3 Insights from the HR Tech World Congress


tech world

Bonus insight: it’s tough to take a great photo when you’re in the cheap seats.

Last week, I attended the HR Tech World Congress in Paris. From humble beginnings, HR Tech World has grown to be one of the most significant gatherings of HR professionals in Europe, with conferences in London, Amsterdam, and now Paris.

Though most of the conference was centered on IT for HR services–with companies like SAP, IBM, Oracle, and Workday presenting their latest products–the first day of the conference offered breakout sessions focused on learning & training initiatives.

There are three key takeaways I’d like to share from their talks–and from the broader Learning & Development conversations that were happening at the conference:

1. Companies are discovering the important role Learning & Development will play in achieving business goals

Source: HR Tech World Congress Official Photos

Source: HR Tech World Congress Official Photos

While leading companies have long recognized the theoretical strategic importance of employee training, learning initiatives have historically been seen as secondary to, and slightly different from, business initiatives. Though some companies, such as GE (a General Assembly partner), are world-famous for their commitment to training and education, companies like this have remained the exception.

Today, however, the tide seems to be shifting in favor of a more robust approach to corporate education. Developments in technology have redefined the skillsets required to build a successful business, and, going forward, these skillsets will continue to evolve at a faster clip than ever before. At HR Tech World, corporate leaders extolled the importance of investment, not just in sporadic training, but in highly structured, continuous, and often hybrid learning programs for all employees. Some of General Assembly’s most forward-thinking partners–companies like L’Oréal or Lloyds Banking Group–are successfully aligning learning initiatives with business initiatives (e.g., an eCommerce curriculum to help achieve 20% revenue through eCommerce channels by 2020), and are in fact tapping business owners to drive the L&D conversation.

A strong illustration of the corporate world’s commitment to Learning & Development is the increased large-scale investments many HR Tech World attendees are making in centralized LMS systems that can cover the needs of multiple business units and geographies. Sanofi, a French multinational pharmaceutical company with more than 100,000 employees, is in the midst of collapsing the ~30 LMS systems that currently exist across the group into a single, centralized LMS. Nuno Goncalves, Group Head of Learning at Sanofi, explained that the group’s multi-million dollar investment in this consolidation will afford a more consistent, and higher quality, learning experience for employees, and generate substantial operational efficiencies.

Similarly, Ruth Gertler, Region Learning Leader for Europe at GE, introduced the company’s new online learning portal, BrilliantU. BrilliantU represents the the first time in GE’s rich learning history that the company is offering all of its employees a centralized online learning platform that includes content generated both internally by GE and externally by learning expert partners.

Though the results of these significant investments won’t be seen for years–it will take time before the platforms are globally rolled out and in regular use by all employees–both Sanofi and GE cited pilot results that exceeded expectations and have ignited increased support for learning initiatives across their organizations.

2. Early forays into online leadership development are proving promising

Source: HR Tech World Congress Official Photos

Source: HR Tech World Congress Official Photos

Conventional wisdom has had us believe that online education is not an effective way to develop leaders. Traditionally, leadership development has been defined by high-touch, in-person programs; hyper-relevant, customized content; and dynamic, physical settings in which to practice newly-acquired leadership skills. At GA, we certainly believe in the power of in-person training to effect behavioral change–we offer in-person training for corporations and individuals around the world. But we’re excited by the prospect of scalable online products that achieve similar results.

We have developed an online program, Digital Foundations, that builds the skills it takes to be a leader in the digital world, so it was exciting to hear the positive results that Nick van Dam, Global Chief Learning Officer at McKinsey & Company, and his team have had with their new online leadership development program as well.

Based on their work with leadership teams at the world’s largest and most successful companies, McKinsey determined that, in order to be successful, an online leadership development program had to be:

– Scalable: to reach large cohorts with varied needs
– Applied: to allow participants to learn on the job
– Social: to increase engagement
– Blended: to deliver the highest impact
– Measured: to demonstrate clear ROI

Van Dam and his team designed a comprehensive blended program that ticks all these boxes and includes an analytics engine to provide data-driven insights to three stakeholders:

– Participants receive data to track their individual progress against certain key competencies and objectives
– Teams receive group learning data track their progress against their peers according to geography, business unit or curriculum
– Managers receive data that provides insight into the program’s success in real-time

While enterprise online leadership education is still in its infancy, we were happy to see another company take an approach similar to our own focus on proactively driving engagement in online education around complex topics.

3. In a meta twist, Learning & Development professionals are in need of training themselves, in order to make the most of newly available data

Source: HR Tech World Congress Official Photos

Source: HR Tech World Congress Official Photos

Unsurprisingly, the word “data” was buzzing through all of the sessions at the conference. In the HR space, more and more companies are capturing massive data sets replete with information about their employees. Learning & Development teams are experiencing a similar data windfall, as platforms like GE’s BrilliantU and McKinsey’s leadership program enable them to capture learning data in a thorough and real-time way that was never possible before.

Unfortunately, as you have more and more data available, there are fewer and fewer people who know how to use it. Without proper training, L&D professionals are poorly equipped to properly analyze and extract the best insights from the massive data sets that they now have access to. While tools may provide a robust first layer of data (e.g., learning platform engagement data of employees), it requires specific training and skill to pull from this data the insights that are relevant to the broader company context and goals.

A popular workshop that we lead for HR and L&D teams teaches UX tools–such as user research, personas, and journey maps–which can be hugely helpful when integrating quantitative and qualitative data about employees into company goals. The many conversations I had about the confusion surrounding this new breed of HR data corroborated the importance of this type of training.

HR Tech World illustrated that Learning & Development departments at companies around the world are becoming increasingly sophisticated. L&D teams are innovating with complex hybrid learning programs. As high quality and easily accessible content becomes the new norm, they’re focusing on engagement and impact; they’re taking a data-driven approach to learning. We’re excited to continue to watch and contribute to what a forward-looking Learning & Development community has in store.

Alexandre Terrien is an Enterprise Account Director for EMEA at General Assembly. 

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