Staying Ahead of Critical Corporate Training Initiatives During a Pandemic
March 30, 2020
L&D Innovation in a Time of Crisis
Disruption is the buzzword of our age, but no Silicon Valley visionary or Beltway pundit ever dreamed of a disruptor like this one — a microscopic sphere haloed with nasty-looking tufts.
And yet over the past few months, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease Covid-19 has spread across six continents, upending daily life around the globe with alarming alacrity. So far, the virus has sickened more than half a million people in at least 180 countries and killed over 20,000.
The business world has been particularly hard hit as organizations large and small go on travel hiatus and companies shelve non-essential travel and meetings. A recent memo instructed WarnerMedia news and sports staffers to “limit all forms of travel as much as possible” and conduct internal meetings via phone or videoconference. Those corporate directives, which were issued to protect workers in response to health alerts, have turned out to be fairly typical, leading to (among other things) a cascade of canceled or postponed conferences, face-to-face meetings, and onsite training.
In most cases, there is little indication when it’ll be business as usual once again.
The New Normal — Working Remotely
The most impactful prescription from health experts is to observe social distancing — reducing our contact with other people — and for many organizations that means recommending or requiring remote work. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and most other major corporations have told employees to telecommute until further notice if there’s no mission-critical need to come into the office.
These precautions are forcing corporations to move quickly to find alternatives to onsite training initiatives that are critical to growth and can’t afford to be postponed indefinitely — leadership development, sales training, onboarding, diversity and inclusion, digital transformation and more. According to McKinsey, roughly one half of in-person programs have been canceled in North America through June 30, 2020. In parts of Asia and Europe, the figure is closer to 100 percent.
For some forward-looking organizations the pandemic has only accelerated a transition to online learning that was already well underway, driven by cost savings, effectiveness, and environmental concerns associated with business travel.
While online corporate training is certainly not a panacea for health scares and other major disruptions, it is becoming a necessity. In addition to sustaining key L&D initiatives, a digital collaborative learning environment can nurture an enterprise’s social interactions and other personal connections, which are especially important during stressful times when so many in the workforce are telecommuting. “Our global enterprise clients are now ramping up their consideration of our platform as a way to get the best of in-person learning without the potential present-day risk of bringing people together,” says Bob Cronin, NovoEd’s vice-president of sales.
Beyond the Videoconference
So, is it possible to transition from in-person training to online learning efficiently and effectively?
Some companies have turned to videoconferencing. But migrating in-person training to a scalable online platform in an effort to ensure continuity, flexibility and accessibility, especially for widely dispersed organizations with employees in high-risk locations, is far more ambitious — and potentially more impactful — than hosting a series of web conference calls.
It means virtual instructor-led workshops, self-study sessions with articles and videos, peer feedback, group discussions, virtual mentor coaching and projects, all designed to generate powerful learning and to scale culture and performance change.
A number of organizations in different economic sectors have shown the migration to online can be done, and done well at scale.
The Online Capability Academy
This shift is occurring within the context of what HR learning and talent analyst Josh Bersin describes as the emergence of the modern corporate capability academy. And by that, Bersin doesn’t mean simply a library of online content but rather a place — virtual or physical — where people can go to develop job-related skills, knowledge and experience that are aligned with an organization’s long-term objectives, enabling it to prosper. It’s a place of corporate learning, sharing and community. L&D teams act as academy architects and facilitators, but the business leaders in charge focus on delivering strategic capabilities, not just desired skills.
Under the academy model, innovative learning is happening in a wide range of the business activities.
At one NovoEd customer, an international manufacturer and marketer of consumer and professional products, company executives saw the need to shift from in-person training focused on a targeted set of leaders to a scalable strategy with global alignment on expectations and development for all of its 1,400 people managers.
The company was able to draw on the social and collaborative learning core of the NovoEd platform, which was integral to the leadership development program. The results exceeded expectations, with 93% of participants saying they gained valuable new insights into the manager’s role at the organization.
Cultivating a Learning Culture Online
In keeping with its meritocratic, empowered culture, Kraft Heinz launched Ownerversity in 2017 to provide a global workforce with continuous development and growth opportunities that are integrated with business functions. Ownerversity is organized into functional academies, some of which support specific business areas, such as sales, marketing and R&D. Some 7,000 learners now tap into a library of over 4,500 online courses and 25 robust custom learning experiences. The custom courses, which were developed on the NovoEd platform, have resulted in a 95% satisfaction rate and are for topics and capabilities of strategic importance in which the learning is contextualized and content is practiced and applied.
In terms of more targeted initiatives that address specific learning needs, NovoEd has partnered with CEMEX on a diversity and inclusion program to go along with its supply chain, safety and other academies. When expansion and acquisition transformed the century-old Mexican construction materials company into a major international player employing more than 42,000 workers in 50 countries, senior management recognized that diversity and inclusion were strategic enablers for growth, with new personalities and alternative thinking essential for a better understanding of international markets.
The first step in enacting widespread change was to use the NovoEd platform to create and scale a learning experience around the topic of unconscious bias. This initial step was intended to create awareness of the company’s diverse talent base and to use the power of digital learning experiences to enable new mindsets and behaviors.
Moving In-Person Training Online
Even the original bricks-and-mortar corporate university has shifted many of its operations to an academy model. General Electric claims its Crotonville leadership institute is the oldest in the country. It opened in 1956 on 59 verdant acres just north of New York City, and over the decades, gained renown for turning out top-notch managers, including at least one future CEO of GE. With more than 60% of the multinational’s 285,000-person workforce located outside the U.S, however, senior executives saw that only 30% of professional employees were able to attend the institute in person. Partnering with NovoEd, the company formalized a digital learning strategy that now offers more than 40 online courses that reach thousands of learners each week.
There’s a traditional line of thinking that social-emotional and higher-order thinking skills cannot be developed online and must be done in a physical, face-to-face setting. To be sure, some aspects of classroom interactions are difficult to replicate online. Learning online is not the same as learning in a classroom – just as meeting online is different from meeting in a conference room. There’s an art to making the transition sustainable and innovative.
At NovoEd, we’ve identified four successful online transition strategies:
Spread the learning over time. Increase retention for learners by allowing learning to happen over an extended time period. For example, a one- to two-day on-site workshop could be rolled into a three- to six-week online experience consisting of a single two-hour commitment per week.
Design learning experiences for application. Ensure your learners build capabilities through opportunities to apply the learning in authentic work situations. Missions and projects allow learners to move beyond click-through content checks to demonstrate how they plan to apply learning to their jobs – all within the safe space of a learning environment.
Create and curate content. Enrich and contextualize your learning experience with a combination of existing and new content. In-person training requires a facilitator to keep participants engaged with PowerPoint decks, videos, and other content. On the NovoEd platform, the material can expand to include a wider variety of media resources, such as internal and external videos, infographics, text, documents and other learning content.
Preserve the social learning experience. Moving training online does not mean leaving learners to fend for themselves and hope for the best. The group connections and felt accountability of in-person experiences can be maintained by keeping learners in cohorts with deadlines. Collaboration can be stimulated by including discussions, sharing assignments, and providing informal and formal feedback. Cohorts can be divided into smaller learning teams that work together on group projects. Studies at Stanford show that this type of collaborative learning significantly improves engagement, and that team-based learning is 16 more times likely to be completed compared to completion rates for individual learners. Research also has shown that learning together results in higher achievement and productivity, fosters more committed professional relationships, and creates a sense of belonging.
To recover and innovate, businesses will need to activate new organizational capabilities at an unprecedented speed and scale. Engagement and collaboration will be critical in this effort. Creating an engagement plan will provide motivation for learners to do things differently. It means connecting the learner to their work, team, and organization in new ways that deliver measurable business outcomes. And to successfully execute on new and existing strategic initiatives, companies will need to collaborate as never before and practice new skills together.
Along with hand-washing, disinfecting, and social distancing, Zoom has become part of life for many during the pandemic. However, the initial thrill of seeing distant colleagues on video conferences has given way to fatigue, anxiety, and distraction as we struggle to stay engaged.