Organizing Learning Around Strategic Business Partnerships
AT&T Learning has restructured its organization into a vertically integrated global learning organization. AT&T Learning works closely with its business partners to develop the right solutions to help them meet their business goals. It strives to meet the business objectives associated with revenue growth, market share and ensure competitive client solutions.
Within AT&T Learning, planning teams – consisting of learning consultants – work with business leaders to interlock on each organization’s business priorities and initiatives. They conduct needs analysis and identification of high-level design requirements. During the business planning process, the learning consultants work with the business to identify potential learning needs and requirements. Using product mix, sales segmentation strategy, customer experience and network strategies, and the corresponding investments, the team sets training priorities. Learning needs are considered up front as a part of the overall business investment and benefit objectives.
“The emphasis on the relationship with the business partners enables AT&T Learning to support changing business conditions,” said Xavier Williams, CLO of AT&T. “As the priorities within the business change, key stakeholders can prioritize one learning program over another. This flexibility is critical to support a rapidly changing business environment.”
Align Business Planning With Learning
AT&T Learning uses the Program Matrix as a road map to illustrate alignment with business priorities. This matrix is comprised of the annual corporate business objectives and major organizations supported by AT&T Learning, and the training requirements and objectives supporting or improving each specific business metric. This matrix is a visual representation of the alignment of all work within AT&T Learning supporting key business goals.
Blending Learning With Work
The matrix is implemented using the instructional strategy and delivery methodology that will most effectively meet the objectives, which in turn are mapped to business results. By blending learning with work, they enable people to get the skills and knowledge they need while also making work time more productive. Through the use of innovative technologies, training is no longer event-driven, limited to attending a single class or completing a Web-based training course. Instead, it becomes part of an employee’s daily work routine in a blended-learning format. This approach leads to improved performance, just-in-time delivery and less time away from productive work, like providing customer service or selling out in the field.
One example of this approach is AT&T Learning’s Electronic Customer Relationship Management (eCRM) Learning Program. Bringing quality updated learning objects to users when and where they need them most so they can do their jobs is what this blended learning solution was designed to do. As part of the eCRM implementation, AT&T Learning was able to integrate learning into the whole process, aligning its work to business priorities and creating a blended solution that contributed to the company’s success. The solution included awareness communications, Web-based tool training, mentoring milestones and the “Knowledge Gateway,” an electronic performance support system.
Beyond merely providing support, this solution converges learning with knowledge management, using technology to combine and deliver intellectual and knowledge-based assets. This blended-learning solution delivers the quality content users need, when they need it. By embedding learning in the tool itself, eCRM seamlessly integrates learning into the tasks people use the tool or system for, blending learning with work. The company gets more value for its training dollars, and users have access to more effective and efficient learning solutions.
Measure Impacts and Outcomes
Finally, AT&T Learning measures impact rather than activity to demonstrate a change that is making a difference in achieving business priorities. These metrics allow AT&T Learning to link learning to business results, providing valuable data to continually improve learning effectiveness. Importantly, these metrics are also used for resource decisions and design considerations to ensure maximum business impact on future programs based on past experiences. Impact-driven metrics focus on the priorities of the business rather than activity-based numbers that may lack context. In short, AT&T Learning takes care to demonstrate the impact of what it does in terms of the company’s bottom line, integrating learning into the company’s business strategy.
Business impact reports – periodic reports that combine actual business data and training interventions – are routinely used to provide status to AT&T Learning’s business partners and to assess effectiveness and progress. The way the business evaluates the success of an initiative determines the metrics used to evaluate the training portion, and then all measurement plans are reviewed and approved by the same business partners to prioritize training resources and requests. Learning consultants aligned to each business leader determine the current and target measures around every program. Additionally, a formal group within AT&T Learning, the Metrics Team, provides data mining and analysis using data from the business and combines it with training activity data.
Traditionally, training was judged based on its ability to train a high volume of students at the lowest possible cost, and the business measured the efficiency of the training organization by its ability to produce solutions with a low unit cost. Typically, there was a focus on “training” solutions, not “business” solutions. Training was perpetually perceived as a variable cost. AT&T Learning is changing this perception by shifting from a culture of driving to the lowest unit cost to a culture of driving to the right solution. In other words, what is important is the difference between the cost and the value of the solution. A medium-cost, high-value solution is more desirable than a low-cost, low-value solution.
For example, one business unit had critical roles with significant skill gaps. Although these roles had a relatively small number of incumbents, from a business perspective the roles were deemed highly critical, and it was recognized that a more substantial investment was warranted. Business leaders understood this and helped prioritize these investments with high unit costs. Despite the substantial investments, the return on investment (ROI) was still positive because of their importance to the overall business strategy and the success of the learning solution in closing those skill gaps. Filling the skill gaps in these roles was considered vital to the strategic transition of the company and its financial success.
This emphasis on business impact and ROI reflects the transformation within AT&T Learning to redefine its own measures of success. Cost per student day, ratio of training professionals to total employees and training budget as a percentage of payroll were some traditional measures of training, focusing solely on cost or activity. In contrast, return on investment and business impact studies emphasize the value or the net benefit of a given investment. For example, the ratio of training professionals to total employees might be 1 to 40 or 1 to 400. The traditional model suggests that the 1-to-400 ratio is cheaper and therefore more favorable, based on the assumption that cheaper is better. However, this evaluates only one side of the equation (cost or activity), and it is difficult to ascertain from traditional ratios whether the organization with a 1-to-40 or a 1-to-400 ratio had a bigger contribution and impact on the business. Within AT&T Learning, the emphasis is on the value and the contribution to the bottom line. Activity and cost are primarily internal considerations that help AT&T Learning evaluate its overall contribution to business results. As the learning organization has redefined how it measures its own success, its business partners also expect any investment to consider both net benefit and net cost.
A year ago, AT&T Learning began presenting job-application and business-impact metrics. Initially, members of the senior leadership team were openly surprised that the training organization was using fiscal measures to evaluate training investments. Today, senior executives expect and request job-application and business-impact analyses on training programs. Using the same financial techniques as those used to evaluate business investments has helped elevate and align training with the business and its priorities. By linking training to financial outcomes, AT&T Learning is able to demonstrate its impact on and value to the business.
Measuring Business Impact
A formal certification program was created to provide a group of learners in the sales force with basic AT&T product knowledge through a Web-based curriculum of 13 courses. This curriculum represents the “minimum” amount of education required to participate in this particular role, and the estimated training required for completion of this program is 25 to 30 hours. Learners who completed the curriculum reported that their average dollar amount per sale increased 68 percent after training completion. They also reported that their average number of sales completed per month increased 35 percent after training completion.
AT&T Learning also reviewed the actual revenue results of participating organizations. Organizations that completed the curriculum had an average revenue that was 387 percent higher than that of their counterparts who had not completed the program. Revenue and average sale amount per learner were compared using a trend analysis before and after training and using comparison groups. The business impact of the training program was measured based on the collective results achieved by completing all 13 courses.
This information helps the business make additional investment decisions. For example, our business partners may increase the investment dollars in a successful training program that results in significant revenue uplift. Moving more people through the value chain may be costly, but the value may outweigh the training investment. The business can use this information to determine how to allocate or reallocate training dollars to maximize return to its bottom line.
Stephanie Barber is a district manager in the learning organization of AT&T.
Susan Bryant is a graduate student studying human-computer interaction.
They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.