HR and BIG Data

Big-Data2-400x265We get that it’s Data, but why is it BIG?

There’s a lot of talk about big data, and some have talked about the opportunity for HR to make use of greater analytics for workforce data, but we believe there is also more HR teams can do to support the pace of change business is facing.

In case you’ve not come across the term, “big data” is the title given to the simply jaw-dropping amount of information that is being generated, stored and could be analysed across all the systems out there.

From a customer perspective, you’ve got all the data on how someone moves around your website, how they got there, what other sites they browsed, what they buy, how they talk about you on social media, what feedback they then give on your service feedback capture – and the list goes on.

There’s no doubt there’s an opportunity for HR teams to take a good look at the big data available on the workforce.  What questions do we have about our employees, their behaviour, performance, activities etc?  What data is available or could we be capturing to answer those questions?

Beyond HR analytics

Aside from following the trend of analysing data, we see the role of HR – or specifically Talent and OD as one of building up the organisation to be ready for this seismic shift in how business works.  What are we doing in the Talent and OD space to make sure we are attracting and retaining the kind of talent that can take our businesses to the forefront of these changes?  What are we doing to build awareness and develop skills across all departments, so that people can make their own intelligent decisions on what to do with all this change and data?

Building awareness of what big data is and how it is changing the nature of business, could mean an unlocking of new opportunities: To have more people thinking of how to analyse the data available – and use those insights to make informed decisions.

Totem Gummi Bears

As the inspiration for this came from Sir Ian Cheshire’s Retail Lecture, let’s look at particularly what this could mean for HR teams in retail.  What do people across departments and out in stores know about the digitalisation and mobile shift in retail – and the big data that comes with that?  What does that mean to us in our jobs in retail?  How do we need to adapt?  Imagine roadshows where with this knowledge and understanding, your entire workforce can suggest ideas on how the company better respond and lead the way.

Although we’re all customers, shopping online and getting frustrated when the experience is not smooth – or when the app on my phone says something’s in-stock and we get into store and it’s not – that has not meant we have quickly grasped what this means to our work and businesses.  Big changes in the world are communicated throughout businesses to enable people to make choices and decisions – and this is one thing they definitely need to know about.

What could you do?

It’s easy to hold our heads in the sand when the world is changing and we’re not sure what that means or how to keep up.  We recommend exploring with your team – what do we know about shifts in our customer and employee digital behaviour, what big data that may be providing, and what that might all mean to our jobs and business?

Realising you don’t know the answers to these questions can be a great starting point to finding out, challenging the rest of the business to do the same, and seeing where you can go from there.

Happy exploring!

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Maximise Your MOOC

maximise 400x265How Do You Maximise Your MOOC Experience?

We introduced the concept of a MOOC here, so if you’re unfamiliar with the concept we’d recommend jumping back a page.  In this article we’re exploring how an individual learner can maximise the benefits of using an online course, whether that’s as an employee, or as an indivdual looking to learn a new skill.

Online learning is a relatively new and alternative way of studying a range of new skills.  It’s  progressed massively in the last few years, and has become an equally valid form of learning in the workplace.

However, with change come a few challenges.

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Common sense and an awareness of the pitfalls of self learning can hugely improve the experience for everyone involved.

One of the main hooks into online learning is the freedom to study in your own time, but this can also be its biggest drawback.  Managing your own development requires self-motivation, discipline and self-control.  Which is a lot easier said than done for many people!  And we’re not about to have an online course about taking online courses!

If you always put it off and think ‘it can be done tomorrow’, maybe online learning is not the best option for you.  For many MOOCs you are required to manage your own time, often set your own deadlines and will be required to find the energy and motivation to work when perhaps you really don’t want to.

One main way to stay on track is to try and follow the schedule of courses as much as possible.  Whilst you won’t always be able to achieve this, if you can either work ahead for when you know in advance you will be unavailable, or catch up when needed, you shouldn’t go far wrong.

Totem Lollipops

Another consideration is that of general life; most people complete online courses around the craziness of day to day life, whether it is work, home or family.  All these competing demands will put pressure on your time and ability to cope, and unfortunately, online learning can easily be put to the bottom of the list.  Particularly if the outcome from the course is linked to some greater sense of reward or advancement.

Finding a way to manage the demands of daily life and working will ensure a much smoother and more enjoyable experience.  And we’d also suggest linking the completion of the course to some greater purpose.

Finally, a MOOC offers us something quite unique in the world of online learning, it’s social interactivity.  You have a whole world of learners from all walks of life out there who are interested in the same topic as you, so use them.  Whatever time of day or night you are studying, whichever module you are on, chances are there is someone else on the course somewhere in the world doing the same thing as you.

By staying in regular contact with the other learners through message boards and course chatrooms/messaging features, you get the social side of studying without leaving your home.  Sometimes all we need is a nudge in the right direction by someone who understands what we are trying to do.

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What is a MOOC?

communication 400x265A Cow With a Sore Throat?

MOOC, or a Massive Open Online Course to give it its full title, is a relatively recent phenomenon.  The impact that these online courses are having on our industry are truely breathtaking, so let’s find out a little more.

The explosion of the internet has made the world a much smaller place and connected every corner of the globe; education is no different to many other industries in this respect. Within a MOOC learners from anywhere in the world are connected with each other, teachers and institutions that could be local or thousands of miles away.

Apply this idea to business and you can quickly connect the learning objectives of an entire, global organisation to the individual development areas of their employees.

Although MOOCs are a unique way of learning, they retain all the features of a traditional learning environment such as lectures, assignments and exams.  MOOCs enable employee’s anywhere in the world with an internet connection to join a particular course, are set tasks and are able to log in and complete the work at a pace that suits them.

Totem Gummi Bears

Learning in this new way has many advantages over traditional training for employee’s, the main benefit of MOOCs is that they enable employee’s who are excluded from traditional forms of training to learn.  This could be because they have roles that don’t allow time out from the business, or because the cost of training a large population of people in a workshop environment is prohibitive.

In this sense, a MOOC can provide tailored, targeted learning to individuals across an organisation.  You can even go further by connecting learning objectives, development plans and bonus structures to the satisfactory completion of certain courses.

What’s particularly exciting is that you can map your employee’s completion rates and which courses have proved most popular to broader, more traditional development programmes that complement the courses offered on your MOOC.  This is likely to increase engagement with the courses and the likelihood of completing a course.

Totem Lollipops

For trainers and HR professionals there are differing, but equally as valid, benefits.  By providing materials online, organisations are able to offer their services to an essentially endless number of employee’s, with minimal work.  Workshops, or courses can be filmed and uploaded, and all without adding much to a trainers workload.

It’s also a great way to raise the status of an organisation as an employer of choice.  For the first time an organisation can actually demonstrate a coherent map of what training and development is available to it’s employee’s, what the take up has been, the success rates and the interventions that come from those statistics.

Another brilliant benefit is that by basing training online, staff are able to engage with other trainers and subject specialists, and therefore collaborate in new and unexpected ways.  And it’s these new and unexpected ways that we’ll be keeping a close eye on the coming months.

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The Digital Shopper

Digital-Shopper-400x265How Digitalisation is Affecting Retailers

At the British Retail Consortium Retail Lecture with Sir Ian Cheshire, we heard that the world of retail has not really changed that much in decades – and the change that has happened has been relatively small and slow.

But now all of a sudden the pace of change and the size of the change happening is alarming.  And we have the digital revolution to thank for that.

Retail is no longer about sitting in a store and waiting for a customer to walk in, the point of sale has completely shifted.  And retailers are being challenged more and more to move at pace, just to keep up.

Sir Ian made recommendations on what retailers can be doing in response, and we add to that list here with some suggestions for how Talent, OD and HR can support the business.

What’s the context?

Consider that smartphone and tablet purchases have jumped 83% in just two years and that smartphone browsing on retail sites is growing five times as fast as laptop/desktop browsing – so there’s a clear prompt – make sure your sites are seamless, engaging and easy to use across all media.

Because what’s to stop a customer visiting your store to view a product, only to check online who the cheapest supplier is – probably whilst still in your store?  How are our staff and our sales processes going to adapt?

There is a wealth of online data out there, and about 90% of that data has only been generated in the past two years.  A lot of that data has been generated by the customer through Facebook posts, google searches, navigation through webpages, – there are two million google searches and 700,000 Facebook posts per minute.

The bad news is that with all that data, we don’t know where to start.  So far only 1% of all that data has been meaningfully analysed.

Jelly Bean Diversity

What we can say from that early analysis is that retail firms, their HR teams and their entire workforce will need to shift too – but how?  Retailers need to make sure every touch point with the customer is positive, informative and encouraging a purchase.

How can retailers respond?

Oracle research shows 80% of customers expect companies to adopt new technology to make their shopping experience easier and in line with their other everyday uses of their smartphones and tablets.  65% also expect stock transparency – so retailers need to have seamless systems talking to each other, showing customers how many items are available and where.

Andy Street of John Lewis Partnership has often been quoted with the line, “Operations and IT are the new competitive battleground” – as it is the online experience over coming years that is likely to drive higher competitive advantage than the in-store experience.  So the suggestion is that higher investment in these areas could pay dividend in our digital future.

What can Talent/OD/HR teams do to support this shift?

This move from focusing heavily on the retail estate to looking more at operations and IT is a massive shift from certainly our experience with our clients, and many others’ stories about focusing on people in stores.  The majority of people recruitment and development spend has been on getting the right people in store, doing the right things in the right way.

Totem Lollipops

Whilst that is still of course important, we now need to make sure that we have people in operations creating and delivering systems and processes that make everything smoother – for accurate stock management, ease of transition between someone buying online from a warehouse to in-store and connecting customer service between the two.

In IT we need people doing analysis on that big data – and these are jobs that didn’t exist when the people perhaps best qualified to do them were studying; the world is changing that rapidly.  So we need to attract and retain the best talent – which comes from investing in the development and engagement of those teams.

Sir Ian shared his views on people development, highlighting that developing in-store colleagues to handle technology and offer services to support products bought online, is much easier when the good service basics are there.  So whilst this has largely been about shifting a focus to IT and operations, the fact remains that if you don’t already have great customer service, then adding the use of a tablet, or product tracking through the store, is going to be 100 times tougher.  If the service basics are not there, you have a challenge to address.  Fast.

Thinking a little more long term, how do we invest in the IT department to retain talent and attract better talent in future.  And don’t forget, that many things we’ll be recruiting for in 5 years are skill sets that don’t currently exist, like the expertise to deliver Big Data analysis and responsive IT design as the internet of things develops.

HR professionals have always had the opportunity to support and challenge the business in what its people needs are and will be, to deliver a vision and the required results.  Now is the time for HR to be pushing a renewed focus on attracting and retaining talent in IT and operations, to prepare the business to keep up with the seismic shifts occurring.

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Getting Commercial

totem-commerceCombining learning, digitisation & commercial leadership

All this talk of technology (see our recent articles on the topic here) could be distracting us from the desired outcome.  Are we helping our people deliver better results?  Are we helping to build sustainable growth in the business?

We’re finding that many of our clients are looking at their priorities to improve their technology or digital service, improve their commerciality or people’s profitability and to improve people leadership.  Rather than seeing these as three separate priorities, what if we combine them?

Most if not all businesses need leaders to engage their people with the digital age, deliver great, profitable service to customers and lead high performance.

What does this mean in terms of actions for the talent, learning and leadership functions?  We’re finding more and more clients are needing to do more with less and that includes getting smart with how learning budgets and projects are used.

In one organisation we found that people were not engaging with digital products or talking to clients about the wider service on offer because they thought they needed to be experts before they could mention it.  Sound familiar?

Totem Gummi Bears

Most people have a fear of looking stupid or being considered unhelpful, so we can relate to the idea that people need to be the expert or at least feel they know more than others before they can speak about products or services.  This raised an interesting question – do we need to give people more knowledge or help them realise they already know enough to be helpful?

It could have gone either way, but in this instance the latter turned out to be true.  We needed to help people feel more confident that they already knew more than their clients and could refer interested customers to the relevant experts when required.

Why is this example so important?  The story highlights that a need for people to engage with the digital age may not simply be a cry for technical training.  What can managers and leaders do to understand the blockers and help their people engage?  If we can show people managers how to explore these ideas with their teams, then we can start addressing the need for digital development in a different way.  And the same goes with commercial thinking.

What can managers do to understand the blockers to more profitable or commercial-thinking?

If we shift management and leadership development toward conversations on commercial, digitally-engaged high performance, will we see a shift?  Will we get better value from our learning programmes?  We’re certainly seeing that shift in the work we’re doing, so maybe it’s an interesting starting point for the year ahead?

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Is Tech Taking Over?

matrixThe ugly truth?  Is Tech taking over?

We all could probably have guessed that the day would come when CEOs would put technology over people as their top priority.  But seeing the data from Korn Ferry that today is that day is still a hard pill to swallow.

For years CEOs have stated people, talent, the leadership pipeline and general leadership capability as their top concern, but now technology is topping the list for over 60% of global leaders.  It’s understandable given the rapid pace of development in the tech world and the fact that most companies are still racing to keep up whereas before they may have been market innovators.

However the fact remains that technology alone does not make a successful and sustainably growing blue chip business.  Well, not yet anyhow.  Over 40% of business leaders believe that technology will one day make the human workforce obsolete according to Korn Ferry’s surveys, but we’re certainly not there yet.

So what does all this mean for the discerning business leader, HR or learning professional?  There’s certainly a risk that it means tighter budgets.  If CEOs are pushing toward greater investment in technology, then it could mean money is pulled from people attraction, development and retention.  Or it could simply mean we need to get smarter about how we link our people development with our technology.

Working with one client recently there was a realisation that customer service staff were not using the highly intelligent online tools that their customers were using.

Totem Lollipops

This meant that customers were better educated than staff on product price comparisons and reviews.  That’s easy to fix, but you need to know where the problems are in order to fix them.  We can be very guilty in the people function of putting out information and hoping people use it, when in fact we need to be marketeers to grab attention.

In a totally different organisation, the challenge was getting people to work across brands and across old and new tech systems, to provide a more seamless service for business clients.  Again it’s the people making best use of the technology that makes the difference.

What are the tech developments in your business and market?  How are you connecting your people with those advances to maximise their value?

Korn Ferry’s research shows an understandable yet concerning shift in CEO attention.  The role of the people function in future (as if it hasn’t always been so) will be to keep people at the forefront of business leaders’ thinking.

That’s how we maximise the developments in technology.

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Learning Technologies Event Pt.2

LT-Totem 400x265Part 2 of our little jaunt to the Learning Technologies event

In case you missed the first part, you can find it here.

Blame Taylor

We can all be guilty of thinking that problems can be addressed with a one-size-fits-all solution.  With an elearning course or even a blended learning journey – it’s “we design, you consume.”  Saffron Interactive spoke at the event of Taylorism – the principles of management devised by Frederick Taylor (not to be confused with the fandom of Taylor Swift!).

Taylorism worked really well in the early 1900s manufacturing world, where working out the most efficient and effective way of doing something, then teaching everyone else to do just that, in that way, gave great results.  As decades, technology, lifestyles, attitudes and ways of working have moved on, Taylorism has all but disappeared, except, this speaker argued, in L&D.

That sounds rather harsh – are we really saying that L&D teams sit in a dark room working out what people need to know and how they should learn it, then force out that model for consumption?  There have certainly been examples of this, but we see plenty of examples of the opposite too: L&D professionals working with people to identify the root cause of an issue and generate solutions together that suit each person.  There is also the challenge of making individually-tailored learning and problem-solving solutions scalable.  We can’t deliver something bespoke to every person in a global corporation, can we?

Totem Lollipops


One suggestion of how this individually tailored approach might work was from Saffron Interactive.  They seem to have taken what works well in the consumer world – YouTube channels and iPod history – and presented the idea of playlists for learning.  This works particularly well if your online learning system is a curated set of user-generated insights, on top of the L&D-generated material.  The idea is that an individual’s line manager would look at the content and suggest a playlist for someone in their team.

You would hope that playlist would be based on the individual’s recent reviews, goals, strengths and development needs – as well as interest areas.  Then the manager has been directly involved in the development journey and encourages the individual to use the content recommended.  When the individual looks through that playlist, views content, rates it as useful, adds their comments, recommends it to others in their team – there we start to see the level of engagement with learning we might dream of.

Work problems not learning needs

But does all this miss the point, that we don’t think we need learning?  Another study conducted by Scott Bradbury highlighted that managers are highly confident in their abilities as people managers.  They consider that they have plenty of experience – and it’s this experience that is most beneficial when someone faces an issue, not external best practice insight or learning.  Now that’s a challenge: If someone doesn’t think they need any development, why would they choose to login to a learning system at all?

Perhaps this brings all of these considerations back to the overall trend in learning and development: We need to be helping people with their work challenges, not offering them learning.  Rather than a “leadership programme” we need to be offering “what to do when you’re pushed to deliver more with less.”  So does that mean you should stop all elearning?

That seems a bit drastic considering the content could be useful.  But certainly there is a need to reposition what’s on the system as helping with challenges rather than giving learning.  And if your system is mostly used for compliance training, there is a far wider question to be explored about the culture of the organisation and the behaviour that is encouraged – is it in line with, or counter to the content of the compliance training?

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Learning Technologies Event Pt.1

Totem-LT-Logo1 400x265“Stop your elearning!”  Wait, what?

There was plenty of myth busting going on at the Learning Technologies event, some well-founded and others perhaps a bit too harsh.

“Forget 70:20:10, there’s no empirical evidence for it” was on the harsh side, given that the idea of 70:20:10 was never published as a proven theory for how we learn, more a sensible approach for supporting learning in the workplace.

“Stop putting compliance training online, it doesn’t work” may be one we need to pay attention to.  We saw the bankers of 2008 (who it has been pointed out will have all completed their compliance training) following a set of behaviours that were certainly not in line with that training.

And the 2012 HBR article stating that “diversity training doesn’t work” made some very good points about emphasising difference rather than developing good communication skills and understanding.

But should we stop providing elearning altogether?  Here we’ll explore the different evidence and theories on why elearning doesn’t achieve what we want it to, and consider some recommendations for L&D teams as a result.

Just Google it – obviously!

A few firms have carried out research to understand where and how people learn when they need to.  A key point here was to ask people what they do when they face a challenge they don’t know how to work through – as that’s a more relevant question than “how do you learn?”  Ask the latter question and people think back to education, not everyday life skills.

Good Practice shared their finding that the most frequent things managers do when they face a new challenge are to have a conversation with their colleagues and do an internet search.  Looking at in-house online learning or resources was 5th on the list.  Considering an internal or external face-to-face course came 10th and 11th on the list.

Why is that?  Why don’t people use the resources L&D have provided for them?  The suggestion, from both further data and anecdote, was that we all want to use things that are quick, easy and relevant.  In fact ease of use was the greatest determining factor in deciding what or who to go to for help (not how useful the insight might be!).  Isn’t it easier to ask someone, or Google it, than it is to log in to the company LMS, search for a course and find the specific aspect relevant to the particular challenge faced?

Good Practice recommended a test for your elearning, intranet or LMS: Ask someone to think of a challenge they might face at work, then time them finding something that will help them with that on your system.  Now time them finding a pair of shoes they would like and getting to the point of purchase.

That’s the difference perhaps summed up most beautifully: Our experiences as consumers teach us to expect everything to be easy to find, relevant to our needs and quick to buy.  Our experiences with company learning systems and intranets is that they’re hard to navigate through, it’s difficult to find what we want and it’s slow.

There’s a further update from this remarkable event and it can be found here!

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Gaming for Talent

Totem-Talent 400x265Can games engage, retain and train talent?

There’s a lot of noise about gamification, serious games and playlists.  What do these mean and how could these concepts be useful for us in talent, learning and assessment?

The Learning Technologies event is a great place to hear about current and future developments in the world of interactive learning and assessment.  Whilst the definitions and usefulness of gamification varied slightly according to which exhibitor or seminar speaker we spoke to, there was some general themes which we found really helpful in understanding the difference.

Gamification is about taking what we already have and making it more like a game – ie “gamifying” something.  This has its roots in the unconscious drivers that motivate a lot of our behaviour – like a need to achieve and peer comparison.

If I’m on an elearning system and I can see I’m 48% of the way through a course and my peers are at 88%, there’s a good chance I’ll feel motivated to do more of the course.  Likewise if I’m awarded ‘badges’ or points for completion and passing confirmation of learning tests, this is likely to prompt an unconscious feel-good factor of achievement.

Many Learning Management Systems or elearning providers already have all this data – so by making that data public, and displaying it like game statistics, there could be some benefits to you motivating people to complete your online learning.

But be warned, there are also some big watch-outs with this idea.  First off, people are quick to feel patronised and this is a big switch off – so be careful with badges and achievement points, that people don’t feel like they’re being treated like children.  “Woo hoo you scored 5 bonus points for ticking this really boring health and safety box” is not likely to be motivational for people.

Jelly Bean Diversity

Duolingo and Headspace are known for their easy-to-use, somewhat childlike (but nobody seems to mind) completion % markers, daily practise streaks and comparisons with other users.  Maybe this works well because users have chosen to complete the learning, so this gamification encourages them to keep going.  Whereas in a business setting, being told we need to complete online learning puts us in a different mindset.

The combination of being told we must do something, then seeing childlike points and badges that we view as patronising, could be a recipe for disaster, resulting in non-completion and low engagement.

In the wider context of the challenge: Stop your elearning – you could argue this is all a moot point.  However there does appear to be some benefit in acknowledging those unconscious drivers of need to achieve and peer comparison.  If we all stopped sending out system, process and compliance elearning courses, and engaged people in a daily learning practice to help them do their jobs, then our offering would be more like Duolingo and Headspace, and it could be worth us adding in the gamification elements.

But as it stands right now, we risk simply adding to the feeling of being patronised.

Serious Games are a different animal.  Whereas gamification is taking what you already have and ‘gamifying’ it, serious games are the creation of an adventure or experience, which has a learning outcome and useful result.

Take for example a project management game, which might look like any other X Box adventure, but challenges the user to engage principles of best practice project management.  This provides a safe environment for application of learning and practice.

You could therefore consider adding serious games into your learning journey.  Common sense, Kolb’s learning cycle and even Kolb’s critics all point to the importance of practice when it comes to embedding learning.

Totem Gummi Bears

The best option is often to just get right into the day-job and use what you’ve learned, try it out, then reflect and work out what to do better next time.  But that’s not always possible or attractive.  What if I’m learning how to deal with a certain kind of crisis that is extremely rare?  Or what if I’m learning a skill that I might consider risky to try out at work?  Even coaching skills can feel scary for managers trying it out for the first time, as it can be such a departure from what the team are used to.

So perhaps serious games – just like scenarios, role plays and practical exercises have historically done in learning – give us an extra opportunity for practising new skills.  And the benefit of serious games online, is that like the X Box game, you can be anywhere in the world, playing a leadership or teamwork game, together.

An interesting reflection may also be how these games could be used for assessment.  Many firms are wanting their assessment and selection processes to be different, more engaging, reflecting a more 21st Century employer brand – so could we add in serious games?  It certainly seems like the potential is there, for a game purposefully designed to test leadership skills, assessors can observe behaviour and see how people really react under pressure.

So whatever way you look at gaming applied to talent assessment and development, there’s no doubt there is value in the idea.  Perhaps like all of the messages we heard at the Learning Technologies event, they key is to make sure you get the result you’re after, rather than simply run toward the latest fad or gadget.

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