How on-demand approaches are proving superior.
By Mahesh Ram
Advances in technology have significantly impacted the way businesses are run, how employees operate most effectively, and how they improve their skills at work. The proliferation of mobile devices, social enterprise tools, and cloud-based software has increased the ability of companies to provide employees on-demand access to information and support—a trend that’s been progressively adopted by leading-edge organizations during the last decade. According to the 2011 Forrester report Demystifying the Mobile Workforce, 62 percent of the information labor force works in multiple locations during a week.
This mobility trend has allowed large corporations to maintain and raise competitive advantage by increasing employee efficiency through access to on-demand learning and development (L&D) tools and content. Analyst firm Bersin & Associates reports that the modern learning organization is less concerned with where performance happens than whether they have the right resources at whatever location.
With these changes taking place in the global workplace, the old-fashioned classroom training model is increasingly becoming the road less taken, resulting in the need for a new approach to incorporate L&D. Not only has the old model proven to be a costly, timely investment, but it also doesn’t provide the level of personalization and immediacy on a mass scale that new on-demand models offer. Additionally, the inability to measure proficiency improvements and a company’s return on investment (ROI) are key reasons that just-in-case learning is being replaced by just-in-time approaches.
The concept of social, on-demand programs has redesigned the L&D environment within organizations, providing significant returns, including reduced costs, increased productivity, and increased collaboration among employees. These programs put company content and materials into the context of workers’ daily jobs, integrating learning with work. The Corporate Executive Board reports that using day-to-day work to develop critical capabilities is essential to elevating the influence of L&D from simply building employee capabilities to delivering measurable business outcomes.
Industry analysts support newer training methods that do not rely heavily on traditional, formal learning. According to the former CLO of Reuters, Charles Jennings, the “70:20:10 rule” provides a successful combination of training approaches: 70 percent of learning is done while on the job, 20 percent of learning occurs from peer interaction, and 10 percent of learning results from structured courses or formal learning. Bersin & Associates similarly reports in Modern Approach to L&D that 20 percent of workplace training occurs through the formal, traditional training model, whereas 80 percent of organizational learning is informal, on-demand, social collaborative learning, and embedded learning.
Global IT giant Unisys is an organization that has seen successful results with an on-demand software platform for the company’s L&D programs. The company was facing a language barrier: Approximately 60 percent of Unisys’ revenues come from outside the United States, and nearly 60 percent of its global workforce is non-native English speakers. But communication—email, conference calls, and client meetings—typically take place in English. Employees and managers realize that it is a vital skill for their global operations.
With the goal of providing a more effective business English development and support program for employees—one that would provide significant, measurable results—Unisys introduced an on-demand, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-based software platform. It was offered to approximately 14,000 non-native English-speaking employees across the enterprise in 2010. The results were compelling. Through the use of this platform, global employees were able to learn and develop their business English skills when it was convenient for them, with immediate performance support. Results revealed that employee productivity significantly improved, with 63 percent of workers who used it reporting they saved more than one hour per week. Employees report benefits including enhanced business outcomes, faster translation of documents, better in-person and email communications, and elevated client service. It’s estimated that more than 340,000 hours per year were gained or recovered, due to better business English skills that were acquired while executing daily workflow.
Measurement has traditionally plagued most L&D programs. It can be challenging to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of the training itself, the program’s contribution to overall business goals, and the business value of training in general. A measurable on-demand L&D solution is an important factor to consider, because senior management is often interested in the workforce’s performance and improvements in key competency outcomes.
According to Bersin & Associates Vice President of Research David Mallon and a recent report on borderless business communication, Capgemini, a global provider of business consulting services, is another organization that supports on-demand performance support. The company realized its global network wasn’t communicating effectively, because its consultants in many European countries were unable to tap into the larger corporate network or participate in key cross-border sales initiatives. The lack of critical business English skills was a barrier to organizational effectiveness and agility.
With the help of a technology partner, Capgemini delivered on-demand performance support in business English to remedy the issue. Immediate performance gains included improved response times by its consultants in both written and oral communications, higher quality work product for its clients, and significant productivity gains. The on-demand solution also delivered a reduction in costs. The company realized that performance support for its English-development initiative promotes speed to proficiency and gains in organizational capability.
In today’s global economy, many organizations are seeing a variety of initiatives as competitive differentiators, including a commitment to employee L&D programs. On-demand and web-based tools are displacing the brick and mortar classroom-style training for a number of reasons, including the expense of materials, lack of measurement, and employee time away from work. The most important benefit is improved quality of output by knowledge workers around the world. Senior management and executives increasingly recognize that employee knowledge and development, delivered through the new medium, are critical to the central goal of creating increasingly efficient work processes and delivering the innovation of the future.