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Uberization – the death of the middle-man

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Uberization – the death of the middle-man

As the cloud radically rewires our lives, cutting out the intermediary when it comes to; booking transport, listening to music and finding holiday accommodation, it removes the inefficiencies inherent in analogue, and traditional agents can be ‘disintermediated’. As this process of digital disintermediation continues to gain momentum in domestic and social settings, we need to ask ourselves how such technologies are impacting the world of work?

From augmented reality to big data, there’s no doubt that many aspects of workforce operations, such as learning solutions, are increasingly adopting new technologies as a means of delivery. We’re increasingly surrounded by digital modes of engaging with the end user. But we also need to reassess the role of L&D in an age where ‘Google search’ has enabled a democratisation of information; a free and frictionless access to a wide variety of learning objects. So what can HR and L&D managers do to maintain a pivotal role in this revolution? In the days before an individuals’ ability to self-diagnose learning gaps and self-medicate on solutions became so easy, the L&D professional had the role of ‘broker’, mediating between the learner and blocks of skills/knowledge. So in the digital age, with the proliferation of free knowledge, how can L&D continue to create value? Learners don’t need more content, rather they need to know which content is of value. If we consider both Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice, and Iyengar and Lepper’s jam experiment, context is key – less is more, and too much choice is demotivating. By becoming Sherpas of knowledge, L&D professionals need to demonstrate to colleagues the relevance of the content they’re consuming – how it’s core to their job, not distinct from it.

The passive consumption of information can only move to active knowledge retention if learners have a reason to use it, and know how to apply it. In this respect, L&D has much to gain from retailing principles – products need to be thoughtfully packaged and actively sold to consumers. This shift to ‘retailing’ the learning is concomitant with a shift in the changing psychological contract of the workplace. Essentially, we’re now looking for our colleagues to take an active role in co-creating their learning solutions. This is to be welcomed, because for too long corporate learning systems have presupposed that the user/learner is passive in the system. We know that this isn’t the case. Learners need to have the ability to self-diagnose and take an active role in determining their own career and learning pathways. Call it ‘self-service’ learning if you will, but it’s something that has always needed to happen.

Of course in many industries – healthcare, defence and financial services – there is a huge amount of compliance learning that has to be done. The more engaging this is, the better it will be to switch the wrapper around it from being a tick-box exercise for reporting, to an engagement exercise that creates a ‘culture’ of compliance. We certainly know from the headlines in the financial services world, that the ‘culture of compliance’ is much needed! If the psychological contract has changed, then the way that we are distributing and sending out our learning, needs to change also. And indeed, this is beginning to happen with mounting interest in gamification and social-collaborative modes. In practice, it would be interesting to see how far down the line organisations are with implementing these strategies – we need to move from talking the talk, to walking the talk. 

The skill-set now though, which is coming into sharp relief, is that learning departments now need to be better at promoting access to the content. Those involved in change management already know that behavioural change – engaging with the motivations of the user base, profiling the user base, giving clear calls to action to the user base – are part and parcel of that. For those less involved in change management and internal communication – the world of marketing may be unfamiliar territory. However, there are certain things which need to happen. At the very least, we need to avoid disenfranchising users through Long; dull; block style; clunky; low utility modes; that are slow to access between mobile devices as well as learning management systems, and learning objects with poorly identified occasions of application. In considering of the retailing model approach, when it comes to learning, again, it’s worth reprising the tactics that the retailers use to hook in their customers: A window display that is enticing to try; and an exciting and attractive user interface is also key. Netflix, for example, has won many hearts and minds with its ability to draw people into engaging with content. This is thanks to the adaptive algorithm which informs its intuitive recommendation and bookmarking of material. All of these manoeuvres are a form of retailing or ‘selling’ the content to the user. Promotion too is key as when successfully activated, they are like lightning conductors that bring users to a moment of decision. Indeed the call to action of ‘why now?’ is the compelling event.

When dropping learning objects into curated systems, we need to be really clear on what the compelling event is for the end user, otherwise they’re much less likely to look at it. Range is key here – as already indicated – we need to make sure that we have curated, relevant pathways of content which provide ample – but not overwhelming – subject coverage. The user needs to feel like they’ve got a degree of control and manoeuvrability, but if the content spread is too broad, it will lose a sense of purpose. Lay-out, primarily the way that users can find and deploy material instantly, is absolutely central. You need to allow for the purveyance of smart, relevant, instant-access content. Then there’s added-value; how do you both nudge and reward participation? For example; personal avatars; intuitively recommended content; Individual learning diaries; quizzes to test knowledge retention and degradation and badges for community engagement and contribution. Today’s learners, like shoppers, are increasingly motivated by impulses and triggers. For this reason, we need to ‘season’ their work life with learning, in order to get them unconsciously ‘hooked’. If material cannot be accessed and consumed within five minutes, you may have lost your ‘customer’.

This is where we can all benefit from interaction with technology. Digital modes of learning are unrivalled in terms of scalability, agility, and adaptability. It has some interesting implications if we consider setting out knowledge/skills ‘as a service’. Here we mean the learning objects, rather than the L&D function which has always conceived itself as a service or business partner. To select a few of these points, here is what can be borrowed from the world of Uber to become a learning disruptor. Intelligent refers to the use of data analytics will allow us to better sell in learning rather than merely track usage. Imagine a content delivery strategy which adapts to the circadian rhythms of your colleagues! Agile means the speed of access and consumption which are key here – think Amazon’s ‘one click’ purchase.  We know that when a user has a need for learning materials, for example, supporting content to help deal with an internal conflict, we have a five minute ‘window’ from trigger to fulfilment. To be scalable and plug-in[able] – but at the same time remain personalised – your system needs to be able to aggregate learning objects from a variety of courses into an easy dashboard – think ‘Slack’ for learning. But areas for interaction need to be personalised enough to make individual input meaningful. Rapid response refers to, how fast can you create a digital companion to an event/session/project? And when it comes to cost efficiency – ask yourself the following when assessing any learning intervention – how will this help us make or save money? And finally, here are some questions to consider: What if: Apple re-designed your learning portal? Dunnhumby (Tesco Clubcard) managed the data you gathered? Richard Branson met with your instructional designers? Mumsnet re-organised your learning communities? And Dragon’s Den evaluated your investment in learning? Food for thought in the planning of IT spend and the inevitable ROI expectation.

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