How wrong we were. We completely missed the point. It wasn’t about pushing sales; it was about establishing relevance. It wasn’t about the acquisition of knowledge in our classrooms, but the application and transference of that knowledge to the workplace. It wasn’t only about reaching the learners who end up in our classrooms; it was also about reaching the learners’ managers so they could see and help drive the use of that knowledge.
For many years there has been a disconnect between what the training department has been so passionately trying to achieve and the way the overall organization sees training’s integration and relevance. The good news is that there are learning organizations and departments out there that get it. They understand that training produces a product and that if the consumers don’t use that product or understand its relevance, they will stop buying. Training is ultimately about driving the usage of knowledge. With all the learning modalities available today to help achieve a learning outcome, the way training is marketed and “sold” is more important than ever.
There are several fundamental principles every CLO and training department needs to keep in mind when marketing these programs. The first is to understand the business outcomes a department or organization is dealing with relative to specific projects, and then to understand training’s role in achieving those outcomes. Once the business relevance is understood, the stakeholders need to be identified. A stakeholder can be defined as anyone who is influenced or impacted by a training program. This can be a much larger group than training has traditionally involved. The learner is clearly a part of this, but so is the learner’s manager, as well as other parts of the company, depending on the rollout and its approach. For instance, if e-learning is involved, the IT department needs to be involved from a systems standpoint. Often, implementing a learning management system (LMS) and related e-learning tools will involve support and help from the IT department. They are now stakeholders. They need to be involved in the rollout and communication plan as its being developed. They need to see the relevance and outcome of the program so they can work it into their schedules and routines. Clearly there are other stakeholders depending on the program, but all must be anticipated and involved as early as possible.
Once these lines of communication are established, the training organization needs to return to this group throughout the rollout to keep them informed and to continue getting their feedback. Keeping these lines of communication open is critical to the overall success of the project. Because of the size of these implementations, momentum and engagement can be lost if the stakeholders are neglected once the program gets started. Certain aspects of the program will need to be adjusted and reintroduced based on the information received. If the stakeholders feel that their issues aren’t being heard beyond their initial involvement, they will simply disengage. This disengagement can threaten the long-term success of the project.
Another factor to keep in mind is the approach, and the learning tools, being used to deliver the training. Will a pilot group be used? Who should be involved? Have all the appropriate stakeholders been included and at the right time? How long should the pilot run? How will feedback be collected and integrated so that when the rollout is expanded, the lessons learned can be applied? Will the pilot group be used to market the program to the larger population? Testimonials and training results from these groups can often go a long way toward successfully marketing these programs to the intended population.
Because of the scope of enterprise rollouts, many take a blended approach involving different learning tools. How well do these tools complement existing learning models and modalities? How will they be accessed and supported throughout the process?
Much of this gets back to the buy-in and engagement of the stakeholders. Minimally, do the learners and their managers understand the value of all the learning options being introduced? One common area to be aware of is whether managers see the value of providing employees time to access e-learning systems during the workday. I recently talked to an organization whose line managers were struggling with understanding the value of having employees “off the floor” completing online tutorials when they could be selling. This training organization had to re-establish the relationship between the instruction and its impact on sales. They also moved the learning closer to the sales floor by creating learning resource centers right on the property. This way, managers and employees could more easily access training during a typical workday.
Finally, how will the training program be evaluated? Relevance is ultimately about results. All too often, evaluations are targeted for the end of training when the most important time to show results may actually be in the beginning and throughout the program. Constant evaluation measures should be in place to monitor both the outcome and the engagement of learners, particularly with programs that depend on independent modalities, such as online tutorials or CBTs. If participation is never initially established or is dropping off over time, the communication plan and relevance of the program, as well as its delivery options, need to be examined. Modalities such as e-learning are often blamed for failure of these rollouts, when in fact the initial buy-in and relevance to business outcomes may never have been established. Sometimes, once relevance has been established, the delivery tools chosen are not introduced appropriately or do not complement the lifestyle and ability of the learner. Consistent and ongoing evaluation measures need to be put into place to help identify potential issues.
One example of an organization that “gets it” is Marriott International, based in Washington, D.C. Gerry Hudson-Martin is the vice president of enthusiastic learning for Marriott. As you can see from Hudson-Martin’s title, Marriott sees his role as much more than the traditional director of training. Marriott has been producing award-winning training programs for years. Hudson-Martin believes that a key factor in this success is that Marriott views training not as an add-on, but as an integral part of a learner’s employment. From the most senior positions on down, managers are very engaged in the development of their associates. It is one of the key criteria with which they are evaluated. Business-critical training is specifically included in their standards and is regularly evaluated during the performance-review process. At every management meeting, Chairman Bill Marriott repeats the words of his father and founder of the company, “Take good care of your employees, and they’ll take good care of our customers, and our customers will keep coming back.”
Marriott organizes enterprise learning solutions around specific business projects rather than more generic enterprise learning programs. Some examples of these types of projects include a renewed focus on customer service within a brand, a new room-management-system function, a frequent-guest recognition program update or an initiative to improve communications with owners and franchisees. The marketing of the learning is considered part of the formal change-management process of a project. Change management can be a part-time job, a full-time job or, in the case of large projects, a team within the larger project team.
One of Marriott’s more successful marketing initiatives for enterprise learning was its rollout of PeopleSoft HR and Financials. The original project had a change-management team of more than 70 associates. The audience included HR and finance managers at properties and a new business unit for centralized billing and accounts receivable. The change-management team managed all project communications, prepared property managers for the upcoming process changes, designed the curriculum and then rolled out the system and the training to more than 10,000 associates.
More recently, a new Web-based interface of PeopleSoft 8.8 was rolled out to 2,800 HR users of the system. Because of the success of the initial rollout, the upgrade was accomplished without any classroom training. Instead, Marriott used a variety of modalities that better fit the nature of the implementation and the work style of the learners. Some of the learning tools used included a Web site, weekly updates, conference calls, Web conferencing, job aids, RoboDemos and the monitoring of help calls and Web site hits. All resulted in a robust offering that met many different learning needs.
Marriott doesn’t see training as a separate initiative needing its own marketing and communication plan. Rather, the training is intimately married to the success and rollout of the project as a whole and is included in its overall change strategy. The training piece may have its own project plan, but it is still clearly linked to a business outcome.
Marriott also recognizes the need to support all stakeholders throughout these types of rollouts. For example, the company’s e-learning solutions demand a close relationship with multiple information technology departments. An e-learning project team must work with telecommunications, IT security, Web services, vendor management, finance and recovery services, legal services, help-desk support, human resources systems, technical field services, capacity planning, desktop imaging services and an enterprise testing center. It takes a coordinated effort and a firm understanding of all stakeholders to effectively support organizations and enterprise learning initiatives of Marriott’s size.
Metrics are critical to the ongoing success and continued engagement of these projects. At Marriott, Hudson-Martin uses a variety of methods, including access ratios, completion rations, an increase in test scores and feedback from participants, both online and in focus groups. But ultimately, the final determining factor is whether the overall project is a success or not. Training is simply one component of many that makes a particular project successful. It is part of Marriott’s culture to assume that training associates on the new skills needed for a project is one of the key deliverables.
Marketing enterprise-wide learning initiatives is a very involved and labor-intensive process. The overall costs of these projects to the organization are high, and success is critical. Having all key stakeholders’ buy-in to the outcome will often make or break these programs. The rollout has a much higher chance of success if the old view of training as a separate “necessary evil” is left behind and is replaced with a new perspective where training is seen as a natural and integral part of a business outcome or initiative. Marriott International is a perfect example of a company that has effectively linked training to its overall success as a company. Marketing and communication is everything in achieving this goal.
Bob Mosher is the executive director of education for Element K. He has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. For more information, e-mail Bob at email@example.com.
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