Vibons L&D blog interview with Patrick Veenhoff, Head of L&D at Swisscom Enterprise Customers
Mr. Veenhoff, at Swisscom, you implemented a social learning marketplace last year. And in your LinkedIn interview, you mentioned that your team enables “5.000 employees to learn from each other and teach other.” What differentiates your system from others?
My corporate Learning & Development team drives a culture change inside our organization towards becoming a learning organization. Our function changed from being a trainer of the organization to that of an enabler of a learning culture.
We guide and coach subject matter experts in the business on how to teach and train their fellow employees. All training content (classroom, webinar, eLearning) come from our employees, and it is our employees that decide if the content is good or not through a simple 5-star rating system.
Experts can get started by doing an eLearning on how to train people in a way that is fun, sustainable and most importantly delivers business impact. Depending on previously attained training skills, it takes between 15 and 60 minutes to go through this eLearning. Upon completion, they know how to create a training concept and make the first draft by themselves. Throughout that whole process from eLearning to creating the first draft, they can fall back on our expertise via our coaches. Our coaches explain how to improve these training concepts and are there to boost people’s confidence in creating and delivering their first training.
We found that the organization is very willing to take over the role of content producer and trainer. At launch on 1 June 2017, we started with roughly 200 courses (classroom, webinar, eLearning). Today, we are at 320 courses and counting, all delivered by business.
We see that also our platform is gaining experiencing a positive momentum with this rising trend in active users (user logs in and learns something on the platform in a 30-day period). We don’t give any incentives to the business for producing content: this is done based on where the business sees a need for using training to be able to achieve its business targets.
My peers at other companies often wonder if the quality of pieces of training can be good enough with such an approach. Me too. So, we did satisfaction surveys in every training course, and we analyzed trainings produced by training departments vs. training created by the business:
We found that our employees are less unsatisfied and more satisfied with the relevance of usability for achieving their targets for content that was produced by the business. This is a clear statement from our employees that they value content made by their peers, rather than by a training department.
In short: employee generated content is better for achieving business success, and it’s time for corporate L&D in general to rethink its business model. Business success is in dire need of a new approach.
You’ve touched upon a crucial point. You said, your function has changed from being a trainer of the organization to that of an enabler of a learning culture. There was one experiment The Economist mentioned in an article. Participants were first asked to rate their curiosity to learn the answers to various questions. Later they were shown answers to those questions, as well as a picture of a stranger’s face; finally, they were tested on their recall of the answers and given a face-recognition test. Greater curiosity led to better retention on both tests; brain scans showed increased activity in the mesolimbic dopamine system, a reward pathway, and in the hippocampus, a region that matters for forming new memories. Peter Drucker once said some people learn better when they teach. So, enabling your employees to train, perhaps, is a great way to improve their curiosity to learn, do you agree?
In short yes. Scientific research also confirms that phenomenon. But there are two separate things at play here in my opinion. On one side, I need to know why I am learning what and it needs to be in a way that I prefer to learn. If I don’t know why I am learning anything, motivation can quickly drop leading to course drop-outs. It helps if you set a goal for by visualizing your future-self having gained those skill, applying them and getting the recognition (peer feedback or a salary raise for example) for your achievement. On the other side, when you have to explain a topic to someone else, you need to have a deep enough understanding yourself about how to apply this knowledge in daily life. That in itself is a learning process for the teacher to be, which refreshes and deepens the knowledge of the subject.
For myself, I always do these two things: ask myself how this knowledge is increasing my employability and once I learned something new, I try to explain this to a 6-year old. This way, I keep my motivation up, and I have a simple way of testing my understanding of the topic.
Depending on your valuable experience and insights in L&D space, what do you think are the best examples of social learning except for your project?
In the past year and a half, I have spoken to leaders in the corporate L&D space of larger international companies, and I came to the conclusion that roughly 90% are talking about and wanting to initiate a social learning initiative. About 5% have created concepts, but have a hard time convincing the business to get started. The remaining 5% did get started and are gathering their first experiences.
I have seen some great initiatives from Capgemini, IBM, and SAP where they not only pilot social learning but create a strong link with measurable business impact.
Some L&D leaders argue that another way to improve learning curiosity and to create a learning culture is having a “marketing mindset.” We attended Fleming Corporate University Summit in Amsterdam last year. Peter Dern, SVP of Corporate University in Software AG, said that L&D professionals are obliged to behave just like marketing towards their employees. Companies use various digital marketing methods such as A/B testing, content marketing campaigns or creating animated videos to promote training. Do you think digital marketing is a new opportunity for creating a learning culture?
Not by itself. As a standalone approach, it is more of remedy than a cure. The real pain of corporate L&D in my perception is that we as trainers don’t have a real understanding of what our (internal) customers actually need for developing themselves. Let’s assume that corporate L&D would operate as a single company inside the company: I’m sure that business would go bankrupt pretty soon like any other company that doesn’t understand its customers ‘needs. I’ve seen and experienced this in multiple companies I have worked.
Creating a learning culture starts first and foremost from the top in my opinion. A culture of change and innovation, rewarding risk-taking, providing opportunities to reflect on mistakes made should be instilled and lived by top management. With lived by, I mean that especially senior management should openly display their areas of improvement and discuss with their organization how they can achieve it. Leading by example is vital here to start building a culture of trust.
I once read a presentation on 4-way accountability to build a culture of learning that I found very inspiring:
– Learning becomes part of our corporate values
– Leaders have target metrics each year on building talent and teams
– L&D is used to attract top talent
– Reward/recognition programs include learning-related rewards
– Design the workspace to promote the companies values
– Blended workforce of FTE, freelancers, etc
– Regularly updated personal development plans (MyImpact) for every employee
– Worker accountability for the learning specified in those plans
– Non-financial rewards/recognition for employee learning
– Mentoring Program for continuous development
– Measure and reward managers developing employees
– Reward managers for prioritizing talent mobility
– Have a formalized approach to developing and promoting talent
– Hold leaders accountable at all levels
– Align learning strategy to business strategy
– All leaders must be trainers/ coaches/ mentors – pair experienced trainers with inexperienced
– Assess leaders teaching/mentoring skills
– Train the trainer sessions for leaders
Can you tell us how corporate learning has changed since the 2000s? What is primary difference comparing to past?
I have only been in corporate learning for 5 years. I was in other functions where I was on the user-side of corporate learning before. I never really was a fan of what corporate learning could offer me: often it was sitting down in a room without enough fresh oxygen and looking at PowerPoint until I fell asleep. To be fair, I never really enjoyed learning at university either. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love learning, just not in the way that it was offered to me.
The speed at which new technologies enable innovation or implement new business models is making companies also rethink their strategic workforce management approach. Could companies make 5 or 10 year plans still a decade ago, nowadays companies must iterate in two or even one year cycles. Companies that need to shift their market focus in 1 or 2 year periods, potentially require a different skill set as well. This forces Corporate Learning & Development to reinvent itself from being a trainer (top-down) to an enabler (platform) if it wants to be able to keep the pace and not become the bottleneck.
This market-driven force is at the same time an excellent opportunity for corporate L&D to reposition itself inside the organization from a reactive support unit to proactive, “management consulting”-like function.
How AI and adaptive learning will affect the corporate learning?
The ever-increasing speed at which our economy is moving dictates that we focus on the bare essentials to get the job done in time. For that, an approach that understands the individuals needs to get the job done will be one of the critical success factors. Adaptive learning will definitely be one of the main ingredients in this respect.
AI has a potential that we don’t understand quite yet. I believe that we are still exploring how this technology can solve which type of problems. For AI to become effective in corporate learning, we need first to understand what the learning problem of the employee is. In finding a solution for that, maybe AI can be a part of that. At present, I see two areas where AI could help us today already: recommender systems for enabling adaptive learning and chatbots for helping an employee find the right training he is looking for.
Today, it is still an issue to evaluate training in the workplace. How can learning managers measure and prove the ROI of their employee training programs? Do you have a magic formula?
My magic formula is in the works. I have created an approach together with the business and academia that we call “Learning Engineering.” I got inspired by Bror Saxberg, from who I first heard this term. We are starting three pilot projects around July this year where we are going to test this approach and learn the ROI of corporate L&D. To throw in a few buzzwords: data science, human-centered design, agile development, instructional design, business KPI’s. We’re going to mix these up and see where there is a link between learning and measurable business success.
I feel confident that we will be able to find a measurable correlation. Other companies have managed this, and I don’t believe that it is rocket science. The biggest challenge is getting the buy-in from the CEO and the board to try this out. And that challenge is successfully behind me.
We would like to hear more about the results of your “Learning Engineering” approach after you finish assessing the pilot projects.
I would be happy to share future updates on our key learnings. I am starting a LinkedIn Group, called Learning Engineering Lab, to have exchanges with other professionals on this topic and share insights from my personal experiences.
In today’s digital world, the information overload and the distractions make “learning” an overwhelming process. What do you think are the modern approaches to overcome this challenge?
I suffered from information overload myself as well until I read a phrase that made me see things differently. It’s not information overload; it’s filter failure.
The majority of us never got exposed to the amount of information available today when they were at school. So, learning how to deal with copious amounts was never an issue. It’s something that we now need to learn. But maybe, we all already learned, just not thought about applying that yet: having focus.
To have focus in your life, you need to be clear what it is that you want out of life. That is often a significant challenge in itself. I recently learned about the Japanese word “Ikigai” (a reason for being).
From all the models I’ve seen in my life about finding out who we are and what it is we want to do, I found this model one of the most user-friendly. It makes one reflect about the priorities in life, helps shift them and create a clear understanding of what it is that life could offer. In other words: focus.
Once you have achieved focus, it will be easy to filter out that what doesn’t contribute to achieving your goals. If you want to make this more concrete and applicable towards your profession, I recommend that upon completing your Ikigai diagram to create a personal business model (Business Model You). As a result, learning will not be an overwhelming experience: it will be a wonderful experience when it fits inside your focus.
There are Japanese management ideas like “Genchi Genbutsu” or “Kaizen” that are quite useful in business management. But I haven’t heard “Ikigai” before. Would you mind giving us more details? Was it easy to find your reason for being?
I heard about Ikigai through Twitter and found the explanation on Wikipedia. In the past 20 years, I read a lot of psychology, self-help, etc. types of books and also did various trainings and had coachings on learning about my “self.” That is why I loved the Ikigai approach: it takes the most essential aspects to reflect upon and visualizes it in a simple way. It’s definitely not the only way to find your reason for being; there are actually many approaches that work better for others.
Finding my reason for being today is easier because I have been asking myself that question for a long time. For anyone who never asked themselves the question “who am I?” and “what is my purpose in life?”, It might be a bit more challenging. It might take a few days, weeks or even months until you come to a picture that feels right.
However, what your Ikigai tomorrow will be, is a question that only tomorrow can answer. We as humans change continuously, some faster and some slower than others. And so, also our Ikigai can change. That rate of change might be significantly influenced if you have either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
Regardless of what mindset you have, regardless of which approach works best for you to find your focus, follow the path that makes you happy and is sustainable for your personal ecosystem.