Today, perhaps more than ever, organizations of all sizes and across all industries face significant pressures as they grow their businesses in a competitive and increasingly global economy. These organizations are constantly reorganizing and restructuring in response to economic conditions, global expansion, an onslaught of new technologies and other factors beyond their control.
Fortunately, recent advances in technology and the ubiquity of Internet access are eliminating geography and time-zone barriers, which have historically limited an organization’s ability to conduct business anytime and anywhere. As a result, however, employees are becoming more distributed, and organizations are becoming more decentralized.
The trend toward decentralization, whether geographically dispersed or split among business units or divisions, has fueled the debate over centralization versus decentralization, with organizations feeling forced to support corporate goals at the expense of accommodating local requirements. As organizations weigh both approaches, they are increasingly asking:
• Are employees and the organization as a whole best served by maintaining a centralized IT infrastructure that supports a decentralized workforce?
• Should certain applications, specifically those that are geography or business-unit specific, be decentralized?
• How can I accommodate local efforts and requirements while supporting the organization’s corporate goals?
• Are centralized and decentralized approaches mutually exclusive?
While there are compelling pros and cons on both sides, the reality is that most global organizations are embracing both centralized and decentralized philosophies and are incorporating elements of both in their approaches to HR and talent management. Because HR data feeds into and is leveraged across applications that span the entire organization, regardless of business unit
or geography, most organizations find it most effective to centralize HR data and associated talent management applications — including learning management, career development, performance management, succession planning and compensation management — while allowing for localization of learning content.
While decentralization — both in terms of management structure and physical employee distribution — is gaining in popularity and adoption, especially across global organizations, it also can lead to unique talent management challenges. Already strained HR professionals must ensure that employees have access to proper training, adhere to appropriate
regulations and receive the necessary feedback and guidance to help them advance their professional careers, regardless of their physical location or time zone.
As employees gain autonomy under a decentralized structure, companies must continually roll out centralized solutions that ensure corporate compliance and consistency. Because managers within distributed organizations often make decisions that could impact the overall business, the solution must provide the ability to train and regularly update employees on corporate vision and philosophies so that employee decision making supports these ideals and objectives.
The Emergence of Decentralization Organizations
For decentralization to succeed, employees must have the right tools to conduct their jobs successfully. Appropriate, accessible and relevant training and development is critical to this success. By providing employees with the requisite skills, experience, training and recognition, organizations will develop a more confident workforce. The challenge, of course, lies in an organization’s ability to deliver
consistent training and development to all employees — anytime, anywhere — while respecting and accommodating any language, custom, legal or other requirements specific to locations, geographies and cultures.
Today’s talent management solutions provide, or should provide, robust learning management systems (LMS) capable of meeting the basic needs of enterprise organizations in terms of tracking employee training, development and performance. While many available talent management solutions or stand-alone LMSs can support the basic requirements, only a few are able to deliver the scalability, performance and configurability necessary for supporting decentralized workforces looking to balance localized training and performance needs against an organization’s overall business objectives. This is a need for many organizations, as the success and effectiveness of training and development activities is linked to and dependent on the quality and availability of relevant learning and training content.
As companies weigh the limitations and costs of technology related to purchasing, distributing administering and managing their learning and training content, many are considering next-generation talent management solutions to streamline and simplify their current processes, which are proving to be time and cost intensive. In addition to providing a single place where organizations can browse and purchase content, these solutions should provide hosting and managed services for updating, validating, storing and administering an organization’s custom-developed or third-party content. Such systems also ensure consistency and compliance with overall corporate goals by allowing organizations to roll out consistent, standard training and development initiatives throughout the entire organization, at the same time.
Content: The Best of Both Worlds
Encouraged by the emerging breed of flexible talent management applications and solutions, organizations are finding it easier to centralize and standardize their critical learning and talent management data and systems, while also accommodating local talent management requirements and functions, specifically around employee learning, training and development.
Today’s organizations demand real-time visibility into the talent that resides within their organizations, and with global competition intensifying, corporations must be able to manage and shift employee talent globally when needed. As such, global organizations that are highly distributed are best served by centralizing critical talent management information, such as data related to regulatory compliance or competency-related data, in a system that spans the entire enterprise. Centralized management of this information ensures consistency, reduces redundancy and simplifies tracking and reporting. Organizations also are realizing the time and cost benefits of upgrading one centralized learning management system versus upgrading many systems across multiple locations.
While most enterprise-class LMSs provide strong functionality around a centralized system for tracking, record keeping and certifications, it also is becoming increasingly important for today’s organizations to support localized learning and training. By allowing content to be managed locally, organizations can address and accommodate culture issues, languages and customs, a critical requirement for any global organization today.
Similarly, on the content side, organizations are finding that solutions and managed services offerings that reduce the time, cost and complexity associated with updating, managing and distributing content are addressing a huge pain point and filling a significant void within the HR community. With research reports indicating that organizations spend as much as 15 percent of their e-learning budgets on content management and integration, this represents significant savings.
Moreover, today’s organizations can avoid the hassle of upgrading their LMS and content altogether by selecting software-as-a-service (SaaS) talent management solutions or deploying hosted LMS solutions in tandem with other systems.
Global organizations are increasingly adopting a blended approach that leverages an LMS for accessing learning content, managing the learning workflow, administering assessments and tracking employee certifications, while supporting localized learning within the context of an overarching talent management strategy. The following example demonstrates how centralized talent management solutions are successfully supporting decentralized organizations across employees, teams and business units.
Enforcing Regulations Compliance
Regulated industries with strict compliance requirements demand centralization. A prime example is the airline industry, which must maintain and document compliance with strict and seemingly ever-changing local, state, federal and international regulations. Most organizations have thousands of employees working geographically dispersed, 24×7 operations, which can make the planning and execution of learning and performance initiatives a logistical nightmare. By deploying a scalable, Web-based solution, these organizations are able to deliver knowledge to employees and contractors across the enterprise with access anytime, anywhere.
Pinnacle Airlines Inc., an air carrier that operates 139 Canadair regional jets in the United States and Canada and provides daily flights numbering in the thousands, needed to deploy an LMS that could automate its critical talent management processes and deliver the enterprise-class scalability and functionality required to support its dispersed workforce of more than 4,000 employees. In addition to ensuring compliance with FAA regulations, the LMS had to be able to support Pinnacle’s broader expanded employee development initiatives, which were fueled by the company’s rapid growth.
Pinnacle selected and deployed a Web-based solution that provides its employees, as well as 6,000 external contract and maintenance workers, access to training materials and compliance-specific content at anytime and from anywhere. By documenting all certifications, trainings, retrainings and performance review ratings, Pinnacle’s personnel receive the industry’s best and most up-to-date training available, and the company is meeting timely compliance with all current regulations. In addition, Pinnacle was able to streamline its critical pilot training program by allowing regionally dispersed crew members to access critical, compliance-related learning materials, such as seasonal topic areas that they test for on a monthly basis.
Pinnacle’s proactive approach to talent management and regulatory compliance allows its employees to reach performance targets and develop critical skills. This is especially valuable to Pinnacle as it continues to grow within a highly regulated market.
Finding the Right Solution
There is much hype and hyperbole in today’s HR and talent management market as vendors tout their solutions as the newest panacea for addressing the pains related to learning management. When evaluating learning management systems, it is important for organizations to select solutions that support their organizational goals and objectives and overall talent management strategy, as well as accommodate any specific decentralization issues within the organization.
A flexible solution enables employees to drive their skill growth, set their career goals and proactively maintain their expertise through continuous enrichment and learning within the context of the corporate vision. Providing a learning infrastructure that empowers employees has elevated the strategic value of learning management and learning management systems.