Skillsoft Perspectives (EMEA) 2018

My first of these events and it was a useful mix of Skillsoft product updates/demos, (industry) experts and user/client presentations.  I tweeted a bit during the day but some major takeaways below:

Skillsoft as a company

Like a lot of learning technology companies there has clearly been a push to improve UI/UX of products and inevitably this led to stories of their own ‘digital transformation’, shifts to ‘agile’ development (Percipio updates coming out every two weeks is pretty impressive) and more.  These rounds of buzzword bingo included my personal not-so-fave of lots of “Netflix-esque” experiences being mentioned.

That all said, the “beautiful technology and engaging content” mission they set themselves two years ago has, at least in part, been met.

Indeed there was no lack of ambition from the Skillsoft presenters:

and you suspect they are continuing to have success with this.  The US equivalent of this, single track, EMEA day conference was a full three days in Vegas(!)

Undoubtedly there are advantages to their scale in terms of the workplace learning space, I was intrigued by what analysis of their different clients’ competency models might show:

I’d suspect the answer would be that many an L&D team are reinventing the wheel and stuck in a cottage industry of creating such competency records.

The content development team said their mission is to “help people achieve their fullest potential through learning” and that, hopefully, resonated with the clients and potential clients in the room!  The work being done with MIT on the evidence behind eLearning sounds interesting, and probably a fair few years late.

Percipio vs Sumtotal vs ELSA

The Percipio product has clearly had a lot of investment and looks like it could end the old problem of Skillsoft content being hidden away in ugly client LMS platforms via SCORM/AICC.  However, for reporting and the general usual experience do you want this fragmentation of platforms?

Fragmentation came up in one of the sessions…

…and I wonder if, in part, people are using ‘digital transformation’ as a term for throwing the kitchen sink at problems and hoping something sticks.  However, I suspect DT means many things to many people, as I hinted at:

Sumtotal itself looks much better than when I last looked at it – which must be at least three or four years ago at least – and seems to have been retrofitted to some of the Percipio model, including the “watch, read, listen, practice” break down of activities/resources.  I quite like this approach to breaking the blend down but it does also, reinforce how much this aspect of learning tech is really an evolution of the library world (i.e. the world of my first postgrad!):

The sell for still needing Sumtotal seemingly now being less on the learning side but the integration of that functionality with talent and recruitment components.  Indeed elements like the 9-box grid have been given a UI/UX facelift themselves.

ELSA, on the other hand, is an interesting new development in bringing learning more into the workflow.  Currently a Chrome plugin, we are seeing more and more of this kind of support tool and there is hope (from my side) that this will improve performance support being exposed away from being buried in a LMS or Intranet:

Leadership development

There was quite a bit on this – not least as a key part of the Percipio content puzzle.  There are, of course, mixed views on the value as whilst we are continuing to see increased investment there is arguably little real output:

The challenge I guess here is how bad could things be if we were not investing, certainly I’ve had friends who have burned out in manager roles, in part, due to a lack of leadership development support and guidance.  Obviously, you could argue this is less about formal support and more about their own managers being better coaches, etc.  Perhaps, all in all, a form of self-fulfilling prophecy?

One of the sessions mentioned research at Google (presumably this) that aimed to show the importance of leadership and management was a myth of the corporate world but actually showed the importance.  Perhaps, in England at least, those who really need a confidence boost can get it as a management apprenticeship.  The scenario based, video-heavy, learning in Skillsoft’s library reminded me of a (photo rather than video based) eLearning I built with the help of a vendor a few years back and really just reinforced, to me, that context is key with this and the need for realism in the story telling.

Overall, this was deemed a market ripe for disruption and they were pretty transparent on their instructional design approach and belief that this L&M product can be a big hit:

‘Modern learning’

The Fosway Group session was good, as always, on some of the data in the sector and it’s difficult to disagree with the idea that often learning is still delivery orientated and doesn’t get followed up upon, updated, reinforced, etc.

I recently saw a description of magpie syndrome and I fear how much I fall into that trap.  My problem is less the need for ‘shiny and new’ but rather jumping from one project to another, plus the day-to-day email deluge, without making the impact as one would like.  Do we need to assign L&D time by topic to ensure people are driving the improvement in those areas rather than trying to offer more holistic support?

The session also recalled the need for:
Acquire > Practice > Do
as a model – developed over fifteen years when it was clear blended learning too often focused on medium.  Some things don’t change.

Other sessions picked up on the fifteen year point – if we reflect, are we really in a transformation?  For example, people said much the same as today when talking about video discs and their potential to transform learning.  Personally, I always remember Encarta ’95 with my first PC and how it was perceived as a earthquake for teaching in schools and the encyclopedia industry – *waves at Wikipedia*.

Therefore, perhaps we have no real perception yet on what transformation looks like?  My view would be that this is going to be continuous and we just have to acknowledge that.

In the panel session I was pleased to see recognition that lots of people are not interested in the learning opportunities we can make available.  This is a tough one as it is about push v pull (as the panel discussed) but also how as a country/culture we need to realise the real transformation is that companies are going to come and go – with reskilling through a career essential.  Again, there is a balance here between snobbery, assumption and a need to bring people along for the ride:

The bringing people along piece has surely been a challenge for RBS due to their size and recent historical issues so their client case study was particularly interesting in how they are trying to adapt their approach:

as was how the National Trust is supporting their disparate workforce and volunteers via Skillsoft, including IT technical skills for their IT apprentices.

Diversity

Just a nod to an excellent, no slides used, presentation from Harriet Minter on women in leadership.  The session included some stats I’ve heard before and some new in terms of the importance of diversity and evidence of positive impact, with the easiest diversity to implement being gender.

 

CIPD Learning and Development Show: April 2018

I didn’t last long at this year’s CIPD L&D show – beyond catching up with a few people there wasn’t much grabbing my attention amongst the usual wide spread of presentations and stalls.

The CIPD show often feels like the broadest of L&D churches with a mix of tech, publishers, consultancies, coaches and more in a space smaller than many of the coaching, technology or other focused learning events.  Indeed this year the stalls seemed quiet whilst the presentations were oversubscribed (as always) – as a one-stop shop for HR generalists to keep up-to-date with L&D it is no doubt a useful day.  For the L&D specific person (like myself) it is less of a ‘must attend’.

This all said, the first session I attended:

did get me thinking at least…

Improving employee buy-in and engagement with training programmes

I recently said L&D is a “simple” profession – that we work to deliver improvements in performance (through knowledge, skill and behaviour change) in areas the business needs.  However, this session title hinted at a number of challenges I’ve faced and I’m sure are not uncommon, including:

  1. teams are busy and too ‘in the day-to-day’ to reflect and improve
  2. employees have their own ideas of what is needed vs management, different perceptions on business metrics, etc.
  3. unless something is transferable (to other organisations) and/or accredited there can be little interest in participating
  4. we have many underemployed people in the UK who may, simply, be in the wrong role(s)
  5. there is a continuing desire for ‘formal training’ when informal would be better and vis-versa.

Now the ‘simple’ solution to this could be to have stakeholders involved in design and use performance consulting to tackle the real issues.  However, carrot and stick techniques remain often necessary.

The presentation, from the Professional Academy, argued that you need to build a learning environment to then facilitate a development culture.  I suspect most L&D professionals would like to think they do this but, at the same time, it’s probably worth reenforcing.

The steps outlined for the perceived environment creation:

  1. Training needs identification
  2. Training structure – formalise and make clear to new starters from day one
  3. Reward and recognise
  4. Demonstrate progression (show learning impact, including but not limited to promotions)
  5. Gather feedback
  6. Formalise knowledge sharing and best practice

Johnson and Scholes’ Cultural Web was referenced as a way to think about learning and culture:

  1. Apprenticeships, for example, are good for the success “stories“.
  2. Symbols can include badges, different uniforms, etc.
  3. Rituals include things like graduation ceremonies.
  4. Power structures to help L&D includes genuine executive sponsorship and organisation structures that assist (at basic level that you actually have an L&D dept)
  5. Control included the calculation of ROI on investments [but see many an earlier post on my issues with ROI via ROE]

The session moved onto the 10Cs of Employee Engagement and how this relates: for example, making it clear the contribution of mandatory training is good for you and the company – not just there for the sake of it.  I liked the ‘confidence’ item in this as its related to the empowerment piece that I often refer to.

The ‘simples’ bit of ‘know your audience’ was also picked up.

The other good bit of this presentation was a free download of a toolkit – always good to get some freebies 🙂

Interestingly an article on marketing your external content passed my way too shortly after covering some of the same ground.

Rest of the show

predictably universities and training providers seem to have caught on that the apprenticeship levy is a potential game changer, if only people only cracked on with it.

xAPI update from HT2 Labs on how some of their work (as introduced to me at Kineo Connect) is delivering real results (and lots of industry awards).  The key thing here, for me, was that the examples have strong business metrics – sales figures, etc – to impact upon.  As always, your L&D approach is only going to be as strong as your business strategy.

Also briefly popped around a couple of other sessions that were not really up to too much.

Time to stop the snobbery in L&D

L&D departments need to support their organisation in valuable ways.  Simples.

Yet I increasingly feel that the L&D industry takes a snobbish approach to the world of work – far too often talking about what we might actually call ‘knowledge workers’ or, at least, office work.

Yes knowledge work is obviously a large part of the workforce, however, this focus ignores the large numbers of UK PLC working in hospitality, healthcare and other areas where the workplace and workforce are relatively ‘low tech’, ‘low skilled’ (in the traditional graduate workforce kind of sense) and unfortunately often low paid.

Part of the problem seems to be that multiple traditional support departments (IT, KM, L&D and more) all seem to be running for a middle ground around productivity – which is largely as identified by the DWG’s 2018 research agenda:

Digital Workplace Group (DWG) embarks on an exciting research programme to deliver focused insights across both intranet and digital workplace good practice….

1. Collaborating in the digital workplace: how to have and to measure impact
2. Taking a strategic approach to the digital workplace: teams, structures, methods
3. Office 365: a detailed look at the wider suite
4. Digital literacy in the workplace: how to raise the organization’s digital IQ
5. Successful intranet migrations: strategies, approaches, tactics
6. The intelligent DW assistant: what teams need to know now about artificial intelligence
7. Digital workplace trends, themes and statistics: insights from DWG research and benchmarking.

The above list is pretty close to the buzz in L&D circles – at least if you swap out intranet for LMS or other system.  The reality on the ground for L&D professionals – especially in those low paid sectors mentioned above – is instead apprenticeships, post-Brexit skills agenda, basic skill training (even JISC are saving ‘citizen’ resources from closure) and more.  The positive is that at least via mobile, AR and VR we are seeing some practical workplace L&D buzz away from the knowledge workers who are tied to a desk and Outlook.

Yes, digital workplaces exist and many support departments will be made up of digital-first workers (even if their parent market or industry are not).  However, let’s not forget everyone else.

After starting this post I then, when catching up with TJ podcasts, hit upon the Donald Clark interview from Online Educa that really hits many nails on their heads.

Unleash18 London

I took a different approach to Unleash than my normal focus at events – instead of making lots of notes, to  reflect on later and blog from, I tweeted throughout most sessions (each session a different Twitter thread) with a view to save links to the tweets here with a few reflective notes.  All slides from the event are here.

Looking back at the tweets I’ve realised I didn’t stick to my own approach of adding comments in [square brackets] or after >>> marks.  Anyways, hopefully they were some use for the twitterverse and in capturing key points from what, in the most part, were pretty quick fire 20 minute presentations.

The day after Unleash I needed to update a paper that I last updated in April 2017.  My main point in that paper last year was that someone needed to decide on the Digital Employee Experience and what that might look like.  If I take the call of the conference, to be “unleashed”, then deciding and implementing that experience is an action for me…

Day 1

Opening and other MC/intro duties

A tough gig for the always excellent Deborah Frances-White – trying to get a crowd going after long registration and cloak room waiting on day one.  I for one, sans coffee, was far from in the mindset I think the organisers were going for with the very loud, movie trailer start (“Let’s make a better place to work and live…unleash your people”.  As MC for the keynotes DFW mixed some new (to me) content and some of what I have seen used before – for example at LearningPool’16.  I did like the call to “presume inclusion” – i.e. dont wait to be invited or asked to do something, be like a kid at kindergarten: introduce yourself and get involved.

Opening keynote: How do you DISRUPT and Change the World of Work?

Lots of naughty words and pretty controversial ideas from Jonas Kjellberg.

By his own admission people are quick to want to get rid of him but he’s clearly a disruptor who has had a lot of hits (like iCloud and Skype) and misses.

As I tweeted (outside of the above thread) I did love the beaver – i.e. reward people for being willing to take the chainsaw to old ways of doing things:

As a way of signifying the disruptive mentality of this role I might well have to have a look at the ‘Gear Up’ book’s approach too:

Gear_Up.PNG

Future of Learning: PA Consulting

Pretty broad content here, which was perhaps deliberate in opening the learning stream (one room) of the conference.  Nothing too earth shattering or revolutionary but a fair summary of current thinking.

I did like the concept of the course > resource > guidance > automation paradigm to explain how automation can fit in:

“Best Practice Evaluation and Transfer of Learning” project at Icon PLC.

A decent example of showing a fairly traditional blended leadership programme could be evaluated.

“Build an Employer Brand in 100 days”

Really energetic presentation this one – I always like when consultants, rather than selling directly, give up some ‘secrets’ from their methodologies – definitely one where the slides are worth picking up.

“Assessing future leaders digitally at Royal Bank of Canada”

Moving from standard psychometric testing in graduate recruitment to a more bespoke assessment.  Overall, sounded good and potential to move it away from the focus on graduate centric approaches to existing staff.  Makes me wonder again what the best way of judging potential is for internal candidates to our own programmes/talent management.

“Empathy in Action”

On reflection, a more challenging session, focusing on the need for workplaces to be more empathetic.  Whilst it’s difficult to argue people should be more empathetic I’d also be tempted that it’s not something that is naturally energising to everyone – as Strengthscope states empathy is a strength where:

“You readily identify with other people’s situations and can see things clearly from their perspective”.

Brexit as an Opportunity for Business

A quick run through of Brexit history, current situation and possible solutions.  As always with this topic there were some things you could agree with and other bits where that was less the case.  Overall it really just highlighted that many things are still up in the air and that overall, from a country-wide workforce perspective, things really have not been managed very well at all.  For a session that was supposed to be the ‘opportunity’ from Brexit it was pretty depressing.

Brexit and GDPR started day two so I skipped for time on the trade show floor although that then did mean lunch on day two dragged a bit.

Day 2

Lloyd’s of London’s “Bigger than the business”

Good example of corporate L&D team offering services to the ‘extended enterprise’ and becoming a profit centre as a result.

“Virtually Learning”

Possibly the best example of VR in workplace learning I’ve seen – a clear productivity gain by moving a practical session from ‘real’ to ‘virtual’.

Mazars U on LinkedIn Learning launch

A session that would be familiar to the library and information world – trying to get external content providers embedded into culture and systems, *spoiler*: it’s tricky.

“It’s our time are we ready”- event close

A deliberately challenging session to finish.  I did comment more on the presentation as it went (below thread).  Overall I’d say digital is pervasive and I agree the ‘waiting for IT’ excuse is growing old, however, whilst I always remember an old conference presentation from BBWorld in the US that said “tech should just work” in reality (as with Mazars above) things are more complicated.  Coming to this conference not from a ‘classic HR’ background probably impacted on my view of the talk of digital, experiences, performance and collaboration – i.e. that a lot of this was really a call to action that could have been made a number of years ago in many ways:

General comments on conference:

The “Unleash” themed seemed to fall a bit flat with the dancing aliens (or whatever they were) and loud music not really getting the crowd going.  Perhaps a cultural thing and the North American crowd, in Vegas, would be more into it than those isolated in the always rather isolated ExCeL?

The event app was good for tracking the agenda but I remain as having two notifications that would not shift during the show even though it shows as having cleared everything.  Really not sure what was going on there – perhaps an issue in using the work iPhone rather than my Android?

#talentbites : How can employee engagement improve business performance

Hosted by Havas People this was my second Talent Bites event (notes from first one here).

The format was a quick hour or so with a couple of introductory bits by Havas followed by three case studies.  It was a really good example of the kind of event where it is helpful to think about the messages after the event, reflect on what you think the key messages were, develop some personal take-aways, etc.

What is engagement anyway?

I’ll start with a point from the Q&A:

“full-on/full-off”

This made me think how many of us can honestly say we are 100% “on” all the time at work and, when away from work, able to relax fully?  Indeed, what does “full-on” really mean with so many questions over UK productivity, people struggling with email overload and ‘firefighting’ taking people away from projects and other work that adds value?  Indeed whilst we can standardise work, to some extent to try and help, there is a risk of stress and a lack of treating people personally.

Discretionary effort

In the introduction engagement was deemed to be “about change, not surveys” and “discretionary effort” (DE).  DE was illustrated with a version of the below graphic:

This got me thinking about a couple of things, firstly that we’ve seen some very high-profile examples of DE in the UK in the last few weeks, not least #snowheroes battling the bad weather.  Secondly, that the idea of people hitting a lull a few years in to a job probably rings true with my own experience and the need to move beyond initial goals and targets.  Personally I’ve also struggled to imagine working for the same company for more than a few years and this chart hints at that idea of decreasing returns.  This, I would argue, is where learning and development very much kicks in as a value add – beyond initial onboarding and into keeping people engaged with career options and development.

Importance of a company narrative

The three case studies, on reflection, all had one thing in common: the companies wanted to grow but needed to baseline to bring people along.  Without that idea of (growth) direction it would be very easy to see how people would not be engaged

I used to run some basic business/consulting skills sessions and one aspect was the different levels of business planning (akin to below image):

Much like a sports team – if the company’s vision isn’t one of growth and success then it is difficult to engage and gain peak performance.  Even being average is not likely to be much good if we continue the sports analogy, for example, “we’re happy tracking along in mid-table” isn’t going to gain much support from employees (players) or customers (fans).

Engagement as a part of wider system

The complex interactions of internal coms, internal/external branding, learning and other people elements were clearly only touched upon in the short talent bite sessions.  However, the sessions did make me think of HBR’s Human Capital Drivers model and (as well as developing mission, vision and strategy) organisations need to cross link all of these against the below model:

I also found a useful blog post that does a nice job of pulling together some of these various components: and how they can impact on discretionary effort (that it is considering it from a school leadership perspective does not really matter).

Top-down vs Bottom-up; Local vs Global

All three presentations were by global companies and it was therefore interesting to hear how they balanced ‘corporate’ requirements versus local needs.

  • In the case of Umicore – there was a central effort to develop a new employer brand but with a lot of input from across the business.  This input (via research) was deemed key – the new brand was not based on HR and/or marketing’s view of what brand should be.  There was then a “marketing for dummies” brand toolkit developed that could be used locally, with core elements to be customised for local usage.  As the company is a green one and can be seen, via recycling products, to be building a better world it is easy to have people aligned with the brand and be proud of the work by living the values.  They also back this up with “brand ambassadors” who are a network to share interesting marketing and internal coms activities across the group – this sounded like a community of practice and, presumably, shared content on internal social networks, etc.
  • Allergen – a story of considerable change (multiple takeovers either that happened, didn’t happen or were muted) over the last four-ish years (following previous stability of three CEOs in sixty years).  This was an excellent and very personal talk, more open and honest than many you would see at such events.  Against the hostile takeovers there were examples of grassroot activism where people spontaneously acted ‘in defence’ of the brand.  In the end, four cultural aspects were launched to set what the company means for all employees (a ‘BOLD’ culture).  Through all the change, management managed to keep the business going via: authentic conversations, bringing their customers with them and developing the BOLD new company culture.  Overall, I’m sure Allergen would make a great business studies case study for how much change can happen in just a few years!
  • Nomad – A story of turning around multiple brands within a newly created parent company.  They have had turnover of staff, realising you will lose some people, but tried to make people aware if they were being cynical – can’t change everyone but create conditions that can inspire.  Some of this nicely tied in with Strengthscope and the idea of positive psychology.  Some of those more positive aspects articulated in their “Our Way”.  The CEO worked with HR on this to create a turnaround and growth narrative and what people needed to do and how they needed to act to deliver this.  Our Way tapped into basic emotional needs of needing growth and community via combined vision, mission, growth strategy and eight values.  This was not just about posters on a wall, worked with an external partner to run a number of large face-to-face events for what it meant for different levels of management (8×1 day programmes : 800 people from 13 countries) – some snippets from these being shown via video.  The external partner (Breakthrough Global) providing a number of simple tools and activities that aligned to the values for use in these and other sessions.  The presenter and company acknowledged strategy is one thing but need the culture with it and reinforcements were all relaunched: appraisal, culture survey, performance and reward to all align.  Now back in acquisition mode thanks to change, organic revenue growth and company turnaround around, inc. share price value.

Summary of some of the techniques and approaches

So, to summarise the above, here are some of the things that seemed to have worked for the presenters:

  1. Ensure enough focus on people managers: they will win/keep hearts and minds, do not just rely on senior managers.
  2. Keep things simple: from Allergen focusing on four key statements to Nomad’s wider, but nicely integrated, “Our Way”.
  3. Be authentic: personally I’d add transparent to this – both with employees and customers to ensure there is confidence.
  4. Simple tools: give people simple tools to transfer big picture and ‘corporate’ ideas to what it means for individuals in different roles and roll back up from community/grassroot advocates to bigger picture.

I don’t think any of these are revolutionary but it is always good to hear some case studies where things do work and can influence performance.