The Learning 2015 conference held earlier this month attracted learning leaders from the world’s most innovative companies. So it’s no surprise it was abuzz with conversations about curation, personalization, social learning, the digitally connected employee, and the Tin Can API.
Of the multitudes of enlightening sessions, Nuance’s Director of Technical & Professional Learning, Cristin Crain, delivered one that illustrates the three steps Nuance’s learning team has taken — and yours can, too — to drive business results. Nuance is a leading provider of voice and language solutions that transform the way people interact with devices and systems. To stay current and relevant, Nuance has to be innovative and always evolving. Its learning team supports this through:
- Iteration – Knowing the work is never done, there are always improvements and advancements to be made.
- Connection – Learning what audiences want and need to keep moving forward.
- Prioritization – Thinking through the impact on learners and the organization. What resources will provide the necessary information in a format that enables access anytime and anywhere?
3 steps your learning team can take to drive business
#1 – Determine your priorities
The learning team must make decisions that serve the entire organization and move it forward, so choosing which priorities to tackle can be daunting. Here’s how Nuance does it:
- Get to know your stakeholders – What do they do? What are their goals? What do they value? What is their culture? Nuance started getting to know its employees’ needs by partnering with leaders across the organization to select 100 people to interview and asked them these questions and more.
- Identify actionable items – If your organization’s learning needs are vast like Nuance’s, the sheer number and size of actionable items might be overwhelming. Crain’s team took the feedback it received and boiled it down into actionable items. And because they can’t possibly respond to all needs and requests, they provide checklists, recommendations, and referrals to support teams looking to try new technologies or learn new skills that aren’t covered by existing resources.
- Take action – The best place to start according to Crain, is with pilots or tests. Determine where you can get the most bang for your buck, then start testing different programs and resources to see what works or doesn’t, or what might need tweaking. She says it’s important to fail fast these days — learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward.
#2 – Become an internal consultancy
In order to stretch your team’s ability to meet your organization’s diverse and growing needs, design your learning team to function as an internal consulting and networking firm. Here are some guidelines Crain gave around creating a successful in-house consultancy:
- Be flexible – Agility isn’t just for engineers and technologists.
- Leave your ego(s) at the door.
- Communicate and connect with your team regularly.
- Partner on ideas and projects – for instance, Nuance’s learning team hosts joint sessions on Management Excellence and Engineering Excellence.
When it comes to working with those outside your team:
- Network and develop relationships – especially with your toughest customers and harshest critics. Once you have them on board, the rest will follow.
- Stay curious – keep asking questions.
- Take calculated risks.
#3 – Determine what to buy, curate, or build in-house
If you’re operating in a fiscally restrictive environment, finding ways to minimize costs is crucial. At the same time, you’ve got to provide the right resources – not only so employees can get their work done, but also for their personal development and satisfaction. Having opportunities and resources to develop their skills to stay ahead in a competitive marketplace is a valuable benefit for employees — and of course it helps the organization immensely. Here are some crucial questions for which you need answers:
- What are the most needed/critical skills?
- How will we provide the opportunities to develop those skills?
- What is going to work for our employees?
With its highly technical, geographically diverse workforce Nuance’s approach has to be very non-traditional. There are no face-to-face training classrooms for employees. In fact, aside from compliance training, less than five percent of its employee development offering includes internally generated asynchronous elective online learning courses.
As a hybrid approach to meeting some specific company needs, Nuance’s learning team partners with subject matter experts to create custom tutorials using essential content on Safari. So while employees have on-demand access to the 33,000 books and videos on Safari’s business and technology learning platform, they can also take advantage of tutorials developed for their specific learning needs covering topics such as Process Improvement, Managing Virtually, and Systems Thinking.
In wrapping up her session, Crain admitted that forging ahead is hard for any learning team — it requires intelligence, business acumen, and perhaps most important, learning to be comfortable outside our comfort zones. She reminded us to expect struggles and mistakes, and expect to learn… after all, we are all striving to build a learning organization.