Limited Brands Technology Services Inc. (LTS) is a subsidiary of Limited Brands Inc., providing information technology consulting and service to brands including The Limited, Victoria’s Secret, Victoria’s Secret Direct, Victoria’s Secret Beauty, Express, Henri Bendel, Bath and Body Works, White Barn Candle Company and all supporting units of the corporation. More than 700 IT associates are based in Ohio, New York, New Mexico and Hong Kong, and support an enterprise of over 100,000 associates and more than 4,000 stores. LTS was formed in 1999 to centralize IT professionals from across the enterprise in preparation for Y2K and beyond. Facing the challenge of building a strong community from diverse IT groups, LTS began a transition to a consulting model to best align resources within an environment of constant change, while attracting, developing and retaining the best IT talent available in the industry. HR determined that a skills and competency program would allow LTS to understand associate strengths and target key development activities relative to strategic goals.
In late 1999, LTS launched a skill competency project called “TechTrak”—a combination of a learning management system (LMS), a skills model and a separate online learning system. However, the project wasn’t as successful as we had hoped, due to a lack of strategic integration of skill and competency management components and training. One missing piece was a link between skills and competencies to specific jobs, teams and targeted learning resources. LTS had no learning strategy. Associates and managers became frustrated that there was no link to reported skill gaps and available training. The result was a lack of buy-in to the project with relatively low usage of the tools.
Reflecting on the lessons learned from TechTrak, we found that we needed to go beyond the pieces of competency management and look at the entire whole to:
- Think strategically by defining our learning strategy and linking the strategy to career paths, jobs, skills and training.
- Gain buy-in through partnership by reaching out to functional teams to assist with job and skill analysis and by forming an online learning review team to conduct extensive hands-on reviews of vendor proposals, including content, flow, ease-of-use, reporting and customization tools.
- Fully integrate skills development, gap analysis and online learning within a single LMS development Web portal.
As a result of this hindsight, LTS relaunched the skill development program under the brand name of “LTSCareerU,” which now includes full integration between the LMS tool, skills and competency model and enhanced online learning. This integrated system:
- Provides tools and a process for managing and tracking an integrated inventory of jobs, skills, learning resources and people (SumTotal Systems’ Aspen).
- Identifies industry-benchmarked competencies and skills needed to achieve critical business goals (ITG Information Technology Competency Model).
- Integrates modular learning resources (Thomson NETg) that tie directly to skill gaps—associates and managers can now see a skill gap and immediately launch an appropriate learning resource via the LMS.
Managers and associates have a complete view of individual progress, assessment and completion. HR, LTS technical experts and our NETg colleagues have partnered to map more than 900 courses to key skills and competencies within the system. This was facilitated by NETg’s Learning Object structure. Each learning object has a specific and measurable objective associated with it. Although this mapping was accomplished by hand at the initial implementation, plans are underway to make use of an automated mapping tool.
LTS added customized business skills to the skill dictionary, as well as an additional proficiency level to the ITG model to demonstrate that training in a skill doesn’t necessarily equate directly to an increase in that skill on the job. Great progress has been made in tying LTSCareerU to our regular cascade of associate development planning, resulting in a 92 percent completion of skill inventories. LTS has developed several key competencies, including a project management competency targeting key skills in a blended learning approach. The initial success of this competency recently allowed 11 technical resources to transition to full-time project management positions.
As we move forward in our transformation, however, the question rises, what else can LTSCareerU do? We are starting to use data from skill inventories to help us forecast additional development activities, competencies and recruiting needs—taking this system beyond the normal standards of LMS, skill and learning resource integration.
In order to sustain LTSCareerU, it is essential that it move outside the scope of HR into functional team ownership. Therefore, this year LTSCareerU will transition to a team that is responsible for work initiation and resource allocation. HR will take a consulting role to ensure that key linkages exist between jobs, competencies and learning resources. This partnership will allow LTS to build on the foundation of LTSCareerU through ongoing mapping of key skills and competencies and their link to modular learning resources and development activities.
Cathy Lawson is an HR development manager with Limited Brands Technology Services, based in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.