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Learning & Development – Roundtable Report

24 March 2015     London
Hosted by theHRDIRECTOR.
Chaired by Jason Spiller.

Edward Gallier
, Group Learning & Development Manager – Jurys Inn Group Ltd
Emma Howell, Academy Manager – Tesco Stores Ltd
Charlotte Koch, Head of HR (UK & I) – Hay Group
Keiran Mclean, Senior Manager Learning Academy – KPMG LLP
Stuart Mcpherson, Head of Learning – Interserve PLC @BBC
Brian Newman, Vice President International – Human Resources
Live Nation Entertainment
Gemma Rossiter, Workforce Development Consultant – London Borough of Bromley
Mark Taggart, Head Of Learning Architecture and Strategy – BT Group PLC
Jessica Hills, Content Manager – Ashridge
Andrew Mechelewski, General Manager – Ashridge

Significant change in the workplace is impacting and challenging the employer/employee contract, physical, psychological and intellectual, and it’s taken as read that the world of work is reshaping rapidly, but one element remains an imperative, that L&D continues to optimise operational and individual performance and consistently meets the needs and aspirations of both employee and the business.

With workforces working remotely and autonomously, traditional classroom contact is diminishing and being replaced via web and mobile platforms, is this improving or degrading content quality and levels of engagement?

Stuart Mcpherson: In terms of reaching learners, traditional centralised L&D is going to perhaps reach 30-40 percent. But the workplace is changing, so a classroom approach is not going to achieve high delegate attendance. Equally though, you can end up with such a disparate approach, trying to use many different platforms to engage many different types of learners in different and remote locations. So having a defined and dedicated L&D manager is first stop, because they will have an intimate day to day knowledge of the business’ needs.

Emma Howell: Learning agility is our objective, we have some brilliant content, but it’s how we get better at marketing it and engaging our colleagues, whether it be e-learning, mobile learning, social leaning or, face-to-face training. We’re looking at how we evaluate training, both in terms of ROI, making a difference to the business, our colleagues and of course our customers. The objective is a blended learning approach, one that is personalised, with the challenge of employing 520,000 people.

Edward Gallier: Sixty percent of our workforce will be under 30, and the challenge is the balance between developing technical and behavioural or soft skills. We’ve never moved away wholly from classroom based learning, because in hospitality, there is great value in the face-to-face, tactile experiential learning. But E-learning certainly increases access and is useful to ensure everyone starts at the same point when they come together.

Emma Howells: Agreed, if businesses have learnt anything it’s that soft skills are critically important business skills. Empathy, collaboration and resilience are the absolute essence and foundation of any business, especially when they are customer-focussed companies. The learning function is a facilitator but the line managers need to inspire and engage colleagues every single day.

Brian Newman: Being in the room with a live trainer can be fantastically entertaining, they have a great experience and teams go away feeling that there’s been a personal investment in them. That same skillset doesn’t just translate onto delivering a webinar as a presenter and I think there’s an awful lot of content that’s available that probably just isn’t good enough for that online delivery. Also mindset on training via webinar, e learning or online learning makes it more of an issue than it needs to be. We need also to modernise our language, so that ongoing development happens all the time via this media and includes face-to-face or webinars as required. I think maybe our language is perhaps not in tune with some of our operators as it’s not kept pace when we are still separating online from any other form of intervention.

Keiran Mclean: Business issues aren’t being identified, so it’s not clear what we are trying to address. If you’re able to articulate the business issue then you can articulate the skills and the learning intervention to address those business issues. L&D professionals focus on creating and delivering content instead of helping to facilitate a learning experience. When you think about facilitating a learning experience instead of a course, it changes the concept completely and enables the facilitation of solutions based around how people actually learn.

Mark Taggart: What we’re trying to do is change the conversation, so we talk about what learning is and how we do it, rather than how good is the content. Of course, we are keen to keep up the quality of learning content, but personalisation is critical. We are trying to create a sense of elonging for people. The idea is to generate a sense of purpose and growth.

Jessica Hills: There is a challenge around capturing everything that people do which represents a part of their learning – formal and informal, mandated and self-directed. The reality is that in most cases it is a blend of all of this which will develop individuals as opposed to a single, official intervention. I think the motivation lies in the acknowledgement that as an individual, I am exploring every day.

Keiran Mclean: But are we measuring the activity or measuring the impact? I mean do we really care about what they’ve done or is it what they’re doing differently that’s more important?

Gemma Rossiter: We’ve linked our classroom courses to some pre-reading on digital platforms, that we signpost to people to bring knowledge up to the same point, so that when they walk into classroom training, people are on a more equal standing. Also a common theme is about how people coming together with others in the organisation, are able to learn off each other and take away a contact with them that they can then call up the next day and bounce ideas off.

Charlotte Koch: We’re going through a large transformation journey and something that’s critical to making it a success is genuinely sharing our experiences and what we’re learning through communities in Yammer.

Mark Taggart: We’ve started to gain a lot of insight in this space because each of our professions has its own social collaboration platform with a newsfeed for sharing and the ability to create discussions and events. The challenge is to multiply one experience across many professions and tens of thousands of people, but the early signs show that if you give people the ability to help each other learn, they will do it. We shaped our L&D around three core beliefs; everybody wants to learn, everybody wants to succeed and everybody has talent.

Keiran Mclean: It’s also giving people permission to learn, so it doesn’t have to be mandated centrally or corporately but encouraged and facilitated. Giving people permission to set up the sessions and have conversations.

Brian Newman: A challenge with online learning is the fact that time may not be specifically put aside and defined as ‘learning time’, as it would be by attending a face-to-face session. To get people to meaningfully engage with building that into their day-to-day time-frame for learning purposes is practically quite difficult. It doesn’t force them out of their normal environment to sit in a classroom to focus on a particular idea. If we can bridge that gap, to make time in their busy schedules, I think they would perhaps be able to make a better transition between being busy and learning.

Stuart Mcpherson: I agree, there’s a place and a need for both. Richness comes from the peer to peer learning within the classroom to share scenarios and case studies that are relevant to that group. Following the 70/20/10, with ten percent classroom, actually the learning development opportunity for us is making sure the operations managers of those engineers and their line managers have the skillsets necessary to embed that learning back in the workplace. It’s the investment in those people in terms of their coaching and mentoring and embedding the learning back in the workplace.

Andrew Mechelewski: Traditionally, we are a classroom-based business school and our faculty has made significant changes over the past five years, to successfully deliver digital learning resources, which have, in turn, had a positive impact on the delivery of their programmes and the digital content.

Emma Howell: If you embed learning by making it experiential, if you look at the neuroscience, the learning is much stronger. So if you’re in a crisis situation the recall of that learning is much quicker.

Keiran McLean: There’s the analogy that people go on a training session, come back and do nothing different, because their manager isn’t supporting and monitoring. So line manager accountability is key, as is registering the evidence that this person is putting learning into practice.

Stuart Mcpherson: Absolutely, it’s the richness of the conversation between the line manager and employee post course. It’s that up-front evaluation that can show ROI and benefit and the value to the business, or otherwise.

Is the format of L&D as a linear format suited to digital platform delivery? With platforms which require a greater level of individual responsibility, what measures need to be in place to ensure control, and how can greater engagement and personal responsibility be improved?

Mark Taggart: For me it’s not about how you control, but how you create a framework. Sure allowing people to run with the ball, but within the framework of the game you are playing. What we’ve put in place to be able to do that is making sure each of our professions has a clear framework around what it means to be a profession and then the flexibility within that to be creative and distinctive.

There’s a lot of nuance in there, the subtlety of what is in the learning. That really calls for people that are learning to take responsibility for themselves.

Gemma Rossiter: It goes back to what people perceive as learning, and understanding what they get out of it. A big part of that is recording things themselves, even if that’s conversations they’ve had with colleagues. For social workers at Bromley, in terms of maintaining a progressive L&D programme, it’s a bit of a juggling act because of the pressures of the job. E-learning does provide on demand facility, but you have to work hard on setting an agenda and a culture for the importance of learning, as it vies for people’s valuable time.

Keiran, like social services, the financial sector has a mandatory agenda, as it is now so highly scrutinised by standards watchdogs.

Keiran McLean: The regulatory bodies are less interested in the hours being racked up in courses and more interested in seeing changes in results and behaviours and how they are changing in order to protect the public. This means as L&D professional we are much more in control of changing the way that we are designing and delivering learning programmes whether we’re e-learning or face to face, and if we need to start measuring how people are applying it then we can do that.

Edward Gallier: Every job and sector is benchmarked to some degree. In hospitality we’re highly assessed and reviewed by our customers through the power of social media and Trip Advisor.

Keiran McLean: It’s a fantastic business driver, where you’ve got something that is immediately measurable, and a constant reminder that your aim is to improve the customer experience.

Stuart McPherson: Yes and the seed in the Government’s thought about the route to apprenticeships has really backed that point up, putting the onus back on the employers to generate the content for their own apprenticeship programmes. Front end validation is much more effective before you are doing your skills gap analysis rather than having people go through training and wait for something to go wrong afterwards.

Brian Newman: What is clear is line managers are key, but generally they don’t need a specific qualification, they are unregulated, but their position in this equation is pivotal. Trust here is critical, so that communication is transparent and qualitative.

Keiran McLean: Indeed, line managers having regular conversations with their team about what they are learning, how they apply that learning and outcomes in the job, positive and negative, is essential. Cultivating an environment of sharing information around the team, will become a much more natural part of conversation.

Emma Howells: In addition to quantitative evaluation we also need to we evaluate the effectiveness of how emotionally engaging our learning is. For example in the context of attitude surveys, e.g. “are you going to be working for us in a year’s time/ would you recommend us as an employer”?

Keiran McLean: I was talking to the global head of L&D at a leading tech firm, and the great bulk of their learning comes from their people. They’ve got the technology behind it that has created a genuine learning market. The participants then rate SME sessions and comment, much the same as Trip Advisor does. So the programmes that are impactful and successful are the ones that survive and the ones that aren’t good just disappear.

Emma Howell: It’s quite conceited if we think we can own and design all the content. I want to push my team to work in conjunction with the business to design products and tools and blended learning, using our technology department to facilitate this.

Mark Taggart: When you create content with the experts that sit in the business and provide a platform for them, it’s not just good for engagement, there’s a business win too, because you retain the expertise within your business teams.

Jessica Hills: A big driver for us in terms of content development has been around incorporating learner reflection. We are looking to actively encourage learners to set themselves objectives based on the theory they have explored in order to then practice, reflect, or perhaps get some feedback and then re-visit their original objectives. This approach aims to foster cyclical individual monitoring and responsibility which is rooted in everyday practice.

Let us turn our attention to massive open online courses or MOOC’s. An online course aimed at unlimited participation, and open access has been increasingly adopted as a live, always-on, flexible and accessible way of delivering content, but what are the experiences of delegates?

Brian Newman: This is perhaps a maturity issue within businesses. I have experienced a couple of similar MOOC’s whereby the desire is great and sign up high and then actually the delivery and absorption of content is really limited, because it’s not tailored to our business and this is a big challenge. Delegates are used to tailored content so perhaps they have been spoilt? This is just such a different way of learning for them that I think they perhaps don’t quite connect with.

Mark Taggart: I can see the value of a MOOC, but to be of value, you do need some kind of curation of content. Leverage the different subject matter, experts across all the different professions, point them in the direction of the best external MOOC content and ask them to find say the top five that they think would be really powerful for their members, then let’s connect into that and see how it works. You can build from there rather than try to navigate the deluge of online options.

Edward Gallier: We approach it on the basis that you pick well. It’s all about content, but you have to accept that it is generic, so you have to question the relevance to the business and remember that managers can be poor, not at time management, but prioritising. The flexibility of online can mean it’s the appointment you can break.

Let’s look at gamification which is increasingly providing interactive experiences into L&D. Is gamification a fad or is it a legitimate platform for the modern workforce?

Keiran McLean: It comes back to the question again of what are you trying to do with the learning? I’m not sure everyone understands its cost and actual value in L&D.

Mark Taggart: It’s got to be tied into your organisation infrastructure and it’s not so much about playing games or collecting badges, it’s what aspects of gaming drives people to do certain things in certain ways and what makes people want to return.

Edward Gallier: We have just started to use gamification with our front office teams, and it was for the repeat visits to the site outside a structured learning event we were interested in. Would employees go back to the game in their own time to increase their score?

Brian Newman: Everyone has some sort of inbuilt sense of talent to realise, I think this separates different groups potentially as well, from a diversity perspective. Some people really like the competition, the fight of a game and it can create subcultures around that, but it could be potentially as divisive as it is unifying.

Mobile content is a rapidly increasing platform, delivering l&d in bite-sized chunks. What are delegate experiences of mobile delivery and is it the future of L&D?

Mark Taggart: From our perspective mobile is really being driven by demand. We have a large mobile workforce that doesn’t sit in an office. Our focus is currently on how we enable that in a way that’s going to be easy for people to consume, either on tablets, smartphones, etc. We can already render our online social platform on a smartphone but the ambition is to deliver a fully mobile platform that can deliver learning in a meaningful format.

I think the challenge is perhaps, is flicking through an article on your commute really a learning event?

Edward Gallier: All our new manager recruits sign up for an induction and download a management App, so mobile fills some of the gaps prior to their actual induction. Mobile really does makes information more timely and accessible in this instance.

Brian Newman: Just because it’s new and available doesn’t mean what we currently do becomes old fashioned by default. There is still importance of relationships, we don’t want to remove that, but a blended approach, with mobile as part of the experience.

Emma Howell: Our colleagues don’t even think twice about having access from a mobile to the core skills. We ran ‘pop-up’ learning events which included bite-size sessions on differentskills topics. We also showcased our Academy online and mobile app, and we were able to demonstrate the technology and coach people how to use it, which worked really well, with colleagues creating podcasts on different topics for example, how to create the right display on our counters in store and putting it onto our Academy online. They also use Yammer to post questions and share learning with each other.

Jessica Hills: You cannot simply translate online to mobile, content which works well on a mobile device has been specifically designed for that purpose and importantly, you also need to be conscious of when and why a user would be consuming it on a mobile device.

Andrew Mechelewski: Mobile content for us has been very client-driven to ensure the end user mobile as part of the experience. experience is good. For example, bite-sized content and top tips have proven to be successful and engaging.

Premium content – bespoke, timesensitive support to L&D, that is aligned with more general training packages, increasingly relevant element of l&d strategy, or is it a distraction? What do you look for in premium content and does it deliver what it promises?

Andrew Mechelewski: It is about premium content becoming more bespoke and we do deliver programmes on a variety of business subject areas, accompanied by the research which the business school undertakes, which allows the content team to produce content rich with insight from subject-matter experts. Additionally, content is now client driven; sometimes it’s quite tough to turn those around, but it gives us a better understanding of the subjects in focus.

Mark Taggart: The most recent experience of premium content is where we are trying to make transformational change; for example building leadership skills for growth. Rather what we’ve found works really well is to create a package of learning that weaves in some of the best thinking in the world. The tools and methods we’ve integrated help our people to think about what kind of leader they are, what’s getting in the way of their development.

Brian Newman: It’s also a scaling issue, it can be expensive on a per-head basis to develop premium content and/or applications to deliver that content. It could become a big diversion of L&D’s total budget.

Jessica Hills: We have noticed a definite increase in demand for content which provides practical application of theory. World class thinking in itself isn’t enough, it needs to be relevant and have an explicit connection to people’s everyday practice. In terms of content delivery this has led to an emphasis of real world application up front followed by the theory, as opposed to the other way around.

Mark Taggart: I would advise organisations to be quite challenging with their partners around how they use premium content or thought leadership. The content has to have value for the organisation, and they mustn’t shy away from that in setting up the relationship. It’s not good enough to just accept content from a provider because they are a leading expert and expect by consuming it then, that you’ll gain that knowledge or skill. You have to have a peer-to-peer relationship for premium content to work for you and to get the return on investment.

Gemma Rossiter: The amount of people that come to me and say, “this needs to be bespoke, it’s got to be the Bromley way”, and we’ve had to start challenging that, mainly because of budgets. You can use off the shelf and sort of top and tail it, not everything has to be bespoke.

Keiran McLean: Agreed, providers don’t understand all the business requirements and there can be an additional layer of cost to make sure that generic programmes are contextualised but some management, behavioural and process training has been around now for a long time and I don’t think there’s anything radically new, so the concepts are pretty consistent.

Emma Howell: I agree, we bring our suppliers together that work on our leadership development programmes, so we can share our vision with them and enlist their help, ideas and support in achieving this. We also share the evaluation of any modules they run, so they can learn from this and help us to continually improve what we offer.

Keiran McLean: I think there’s also an IP element where there’s a risk, perceived or real. Who owns this content?

Mark Taggart: With a big transformational change programme, I would say that you need a really high bar of what’s required because it’s a big investment on the organisation. But for other content where you are working with a reputable provider to develop a more repeatable set of skills, going bespoke for bespoke purposes probably just complicates and creates a distraction to what you’re really trying to achieve.

Experiential vs Academia – curation of content or external expertise?

Emma Howell: Curation of content is a natural evolution in learning functions, but in a VUCA world, we can be overwhelmed with content, so it’s important we enable our colleagues to have access to relevant content and that it is easy to access. We need to trust colleagues to be curators of content too and share their personal learning especially on operational skills, and we have clear guidelines for content with editors within functions.

Andrew Mechelewski: Our subject matter experts have the ability to edit, add etc to the site and we currently have several thousand resources, and are now weeding out some of the least used content to ensure we have 500 or 600 premium content resources; quality not quantity. Use of generated content is interesting, however, the majority of requests are predominantly programme participants as opposed to the corporate user, so we haven’t yet seen the trend take off.

Keiran Mclean: There is an issue surrounding who actually owns the curated content?

Edward Gallier: Whomever becomes the curator is a gatekeeper of quality. In hospitality, it’s very fluid, people move roles and employers. I believe this has a place, if a manager moves taking knowledge/content with them, it can have a negative effect. This situation is a great opportunity to surface information, store and share.

Mark Taggart: It is a real challenge and you need to understand where that knowledge lies and how you capture it. It’s a very complex area and we are investing a lot in making sure that our Academy in BT helps facilitate the collaboration that leads not just to knowledge management, but also knowledge exchange.

Let’s look at usage reports, the analytics on usage. What is the impact of usage reports and can the data be misleading?

Gemma Rossiter: It’s a good way of taking a temperature check, but I always have a caveat on data which is, people will frame it to reflect the story that they want to tell. We need data as part of our evaluation and as part of our understanding.

Keiran McLean: My question is what does it tell you? Is it simply telling you that people are accessing training? Do we run the risk of inferring something from data where it doesn’t exist? It’s not necessarily telling you anything about the quality or the business impact.

Brian Newman: But it would be like recording attendance registers of training events and saying there you go, that’s been a success. My caution would be that this can be misleading.

Mark Taggart: It gives you the opportunity for inquiry, so I don’t necessarily always see it as a fixed measure, but more of an opportunity to understand, if you have got statistics on usage of a particular system and you suddenly see it drop off.

Brian Newman: It’s the same question as how you measure the success of a face-to-face training delivery.

Stuart Mcpherson: It’s about not accepting a “happy sheet” at the end of the course. It’s in conjunction with all the other data, that you can really ascertain the ROI and success.

Keiran McLean: Learning by itself is almost impossible to measure. Looking at learning by itself is not a valuable exercise, but if you’re looking at all of the levers being pulled, then if you can identify a change in that business issue then that should be measured.

Andrew Mechelewski: I would agree it’s a blunt mechanism and a lot of the clients who use Virtual Ashridge rely on the data to calculate the ROI. The data also helps to identify when users may need a helping hand by signposting them to content, for example. Where the dilemma lies is determining the impact of the learning hours.

Is certification in l&d essential to maintaining standard and credibility, or is this, in the modern workforce, unnecessary, limiting options and stifling reactive and organic content?

Mark Taggart: Certification often just tells you that someone did something – I’ve got an LMS that tells me that. I’m more interested in how we help people work towards an accredited standard. There are areas where accreditation gives a level of rigour that changes the dynamic of the way you are learning.

Emma Howells: Of course, accreditation is crucial if for example, you’re a forklift driver. We’ve talked about accrediting programmes or training and I think there’s mixed views; the jury is out. I think the L&D professionals sometimes wants it more than the business, so we have to go back to the roots of what value it is adding.

Stuart McPherson: It’s not necessarily the piece of paper to hang on the wall, for most it’s about credibility, progress and achievement and celebrating the effort that somebody has put in to get that accreditation.

Gemma Rossiter: For us certification has value, say in a safeguarding children award, certification, which is of course important, especially in transferal of skills.

Andrew Mechelewski: We see the trends for accreditations vary by country, for example the Middle East are hot on accreditation, whereas the UK are not quite as interested.

Jessica Hills: Some of our accredited programmes mandate a certain level of participation whereas Virtual Ashridge offers a free learning space. Without concluding whether one approach is more successful than the other, it is evident that they drive very different behaviours amongst learners.

Concluding comments on today’s discussion.

Charlotte Koch: You cannot play lip service to L&D, it’s not a tick box exercise. If it isn’t relevant, if there isn’t the culture for learning in the organisation, it is a pointless exercise for all concerned. The challenge for L&D practitioners and HR is not just the programme, it’s creating the platform, framework and impetus for L&D to succeed.

Mark Taggart: Also I think it’s how we create a mind-set shift, away from the view that development is about attending a course.

Edward Gallier: It’s the perception of what learning, taking into consideration experiential and programme based, and getting that balance between personalised learning and corporate led. The corporate centre should create the thread that links and guides the learning and makes it culturally special for that organisation.

Gemma Rossiter: It’s about the collaboration between the subject matter expert and the L&D manager’s ability to create the right environment and opportunity, to make learning organic and manageable. Knowledge and capability is such a valuable asset, it’s the most important role an L&D practitioner can fulfil.

Keiran McLean: Forecasting ten years forward, L&D functions will be facilitating learning as people learn best. For me that means that the current activities performed by L&D are not effective, it is not delivering what it needs to. For me the statement that best represents the future is “L&D is dead. Long live Learning!”.

Brian Newman: My thoughts on the future of L&D is perhaps we are on the brink of yet another revolution and technology doesn’t ever reverse so this is another platform it exists and we won’t go backward, I think probably the moment of success in terms of L&D getting past that transition is where we’re not actually discussing the platform for delivery rather just focused on what the output and content is and it shouldn’t really be a feature as to how that’s delivered, it should be irrelevant if we get to utopia, a bit like asking someone if they are calling from a mobile or a landline these days.

Stuart Mcpherson: I still am firmly of the belief that a de-centralised L&D function is probably the way forward, so that L&D professionals really understand the context of what they are delivering. I don’t think the movement of employee-generated content is going to go away, but I think the role of L&D is going to be more around quality control and measurement of outcomes, more specifically than deciding what to buy off-the-shelf and deliver to the business.

Mark Taggart: It’s going to be about partnerships, recognising where expertise lies and putting it there. It doesn’t always lie within L&D. However in terms of the L&D function, the second thing would be to create the ability to parallel process. How do you address the business imperatives through the right strategy and learning architecture, whilst also focusing on a learner-centric experience and creating a sense of belonging?

Edward Gallier: I’m keen to see how we enable all colleagues to share learning by curating content without over governing this. Learning is changing all the time and with different generations coming into the business, we need to continue to embrace blended learning.

Andrew Mechelewski: It is very reassuring that our own clients we speak to mirror some of the comments which we’ve heard today and I think you need to blow your trumpets on the value of L&D generally to the staff within your organisations. It’s about being inclusive, including everybody in the whole learning and learning process.

Jessica Hills: My takeaway is around learner-centricity and ensuring that content is developed and delivered in a way that offers relevant insight to users. It’s something we’re always conscious of in theory, but I think it’s worthwhile asking the questions of ourselves every time.

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