SumTotal Blog

Brent Colescott (10 Posts)

Brent Colescott

Brent Colescott is the Sr. Director of Business Strategy and Transformation for SumTotal, A Skillsoft Company. With over 20 years experience in the learning and talent fields, he has successfully initiated and optimized online learning platforms and programs during his career in the HR, Utilities and Energy industries. Notable accomplishments include being recognized by WebEx as their “Innovator of the Year” in 2005 and by Skillsoft as the “2007 Learning Leader of the Year.” Brent holds a Master of Education in Administration and Technology and is a former Chairman and Executive Board Member of the Humble ISD Education Foundation.

9 Tips for Re-Onboarding Furloughed Employees

Remote manager reviewing documentation.

While some can work remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, other people simply don’t have jobs that allow for that. During the coronavirus pandemic, the economic impact on businesses has forced the hand of many employers to temporarily close or reduce their workforce to protect the company from financial ruin. Many companies have chosen to furlough employees, rather than lay them off.

Furloughed employees can be a much better alternative to layoffs for both companies and employees. However, until COVID-19, they were not frequently used in the United States. During the Great Recession, only 0.5% of the US workforce participated in furloughs, while one in five workers experienced a layoff. Today, amid the pandemic, many companies have turned to furloughs, creating a path for employees to return.

From the business perspective, it helps them survive an economic downturn but retain the talent the business needs to get back up and running when the time comes. From the employee perspective, the primary benefit of furloughs to employees is that they have a job to return to.

Now that some states have begun releasing plans to allow certain businesses to reopen, ending statewide stay-at-home orders, companies are encountering unprecedented territory. Bringing furloughed employees to work will require employers to grapple with a host of challenges. Return-to-work plans should vary based on local and state directives and factors like the nature of the workforce, geography, and industry—now is the time for employers to lay the groundwork for implementing specific return-to-work plans.

Empathy and sensitivity go a long way  

During this process of planning, it’s important to understand that you can’t erase the inevitable pain that furloughs cause to employees. Employees who return after the furlough is over may have extremely complicated feelings. A recent international study of more than 2,000 employees conducted at the end of March and early April 2020 in Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK, and the US, indicates that furloughed workers are 37% more likely than those who have been laid off to report declines in mental health amid the pandemic.

This is thought to be a function of the stress introduced by being out of work without a sense of when, or if, they will be called back. Understanding this is important for employers as they prepare to bring furloughed people back to work.

So, what’s the best approach to handling the onboarding process of furloughed employees? Your company should be thoughtful and sensitive in its approach and impeccable in execution. Here are nine tips to help with re-onboarding of furloughed employees:

1. Avoid employment discrimination risks

Realistically, companies will not be at full operations upon reopening. In these circumstances, employers must be cautious in determining who to bring back to the workplace to mitigate the risk of potential discrimination claims based on the decision not to bring back other employees at the same time.

Employers need a documented, non-discriminatory reason for choosing which employees to rehire or return to work. These reasons could include factors such as seniority, operational needs, or past performance issues. Decisions about who to bring back into the workplace cannot be based on an apparent higher risk of COVID-19 complications.

The EEOC has said in recent guidance that employers cannot unilaterally decide not to hire individuals who are over 65 or pregnant because of COVID-19 risks without running afoul of federal discrimination laws.

2. Have a repeatable process

Make it as easy as possible for the employees to reacclimate. When rehiring many at once, cutting manual tasks is critical. When employees can complete their employment forms through a digital portal before the first day back, everyone keeps moving.

Make it easier for them to succeed in new roles with an onboarding plan that helps them define goals, acclimate to a new team or division, and ensure they’re performing their best.

As the cultural aspect of an organization is generally woven throughout onboarding programs, you’ll want to pay special attention to establishing a culture in the programs you offer. Consider virtual engagement activities to account for the shift to more remote work, as well as social distancing in offices to help build morale and camaraderie.

3. Welcome each one as you would any employee

Start with an offer letter and state all the necessary information. Take this opportunity to reassure them about what’s changed—and what hasn’t—when it comes to their position, salary and benefits, and how you will be ensuring workplace safety. This letter will now supersede any previous terms of employment, so it’s essential to get all the details right:

  • Position
  • Supervisor
  • Responsibilities/job description
  • Salary
  • Return to work date

4. Be extremely transparent

Indicate in clear terms whether any of the employee’s terms of employment have changed. Even if there are only small changes, not disclosing them clearly will only lead to resentment. For example, if changes in employment affect their exempt status or if salaries and/or hours have been reduced across the board, be clear about this.

5. Have a backup plan

For an employer, one of the main risks of this process is that their top talent will get jobs elsewhere. And, furloughed employees have the right to seek new employment. Employees may have found alternative employment while furloughed or simply not wish to return to work at this time.

Give employees a choice of whether to accept the offer to return or reject it and have their employment terminated. For employees that do not wish to return, be understanding and supportive of their choice.

6. Explain benefits status

Employees will naturally want to know how the recall from furlough affects their company seniority, benefits, any accrued PTO, and sick leave.

7. Provide training on new safety procedures

The furlough is over, but the pandemic isn’t. Employees should still work from home if they can. If this isn’t possible in your industry, it’s an employer’s responsibility to create a safe work environment and work to promote social distancing. Onboarding should include efforts to educate the staff in:

  • Scheduled handwashing
  • Regular disinfection of surfaces
  • Enforced social distancing
  • Reduced customer capacity
  • Staggered shifts
  • Any industry-specific requirements

8. Provide reassurance

This is a time of high anxiety, and you can’t be expected to predict every question a returning employee may have. Offer employees an open-door policy to reach out privately with any questions and concerns.

9. Provide ongoing support

A furlough period will test your company culture. Managers should not assume that they are in the clear once a furlough has ended. Employees will still need frequent and transparent communication about the state of affairs and recovery plans, along with the reassurance that the future is bright with an explanation of how they all fit into that future.

The onboarding process will be the first test of our recovery—but critical to the rejuvenation of the furloughed employee’s journey with your company. The better structured and organized, the faster the recovery can happen. Human resources, IT, and learning and development teams should work together to ensure that the onboarding of furloughed employees is smooth, and the content presented and required of employees is as comprehensive, concise, and referenceable as possible.

What to Do Next
Interested in more tactics to smooth the path of returning to work? Visit “Take a Holistic Approach to Employee Well-Being for an Optimal Return to the Workplace.” This blog addresses the topics of taking care of the whole employee: their physical, emotional, and mental well-being. The best practices mentioned by the leading HCM research firm, i4cp, are based on the research of high-performing organizations and correlate with business performance.

See how your organization can take a holistic approach to employee well-being.

VILT or Bust: An Interview with Brent Colescott

COVID-19 has forced all of us to re-evaluate what working from home means—it’s also making us realize that some aspects of work, may never be the same.

While office floor plans are being reconfigured to promote social distancing, what about the training centers and classrooms? Is this pandemic showing us that in-person training is a thing of the past? It would certainly be difficult to reconfigure conference centers and classrooms to accommodate social distancing. Can you imagine a conference center with seats six feet apart?

Much like public, private, and higher education institutions, organizations are getting a crash course in not just remote work, but Virtual Instructor-Led Training as well.

Not all VILT is created equal

Virtual Instructor-Led Training—VILT—is not a new concept. The challenge that has been at the core of VILT adoption is not necessarily a technical one. VILT’s success and failure lie more in the delivery and learner experience.

Unfortunately, the concept of throwing PowerPoint slides up on a screen and speaking to them virtually “passes” as VILT. This could not be further from what a good VILT program should and can be. Good VILT programs engage their attendees and understand the environment.

I spoke to our very own Brent Colescott—virtually of course, to talk to him about VILT. We talked about not only the importance and benefit from utilizing VILT, but how it can used as a valuable element of your learning and development strategy. Brent Colescott is no stranger to standing up VILT programs:

Ryan Tidwell: Thanks for chatting with me today, Brent. So, let’s set some context—why is VILT so important today? Why is it relevant?

Brent Colescott: VILT is part of business continuity that is happening right now in a distributed/virtual workforce. While the pandemic has halted a lot of live training, the need to educate has not stopped and the pace at which change is occurring is unprecedented. Employees still need “just-in-time” knowledge and VILT is a way to capture the connections sought after for a remote workforce.

RT: Interesting—can you explain the importance of VILT given today’s changes?

BC: VILT is a proven alternative to the on-site training event. In today’s business environment, travel is near non-existent due to the risks of the pandemic, along with the temporary shuttering of travel and hospitality providers. This prevents gathering together for traditional classroom events. VILT can accommodate most—if not all—in-person training.

RT: Sounds like organizations could save a lot of money on travel expenses if they switched from all in-person training, to VILT.

BC: They could, and many companies do. Plus, more people could attend.

RT: What are you hearing in the market related to VILT as an L&D strategy moving forward?

BC: VILT has really become an overnight success 15 years in the making. It’s been around for at least that long and has had various levels of success in organizations. As the world switched to remote work and virtual gatherings due to the COVID-19, we’re seeing a significant rise in the interest volume of VILT events.

With all being said, VILT has not been as well-known as it should be due to poor delivery or less than effective delivery strategies. A large portion of the success of a VILT event is directly tied to how the material is developed—specifically for the delivery and how prepared or experienced the instructor is.

RT: Do you foresee an increased demand for experienced, virtual instructors?

BC: Absolutely, those with the skillset to successfully deliver content in a virtual event will be in great demand over the next year.

RT: So, from what I’m hearing, the learner experience might be the most important aspect of standing up a VILT program. Would you agree that it’s crucial for organizations to get this right?

BC: It is vital. What’s the saying, “you never get a second chance at a first impression”? That probably explains why VILT has not been as successful. Too many VILT sessions have been done poorly. You have to look at VILT programs as their own discipline and approach it as such.

RT: Makes sense. I’d like to dig into the strategy aspect of things. What does an HR organization need to be thinking about in order to execute a successful VILT strategy?

BC: Any organization needs to understand that this is not just delivering a “WebEx presentation.”  Successful VILT programs look to the needs of the learners but also the methods that must be incorporated to ensure successful delivery.

In fact, there are online certifications specific to the presentation/delivery of material in a virtual classroom in addition to certifications for VILT Instructional Design. The core focus for both approaches is to ensure virtual learner engagement throughout the event.

RT: Are there any resources you’d recommend?

BC: I would definitely recommend doing some research on virtual instruction. Over 15 years, the discipline has evolved along with the technology. There are several organizations that have curated this knowledge and can offer training or guidance around developing a successful program. Some organizations go so far as offering certification in the skill of presentation or instruction design for virtual training. I would highly recommend seeking this type of training for anyone serious about a sustained VILT program.

RT: It’s great that we have such a wealth of knowledge that’s been tested and developed over the years. We touched on it a little earlier, but I’d like to know, what are the benefits of VILT?

BC: Initially, VILT was seen as a cost-savings alternative to travel and overhead for training on-premise. Consider the rollout of an initiative or compliance need where the audience is vast and dispersed. Not only is VILT more cost-effective, but is also vastly more efficient and scalable—especially when dealing with larger audiences and shorter timeframes.

RT: Can you share some insight about the integration partners you work with that allow users to support VILT?

BC: At SumTotal, we have focused on integrating with the primary providers in the web conferencing, virtual meeting space—WebEx, Zoom, Adobe Connect, and so forth. By doing so we cover over 99% of the platforms our customers utilize. Familiarity with the virtual training platform is important, so users see a more transparent experience. We will continue to look to our customer base and their needs to drive future integrations.

RT: Very good to know—being seamlessly integrated with other platforms is so valuable. For an organization making the transition from traditional, in-person ILT to VILT, what are some key items to keep in mind?

BC: There are two areas that need to be evaluated and understood for the success of any VILT initiative. The first is of course the technology. You must leverage your platform in a way that ensures the trackability of delivered VILT sessions.

The second is the content and delivery. Learners will not sign up for a PowerPoint being read to them. Engagement is critical—there needs to be a level of engagement for each learner that is more than in an in-person event. A successful VILT session needs:

  • Clarity in the registration and access to the event.
  • Content that has been developed for the sole purpose of virtual delivery.
  • A presenter who understands how to present and engage remote learners.
  • A “producer” who manages the virtual room. This might entail troubleshooting, answering chats or changing slides.

RT: What can you say about the evolution of VILT as part of L&D strategy?

BC: What has evolved over the years is not only a cost-savings approach, but a more efficient and scalable way to train distributed audiences in a shorter timeframe. This has provided organizations an alternative medium to their audiences that couldn’t find a way to attend an on-premise meeting or do not feel comfortable with an eLearning course.

RT: Any other topics we should be addressing related to VILT that we haven’t yet discussed?

BC: Test, Test, Test, Test… The fastest way to kill any VILT program is if your learners cannot even access the environment. Review the steps necessary to register and attend a VILT event.  If your attendees cannot overcome the technical challenges to attend your online event, you’ll burn up all your time and effort just getting people into the session. That will frustrate both the learner and presenter.

Multiple VILT events can be scheduled and done more efficiently since the traffic is virtual. However, schedules can fall apart like dominoes falling if attendees cannot join. Consider job aids, follow-up emails, or test sessions to overcome those issues.

And lastly, my shameless plug, SumTotal is already VILT capable. The connections between a robust learning platform needed for classroom management is already integrated with the various delivery platforms. Our clients can schedule VILT sessions, just like their ILT sessions. Once they have made the connection between the two platforms, they can quickly stand up and track Virtual ILT sessions just like they did for the in-person sessions.

Interviewed by Ryan Tidwell who is a content marketer at SumTotal/Skillsoft

This may be a good time for an HR makeover

Most departments of most businesses have asked team members to work remotely. If you’re an HR professional, this has probably added to your workload—it’s your responsibility to guide a concerned, confused and probably displaced workforce forward. Any issues with your HR or Talent Development program may come to the forefront and it may be time to consider an audit and overhaul.

If you’re familiar with Chef Robert Irvine, you’ve probably seen his restaurant make-over show “Restaurant Impossible.” The show is a bit of a mash-up of Dr. Phil, Extreme Makeover and Restaurant 101 for restaurants and their owners. Over the past few years, I’ve met a few organizations, particularly the Learning and Talent teams, that could benefit from an intervention of this type. I’m not saying I’m the Robert Irvine of Learning and Development, but many organizations could stand to have an outside opinion to truly break out of their comfort zones and make needed changes.

The sequence of events for each show is essentially the same. In the beginning, Chef Irvine meets the restaurant owner and assesses the décor, quality of the service and, of course, the food. Later in the show, he analyzes the profit and loss to see how the restaurant is managing cash flow. The whole process from mess to amazing happens in 24 hours with only ten thousand dollars.

Many HR and Talent Development programs need an intervention

Of course, with today’s challenges, the need is greater than ever to have a sober look in the mirror and be open to making changes. What are your employees telling you? Are they able to find the information and content they desire? Is the content fresh and relevant? Find a feedback channel to get an employee’s honest reactions to what is being offered.

Mixing metaphors below, let’s look at the criteria for change that Chef Irvine reviews:

1. Décor: User-Interface

What does your site look like? What is the employee experience? Could it use a make-over? If you’ve heard feedback that your site(s) are confusing, busy or not intuitive, it may be time for a makeover. The rise of the employee experience and consumer tendencies has made the job much harder for HR systems to get by with a poor interface. It’s time to find a way to revamp, redesign or purchase a new platform. Keep in mind the 24-hour/ten-thousand-dollar budget for the show. You may not need to make a huge expense or even replace a system. Look internally, there’s probably someone already on your team or in your organization just waiting for the chance to redesign the site.

2. Service: Career Development

Similar to the employee experience, what is the expectation or reality of getting help, advising or guidance for employees? Employee expectations today are much different than just a few years ago. Employees want to feel a purpose and are looking for coaching/mentoring/advice; they need to see a path for them in an organization or they’ll leave. What resources can be allocated/re-aligned or developed to help support learner needs or career aspirations? Hint, it won’t be the LMS Admin.

3. Profit & Loss

Like Chef Irvine, I’m so surprised at how little some restaurants understand their costs when it comes to the budget. One of the questions asked upfront is, “what is your food cost?” Shockingly, many do not have a clear idea of how much they are losing per menu item. A similar parallel is to ask organizations what their annual spend is for employee talent development programs. Training Magazine’s 2018 Industry Survey indicates the following:

Overall, on average, companies spent $986 per learner this year compared with $1,075 per learner in 2017. Government/military organizations spent the most per learner this year ($1,433), followed by nonprofit organizations ($1,360). Midsize companies spent less ($858) than large ($1,046) and small ($1,096) companies. This should be at least a benchmark/baseline when it comes to determining the spend for many Learning & Talent Development programs

4. Food: Content

What are you serving? Is it stale day-old bread or just bland and boring? Content operates the same way. Too often I see a buffet of flavorless content with a few dishes/courses being consumed while the rest languish. Consider your personal tastes and expectations. Would you frequent a restaurant that had a plentiful, but poor selection of dishes, or do you want to go somewhere where the dishes are fresh and well-prepared? Right-size purchased content that’s quality and retire bland outdated content. Again, I’m mixing metaphors, but consider this approach in the current environment.

5. The Owner: Internal Stakeholders

The most frequent and difficult part of any makeover is getting the buy-in of the restaurant owner. Pride, money, lack of knowledge or a perfect storm of events, are many of the reasons the restaurants are in their current state. The same can apply to Talent Development programs and the departments that oversee them. Of course, as a department within a larger organization, more environmental factors may be at play, but there’s usually a considerable amount of room to make changes. This is where Vice Presidents, Directors or Managers of these programs need tough love to make a change. It’s not easy, and unfortunately can’t be done in 24 hours.

The point to all this is changes can and should be made. I know because I’ve done this a few years back. The show actually inspired me to take many of the steps above to confront a dwindling program. Following a similar approach to Chef Irvine’s—with some creativity and adjustment—I was able to turn around a platform and program that many had come to dislike.

Changing the perception of a Learning and Talent Development Program is not easy, but under the current circumstances, it is imperative to have a program that, much like each show’s reveal, will get everyone excited and energized. If you can take away anything from this, it’s that you don’t need a ton of money, consultants or a new platform to make the change, just the will to take the first step.

Under Pressure: Your HR Mobile Strategy and Generation Z

For years leaders have known that the future of HR systems and learning content is mobile, but the pressure to accelerate a mobile strategy in human resources is mounting.

The next wave of talent has never known life without smartphones. Generation Z is coming, and they’re coming fast, smartphone in hand. Nearly 80% of Gen Z consider their smartphone to be their most important device, and this year, Gen Z will make up approximately 24% of the global workforce.

Gen Z does everything with their smartphone. Everything from consuming content on YouTube and Netflix, to reading the news and books. Gen Z actively researches, shops and communicates through the various mediums the smartphone offers.

The next wave of talent expects their mobile preferences to be carried over to the workplace, yet many organizations are still on the cusp of offering mobile services for human capital management and talent development purposes.

If you’re one of the organizations looking to optimize a multi-generational workforce, these tips will help you draft an HR mobile strategy that employees will love.

Your IT department has mobile policies; tie into them for ease of adoption

Consult your IT department—they likely have mobile policies—to determine how HR initiatives and applications can work within a greater mobile strategy. For example, a Mobile Device Management (MDM) policy will call out security protocols for remote access to email programs, internal networks and various data sources.

Your IT department is key to successful adoption; consider these additional points when consulting them:

  • Bring Your Own Device—BYOD: If employees can use their own smartphone, will you accommodate plan overage reimbursements? HR departments should coordinate with IT and Legal to set a mobile usage contract that outlines acceptable and unacceptable parameters for use by the employee to avoid costs by both parties.
  • Material asset visibility: Organizations will often have different levels of tolerance as it pertains to IP and what material can be visual outside of the office. “Geofencing” can limit areas of access for mobile content based on the device’s location.
  • 5G support: Many organizations are implementing 5G into their mobile strategies. Despite 5G heightening over-the-air encryption to protect users’ identities, the drastic increase of users and devices onto the network expands the possibility of new threats.

Adopt a platform that can accommodate a wide variety of operating systems

When considering the top three operating systems—Android, iOS and Windows—make sure the devices you choose are compatible with at least two primary mobile operating systems.

Leverage built-in accessibility features of Android/iOS to ensure every employee has an optimal experience

Accessibility is an absolute must, so all users can access content on their mobile devices. Most smartphones—Android/iOS—already have built-in accessibility features like voice commands for the visually impaired.

Create a safe operating environment

To mitigate legal ramifications, should an employee use a work device while driving, consider instituting a hands-free while driving policy and ongoing compliance training to address the issue of distracted driving.

Maximize talent development with mobile-friendly learning initiatives

The search engine is the fourth most common function for a Gen Zer’s smartphone; they’re the “just Google it” generation. This habit can be incredibly effective in finding contextual guidance for everyday inquiries and primes Gen Z for the adaption of mobile eLearning.

Equipping your workforce with mobile eLearning capabilities can increase their ability to efficiently gain the knowledge they need for questions relevant to their jobs. Mobile eLearning should make the employee’s life easier and provide practical means for on-the-job skill development.

Developing a robust HR mobile strategy presents a great opportunity for organizations to attract the next wave of talent and improve the evolution of talent development. Access to learning, information, feedback and development can all be at your employees’ fingertips. There’s a reason why Gen Zers love their smartphones—they’re practical, efficient and intuitive.

An HR mobile strategy is no longer “nice-to-have.” It is critical to staying ahead of the talent demands of not only not only today, but tomorrow. As Gen Zers inch closer to being a third of the global workforce, their preference for conducting duties on a smartphone accelerates the already loud call to have a mobile strategy.

We’re ready to help. Click here to request a demo and see how SumTotal’s user-friendly and intuitive solution can transform your HR mobile strategy to accommodate the demands of tomorrow’s workforce.

What the H in HR Really Means

What the H in HR Really Means

We are living in an increasingly non-binary world. I welcome this change. In particular, I look forward to watching HR professionals embrace this idea and apply it to their jobs.

We are all aware of the phenomenal impact technology is having on HR and its ally learning and development (L&D). To say technology is revolutionizing HR and L&D is not an understatement. Apart from the more obvious use cases like recruitment, onboarding and performance reviews, technology is enabling HR to expand its strategic reach.

HR technology now produces such a wealth of data and insight, that HR leaders can drive strategic initiatives.  HR can identify flight risks, coordinate and implement an unprecedented standard of succession planning, and promote career pathing or journeying, whichever you prefer to call it. Plus, it is facilitating employees to learn in the flow of work. Such capabilities were unheard of not that long ago.

What does this mean? It means that because HR now can monitor employee engagement, attrition, capability gaps, and internal skills development, its influence is significant. The bottom line is HR data, and therefore, HR can change the trajectory of their business.

So, what’s the problem?

Perhaps there isn’t one other than the potential in a rush to exalt the wonders and contributions of technology to the profession; we can overlook the industry’s primary benefactors. After all, who does HR serve if not human employees? If we forget that and look to leverage technology solely to improve efficiencies, it means we will have lost sight of our function.

However, here’s where the non-binary approach applies. I recommend we develop a mindset whereby rather than an either-or mentality — human or technology — we build an HR experience that exploits innovation to imbue HR with a most human “experience.”

Making HR about humans again

The first step involves taking a step back. Remember, the best defense is an offense. Organizations must look at their people and determine what they need, what they want, what are their expectations. The next step is assessing the needs of the company. In the current tight labor market, where the shortage of skills is a potential threat, relying on external hires to plug the gaps is no longer viable. Today’s organizations must look to continuously reskill and upskill employees. Plus, this training must take in a broader perspective. It is not just about training employees in their job; it is a more holistic approach to development.  Whether it is equipping employees with the skills to facilitate a meeting, teaching employees how to make presentations or addressing best practices for time management.

However, it doesn’t stop there. Human Resources is also about:

  • Onboarding
  • Compliance
  • Performance
  • Succession

The beauty is that technology serves all these functions. Therefore, ideally, a company can provide the quintessential human experience with the aid of technology. Today, most HR systems cover learning, workforce management and talent management into one seamless system.  The beauty of such a capability is that all the data you need is at your disposal. It is simply a matter of ensuring that the technology works with and for your employees rather than against them.

Why the Amazon Learning Strategy Makes Perfect Business Sense

Why the Amazon Learning Strategy Makes Perfect Business Sense

The news that Amazon plans to spend over $700 million to offer training to 100,000 workers made global headlines. In today’s historically tight labor market, this talent strategy makes perfect sense.  Not only will Amazon position itself as an employer who offers opportunities for professional development, but it will also build a workforce of highly skilled talent.

I regularly speak of the current “HR Perfect Storm,” and Amazon’s approach of combining learning and talent processes is akin to battening down the hatches. By interweaving these processes, organizations stand a better chance of weathering the storm. The good news is that developing an essential learning and talent strategy to combat this market storm is not difficult.

For starters, here are three easy steps that will help HR establish a basic framework for a learning and talent strategy.

1. Assess

It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that everyone in an organization is on the same page. In my experience, this is rarely the case. To redress this disconnect, begin by examining the factors that influence the way employees view the company learning programs. It is critical to know where everyone stands to understand how best to move forward. Leverage a Survey Monkey questionnaire or similar tool to assess your team or stakeholders. Within the poll, make sure to have a narrow scope and use standard terms for clarity. I find that tenure and individual roles within the organization contribute to varying perspectives when assessed.

2. Align

The next step is the most important. Recently I had the pleasure of helping several leading organizations align their talent and learning strategy. What I learned from these experiences is that companies must take special care to define the parameters of common terms for any talent development plan. Start by reusing the survey/questionnaire but in a group setting where respondents can only submit one answer. Listen carefully as the dialogue during this time is gold and generates highly valuable insight to begin the process of alignment. Once the team can honestly assess their current state, calibration starts.

3. Execute

After the alignment exercise, it’s time to determine how best to proceed. Utilize the alignment discussions to identify one or two themes to focus your efforts. Look for areas that will establish a solid footing for your strategy, not necessarily the most visible or exciting. Don’t try to change everything all at once. Two areas that I see as the most fundamental and most significant indicators of success are governance and change management.

I also encourage organizations to leverage the Skillsoft Organizational Maturity Index. This framework offers a practical methodology for aligning learning, talent, and workforce management. It is an invaluable framework designed to assist the HR function pivot in the right direction to drive tangible business impact. By utilizing the maturity index, an organization can assess their progress and understand the milestones that demonstrate advancement to the next stage. Skillsoft provides a complimentary online assessment that diagnoses a company’s present stage and offers a playbook of recommendations to ascend to the next phase.

The key takeaway is that the intent for aligning your learning and talent strategies is to be deliberate in your outcomes. Organizations in 2019 cannot afford to be “coincidental” in their learning and talent strategies.

For more HR and talent development insight, please check out my weekly deliberations on my web site:

Why Learning is Now at the Heart of HR

Why Learning is Now at the Heart of HR

The role of L&D within an organization is increasingly recognized as essential for business sustainability and critical to strategic growth. For an organization to be successful in the rapidly changing marketplace, people development must be a top priority in your HR strategy.

The power of modern learning and development (L&D)

Employees today demand learning opportunities delivered how and when they need it most. It is also expected that the learning experience will match what they experience in their personal lives. For the learning to accomplish the business objectives, it should be targeted to:

  • Driving immediate impact with onboarding that reduces time to productivity
  • Developing both hard and soft skills, making employees more effective in their current role
  • Addressing critical areas of compliance and safety to build safe, inclusive, and compliant environments for employees to thrive. Limiting financial exposure to your organization
  • Leadership development, regardless of an employee’s level. In today’s project/team-based structures, every employee will take a leadership role, whether it be formal leadership or leading a project.
  • Collaborative learning that transfers knowledge across your multi-generational workforce
  • Building digital literacy, ensuring each employee keeps pace with technology innovation
  • Allowing employees to self-direct learning for aspirational career goals helping drive up retention

Measuring the ROI of learning

In 2018, US businesses spent $87.6 billion on training initiatives. HR Leaders are under pressure to measure the return on the organization’s investment in employee development. Technology is making it easier to record and track the contributions of L&D to the company’s success. However, it is incumbent upon HR to advocate with the C-suite that the real value of people development impacts both the top and bottom-line of your balance sheet.

Research by Deloitte shows that internal employees can develop the same skills as an external hire in 9-12 months at one-sixth of the cost. Businesses can save resources, increase engagement, and preserve company culture and knowledge with robust in-house talent development strategies. Additionally, providing employees a clear path to learning, development, and career growth has a direct impact on retention and engagement, leading to a more productive workforce.

No organization can overlook the importance of compliance within their learning execution. While it is often seen as the most perfunctory of employee learning opportunities, a workforce that isn’t up-to-date with compliance training can cost the company dearly through hefty fines, reputational damage, or both.

With these elements in mind, HR should be asking the following questions:

How much time is each employee spending on learning per month, per year? What about the entire organization, on average?

How has training completion and learning opportunity affected turnover? Are well-trained employees staying longer?

Are employees taking advantage of the educational opportunities available to them? What is the impact on the performance of those that have?


If the answers to these questions reveal that your organization is not optimizing learning, then I recommend reading SumTotal’s latest e-Book, Learning is the Heart of HR, and the Key to Business Success.

Written by Morne Swart, Vice President of Global Product Strategy at SumTotal, this e-Book details:

  • Why old-school L&D no longer cuts it, and how to modernize your strategy
  • How HR can lead and bring learning to the forefront creating a radical cultural change
  • Key insights on why learning and internal development makes financial sense, and how to communicate this benefit to decision-makers and leaders within your organization
  • The cost of ignoring your people’s hunger to learn and be challenged


Is Your Organization Worried about the Falling Unemployment Rate?

Is Your Organization Worried about the Falling Unemployment Rate?

The current US unemployment rate is at a historic low. Which, although in the main is excellent news, it does present significant challenges for employers as they scramble and compete with each other for the same ever-dwindling pool of talent.

Recently I contributed to TalentCulture’s #WorkTrends podcast + Twitter chat hosted by Meghan M. Biro to talk about this very subject and offered her listeners advice about how learning and development can fix this problem. It’s a topic that is very close to my heart and one I encounter on an almost daily basis as I travel around the globe in my capacity as Senior Director of Business Strategy and Transformation at SumTotal.

Why L&D is the answer to the talent shortage question

The bottom line is organizations must prioritize learning and development to retain current talent and attract new talent. This emphasis on education is not a new solution; many companies have a tradition of investing in their people. What is new is that such investment is no longer an optional, “nice to have” benefit to working at your company. No, in today’s tight labor market, it is essential that enterprises have systemic, structured career development. I think soon we will see within an organization clear and structured career pathways similar to the current mapping app must of us have on our phones.

A new emphasis on the employee experience

Another consequence of this new employee-driven labor market is a renewed or shift in focus on the employee. If this is not happening within your organization this year, you may find it tougher than ever to recruit and retain workers in the future. I’ve already seen several advertisements for an SVP of People Experience, a role that simply did not exist before and reinforces the emphasis and value employers are placing on their employees.

What can organizations do to meet employee expectations?

For starters, employers need to accept that learning is more than setting up a catalog within an LMS; developing talent is more than ensuring annual performance reviews take place; and managing the workforce is more than a series of time allocation activities/making sure your employees clock in on time. These functions must work together in, ideally, perfect harmony.

Skillsoft researched over 6,700 organizations and 45 million employees in 160 countries to gather real-world data upon which to design a blueprint for companies to use when bringing the siloed areas of learning, talent and workforce management together to prepare for this new employee-centric future. The Skillsoft Organizational Maturity Index is a practical guide that assists companies in aligning their infrastructure and provides concrete stepping stones to reach higher levels of excellence. By utilizing the maturity index, an organization can assess their progress and understand the milestones that demonstrate advancement to the next stage. Skillsoft provides a complimentary online assessment that diagnoses a company’s present stage and offers a playbook of recommendations to ascend to the next phase.

The 5 stages of growth

Achieving the results of a mature learning strategy is a journey. Benchmarking, both formally and informally, helps identify the methods and actions that will make a difference. Through research and hands-on experience, Skillsoft has identified five stages of growth:

Stage 1: Disparate learning, talent, and workforce functions; culture is hierarchical and unengaging.

Stage 2: Initial coordination between learning, talent, and workforce functions; burgeoning executive interest in employee engagement and culture.

Stage 3: Learning, talent, and workforce functions merge; culture is very people-centric.

Stage 4: HR is a core strategic decision maker; engaging, agile organizational culture

Stage 5: Self-developing ecosystem; a highly sought-after culture.

Measuring success and growth

Skillsoft has nine indicators they use to measure success around these five stages. What is interesting to note is that so far, most of the companies assessed are at stage two. In a way, it’s like the idea is beginning to catch on, leadership is starting to make the connection and the relevance of this connection, between the areas. Once this occurs, the shift to stage three happens at a faster pace.


The time for reskilling is now

Here’s a question to ask yourself – if an employee at your company was learning a new skill and had some professional development happening onscreen, would they feel the need to hide the learning if someone from leadership or HR passed by? If the answer is yes, then perhaps it’s time to re-examine your company’s culture. HR needs to link training and performance. Employees are hungry for learning and development. It is your responsibility to ensure each person sees the potential and path for progression. Otherwise, you risk them leaving your organization for new career opportunities. The idea of L&D as something for after-hours is obsolete.

Other changes the future will bring

  • HR data will get better: HR will finally get the data they are looking for to do their job thoroughly.
  • Employees are like a sports team: We will begin treating employees as team players and move people around to where they are needed the most.
  • The human factor: Despite the automation of many tasks and functions, at the end of the day, humans still serve a purpose. However, this will also include new skills, so again it as about preparation and training.


Make sure to join me on my next TalentCulture #WorkTrends podcast, September 13th at 1:30 p.m. EST, where I will be talking about my latest white paper: Putting the Human Back in HR. The podcast will be followed by a #WorkTrends Twitter chat Wednesday, September 18th.

Perspectives19: 20 Years in the Making

Ron Hovsepian discussing the future of work at Perspectives19

Well, it’s 2019 and another Perspectives is in the books.  But this wasn’t just another event, another year.  This year marked our 20th Perspectives.  While trying not to feel too old about this, I’m proud to say I have attended 18 of the past 20 events.

This year’s event saw many milestones: the 20th Anniversary, our opening keynote from our Executive Chairman, Ron Hovsepian, an articulation of our new strategy, and the introduction of innovative technology. As a Skillsoft and SumTotal event, we have truly moved to a point where customers and partners are an essential part of the strategy that influences our solutions.  It was great to connect with many other colleagues I’ve come to know over the years attending this event.

If you’ll indulge me, let’s take a brief step back to see the journey to today.  I can recall one of my first Perspectives events in New Orleans, right around the time of the SmartForce merger.  Elliott Masie was a keynote speaker and at the conclusion of his speech, he asked for any questions from the audience.  There was an awkward silence so I mustered up the nerve to ask the first question.  Can’t recall exactly what it was, but I can say it was rewarded with a free pass to his Tech Learn, now Learning, event.

Two of my most memorable Perspectives I attended as a customer occurred in 2005 and 2007, both at the Green Valley Ranch Resort in Henderson, Nevada.  In 2005, I arrived late to the event and was informed that the hotel was sold out.  Not to worry, I would be provided a suite for the night.  What followed was my introduction to a 3,000 sq. ft. suite with its own pool, and pool table!  You could say we had two customer evening events that year.  My other fond memory in 2007 and winning the “Skillsoft Learning Leader of the Year Award.”

Over the years Perspectives has seen many changes in location, attendance, management, and customer evening events.  Speaking with attendees at this year’s event, there was again that sense of nostalgia for the past 20 years, but also an excitement as we see the possibilities for the next 20.  The one thing that has been constant is the amazing networking and comradery of its attendees.  Not just for the product information, but also for the insight that an industry leader has on the broader landscape of training and development.

Customers have always had unprecedented access to the senior leadership of both companies to discuss their needs and identify ways to grow both product lines.  As a former customer and now employee, this has always been one of my favorite events to attend each year.  Even as a young manager, I was thrilled to have had substantial conversations with both the CEO and COO of Skillsoft.  I’m honored to say that both had a direct impact on my decision to become a part of this organization and consider them friends to this day.

It is evident that Perspectives has driven product development for both Skillsoft and SumTotal through feedback from the customer base.  Our industry has changed so much as the role of learning has taken on new significance with the development of skills as they related to career development and advancement.  Perspectives continues to be an event that brings together new professionals to the field with seasoned attendees who love to discuss the “art of the possible.”

5 Hiring Trends HR Must Consider in This Tight Labor Market

 5 Hiring Trends HR Must Consider in This Tight Labor Market

2018 ended on a high note for US job seekers. Over 300,000 jobs were added, and after ten years of minor improvements, wages rose 3.2%.  Furthermore, the US is currently enjoying historically low unemployment rates. In fact, “2018 was a year that shifted more power to workers,” says Josh Wright, chief economist at iCIMS.

These employment figures are great news for individuals and the economy. For HR professionals it means a competitive labor market, and unless your recruitment strategies are on the ball, it could spell trouble.

I’ve worked in the learning and talent industry for over 20 years, and the recruitment challenges and changes facing HR are some of the toughest I have ever seen. Both technology and how it has completely disrupted the talent acquisition space coupled with the current job market mean anyone with recruitment responsibilities must understand and prepare for what’s happening in 2019.

Here are my top five picks for the changes we can expect to see in the hiring process over the next twelve months.

#1 New recruitment tactics

Recruiters will need to think outside the box and use non-traditional hiring practices to combat the scarcity in available talent pools.  I’m talking about the introduction, or in some cases the rise, of referral incentives, revised “minimal standards” (i.e., applicants will no longer need to have a college degree to apply), increased use of LinkedIn as a source for talent, “One-Click Applications,” video interviewing and perhaps even the beginning of the end of the paper resume.  I’m also now seeing jobs get posted on corporate Twitter accounts that have direct links to the application for the position. Recruiters realize the easier they can make it to apply for a job, the higher the chance they have to lure talent away from other organizations.

#2 HR will adopt a new approach to align with new hires 

HR must begin to recognize that it will have to change the way it operates. Part of this means looking internally and addressing its own changing needs through offering more flexibility around the traditional 9-5 workday, using remote workers, replacing or updating old HR systems to gain efficiencies and reduce administrative burdens. It also applies externally and includes the more “human” type interaction as new workers bring new challenges. One CHRO specifically told me that they are in the position of helping new employees open bank accounts and provide more interpersonal skills training (i.e., how to facilitate a meeting). In some organizations, the idea of “adulting” as a development opportunity is rising fast.

#3 A much greater use of artificial intelligence (AI)

AI might just become HR’s best friend. Not only will it provide greater clarity and enable HR to identify flight risks and stagnant performers it can also generate a more real-time analysis of the existing workforce and thereby assist HR in anticipating any potential labor or skill shortages.  This isn’t a one-sided proposition either.  Candidates can also leverage AI capability with a growing number of services that use AI to write and adapt resumes for better visibility with recruiters and search bots.  Additionally, we will see the usage of AI as a way to identify talent.  For example, AI can help recruiters make job advertisements more targeted by putting the ads in front of the right people at the right time based on their browser history.

#4 Companies will look internally to fill talent gaps

Upskilling and increased employee engagement are going to be huge in 2019 as organizations look to build metaphorical walls around their talent to avoid looking externally.  Apart from the fact that it is costlier to hire externally, upskilling provides a great way to invest in talent and show the company’s interest in developing its employees, which aids in talent acquisition.

#5 Video interviewing will become the new norm

Interviewing candidates via video is on the rise.  Time is now a more precious commodity than ever before, and organizations are reluctant to impose time-consuming multiple rounds of interviews on employees. It is also an attempt to increase the level of the certainty of fit before bringing candidates on-site.

SumTotal is acutely aware of the pressures facing HR as it works to attract talent in this jobseekers’ market. Our Talent Acquisition Solution now offers the essential tools and capabilities to ensure companies are streamlining and maximizing all their recruitment and onboarding processes. Want to see just what is available? Request a demo to see how SumTotal’s Recruiting and Onboarding work to help you find the talent you need.