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Interview: Nyla Reed, founder of The Educe Group, on talent management, talent strategy and LMS

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23rd Jun 2013
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Nyla Reed is a founder of The Educe Group, a strategic and technical consulting firm. Nyla has more than 16 years' experience implementing HR technologies, developing learning strategies, and designing training for a diverse group of clients including Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and high school students.

How have training strategies changed over the last five years?
Training has become more integrated and aligned with a person’s function within the organisation.

Instead of removing employees from their offices for multi-day training sessions containing content that may or may not be directly relevant to an employee’s responsibilities, organisations are taking the time to target training to employees based on tasks they need to successfully complete in the short-term.

This strategic approach has been supported by the diversification of training methods that are now in use. Whereas five years ago traditional Instructor-Led Training (ILT) and WBTs dominated the training stage, blended learning is capturing more attention today. The ability to combine chunks of in-person training—whether it be ILT, on the job training, or coaching—with self-paced delivery modes enables learning organisations to determine the most appropriate approach for a particular training objective, offer a variety of content to meet different learning styles, and extend resources further than was possible in the past.

It’s very exciting to be part of a learning organisation today; between the evolving technologies, the closer connection to functional areas, and the growing tie between learning and performance there are so many ways to make a valuable impact at your company.

What are the fundamental mistakes companies make when trying to implement a new LMS?
No question, the biggest mistake I have seen companies make is focusing on the technology instead of their business objectives when selecting/implementing an LMS.

I’ve seen so many companies rush to schedule vendor demos without taking the time to first focus on specific requirements that the system needs to meet to be valuable for their organization. And then during implementation, those same teams get swayed by some piece of functionality that they have no need to immediately use. When I hear "we paid for this LMS so we should figure out how to use this feature" or "that’s really cool…let’s figure out what we can use it for," I know it is time for me to jump into the conversation and redirect.

Other common mistakes:

  • waiting to set up a governance structure
  • not selecting a system administrator until right before go live
  • diverting from the stated implementation scope

How is the learning software industry evolving?
A decade ago, the idea of having an enterprise-wide LMS was still fairly new. For many companies, it was the first time that an application besides email was being implemented across the organization and it required siloed departments to engage in a level of collaboration and consensus-building that had not previously been required. The LMS itself enabled employees to register for classes online instead of through a training administrator. It also provided companies with the platform they needed to make web-based training available and track the results. 

As business objectives have evolved, so has the learning software industry. Whereas we used to talk about "training," and then "learning and development," learning software is now viewed more broadly within the context of talent management. This has led to significant technical development linking learning and performance functionality, as well learning functionality that more directly supports performance measurement, such as observational checklists and task management. The introduction of collaborative platforms have further expanded the reach and flexibility of learning software, allowing for social learning between colleagues enrolled in the same course, peers within a department, or even across the enterprise.

Vendor selection is a big hurdle for firms considering an integrated LMS. What tips would you give to make the process easier?
It's critical that organisations take the time to clearly define their objectives, requirements, and use case scenarios before engaging any vendor.

All demos should be targeted to the firm’s specific needs. This ensures that you are comparing vendors in an apples-to-apples manner, and that your detailed requirements are understood early on. If you are able to get a sandbox environment from a vendor, have a detailed plan for how the sandbox will be used and evaluated rather than letting team members just poke around.

I’ve also seen instances where companies use a generic RFP downloaded from the internet to try and save time with vendor selection. These RFP templates are typically feature/function checklists where most vendors can reply in the affirmative to the majority of the items, so it doesn’t add a lot of value. It is much more effective to focus on processes and desired outcomes to make sure that an LMS will fit your needs.

Measurement of training goals is tough for a lot of firms. There are no standardised metrics. How should organisations go about measuring the success of their training strategies?
Tying performance to learning is a powerful way to measure training effectiveness. For example, if there is suggested training module that the sales team has been encouraged to take before pursuing a certain type of opportunity, compare the number of sales that were made by employees that completed the training module versus those that did not.

Or look at the current ramp up time for a new employee or an employee transitioning into a specific role, then measure whether that time was reduced after the implementation of a new training strategy. Instead of metrics in a pure training context (e.g. how many people completed a given training module, percentage of training delivered in various modalities) align your training metrics to workplace objectives to show how training makes an impact.

Onboarding is big news at the moment. Where are organisations going wrong?
I recently watched a great YouTube video on millennials where General Physics hit the nail right on the head. To paraphrase, onboarding should no longer be an event, it should be a process.

Gone are the days when new hires are sent to a training facility for a day/week/multi-week one-size-fits-all orientation. Onboarding needs to be personalized so that an employee is receiving targeted information that is relevant to the position, and that information needs to be available in a manner that can be consumed at the point of need.

Of course there are still elements that apply to all employees, but beyond that onboarding should be position- and task-specific using a combination of resources—instructor-led training, online resources, collaborative opportunities with other new hires, access to subject matter experts, on-the-job training, etc.

One of your biggest challenges has been dealing with a geographically-dispersed workforce. What advice would you give to other organisations with the same challenge?
Our goal at Educe has been to hire great people regardless of where they live and to cultivate an environment where they collaborate regardless of geography. Achieving this requires a company culture that is comfortable with flexible work hours, encourages the use of collaborative technology, and cultivates an environment where employees are willing to help each other rather than be protective of their own knowledge. I’ll provide plenty of specific examples for how we met this challenge during the webinar next week, so tune in for more!

How do you go about assessing an existing talent strategy? What are the key things to look out for?
At a very high level, here are the first things I look at:

  • Do teams in various talent areas already work together, or are they functioning independently? A well-developed talent strategy includes very clear connection points between recruiting, learning, performance, and succession planning so that even though each area has their own set of objectives they are aligned to support the organisation’s strategic goals.
  • Is talent management centralised, or does each functional area have their own talent strategy? One of the first things I look at is competency models—is there an enterprise-wide set of competencies, or are there multiple competency models, proficiency scales, and assessment processes across the firm?
  • What is the relationship between the talent teams and various functional areas in the organisation? Does talent have a seat at the table when strategic initiatives are being defined?

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