Monday, July 18, 2016

e-learning in the enterprise: pain or gain or ...

The industry required periodic training for new products to have an intelligent conversation with customers; so every company conducted training programs to equip their teams with requisite knowledge which would serve all kinds of customers. It was early days of automation, e-learning was just beginning to raise a baby head; early versions were complex, unwieldy, and ineffective in comparison to conventional classroom instructor led training (ILT). Video based learning was deemed a shade better though expensive to deploy.

Realizing the early mover advantage, the CIO had pushed the management to explore new solutions at a nominal cost which he was able to get from a startup vendor. The system was deployed quickly, the head of Learning & Development partnered to provide content, and sensing success co-owned the pioneering initiative. The sales team embraced the solution which helped them move faster and compete in a tough market. Awards, accolades and many conferences later, the poster boy had recreated the way learning happened in the industry.

What led to the success ? Simplistically the partnership between IT and Business towards achieving a shared objective and a technology solution that works; realistically it was the fact that L&D knew the pulse of the people, IT had high credibility and connect with the business and the vendor ecosystem, and the management was willing to experiment and explore, not averse to taking risks. Management case studies are full of such stories on what works which get labeled as “Best Practices” by industry or department.

A decade later, the same CIO in the same industry with another company unsuccessfully attempted to repeat his success; the company had shied away from new technology with a business as usual approach preferring to maintain status quo. After all they were growing with the market and were reasonably profitable without technology interventions. The CIO tasked with the agenda to refresh IT had struggled through the journey with pushbacks and total abdication of responsibility by the business who had more critique than suggestions.

In the ensuing half a score years, the solutions had matured to provide seamless access across multiple channels, the learning experience far easier than the clunky interface of the past. Mobile based rendering with interactive features and extensive library of content has made learning fun and easy. Gamification adds to the intensity of engagement increasing levels of competition between participants. For the industry, ILT is no longer the primary mode of learning with economics and efficiency in favor of technology solutions.

In the first case learning was seen as an integral part of evolution for everyone; learning was encouraged and the company culture and spirit of harmony created a positive environment thereby increasing the propensity of success. Technology was just the enabler creating better outcomes; so a new way of learning was welcomed and embraced with open mind. The platform was not the best, but that did not matter; technology complexity was accepted as a part of progress, the organization was undeterred by these metrics.

The recent experience of the CIO was starkly different; given the dimensions of the new enterprise, he was in a position to choose the best at his terms. Global solution providers sought his attention to demonstrate their wares, the enterprise chose the market leading most widely accepted solution by the industry. It was the deal of the year that had everyone else sit up and take notice; the vendor made up margin with other deals that followed the announcement and captured enviable market share in the process.

Then what challenged execution ? The large ageing workforce in the monolithic enterprise fought to keep the legacy processes alive which had served them well for the last few decades. They had seen the industry adopt technology and excused themselves citing size, complexity and various other reasons for not following the trend towards technology led business interventions. Comfort zones prevented new opportunities and learning was brushed aside lest it become an obstacle in the way of retaining comfort, employment and past glory.

In difficult times companies have been known to cut training budgets; L&D is also a casualty during fast pace of growth when everyone believes they don’t have the time. Learning is also killed by operational pressures and prioritization of the urgent; managerial attitudes overpower leadership principles in many enterprises. That unfortunately ensures that companies stagnate or do not achieve their potential. The medium is incidental, however the ability to reach a large cross section frequently can only be enabled by technology.

I close with an interesting insight circulated on social media over time: CFO asks the CEO, “Why spend so much on training when people will any way leave ?”; answers back the CEO, “What if we don’t and they stay ?

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