The digital workplace is truly disrupting all business, and learning is no exception. There’s an increasing need to reskills the workforce as knowledge and skills now have a short shelf-life, in parallel one-size-fits-all training is no longer adequate to meet the unique needs of learners. Business leaders want learning programs to target relevant and measurable business results and they do not consider those programs complete until the results are achieved.
L&D must identify the specific capabilities the business requires and how it will know that the target population has achieved them. The challenge with simply trying to align to “business needs” is that just about anything can be framed as one. Most mistakes in aligning learning investments come from being imprecise in what is identified as a “business need” and then shifting into delivery mode too early with limited information.
L&D needs to take a performance consulting approach, identifying the real performance problems and define business benefits of learning innovation and establishing measurable value to the organization. L&D needs to be a true business partner; being attached to the business problem, without being accountable for it. When there’s a request from the business, L&D should start asking the right questions to acquire the relevant information to act.
Before describing the recommended 15 performance questions approach to performance consulting we’ve asked Tetra Pak Learning Leaders Kristian Asberg to share his view on L&D performance consulting, including a recent example.
Introduction: tell me about yourself
I’m Kristian Asberg and work as Learning and Organisational Development director at Tetra Pak in Sweden. Before this I had L&D roles in Ikea and Scania, so built up experience in various industries. Tetra Pak is a truly global business, works across 170 countries with circa 25.400 employees and provide our learning offer from our Learning and shared services centers and factories. As a learning function, we are moving from providing transactional to transformational development support as there’s an increasing need to reskill our workforce and stay competitive in our market.
What’s your view on L&D performance consulting and how do you define a true learning need?
We need to become more strategic and structured in terms of performance consulting to determine the key learning needs for Tetra Pak. We were often too quick to jump to conclusions and develop a learning program and now see that performance consulting is the L&D lifeline. We are making progress within L&D in our needs analysis using best practice models like ATD, which contains useful questions. This enables us to be more efficient & effective and shorten our time-to-market in the process.
Who do you consult in Tetra Pak to scope new learning initiatives?
We have 2 parallel processes to explore and scope new learning initiatives. The first is an annual cycle with our strategic learning forum, where we aim to forecast new learning needs in relation to where our business is moving. The second is the regular connection with key business ‘owners’ where we can adopt a more agile consulting methodology and include global & local needs. The outcome of these 2 streams is:
1. an overview of key capabilities and analysis capability gaps for the different workforce groups.
2. clarity on our Business-as-Usual curriculum and in addition clarity on new needs that require a learning solution
Do you have a GO-NO GO phase in your performance consulting process?
Yes, we do have a Go-No Go phase where the business owner and L&D portfolio manager produce a requirement document based on the learning needs, that potentially lead to a learning solution. This document includes capability analysis, KPIs & scope of the learning solution. I’m the ‘gatekeeper’ at the end of this process and conduct a final review and make a decision – when I’m in doubt I can ask the strategic business forum to decide. This also enables us to work as global as possible and as local as necessary.
Can you share a recent example of performance consulting at Tetra Pak that led to a learning solution?
The best example relates to the product engineer challenge we faced last year. We obviously want to serve our customers in the best possible way but received more support requests than we could handle with our existing pre-product engineer workforce. We ran a solid performance consulting process with the need to develop a new cohort of pre-product engineers within Tetra Pak, with the implication that we needed to reskill part of our workforce, with a focus on behavioral change – the technical skills were already there. With strong business support, L&D initiated a long analysis process with the ensuing behavioral breakdown, creating a must-have skills map as output and focus on behavioral skills for this tech-target audience. The next steps were: design of a 70:20:10 learning solution, defined KPIs, pilot program & develop the final learning solution, launch the solution with a peer-coaching scheme to ensure embedding. A lesson learned was the need to train the trainee-managers to provide even better on-job support. It took 12 months to train the target audience, with very positive results in terms of learner engagement, application in the workplace and stakeholder satisfaction. This provides our L&D team with the confirmation that we need to continue our performance consulting approach in the future.
Case study – the 15 performance questions L&D must ask before delivering
Based on experience, research and business need we believe that there are solid steps L&D needs to take to identify real business problems, performance issues and learning needs with clear objectives. In close collaboration with Automotive experts, we’ve developed the Automotive case study below, which operationalizes the 15 performance questions L&D needs to ask before moving to delivery mode. Each of the 15 performance questions is followed by the related exemplary answer from the business stakeholder.
The 15 questions L&D must ask are detailed below. The answers provided require that the business sponsor has a level of L&D understanding.
1. What are your business plans for next year? (what’s changing & new)
We are launching a new generation of e-cars in response to the automotive market evolution, concrete customer needs, competitor initiatives and expected environmental regulations limiting the use of fuel-powered cars.
2. What are the critical workforce implications related to these plans?
The salesforce capabilities have historically been focused on selling fuel-powered cars. Given the new strategy with a focus on e-cars, we believe the salesforce currently does not have the necessary knowledge and skills to market and sell e-cars.
3. Would these plans require new core capabilities to be developed for this workforce?
The salesforce needs to be reskilled in both knowledge & skill areas to enable them to sell the new e-cars in addition to selling the current fuel-powered cars.
4. Which (new) performance are you expecting from your salesforce (target audience)?
We expect our salesforce to market and sell the e-cars to current and new customers (and increase our revenue and margin in this process) based on clear performance objectives.
5. What’s the performance gap – which core capabilities do we need to develop? (knowledge, skills, mindset)?
The salesforce needs to acquire technical and product knowledge about the e-car features, acquire the relevant knowledge to position the e-car USPs versus the fuel-powered cars related to customer needs and develop the sales skills needed to convince those customers and realize sales. We can use available big data to analyze the current capabilities, including those of the top performers and what distinguishes them in terms of capabilities.
6. Do you believe that a learning solution for the salesforce is THE answer to develop new core skills (can the problem be addressed by L&D?)?
Given our experience with launching new cars, we believe that a learning solution is necessary to enable the salesforce to acquire the relevant knowledge and skills. We believe a blended solution with assessment features works best. In addition, we need to set-up a knowledge management infrastructure and a community where the sales staff can build and share e-car knowledge via social learning.
7. What kind of learning solution do you need based on your experience and knowledge of the salesforce?
We rely on L&D to provide expert advice on designing the best learning solution. Based on previous experience we prefer a blended solution with assessment features in order to personalize as much as possible. In parallel, we want to co-create a knowledge management infrastructure and a community where the sales staff can acquire and share relevant e-car knowledge via social learning.
8. What should be the outcome of this intervention – what change do you want to see?
We want to see an upskilled salesforce with the relevant technical & product knowledge and the right sales skills to be able to market and sell the new e-cars. This implies both a higher competence level and confidence level, which we can assess. We also want our salesforce to share (e-car) knowledge and customer insights going forward.
9. What’s your expected timeline for developing the new capabilities?
We are launching the first new e-cars in 6 months’ time. The salesforce needs to be fully trained before that time for the first wave of customers. Especially since marketing will start in 4 months’ time.
10. Can you define the exact target audience (size) for this development initiative?
The target audience is our global salesforce, approx. 12.000 people in 62 countries. In addition, the 1500 sales managers need to be upskilled as well.
11. Do you see any bottlenecks for rolling out a learning solution to your target audience?
We see 4 main bottlenecks:
The 1st is deploying the global sales program in time before the new e-cars are launched.
The 2nd is the limited coaching capability at the sales management level to embed the learning.
The 3rd is ensuring that the learning solution can be offered to all new joiners in the future.
The 4th bottleneck is enabling knowledge sharing in sales-communities.
12. Can you identify subject matter experts for L&D to help develop a learning solution proposal: approach, KPIs, content & costs?
We have identified 2 e-car product managers who can work with L&D to shape and develop the global learning solution and determine KPIs for this program. L&D can reach out to external experts for input on sales and coaching skills if needed.
13. Can you provide the learning solution budget and business sponsors to help L&D develop and deploy the learning solution?
The key sponsor is the global e-car marketing director, who will include the e-car training budget in his overall marketing & project budget.
14. How are you going to enable the learning solution to be embedded in the flow of work: what will you do and what do you expect from L&D?
Let’s ensure that a blended learning resource is developed with most of the relevant product knowledge training made available online, via a mobile solution so that staff can be pre-trained just-in-time before their F2F workshops. Let’s also organize an add-on coaching module for sales-management to ensure the learning is embedded in the workplace. In terms of effectiveness, it makes sense to provide workplace performance support tools to embed the learning in the flow of work.
15. How do you want to evaluate the learning solution outcomes and follow-up?
We would like to be involved in the planning phase. Also, we need to be present at the delivery workshops and be informed about the post-training outcomes in terms of basics (nr of people trained, etc) and training impact (increase in competence and confidence). Finally, we want the e-car training to be offered to all new sales staff in the future.
The answers to these 15 questions will provide L&D with the direction to move into delivery mode. Five necessary ingredients will have been secured to enable L&D to take a validated Go – No Go decision: a performance need / the learning objectives / the business sponsor / the target audience / the L&D project resources.
It’s then up to the skills of the L&D team to analyze proposed learning interventions in terms of anticipated impact and ability to roll-out. Assuming the answers determine a learning need, the next steps are to design and roll-out a successful learning solution. Then facilitate the embedding in the workplace and evaluate the impact on the workforce. The answers to the 15 questions also provide L&D teams with a huge opportunity to elevate to be a real performance partner for the organization and deliver impact within budget, timelines, and expectations.
The author of this article is Jan Rijken – Learning Director at Wiley-Crossknowledge / Visiting professor at IE business school / former CLO at KPMG, ABN-AMRO & Daimler.