Fortune 1000 (Covance) Training Manager: How Web 2.0 Can Rescue Lumbering Organizations (Interview)

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    Jesse Theiler is a Senior Manager of Technical Training for Covance, Inc. where he leads a global team of technical training professionals.  In addition, he is a Six Sigma Green Belt, an ASTD member, a DDI certified facilitator, a formal mentor and an amateur triathlete.

    He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point in 1995.

    Prior to joining Covance in his role as Senior Manager, Jesse built his first career in IT working 12 years, primarily as a consultant in the Milwaukee area.

    You can contact Jesse directly through LinkedIn.

    Q. In your opinion, what is one of the most significant challenges that training and development organizations face in dealing with employee turnover?

    Organizations are under tremendous pressure to be more profitable more quickly and leaders are faced with the often difficult task of maintaining or even improving quality with tighter time-lines and shrinking budgets.  That poses a tremendous challenge for learning and development departments because, as a cost center, their budgets tend to be the first ones cut.  To me, smart organizations actually take the opposite approach and view their learning organizations as a key partner in finding the right investments in their most valuable resource—their people.

    Since learning and development departments have the potential to make a significant—and long-term—impact on new hires they play a critical role in the profitability of any organization.  However, even the best learning organizations can be derailed by regulations, SME (Subject Matter Expert) engagement deficiency, or plain bureaucracy.  Therefore, the traditional focus on developing formal learning solutions needs to change.  It simply takes too much time.

    Q. To innovate beyond the traditional, I’ve met many training managers who look towards new tools and solutions. What are your thoughts about that?

    There remains real value in learning and development organizations.  L&D (Learning & Development) organizations provide the framework for robust learning offerings and often focus on leadership development among other disciplines.  That piece is crucial and thoughtful, out-of-the-box solutions for leadership development is essential for continued engagement and a robust pipeline of successors.  Technical solutions like LMSs (Learning Management Systems) and KMSs (Knowledge Management Systems) can be helpful as key tools for content, offerings, etc.  They offer robust analytics to decision makers.

    Still, the best solutions I’ve seen have very thoughtful processes behind them regardless of what tools are in place.  If you’re baking a cake, you can have the best, most expensive oven, imported Italian bakeware and ingredients bought from the very best stores.  But if you don’t have a good recipe, you won’t have a very good cake.  A good process acts as a fantastic recipe.

    Formal training programs still form the backbone in most learning cultures.  As discussed, the drawback is they take time to develop and implement.  I believe the best solutions are more diverse. Adding Web 2.0 solutions can, at a minimum supplement the formal learning curricula of organizations and more likely add much needed agility and some freshness to L&D.

    Q. Speaking of Web 2.0, what do you think of solutions based around social networking and online learning communities?

    I think of the possibilities!  Those tools are so well-designed to tackle informal learning, enabling global collaboration at a speed that most organizations can’t even fathom.  They literally could enable a huge, Fortune 500 company to be almost as nimble as a 25-person start-up, if only they would get out of their own way.

    In 5 years online learning communities will be as common as having a website is today.  I remember back in the mid-to-late 90′s I was working for an IT consulting firm in Milwaukee, and we were busy installing infrastructure all over the place.  We were hooking companies up to the web with ISDN and T1 connections and sharing with them the benefits of having a website.  So many of them had reservations because it was just a concept to them.  And they heard mostly negative stories about hackers like Kevin Mitnick.  The media played all those stories up and so companies feared having a web presence as if the next virtual DB Cooper might come after them!  Can you imagine that mindset today?  A legit company not having a website?!?!

    Well, the same story is playing out today with stories of Facebook security issues, Craigslist felons and identify theft causing decision-makers to prematurely label these tools as too risky.  And oftentimes if they don’t understand the difference between a wiki, a blog, and Facebook, they paint it all with a broad brush.

    But the smartest companies see them in a different light.  They see the tremendous business value they offer.  They see how geographically and culturally diverse workforces can be connected in less time than it takes an executive admin to find an open time slot in her boss’ calendar.  By targeting informal learning and—this is perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome—releasing control of creation to the workforce themselves, they reap the benefits.

    While more risk-averse, slower-to-adopt companies carry on the path of formalizing training modules as perhaps the only solution, Joe SME at the smartest company will have shared what he knows by throwing a couple dozen videos on YouTube-like solutions and have contributed a few hundred sentences to robust wiki solutions throughout the organization.  And he’ll have done it in less time than he’ll spend in all the various refresher training classes he’ll be required to take this year.  And his peers will pay closer attention and learn more because they know Joe SME is the smartest, best SME in the company and he has some training videos and they want to know how the heck he does it!

    While an executive at the slower-to-adopt company is negotiating back and forth with his communications team about an internal memo, Sally CEO at the smartest company will have micro-blogged a dozen messages to the organization, engaging employees she didn’t even know she had.  That is true agility.  That is a true competitive advantage.

    Q. Let’s say this sort of change is inevitable. What role is a human resources or learning & development professional going to play within this global Fortune 500, 25-person start-up?

    We’ve got to think differently because we’re on the verge of something huge.  For millennials, this isn’t huge, it’s normal.  But look around most HR departments and you won’t find too many millennials leading them.  What if we coupled our vast experience as veteran HR or L&D leaders with the equally vast experience in social networking our millennials have?  We could better connect the dots between the technology and the possibilities for their application to business solutions.

    Global experience important?  Large companies are often multi-national.  I’d argue today it’s not uncommon to have a newly hired millennial employee come in the door with MORE global and cultural knowledge and experience than many long-term employees.  Of course, the long-term employee has functional knowledge and experience that is unparalleled.  Again what if we could marry these two strengths together?  Wouldn’t we likely end up with broader, more diverse ideas that are even more applicable in a global economy?

    Finally, I think we’ve got to be comfortable taking risks.  We can’t be afraid to fail.  It’s said Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times before finally successfully discovered the light bulb.  Thank God he wasn’t risk-averse or we all might still be lighting our homes with torches and candles.

    Q. Your Edison example reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule. Sounds like we might read some of the same books. Speaking of books, you have any literature recommendations?

    First, Break All the Rules by Buckingham – the single best business text any leader can read.  I believe in strengths-based or positive psychology and their research is undeniable.

    Good to Great by Collins – some really interesting research and ideas and very motivational for those of us who are Maximizers.

    Leading Change by Kotter – Who can’t use some change management insight in this day and age?!

    I’m biased but this blog offers tremendous insight.  Join a couple LinkedIn groups and get active there too.  Very useful information out there.

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