The speed at which some of the supposedly and most respected financial institutes have melted down is stunning. Bear Stearns disappeared almost overnight. Shareholders in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are virtually wiped out. WaMu is down 93%, Lehman has filed for bankruptcy, and Wachovia, AIG, Merrill and others have suffered huge losses. Lehman and Merrill Lynch together have some 85000 odd employees who are worst effected apart from the shareholders. They will now have to compete with the armies of other financial institute workers who also have been laid off this year. This seismic change in their fortunes from master of the universe to a tribe living in fear of the pink slip has left many questions un-answered.

Who drove these institutes to the state they are in now? Lost opportunities, federal government’s failed bailouts, or short-sightedness of the top management? The answer is definitely Short-Sightedness of the top management. Companies are increasingly bypassing departments like Operations, HR, Quality, Production and treating customer focus, Marketing and Sales on priority. With the top management living quarter on quarter the focus on long term impacts is lost. It’s the lower and the middle level that is more sensitized to long term impacts of business decisions. The role of Human Resource function is largely undermined, it is the keeper of ethics and values of the organization, but in an increasingly sales oriented competitive environment it is bypassed to suffice the bottom line of the balance sheet.

Learning & development (L&D) function plays a vital role in not only coaching ‘how to sell’ but also on ‘balancing short term benefits to long terms business impacts’. The L&D of the organization plays a pivotal role in handling the human aspect of the crisis situation. The core objective of T&D department should be enhance skills and make the employee more productive. Most organizations are now resorting to cross-functional training which has a dual benefit of complying to business obligations and as well an effective mechanism to cater individual interests and career prospects. Trainings of this nature not only help companies build skilled resources but also help employees break out of their role fatigue by providing opportunities of vertical growth in career track, opening up multiple career tracks, and applying the business acumen in day-to-day activities, thereby adding significant value to their own profile. And in times of adversities, layoffs and business closures these trainings become weapons for the employees while competing in the job market.

Perhaps it is time for HR professionals to move past being just the messenger and assume a strategic role in leading crisis planning efforts.

Bob took all the benefits of this L&D initiative to the Board at the annual general meeting to review the entire project. All key stakeholders were present at this meeting. Over the review, the team identified many benefits, such as rise in sales by 13%, increase in repeat orders, improvement in customer satisfaction index, and recovery in market share. Though the initiative definitely brought significant benefits to the organization, it had its own drawbacks. The gross project cost was about 200% over the budget, with a schedule variance of approximately 100%. The feedback from the learners showed that the quality of product/technology needs improvement; the stakeholders’ feedback showed a need to improve the quality of process and people. From the feedback, Bob took the following decisions:

  1. Outsourcing as an optimal (effective & efficient) solution
  2. Outsource the needs analysis and implementation to a team of external consultants
  3. Based on the recommendations, outsource content development to an e-learning factory
  4. Outsource “Train the Trainer” programs
  5. Outsource L&D Managed Services
  6. Outsource LMS management and tracking

Delivery was decided to be done in-house and was planned to be outsourced after 3 years. The entire outsourcing would be anchored by Bob as Single Point of Contact (SPOC). It took Bob almost a year to action all the decisions. Upon implementation, the organization noticed the following benefits:

  • Cost of content development reduced by ~25%
  • Speed and quality of development was impressive
  • Helped resources to focus on core competencies of the organization
  • Productivity skills enhanced for employees
  • Overall operations scaled up
  • Operating costs reduced
  • Minimizes risks associated with investments in technology

L&D outsourcing definitely worked for the company. It brought immense value to Acme Corporation and furthered the career of Bob.

From R&D to L&D (6)

Measuring Bottomline Impact

It’s time for Bob to show results. Something as subjective as training is difficult to measure, especially when ROI needs to be calculated. But as rightly said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”; Bob’s task was to show the Board the ROI on this new L&D initiative. This was the only way to prove the success of this new training initiative.

Learning Analytics (LA) helps organizations understand the activity, effectiveness, and impact of learning and training. LA, with its 4 levels, assures some degree of measurement and results. Bob widely researched about LA and formed a team to administer and implement it within the organization. The most striking feature of LA was it would give different users the information they would need to make decisions. Bob formulated a balanced scorecard that articulated the understandings of the stakeholders’ perception of ROI.

The team went about evaluating level-by-level of the Kirkpatrick’s model. Level 1 of measurement involved administering “happy sheets” for 100% of the coursed rolled out. The feedback forms measured the satisfaction levels of the learners. At level 2, 60% of the courses are covered with a report to line managers on all the mandatory courses, such as compliance and regulatory courses. Bob’s preparation on this was truly commendable. He made the participants undergo pre-assessment test and, post the training, made them undergo the same assessment to check the increase in knowledge. This showed him how much the learners learnt from the training. Level 3 involved stakeholder surveys. This was conducted after 3 weeks of training delivery. Also called perception survey, it involved studying the training impact on the job from the learner, his/ her superior, colleagues, and subordinates. The evaluation was determined based on the various parameters defined in the learners Key Result Areas (KRAs) of the annual performance appraisal system.  Level 4, the final one, involved MIS analysis. Bob used MIS data along with Sales departmental survey information to find out post training if the sales (booking) increased. Similar trends were studied for Quality department where the fall in number of rejects was recorded. Survey from Finance department helped him plot the income (collections) hike post training. Increase in Delivery (billing) was recorded from the Production department, and finally what mattered to the business the most, i.e., customer satisfaction index, was measured from the Marketing department.

The 4 levels of Kirkpatrick’s model helped Bob immensely in drawing conclusions on training effectiveness. As this model is scientific in nature and produced measurable results, Bob had some very positive results to show to the Board.

Wow … LA did wonders for Bob. It helped him measure the subjective tasks (training). Measuring the training is not the end, there are lessons learnt from this exercise. Find this out in my next post.

In the manufacturing industry, production downtime during annual shutdowns can cost millions. This is an excellent opportunity for L&D managers to contribute to the business bottom-line. Let’s say there’s a large petroleum refinery that requires a 15-day shutdown for its yearly maintenance operations. As the operators are predominantly trained and skilled (through repetition) on routine operations, the shutdown period is difficult for everyone, not to mention revenue loss. During shutdown, there are many planned and unplanned activities to be performed in a stipulated time. Everyone has to work harder to finish things faster. Operators perform several procedures at a time due to the additional work load. Though they may be trained during induction on all these procedures, they are generally not trained to take care of several procedures simultaneously. Consequently, work slows down—hence the 15-day shutdown. To compensate, production managers drive operators to work harder during downtime to restart the plant early.

However, learning consultants advise that exceptional skills be given more focus than routine skills, so there’s less wastage. During the initial orientation / training, when plant operators are trained on both routine and maintenance operations, the latter should be given more emphasis. Later, a couple of weeks before the scheduled shutdown, the L&D manager could make the operators take simulations or walkthrough of shutdown, maintenance, and restart procedures. This way, when the actual shutdown occurs, operators perform the same with equivalent speed as routine operations. Even a 20-25% reduction in downtime adds significantly to plant throughput and profitability.

To illustrate, large refinery companies like Reliance process about 0.66 million barrels of crude oil per day. Given that crude refining margins on refinery products is $11 per barrel, even if the L&D manager can save a day of turnaround, their direct contribution to EBITDA = $7.25 million or Rs.30 crores. The investment in such turnaround training would just be a fraction of the returns. In addition, the intangible benefits accrued could include:

  • Reduction of stress in supervisor-operator interactions
  • Increase in operator confidence
  • Reduction of safety hazards

Delivering for Business Results

After getting the right content in place, Bob has to arrange to deliver the training to his 2,000+ workforce spread across 12 different countries. This workforce spoke 5 different languages, like, Finnish, Chinese, Romanian, Brazilian and Russian. Training courses were hosted on the LMS of the organization. Bob formed a new team called “Learning Task Force” (LTF), comprising Trainers, Mentors and LMS administrators.

Coaching took the form of Instructor-Led Training (classroom based), Web-Based Training, and Teleconferences, as well as posting of exercises and questions to a discussion database. Internal customers were quick to see the value-add, and qualitative feedback was positive. Many employees started to lean on the training staff as an internal help desk. The online courses could be taken anytime anywhere in 5 different languages with multiple users logging into the same course. They were modular and self-paced. Industry experts and renowned professors were roped-in as online mentors with whom the employee could “chat” to discuss topics.  This made the online courses very popular amongst the employees.

The initial challenge faced by Bob was getting employees attend the classroom and blended training programs. Learners tended to procrastinate and needed a deadline (the end of the session). To create some early success, Bob provided incentives for learners to participate and complete the program, on enrollment some trinkets/cufflinks were given away. Then the employees were allowed to take a trial class on elearning to make sure the online format would suit their needs. Once they were ready, participants were asked to commit to a learning agreement. Part of the agreement was that learners had to complete the program by a specified date, including filling out an evaluation form, in order to gain access to the remaining classes. Finally, all employees needed to have their manager’s approval—and support—to take these courses during work hours. Combined, these efforts guaranteed some rather high completion rates!

The LMS gave the LTF a complete control on tracking the progress of the users and their evaluation. Employees saw value in this format of training and nearly 60% completed the courses assigned to them.

Happy employees make happy customers; this was learnt the hard way at Acme. Bob has now filled the skill gap that existed in his employees, but it’s of paramount importance to measure what is the success of this initiative.  As rightly said, “what can’t be measure can’t be managed” … Find out in my next post how Bob implements the measurement tools to training …

Developing Quality Content

Now that the board is convinced about going the eLearning way, Bob has the Herculean task of developing quality content “in-house”. This is a crucial step as it is the stepping stone to realizing the eLearning vision of the organization. Right content is the key to right output!

Bob sets up a team of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) from across the functions, such as production, sales, quality, logistics, marketing and customer services. This he christens as the “Content Engineering Team” (CET), which brings to the table decades of experience in their respective functions and industry.

The first task at hand for Bob is to list the various classroom and eLearning courses that need to be developed for this new training initiative. He gets his team to study the requirements against the currently run courses and the market need. The study reveals that the curriculum needs major revamping in terms of new topics to be introduced. Dozens of duplicated, underused classes were culled from the roster, and predominantly classroom-based courses were transformed into blended solutions of Web-delivered courses and traditional training approaches.

The CET is in action to contribute and gather course material for the training programs. Bob co-ordinates with various departments to get the content out. The major challenge faced by Bob was getting the content developed on time. The CET could not give 100% to developing content as their primary task would set different priorities.

Bob moved around like a headless chicken to get the content out. But he did not lose heart. He got the team work extra after-office hours and during weekends to get the right content out. The content went through a series of validations and treatments before it finally shaped up.

With the content in place, the next step was to put it in a presentable form of learning. Screen captures and photographs were clicked with handicams and mobile cameras. The courses were thus developed in ILT and WBT formats.

Bob is now half way through in realizing the vision of the organization.  How will he proceed further with implementation? Would he experience the same success as earlier in delivery of the elearning training? Find this out in my next post…

From R&D to L&D (3)

Managing Resistance to Change

A major change from traditional training programs to eLearning and new genre of learning proposed by Bob generated a lot of resistance and reservations among the management. The management strongly felt that this new-fangled e-learning would be a nonstarter for the organization. A section of the Board didn’t want employees to take responsibility for managing their own development because of “time-tested, conservative” views. Some argued on costs, while others on implementation strategies. They showed apprehensions towards this new format of L&D.

Bob’s evangelism on eLearning convinced the Board that the strategy would involve a blended form of classroom and online training, thereby creating a hybrid learning environment in the organization. He brought out examples and research studies that corroborated his claim that the eLearning initiative is not a mere training program but a successful, feasible and financially viable business strategy that could change the organizational structure for the better. He proposed a phased transition into eLearning over a 1-year period. He detailed out the benefits that eLearning would bring to the organization like, optimizing the cost, bringing in training consistency, reaching a wider audience and, importantly, not taking people off their work to undergo training.

Bob also campaigned for the acquisition of a Learning Management System (LMS), which would bring in comparable benefits of classroom interactivity, by enabling the learner to interact with his/her tutor by mail/chat. To tackle the issue of making the employees buy-in this new mode of training, Bob suggested circulating internal monthly newsletters to highlight usage increments, feature different course each month and promote learning groups.

Bob seems to have convinced the Board to go the eLearning way, but what would he do next? How would he implement this vision for the organization? Find out in the next post…