Article: How Forbes Marshall transformed its learning culture during the pandemic

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How Forbes Marshall transformed its learning culture during the pandemic

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The multinational engineering company moved from a predominantly “classroom” based training approach to a digital-led, self-driven learning culture – to address training gaps as well as to customize learning.
How Forbes Marshall transformed its learning culture during the pandemic

As a company, Forbes Marshall is in the business of energy conservation and process efficiency. “It is a business that is driven through a relationship of trust with the customer,” said Sachin Narke the ‎Chief Learning Officer- Group and Head - HR (CIG Core) at ‎the Company.

“When we offer a product or solution, it is often a consultative process. And to earn the trust of the customer to rely on the knowledge we have to offer, we need to be technically competent,” he added. It’s a business model that is based on the need for world-class engineering competence, a workplace culture that gives people the freedom to fail and a workforce that has a diverse mix of people.

The approach to learning in the business and the wider industry was mostly ‘event’ based. The traditional approach to learning was that members who go through training would take time off from work and attend classroom training sessions. After which they would be certified and would work towards applying the learning at work. The pandemic entirely disrupted the traditional model for learning.

As the industry evolved in terms of different approaches to learn, “there was a business need to align digital learning, and to contextualize and customize learning programs – with a goal of making them sustainable for the long term,” he added. And while technical and functional skills could be built very fast, it was the ‘soft’ skills that were turning out to be ‘hard’ to learn.

The active involvement of the business

There is both – a top-down and a bottom-up approach to aligning learning priorities. The company’s SMEs came together to identify training needs and they realized that there are enough certifications that need to be customized to meet the internal needs. From a bottom-up approach, the company also worked towards identifying individual needs.

Among the key factors for the early success of the learning team was the active involvement of the business in the process. “The design of learning is a co-created exercise – based on the needs of the business,” Sachin noted. In fact, department heads could identify training needs in their own section and give feedback on the architectural changes required by individuals.

Choosing the ‘right’ learning platform

After surveying a number of LMSes, the L&D team found that “Most LMS’ were offering the architecture with little content. However, with Skillsoft, there was both – rich content and architecture support. Speaking about the choice, Sanyucta Sisodia – Lead L&D, Forbes Marshall said, “We wanted to send a message to our members that they have access to world-class leadership and behavioural programs. And along with our technical content – it was a perfect blend of learning programs.”

The shift towards e-learning started in the pre-COVID19 world. The platform was launched and it served as an open canvas to people who wished to learn – whether it was through audio, video, book summaries etc., 

Moving from mostly “classroom” to mostly e-learning

While employees took to exploring the new learning platform with ease, they were mostly using it as and when they wanted. “The real challenge came during the pandemic. It was when we had to assign directed learning that previously happened in a classroom format,” Sanyucta said.

And there was a need to shift towards a digital learning mindset.

Over the years, when the members found the eight-hour classroom based training session effective, they would request for additional days of classroom training. “People experience a certain warmth during their interactive classroom session, that’s missing in a digital experience,” Sachin noted.

The pandemic and the ensuing remote working culture enabled to bring about a mindset shift among the company’s workforce.

“As the L&D team, our target is not training percentage completion, it is competency upgrade post the program,” said Sanyucta. With that in mind, it was decided that direct learning programs would be completed digitally.

There was a need to facilitate discussions around them and trigger continuous messages – The team worked at getting the message across: that a byte sized learning module could be completed anywhere between five to thirty minutes in a day. And then one could talk about competency upgrades.

Soon, people realized that they were able to engage in behavioural learning – in the same way they picked up technical courses online. The early emphasis was on making the workforce comfortable with the e-learning mode.

Aligning early learning champions and events

A critical step that worked towards drawing the workforce towards the platform was the continuous engagement of learning champions.

As part of a previous talent management initiative, the company had engaged in assessments to identify high potentials in the company. The L&D team aligned this batch of individuals – as they were more likely to pick up new learning. And it helped create the buzz on a number of key elements including 1) Ease of navigation, 2) Great content and 3) Anytime, anywhere interface that allowed them to learn whenever they chose to.

The L&D team also created an offline event recognizing everyone who participated in the e-learning platform - “Although it was a small event, it helped amplify the message of e-learning widely across the organization,” Sachin said. It also helped break the myth among more senior colleagues to pick up e-learning with the ease and finesse as anyone else. 

The power of learning journeys – for individuals and cohorts

In order to facilitate engagement apart from continuous communication, the L&D team created learning journeys across different workforce segments.

While the company’s competency model gave the direction to customize learning, “the Percipio platform allowed them to design and execute effectively,” Sanyucta said.

Based on the offline experience of aligning training material with an instructor, based on the audience - the L&D team worked with the Skillsoft team to identify relevant courses based on the audience. The learning journey was an amalgamation of videos, audio and reading material. Once members reviewed all the resources, they could move on to the next step – which was filling in their action learning sheet.

“The Skillsoft did a good job of guiding us throughout the process, we spent less time in figuring things out, Sanyucta noted.

The simplicity and clarity of the communication really helped draw members* to the program. “We branded learning this way,” Sanyucta said “20-minutes each day for three days and one could complete an entire module in leadership.”

Another approach was focused on replicating leadership programs through cohorts. The L&D team created content that was a leadership refresher. And again, communication played a critical role in active participation of the workforce. From having crucial conversations to cross cultural sensitisation to negotiation, there was a lot to choose from..

By then, the L&D team had realized that videos were more popular than audios and reading. So the leadership based cohorts were designed with customized & impactful videos. 


Customization - the recipe for success

The success of the learning journey lies in customizing the content. Often, a skill like “Influencing others” or “Business Communication” may need to be pitched entirely differently for a new job hire and for someone who has extensive business experience - this is where the ‘learning journeys’ approach really helped.

Further, if individuals have grown professionally and still have basic ‘soft skill’ needs that they need to address, they could do so easily over a digital platform when compared to a reluctance to take up a similar course in an offline setting.

The key role of a learning partner

There were two critical wins that contributed to Forbes Marshall’s early success – one was the wide variety of content that was available on the platform. The second important factor was the learning partner’s active role in customizing the learning platform to suit the business needs of the company.

“The Skillsoft representative went around to all our three locations in the Pune, and explained how to navigate the system and we were able to make some change agents in the process, in the first year of the launch.” Sachin said. “Because ultimately, a learning platform is like a super market and we needed to pick and choose.” And a digital learning culture often takes a long time to build.

The future

In the near future, the company is also looking at aligning the new science of cognition (including learning habits and integrating the science ‘how’ we learn), continually challenging the status-quo, creating learning champions and customizing for the individual’s learning experience.

As workplaces return to work and explore new forms of “hybrid work” – the L&D team at Forbes Marshall has a number of milestones to focus on – from ensuring a wider and deeper engagement with the digital learning modes, building on the success of a continuous learning culture and creating new avenues to recognize, reward and drive those who are driving the learning mandate. 

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Topics: Learning Technology, Learning & Development, #Culture, #GetSetLearn, #LearningCaseStudy

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