The corporate learning landscape has become increasingly complex. Companies now have to manage formal training, many forms of digital content, Massive Open Online Courses and a wide variety of informal learning strategies.
Adding to the proliferation of learning content and media, young professionals’ and employees’ expectations are changing. Today’s younger workers — people in their 20s, 30s and even 40s — want to develop their own “learning playlist.” They want to plot their own development path, search out programs and content, and learn on demand. This means the digital learning experience we provide should be agile, easy to navigate and highly flexible.
I recently visited a global manufacturing company that is going through a massive technology shift in its core product. Its engineering, research and manufacturing teams are rapidly learning new skills in software, battery technologies and electric motors. Its business is global, so the organization needs to build a global competency program that lets people develop and share skills as well as implement centers of expertise for various parts of the technology roadmap.
One strategy was to build a new competency model for engineering and manufacturing. Developed by human resources and the engineering experts, the new model has more than 50 competencies and covers a wide range of topics. After nine months, the program is taking shape and the team is developing a strategy to assess these skills.
A global financial services company recently discovered only 10 to 20 percent of the more than 9,000 courses in its catalog are being widely used. It also had a very complex environment, and its learning leaders were finding that learning offerings were difficult to manage and analyze.
In both cases, the answer is one word: simplify.
In August, I wrote a long research article on the topic, “Simplify: The Decluttering of Human Resources.” I chose that title because we often clutter up our solutions with complexity — all with good intentions — and that makes them hard to use, hard to maintain and slow to evolve.
After looking at hundreds of learning programs in many organizations, I’ve developed a few principles to follow:
• Simplification does not mean being simplistic. If you don’t understand the entire problem, stripping things down may create a program with little value. Scope out the entire solution, and then remove the elements not urgently needed.
• Reduce the number of moving parts. There may be 50 required skills in engineering and manufacturing, and there may be 9,000 types of learning in a company. But the human mind cannot understand and manage that many elements. Cut back 50 competencies to seven capabilities. Trim the 9,000 courses to the top 200; outsource the rest.
• Clarify communications. Complex, wordy slide presentations and Web pages with lots of images holds people back. Bring in your design team, put on your marketing hat and come up with a compelling name, a simple logo and an easy-to-understand program. This can be tough; it’s why successful companies spend years simplifying their messaging.
• Less is more. The less you say and the less you ask people to do, the more focus they will have and the more they will remember. My favorite sales training program was called “Find the Fox.” I never forgot that important concept of “finding the real decision-maker.” The rest of the course is lost on me now.
• Keep the team small.As much as we want a lot of people involved in learning programs, more people tend to make things more complex. When the team is small — five people or less — it’s easier to stay focused and keep messaging in line.
In today’s world of instant messaging, Twitter feeds, overwhelming emails, conference calls and global meetings, most employees’ and customers’ minds are cluttered already. Your job in learning is to help them free that space so they can think and learn something new.
The simpler and more memorable your programs become, the more of an effect you may have.