramped them up to build capabilities to combat and defeat the virus. However, the balance between conducting business as usual (BAU) and increasing outbreak capacity and capability had to be negotiated with key stakeholders. For instance, as ICU capability increased, we continued managing non-COVID-19 patient activities via telemedicine and triaged those who needed to be seen in the hospital.
The learning and development (L&D) unit was invited to be an active member of the integrated outbreak management team together with Singapore’s National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID). At these meetings, we discussed:
- Essential and nonessential learning activities (like the continuation of donning of PPE training for allied health professionals who were swabbing and the halting generic skills training)
- Keeping staff engaged and resilient (new employees were onboarded and stayed connected to senior leadership through microlearning and virtual facilitation; welfare officers stayed current and connected through a series of specially designed microlearning content and virtual calls to learn how to provide continuous emotional and mental support to those battling on the frontlines)
- Pushing learning into cyberspace
- Equipping subject matter experts with tools to develop micro- and e-learning capabilities
- Reaching out to educate and activate our patient community, including serving those with chronic illness, developing materials for home-based care givers and volunteers, and providing telemedicine
It has been more than 10 months since a microscopic bug disrupted our lives. We know deep down that norms and perceptions toward L&D will change.
The common measures of use and effectiveness reports will become passe. Management is no longer interested in these. What has taken center stage can be encapsulated into the slogan learning anytime, anywhere. Being agile and digital will become the new art and science of the learning and development function.
So, what have we learned?
- Capability and competency-building are key. Competency of skillsets operates the BAU of the hospital. However, capability building prepares staff to iteratively reinvent jobs as the demand changes.
- Resilience and agility are two sides of the same coin. Resilience is built around consistency and mastery; agility makes one nimble to change. Both are trainable and essential to digitalization.
- Digitalization is the bridge between process and behavior. It helps to keep the workforce relevant to changing needs. Having learning in your pocket, such as a mobile device (pun intended), enables social and just-in-time learning.
We need to keep the business of the hospital going. Much of the learning budget will be ring-fenced commmitted to do this. While this will keep our chief financial officers sane and BAU going, it may not serve to equip staff to reinvent themselves for the unexpected.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us the importance of equipping staff with design thinking, prototyping, improvement, and innovation to change the way they learn and work as the situation changes. This is learning and growing at the pace of change.
Stay tuned as we share our story on the shifts in learning needs analysis with COVID-19.