Making learning technology implementations a success is not easy. The rapid advancements in technology are compelling HR and L&D professionals to implement learning technologies in some form or the other, and yet we see that some problems keep cropping up. Most of these problems are avoidable. Often, they crop up because the L&D team is asked to come up with a technique to make learning technologies work, and they have little first-hand experience. Rather than make mistakes as a first timer, we must aim to share best practices and learn from other’s mistakes. This approach is likely to make your next implementation a success. But to achieve that, one must know what success looks like, in the context of learning technology implementations.
What does success mean in implementing learning technology?
The objective of L&D is to bridge the skills gap and meet business objectives. Learning should translate to a very real performance impact. This is possible when L&D and business managers together own the process. For this to happen, organizations must embrace the concept of continuous learning, and make both the learner and learning interventions an ongoing commitment. In short, learning implementations can be called a success when they meet the laid-out expectations, it is a simple concept- you are successful if you set out to do something and you did it i.e. you met an expectation. But the gap lies wherein, often we are not even aware of the expectations, leave alone meet them. L&D must, therefore, strive to first understand the expectations.
Consider the Japanese approach of “Nemawashi”- an informal process of quietly laying the foundation for some proposed change or project, by talking to the people concerned, gathering support and feedback, and so forth. HR and L&D must develop a mindset or attitude of exploring and understanding.
For example, if you want to move a tree, you look for the foundations- you dig around the tree, find the roots, clear the roots, and then move it as a whole. You never uproot the roots at the outset and then move the tree! L&D and HR professionals must apply this very concept of Nemawashi to learning technology implementations- the people who are with you are those very roots; if they are not with you, you cannot do anything. The reality is that you can do anything with technology, but people can stop you doing just that “anything”. Hence, success in learning technology implementations is not just about installing and running software and systems, but it is really about helping people use and engage with the technology. It is about helping people contribute and achieve in the best way they can.
A three-point checklist to follow
Three things that are core to implementing a learning initiative, in a waterfall-approach or an iterative approach are:
Identify, analyze and understand stakeholders: A stakeholder is anybody in the organization who is affected by the implementation, or someone who can alter the possible success-outcomes. We usually talk about top executives being key stakeholders, but really it can be everybody- employees, IT manager and IT team, HR business partners, leaders, and so on. The real question is, “How do you get your stakeholders on board?”
- Identify stakeholders, interview them, ask what they want: “Not asking” is a ticket to disaster, and this is the gap. Meet people and know their expectations, you need to even talk to such people who are against you, and understand their perspectives. Put together a formal document to interact with stakeholders and maintain records. This will often lead you to the answer to the next question – What’s a win for you?
- Reflect on what’s wrong with your situation, how can you improve it? The next step is to work out whether these identified stakeholders are “for you” or “against you” and the impact they can have on your project. Analyse who is “on board” and who isn’t and explore how to get them on board. Try to know exactly how enthusiastic are they. What impact will they have? Design and populate a stakeholder analysis grid and document it. This will serve as a wealth of knowledge to put together the team for your L&D implementation. Also, it is important to not just revel in the positives, but also to focus on those stakeholders who are not supportive, and move them to a favourable stance.
Build the right team: It is critical to choose the right people on your implementation team. Four roles are absolutely essential, these are the high-frequency points of contact and the decision makers in the planning process:
- Leader to set the ball rolling.
- Project Manager to help guide through the central cycle of Build-Test-Implement-Assess.
- Marketing and Communications Manager to ensure communication and connect.
- Product Owner to work with the business and make sure there is continuity even after implementation. Ownership can be sustained only with this role, because very often L&D is not involved after a certain stage.
These core role-holders need to be backed by adjunct roles such as the IT person, business representatives, etc. who are mostly observers, come when they are asked to and may not have much input in the planning process. And then there is the technology vendor- you need not need anyone from the vendor team to be around 24*7, but maybe this person should be involved in one of the layers of the overall team. It is important to lay out the role expectations for each of these roles, such as full-time or part-time, key performance indicators etc. One of the most challenging aspects is to get the right mindset people. Having charged up people with a can-do attitude can be the game-changers, spelling out success.
Move from analysis to action: Design a communications plan: Stakeholders often see the negatives, it is imperative that you mitigate that. For this purpose, your next step must be to design a Communications Plan with a detailed outline of the frequency of contact, a method of contact, etc. Look at all the possible methods of communication (online and offline, continuous and phased, formal and informal etc.). For example, plan a lunch with your Vice President of Marketing, it is a great way to scout for ideas or even get a potential team member on board. Also, very often we need a steering committee to talk and share with the top management, build that committee proactively and schedule regular bits of conversation. These conversations must be planned at all levels. For example, an airline implemented an LMS, and failed because they did not test the LMS with the air-crew, and found out that the functionality did not work offline. Setting up a steering committee with some representatives from the air-crew could have helped avoid this glitch. As against this, in another example, Hershey’s wanted to have HR partners in each plant to stay updated in real-time on the progress of a learning implementation. Setting up a location point-of-contact helped ride over a number of issues. For one, a number of the staff members were skeptical about the changing nature of jobs brought on by the LMS implementation. From the very moment of conceptualization, the HR head was in touch with these people, making it clear that they would have new jobs of a different type available. HR thus persuaded the affected people to be positive, thanks to the open communication channels. Eventually, everyone was on board and enthused, making the LMS implementation a success. This is the difference that a well-designed communications plan can have.
It is important to pay detailed attention to meet the above checklist pointers. But it is even easier for L&D to stray away from the core objective of why they are implementing the learning technology, to avoid this, it is of most importance to Remember your Role. As L&D and HR professionals we do lots of things to make our implementations a success, but it is important to know and acknowledge what we do at the core. We essentially help individuals and organizations achieve their potential. Once this basic intent is clear, you can follow the “Start small–Think big –Move fast” approach to make any learning technology implementation a grand success.
(This article is curated from the Masterclass session during People Matters L&D League Annual Conference 2017 by Donald H Taylor, Chairman at The Learning and Performance Institute.)