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The year in focus 2020: Reflections on L&D

Leadership development, and the L&D function, has long been toying with virtual, digital and hybrid learning, yet it has taken the pandemic of 2020 to accelerate transformation within the industry.

Over the last 9 months, we have seen rapid experimentation by L&D functions, practitioners and learners themselves into previously unchartered waters of a fully digital learning experience. While some organisations paused or delayed learning offerings, others proceeded with pace to support their people during the challenge, ambiguity and disruption that has come to define 2020.

As we reflect on this extraordinary year, with its many and unexpected challenges, it is clear that there is a silver lining.  Learning and development solutions are being driven to be more innovative, to find new ways of doing things, to collaborate in new and exciting ways.


1. More openness to innovate and experiment

Covid-19 has hastened the shift to digitalised learning experiences. In some cases, learning was delivered via rapid re-packaging of existing programmes, while for others it meant creating or curating digital learning experiences for the first time. Either way, the ‘circuit breaker’ measures put in place provided the perfect opportunity to test the age-old assumption that “we need to be face-to-face to engage people and make a lasting difference”. What we found was that what seemed impossible a year ago is now the norm. With the help of innovative design and slick technology, our consultants are conducting their leadership programmes entirely online, and our learners are surprisingly receptive to this way of engagement. Perhaps the single biggest ingredient that is harder to fully recreate digitally is connection.  And for this reason, we will likely see the reintroduction of some face to face in 2021. But we anticipate it will be done in balance with digital options to create transformative, engaging solutions that deliver sustainable growth.

2. Within remote working contexts, learners crave a community of peers to learn from

One thing that has not changed is the desire to learn through shared experiences, to collaborate with one another to overcome common obstacles and to forge deep bonds with others. What we found was that learners have adapted to working from home with positivity and resilience and are hungry to share and support fellow learners and build groups, previously inaccessible for reasons of geography, differing regional learning agendas and the like, that provide a more diverse, inclusive and culturally richer experience for all. We will likely see this trend continue to be built upon in 2021, with facilitators being important conduits for creating a sense of shared values, learning and personal growth.

3. To make a difference, learning and development must focus on enabling people to think critically and be agile in their approach

More than ever, it is clear that no single leadership or management framework will be sufficient. What we found was that human transformation rests on three core activities: create the mindset, develop the skills and master the tools.  To support agility and success in a range of different contexts, the single most important contribution of the L&D function is to engage leadership development solutions that genuinely transform from the inside out, thereby enabling leaders to be agile and adaptive to this VUCA world.


As we continue the journey of functioning in increasingly remote business environments, the L&D function faces huge opportunity and challenge to provide learners with truly engaging and impactful learning solutions that enable lasting growth. As we head into 2021, we look forward to co-creating with our clients’, virtual experiences that engage, inspire, connect and challenge learners to think and behave in ways that match the needs of their rapidly changing business environments.  We will continue to discover what works and take these learnings forward as we reimagine and innovate leadership development.