Article: Culture is key for companies

Leadership

Culture is key for companies

Jerry Nine, Co-founder and the Chief Operating Officer of Skillsoft, on how forward looking organizations today focus on culture to deal with talent management
Culture is key for companies
 

There is significant value in leveraging the diverse experiences, opinions and expertise of people across an organization

 

Today’s successful business leaders are building their culture around core workplace values such as transparency, collaboration and leadership development

 

Jerry Nine has more than three decades of senior level executive management experience. Prior to Skillsoft, he was the Vice President, sales and marketing at NETg and in a similar role before that at Sytron Corp. Earlier in his career, Jerry held positions in engineering, marketing and sales with venture-capital-funded technology companies.

You were a Co-founder of Skillsoft in 1998. What have been your key learnings over the last 17 years? Any interesting anecdotes you want to share?

I’ve learned that success is achieved with the help of strong teams. I was fortunate to be a part of the founding executive team, which had all the key functional disciplines covered when we started the company. I’ve seen a lot of early-stage companies and when companies get started, many tend to focus primarily on one or two areas of expertise such as technology and finance, but have no expertise in distribution, or vice-versa. This leaves the crucial management areas unsupported and can cause instability from the start if the business plan is not fully thought through.

When Chuck Moran (CEO of Skillsoft) founded Skillsoft, along with Tom McDonald, who is our Chief Financial Officer, Mark Townsend who was our Chief Product Officer for Technology, and me, we were fortunate to have the key functional areas from sales and marketing, engineering and finance covered from day one. While we all brought experience and expertise to the table, our strategy was to expand aggressively and build a large team of talented individuals who could execute and provide the necessary knowledge to help the company grow. Over the years, I have learned that we need to continually invest in talent development. This is essential to increase the overall engagement and productivity at large, which in turn drives the company culture.

What, in your opinion, are the leading disruptors in the field of talent management globally?

Forward-looking organizations are focusing more on organizational culture and talent development, which includes engaging and retaining top talent. Business leaders are building their culture around core workplace values such as transparency, collaboration and leadership development. In the past, learning content lived on the periphery of the HR ecosystem and that disconnect is a lost opportunity. In many organizations, employees haven’t been able to access valuable learning content when it matters most. Today, learning needs to be delivered in a contextual, personalized format and as a part of an employee’s daily work.

As a leading provider of HR solutions, what are companies doing differently now than they were earlier?

Many organizations are recognizing that every employee needs to have access to in-the-moment learning interventions. Today, big data and analytics can help us identify and correlate patterns to anticipate the learning an employee needs, when they need it, and deliver that learning seamlessly as a part of their work. Learners want shorter and more concise learning experiences, like video and social capabilities, that keep them engaged. Propagating learning throughout the entire workflow and weaving it into the everyday fabric of the workplace will help employees perform better and this will also provide them with the support they need from the start.

Who are the biggest influencers and mentors in your life? What is your leadership mantra?

I don’t have any formal mentors in my life, but I do read a lot, which helps influence my thinking. Whether it is books by Peter Drucker, Ram Charan, or Jack & Suzy Welch, I always take something actionable as my take-away. My working relationship with our CEO, Chuck Moran, provides opportunities to dialogue on areas, including strategies on running the company, understanding the drivers of the industry and anticipating change early, which again helps to influence my thinking. Both of us come from a technology background and you have to operate with a strong sense of urgency as technology shifts can happen instantaneously. Also, being able to look at things through a multi-disciplinary lens is absolutely critical, as is making sure you have the right analytical approach to the decision-making process. Finally, the quality of the working relationship with the broader team will help maintain the balance of the company, and will eventually be the key to success. My leadership style is participative in nature. I believe there is significant value in leveraging the diverse experiences, opinions and expertise of people across the organization.

You were an entrepreneur when you started out. What would your advice be for the upcoming entrepreneurs?

I think having a strong business foundation is valuable. Exposure to different functional areas like engineering, operations, marketing & sales allowed me to develop a strong balance of competencies, whether it is internal, around processes, program management, product management, and engineering; and complement those with external competencies such as communication and working with customers. This experience grounded me and I would encourage entrepreneurs and business leaders to diversify their functional expertise to gain a more holistic understanding of their businesses to help drive growth.

Skillsoft has been through many strategic mergers and acquisitions over the past 10-15 years, most recently having acquired Talent Management solution provider, SumTotal Systems, and digital skills provider Vodeclic. Is the service provider eco-system ripe for more M&As? What are the key highlights that a company needs to keep in mind to ensure that M&As are not bumpy from the people perspective?

The service provider ecosystem is absolutely ready for more M&As. If you were to look at the industry today, it is very fragmented and ripe for more consolidation because of the large amounts of investment taking place. From my perspective, whether a company is acquiring or is being acquired, the best organizational cultures are going to promote change as a positive opportunity. And that change could entail being acquired at some point in the future. To ensure an M&A event goes over successfully with the employees, it is critical to help them through the cycle of change from where they are today to where they need to be.

I think there are two points to keep in mind: First, it is important to communicate and address their “me” issues which requires being open and candid about any change that is coming, without misleading people.

Second, you have to address people issues early before you can fully move forward with integration. I read an article that indicated that 85 per cent of M&A problems happen within one or two years of being acquired because of culture differences. The key is to address cultural differences first and mitigate any negative impact that those differences may have on business operations, or it could really impact the value of the acquired company.

As a learning company, what are the key trends and developments that you foresee in the space of L&D in the near future?

Just as Apple changed the mobile phone market by combining content, the HR technology space is also undergoing transformation. Technology platforms are enablers and will help enhance the effectiveness of employees and organizations, but technology does not change behavior. Learning Interventions is what changes behaviour. Changing behaviour within a company or across individuals requires a blend of learning experiences that span both the classroom as well as the many digital resources from both formal and informal learning modalities.

We are going to begin seeing a much deeper convergence of learning content and HR platforms. By bringing content and platform together and leveraging Big Data Analytics, Skillsoft will help organizations deliver continuous access to the learning interactions that employees need, when they need them, to improve their performance and advance in their careers.

Is HR moving to the Cloud?

There is a strong trend in that direction. The Cloud is becoming a strong, strategic option for businesses of all kinds, be it small, medium, large or multinational companies. I would say that the merits of the Cloud should not be the sole reason to adopt it. Companies really need to understand if Cloud is right for them and question whether it will blend with the company’s overall strategy.

Topics: Leadership, Talent Management Social technology tools

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