As technology evolves, employees need more training, more often. Surgical learning at Procter & Gamble provides a means to train these employees quickly on focused, applicable topics.
During the past two decades, the frequency, magnitude and speed of change in organizations have increased dramatically. Technology, globalization and organizational transformations force companies and their employees to learn and utilize new skills, business models, organizational designs and software at an ever-increasing pace to remain competitive.
This presents a dilemma for most organizations. Employees require more training, more often and in an environment in which dealing with the very changes they need training on limits the amount of time they are available for training. “Surgical learning” presents one solution to this paradox. By empowering authors at local levels in the organization to develop and implement short, targeted lessons, maximum productivity is achieved. Surgical learning is a way to capitalize on the waves of change flowing through the company rather than fall victim to them.
Technology Is Changing Rapidly
The rate of technology change is increasing in frequency, magnitude and speed and will continue to do so in the future. Software life cycles have shortened and new products arrive in the market making existing ones obsolete. Technology skills continuously are evolving, as new software offers previously unavailable capabilities for the end user.
Similarly, organizational change is increasing and will continue to do so. Companies constantly are seeking optimum designs to compete in today’s ever-changing global world. For many organizations, globalization, increased competition and new business models have caused them to reconsider everything about their designs. The evaluation of the company’s success in the marketplace may result in outsourcing, downsizing, centralizing, decentralizing, acquiring, divesting and/or reorganizing.
Additionally, globalization has changed work schedules, making it possible for an employee to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As a result, many employees are taking more work home and on vacation. The result is a workaholic culture in which work-life balance and employee health is significantly impacted, and many companies are providing work-life balance programs to help employees cope.
Effects on Employees
Employees are expected to keep current and productive. As software life cycles shorten, new technologies emerge, the organization is in flux and the workday lengthens — and this has become an increasingly daunting task. Employees are dealing with multiple simultaneous changes on a daily basis. The pressure to learn fast is significant, and the individual who learns the fastest wins.
However, traditional classroom and Web-based training (WBT) development processes cannot meet the current pace of change. They are too slow, too costly and too ineffective. Companies must train large populations of their workforces rapidly in order to maintain effectiveness, and traditional methods no longer can meet this challenge.
With the quick turnover in product design and software, employees require more training, more often and at a time when daily workload demands already are pushing the health and life balance of employees to critical limits. In speaking with employees, the following statements are typical:
• “I don’t have time to go to training; I’m too busy trying to figure out this new software.”
• “I just want to get in, learn what I need to learn and get out!”
• “I need training on what I need to know right now, whether it is filling a form or ordering a part!”
The short-term daily demands take priority over scheduled training classes. As a result, classroom courses are being shortened and attendance is falling. The common complaint is that they take too much time. To illustrate, one manager recently asked me if I could give a 30-minute summary of an eight-hour course at the next meeting because that was all the time his team had available.
At a glance, the problem has no good solution because the goals are mutually exclusive: Either the long-term success of the organization suffers or the short-term productivity suffers.
The solution, perhaps, lies in changing the training method and program.
The Solution: “Surgical Learning”
In 2000, Rapid Learn, the virtual university for Procter & Gamble, was born. The goal was to create a new learning model that was fast, inexpensive and effective at training employees. What evolved from the project is the concept of “surgical learning.”
Surgical learning draws from the idea that employees do not need to learn an exhaustive, detailed account of a new technology or program; rather, they need to learn only the specific aspects necessary to do their jobs. By selecting, or surgically choosing, only the content needed, the amount of training content can be minimized. Minimized content translates into shorter training programs, faster development time and rapid consumption. These shorter training programs fit into employee time schedules, and attendance increases because of the program’s short, applicable nature. The end result is a progressive organization with an educated workforce.
Rapid Learn is an illustration of the success of the surgical learning methodology. When Rapid Learn was launched by Procter & Gamble, 1,044 students downloaded WBT courses. In 2007, the number of students downloading Rapid Learn WBT courses exceeded 50,000 per month. Training is expansive, covering multiple focus groups in multiple languages. In addition to increased attendance, surgical learning has reduced the cost of training.
A recent report from Procter & Gamble’s manufacturing department estimated that the surgical learning methodology in Rapid Learn saved $75 in training for each employee download versus classroom and accelerated the pace of necessary high-impact training by three to four years.
The basic model, by design, is adaptable to any group in any organization. Simply stated, surgical learning is as follows: Rapid Development + Rapid Delivery + Rapid Consumption = Surgical Learning. There are four foundational blocks to the surgical learning approach. They are:
1. Centralize the learning management system (LMS). Consolidate all training records for the company into one database. The centralized LMS expedites delivery and consumption of learning material. End users have a centralized location for all training, where employee training records are obtainable by running a simple report. By eliminating thousands of multiple tracking systems across the company, administrative costs are slashed.
2. Distribute authorship. Make the investment in, and create a community of, self-sufficient WBT authors inside the organization. Distributed authorship increases the speed of training across all three categories: development, delivery and consumption.
3. Create one-point lessons. Create short, one-point-lesson WBTs focused on specific activities. This eliminates unnecessary training and time. It streamlines development, delivery and con-sumption of the information by making it simple for authors to create and by allowing end users to select only the training they need. Users can get information immediately, learn it and move on.
4. Standardize the format. Choose only standardized software for authoring and one standard template interface. The use of the standardized software simplifies problem solving and support, and training on a uniform template interface provides consistency and quality for the end user.
In conclusion, the business world is changing exponentially, and corporate training programs must pick up the pace. Employees today require more training, more often and in an environment in which there is less time available to train. Surgical learning provides a means to rapidly train employees on focused, applicable topics and maximize success.
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