L&D Best Practices

A Human-Centric Approach to L&D

Yvonne Chen

VP of Marketing, Udemy for Business

June 27, 2018

As we continue the relentless march toward efficiency and automation in the workplace, we can’t forget what makes human beings unique. With robots and AI taking over more mundane tasks at work, we as humans will be increasingly expected to lean into our creative and collaborative side (what humans do well) to handle more complex tasks. We’re already seeing AI influence business today. Customer service reps now let AI chatbots handle simple and repetitive customer requests while focusing on more challenging customer issues. This means customer service employees will need to master their emotional intelligence skills and conflict resolution skills, otherwise known as “soft” skills.

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Soft skills can get a bad reputation. They come across as squishy, touchy, feely. However, soft skills, or human skills, are the most important skills people need to hone and develop today. They are the skills that we need to help employees invest in for their long-term career aspirations. Forward-looking organizations recognize the importance of these skills and are tapping into these human traits today.

How can HR and learning & development (L&D) leaders like yourself leverage these human-centric strengths in the workplace? We at Udemy for Business are partnering with RedThread Research, a human capital research and advisory firm founded by Dani Johnson, to understand how employee development can harness human skills and strengths in the workplace.

We would love to hear how your organization is developing the human side of your workforce and invite you to participate in our survey on this topic.

The fourth industrial revolution isn’t about machines, it’s about humans

Through the first, second, third, and even in the current fourth industrial revolution, organizations have focused on efficiency—doing more with less, faster. In fact, with the advent of the assembly line, humans became a part of the system—acting much like machines and performing tasks in a prescribed way.

That isn’t all bad. This focus on efficiency has yielded some incredible productivity gains in the last century, and with those gains, a lot of innovation and prosperity. Unfortunately, productivity growth is slowing and has been slowing for the last decade. There is only so much a system can be standardized or automated. In addition, a focus on efficiency and automation doesn’t leverage the uniquely human characteristics that put us at the top of the food chain.

We strongly believe that organizations that are more forward-thinking and/or evolved are able to leverage human beings in ways other organizations do not and cannot. How we think about growth and advancement in the next century will be very different from how we thought about it during the last century. We’re testing this theory right now for learning and development and would love your participation in our survey.

Why do we think this? In the last month, we’ve spent some time in psychology research trying to figure out what makes a human a human—what unique (or infinitely more developed) characteristics are responsible for our success as a species? It turns out, being a human is pretty great. Our opposable thumbs are a bonus for sure, but research indicates that there are other, more important traits. Also of note, while conversations about AI and robots replacing humans abound, the traits that make humans uniquely “human” are things that robots cannot do either (yet, anyway).

What makes us uniquely human?

There are four key traits:

  • Storytelling and episodic memory. Humans tell stories. We have developed “episodic memory,” or what some refer to as time travel memory. This memory is essential to our “humanness” because it doesn’t just help us recall dates and events, but how we feel about those events and what we learned from those events. Marketing functions are making great strides in utilizing storytelling to evoke memories and feelings that motivate us. Human capital functions should do the same.

  • Picturing a different future. Humans have the ability to imagine things that never have been, and because of that, we are better able to change our circumstances. What’s more, we have a greater ability to innovate and create. While chimps react to their environments and robots iterate and repeat, humans can dream multiple futures for themselves that currently don’t exist, and then work toward them or around them.

  • Collaborating. While other animals collaborate, humans collaborate far longer than it is beneficial to them personally. Altruism is mostly a human trait. Humans have an innate desire to share information, help their fellow humans, and work together toward something greater, even if they personally won’t see the benefit.

  • Using tools. While other species use tools, humans perfect the art. We use tools to change our physical space, but we also use tools to change our mental spaces—tools for learning and creating things that don’t exist.

As we move into the fourth industrial revolution, organizations that succeed will likely also be more effective at developing and leveraging these uniquely human traits in the workplace.

Tell us how you’re leveraging human skills at your organization and we’ll share the results of the study with you. You can participate in our survey on this topic here. Our goal is for this research is to inform your employee development efforts and help your organization lean into the human side of your workforce today and tomorrow.

Yvonne Chen is VP of Marketing at Udemy for Business where she and her team are focused on helping employees do whatever comes next. Previously Yvonne worked in marketing leadership roles at Google and Facebook. Yvonne has a BS in Business Administration from UC Berkeley and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
RedThread Research is a human capital research and advisory firm, led by Dani Johnson, co-founder and principal analyst. RedThread Research brings research, data, insights, and people together to drive better decision-making by organizational leaders and human capital technology vendors. She is co-author of the book HR Competencies: Mastery at the Intersection of People and Business and is frequently featured in CLO Magazine, HR Magazine, and Employment Relations Today.

Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in the digital transformation of the workplace by offering fresh, relevant, and personalized on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at business@udemy.com

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