T+D December 09 // Customer Training //
Customer Training Avoids the Ax
If one area of training is less vulnerable to budget cuts, it’s customer training.
Customer training refers to knowledge shared between business-to-business customers,
not one-time visitors to a retail store. Doug Harward, CEO of TrainingIndustry.com,
identified two primary reasons why customer training is a fast-emerging trend: the
need to promote future sales and concerns about liability.
For organizations today, ensuring that distributors use a product correctly and
encouraging them to continue buying the product, are tied directly to revenue. Software
service providers are a typical example of companies that utilize customer training.
Employee training budgets have been slashed as much as 30 percent over the past
year, but customer training survived the cuts.
“Training employees is still viewed as a discretionary expense,” Harward says. “Training
your customers is not.”
He acknowledges a “graying of the lines” between training and sales because in the
end, both training and marketing departments are trying to influence customer behavior.
“Trainers need to take their academic hats off and put on their marketing hats,”
Harward says. “They have to remember that they’re not working for a university;
they’re working for a business.”
Whether the approach is beneficial to the learner is still to be determined, he
says. Typically, organizations train a trainer to deliver a course, but they often
do not teach her to be a representative of the company. Such a shift does not mean
becoming an aggressive salesperson, although there is some element of salesmanship
involved. Instead, customer training requires talking to learners as customers instead
of merely as students.
Risk management is another element of customer training that businesses do not talk
about. Product manufacturers want to avoid a situation where they could be liable
for injuries or claims that they did not teach a customer how to use equipment properly.
As a result, thorough customer training is becoming a common practice.
T+D December 09 // innovation //
Innovation Emerges as a Critical Skill
“Innovation is the DNA of this company. For 25 years, we’ve celebrated innovation
as our reason for being,” Adobe President and CEO Shantanu Narayen said in a May
2009 T+D article. Adobe revolutionized its industry through a commitment to innovation.
Other notable examples include eBay, Apple, Southwest Airlines, Dell, and Cisco.
The learning profession was obsessed with innovation this year, as companies fought
to remain competitive in this economic recession. “There is tremendous pressure
on everyone, individually and organizationally, to try to figure out how to do more
with less,” says Thomas Koulopoulos, consultant and author of The Innovation Zone.
“This is not just a function of the current economic situation, but a result of
the fact that people are starting to become more skeptical of how we use and invest
resources. The answer then is to think of more creative and innovative ways to do
things with these resources.”
Scott Anthony, a consultant and author of The Silver Lining: An Innovation Playbook
for Uncertain Times, adds, “It’s not just about doing things better, but doing things
differently. Innovation has emerged as one of the top three priorities when I talk
to companies. Five years ago, people thought that innovation was the job of a few.
But now we are seeing that innovation is the job of the masses, and learning professionals
must equip people to do things they haven’t done before.”
Today many experts believe that innovation is a discipline that can be learned.
Anthony observes that organizations are increasingly asking their employees to do
new things, but employees haven’t yet developed the muscles necessary to accomplish
these new tasks successfully. It is the job of learning professionals to teach employees
to develop their innovation skills, he adds.
T+D December 09 // Succession //
Succession Plans Focus Heavily on Readiness
If you buy into some of the headlines, succession planning in 2009 played the role
of talent management’s errant stepchild. But while we continue to hear more about
how (and how often) succession planning is mishandled, there are also signs of health.
Rich Wellins, senior vice president for DDI, notes a steady, ongoing shift in focus
in succession planning, from transition to end results, with leading global teams
high on the list. “Over time, the ability to lead and manage globally has become
prevalent, as opposed to five to eight years ago,” he says.
And whether worldwide or local, the key is to aim for meaningful outcomes—namely,
readiness to lead and ability to handle specific business drivers. Wellins points
to a growing realization that competencies by themselves are inadequate in measuring
good successors. “They need to be linked with business drivers and a firm readiness
to approach them,” he says.
One current approach to succession planning that could continue to catch on has
been embraced by University Health System. Administrative Director Jacque Burandt
and Performance Development Manager Lynn Lindemann indicate that a more rigorous
and structured approach to grooming successors is a necessity.
“It was more informal and very much linked to who you knew,” says Lindemann of the
“old days.” In recognizing a need to do more to prepare employees for the next step,
UHS is zeroing in on preparing people for the next step—even if they are not on
the CEO track—through the “Institute for Leaders.” This is a series of leadership
academies that cater not only to executives, but also administrative assistants
An area of concern that is gaining increasing attention is the retention of workers
once the recession subsides. The Institute for Corporate Productivity reported in
September that 59 percent of companies surveyed are looking to an increased focus
on succession planning strategies and methods to make certain that valued employees
T+D December 09 // Sales Training //
A Critical Organizational Need
Sales training took center stage as an emerging trend in the learning profession
this year, with a specific emphasis on the sales skills gap that many organizations
face. In response to the tumultuous economy, organizations sought to close this
gap and improve sales team performance to increase overall revenue.
Matthew Valencius, manager of sales learning design and development at IBM, confirmed
that the economy was one of the greatest forces affecting the evolution of sales
training over the past year: “We are no longer in a boom-time economy where people
are throwing money all over the place; in fact, it’s the opposite. If we’re going
to be positioning our companies for growth, we need to train our salespeople to
be in the appropriate place to do this.”
In response to the demand for well-trained sales professionals, this year ASTD created
a World Class Sales Competency Model, which provides leaders with a new approach
to sales training and development based on sales competencies, areas of expertise,
As the learning profession evolved over the past year to keep pace with employee
demands and organizational needs, sales training adapted accordingly. “The days
of shrink-wrapped training are not getting the job done,” says Dave Stein, founder
and CEO of ES Research Group. “The move toward individual, on-demand, self-paced
learning will make a big impact on the performance of salespeople and the sales
Marc Ramos, director of the Sales College at Red Hat University, adds that consumers
today care about more than just total cost, investment, and ROI. Environmental,
political, and social factors are perhaps more important to them than ever before.
“[Going forward] we must train salespeople to be more holistically minded and authentic,
and build learning content that supports this new type of buying style.”
T+D December 09 // Talent Management //
Talent Management Takes a Tumble
Many aspects of employee development took a beating this past year, but none more
so than the concept of talent management.
It was the buzzword among executives two or three years ago, only to drop off the
radar when organizations made drastic cuts to their talent rosters. So the burning
question is whether talent is only important when the economy is strong.
Executives were quick to explain how knowledge, in the form of valuable employees,
provided a competitive edge. Yet surveys about their priorities during a downturn
reveal otherwise as leaders were focused on generating revenue and cutting costs.
Talent management has fallen from the top tier.
Is talent management merely a slogan to retain people only to be discarded when
times are slow?
“Last year showed us who is serious about it and who isn’t,” says Rich Thompson,
vice president for Adecco. “The question is, ‘What have you done in the last 18
Regardless of the rhetoric that is spun, many organizations continue to view talent
as a cost and not an investment, he says. Besides layoffs, many organizations eliminated
classroom training entirely, opting to make all training online and just “push it
out” to all employees.
The greatest risk now lies in a lack of future planning. With most leaders consumed
with six-month projections, an exodus could begin soon.
People are staying in white collar positions because they have few options. Thompson
forecasts a possible talent shuffle when the economy recovers. Employees have grown
weary of hearing how they have to withstand cutbacks “temporarily” because Thompson
believes such cuts may actually be permanent.
“A lot of workers who survived the cuts are not happy with how they’re being treated,”
he says. “They’re being asked to do more, take pay cuts, or lose their benefits.”
Another negative development is the lack of recognition for top performers. It would
be advantageous for leaders to express to remaining employees how important they
are even if financial rewards are not forthcoming.
“Identify the people you want to keep and let them know,” Thompson says.
T+D December 09 // Web 2.0 //
Web 2.0: User-Generated Content Is the New King
While the multidirectional exchange of information and ideas saw its share of early
adopters, it has also seen its hallmarks begin to gain traction among learning professionals.
2009 has revealed how Web 2.0’s more personal approach to learning in some ways
trumps the less agile, more content-driven approaches of the past. “One of the greatest
impacts [of Web 2.0] has been the realization of the power of experiences, practice,
conversations, and reflection as vital elements in learning,” notes Charles Jennings,
director of Duntroon Associates. “Web 2.0 is providing the tools for real learning.”
2009 also saw the take-off of Twitter as a collaborative learning platform. Microblogging
has developed into a no-budget, priceless complement to formal learning and other
delivery channels. “Twitter has been a surprise in its unique capabilities and also
in its support of new types of information flow and interaction,” says Clark Quinn,
executive director of Quinnovation. “It’s a valuable augment to other channels,”
Twitter didn’t shock everyone, however. Independent consultant Harold Jarche points
out that Twitter is a variant on the blogging tools that had already been effectively
leveraged for collaborative learning. “The biggest surprise,” he says, “was the
amount of spam and how quickly it appeared, post-Oprah.”
And there is yet another side to the uptake of Web 2.0 tools for organizational
learning. CSC Chief Learning Officer Holly Huntley says that her organization, which
is developing and delivering internal social networking and collaboration tools,
from instant messaging to online communities of practice, has been met with what
she calls, “an integration challenge.”
“When you reach the saturation point, you end up spending time trying to mediate
the tool wars and educating employees on fit-for-purpose,” Huntley says. But there
is also agreement concerning the significant upshots of Web 2.0, particularly the
transparency that it brings to learning. “These tools have shifted the power base... Teacher as expert is no longer the model, and knowledge is no longer power.
The real power is in your network and how you use it.”
Learning networks, on the other hand, are still waiting for their break-out year.
As Jarche states, “You will probably be able to find dozens, if not hundreds, of
learning communities on the Ning.com social platform, and I would guess that most
have died or did not even get going.”
T+D December 09 // Economy //
Learning in a Down Economy
Amid the recent economic downturn, human capital became critical to business success.
Hiring and retaining high-potential employees were the challenges that learning
professionals juggled on a daily basis.
As Peter Capelli wrote in the May 2008 issue of Learning Executives Briefing, “The
ability to get the right people with the right skills into the right jobs in a cost-effective
way makes it possible for an organization to adjust and respond in the strategy
Organizations put pressure on their various business functions to manage costs closely.
According to the ASTD/i4cp report “Learning in Tough Economic Times,” nearly 70
percent of learning organizations looked for ways to become more efficient at delivering
learning. Many were interested in new or less expensive ways to deliver learning,
such as e-learning, simulations, and other social networking options.
The need for efficient training led to an uptick in informal learning, a reduction
of travel to training events, less “nice-to-haves” at training events, and more
use of webinars and podcasts for just-in-time learning.
“This is the opportunity for Web 2.0 to take hold,” says Jeanne Meister, founding
editor of The New Learning Playbook. “I have seen Twitter used as an online support
tool—following a more traditional learning class—to get the contact information
to all the participants. They are then part of a community that can share issues
that crop up.”
The recession affected corporate learning efforts amid challenges, such as fewer
resources and reduced staff sizes. Learning budgets were trimmed, but no more than
other budgets in many cases. This recession forced learning professionals to make
training delivery more effective and efficient, increase the value of learning,
and align the training function with overall organizational goals.
T+D December 09 // E-Learning //
E-Learning Landscape Evolves
E-learning isn’t going anywhere, but some of the trends that have been proposed
in the last few years have been slow to catch on in some sectors.
Government and military organizations are driving the simulation demands, while
many corporations aren’t yet using this type of e-learning product, according to
Clark Aldrich, author of the new book, The Complete Guide to Simulations and Serious
In the past few years, simulations and games have become a more acceptable form
of learning, but they are still not fully integrated into a company’s workplace
learning initiatives. Simulations have evolved from day-long activities that required
dedicated instructors and significant set-up costs to short, self-paced, web-delivered
experiences, Aldrich writes on his blog.
While virtual conferences and classrooms are becoming mainstream, mobile learning
has been slow to connect. But that will change in the coming year, according to
a SumTotal Systems whitepaper, “The Top Five Emerging Trends in Learning Technology.”
“In addition to development challenges, mobile learning applications face a strategic
barrier within organizations,” according to the report. “Most businesses have interest
and user demand, but they lack the understanding and practical strategy to make
The uses for mobile learning are infinite, but mobile learning has been mostly missing
from the learning profession. The current use of mobile learning is to deliver static
content or support materials, not provide a platform that delivers training such
as job aids, simulations, videos, podcasts, quizzes, coaching, mentoring, game-based
learning, and more.
According to a SumTotal blog post, a recent Bersin & Associates study found that
18 percent of companies are currently delivering learning via mobile devices on
a regular basis, but another 35 percent of the companies are seeking best practices
on how to deliver training to mobile devices.
T+D December 09 // Performance //
The economic situation forced companies and workplace learning and performance professionals
to focus on improving performance—not just an employee’s poor, adequate, or superior
performance in the workplace, but also an organization’s vision about talent management,
human and environmental sustainability, and the work environment.
The trend, a move toward an organizational approach to performance, examines the
health of the whole organization, including the work, the worker, and the workplace,
to find where it is weak and not performing. The most successful companies during
this recession aligned people, processes, and systems to effectively manage their
This new approach to performance adds value to learning departments because it links
learning to business strategies. Instead of focusing on employee training, learning
executives began to uncover an organization’s ailments—from a weak culture and financial
volatility to ineffective leadership or low employee engagement. In an i4cp productivity
confidence index study (April to July 2009), the most commonly cited reasons for
an increase in productivity and productivity confidence was a “redesign of work
processes” and “quality or continuous improvement efforts.”
Enhancing a company’s effectiveness, efficiency, and quality strengthens customer
loyalty, increases market growth, and decreases operating costs. In the ASTD/i4cp
Learning in Tough Economic Times research report, one survey respondent said, “This
recession has caused us to refocus on improving performance and quality at the operational
This is one trend that will continue to flourish when the recession ends. “Performance-based
learning brings the greatest value,” says George Wolfe, vice president of global
learning and development for Steelcase. “Learning is good, but it more or less teaches
us how to test out the knowledge part of the material as opposed to transferring
that learning into the workplace.”
T+D December 09 // Skills Gap //
The Current State of the Skills Gap: Catching Up to the Present
The skills gap—defined as “a significant gap between an organization’s skill needs
and the current capabilities of its workforce”—is alive and well, even though this
recession has forced many baby boomers to remain in the workforce.
According to a recent ASTD report on the state of the skills gap, 79.2 percent of
respondents reported there is still a skills gap within their organizations.
The four causes of the skills gap are evolution of new jobs; the lack of education
as it pertains to workforce skills; the slowing of workforce growth; and the ineffective
leverage of learning investments by businesses.
In addition, the financial climate has played a significant role in the evolution
of the skills gap. The loss of jobs across all industries during the ongoing recession,
which started in late 2007, has caused a mismatch between the skills that are needed
to restart the economy and those that are readily available.“Recessions accelerate
the trend to eliminate low-wage, low-skills jobs,” says Anthony Carnevale, director
of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, “and those
jobs don’t come back.”
Carnevale predicts that the skills gap issue will intensify again by 2013 when the
lost jobs from the economy are recovered and millions more will need to be created
to spur growth. “In a recession, the economy goes to sleep, but when it awakens,
there will be a need for higher-skilled people to fill skill-intensive jobs.”
Many of the jobs that will be distributed during recovery will be given to women
since they cost less to employ than men, and are concentrated in industries such
as healthcare and education, which are expected to grow.
T+D December 09 // Ethics //
Ethics in Leadership: The Moral of the Story Is… More Morals
The issue of ethics in leadership is an extremely salient one due to the influx
of corporate scandals in recent years—WorldCom, Enron, Xerox, and Satyam—plus the
arrest of Bernie Madoff and the capsizing of Lehman Brothers and AIG that ushered
in the recession.
The consequences of the actions of those at the top quickly flooded their way down
the hierarchy. Many employees are barely keeping their own heads above water these
days, let alone smiling about it. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, in 2009,
62 percent of participants (ages 25 to 64) from more than 20 countries reported
that they trust businesses less than they did a year ago.
How important is trust within an organization? Stephen M.R. Covey, author of The
Speed of Trust and CEO of CoveyLink Worldwide, argues that trust is a hard-edged
economic driver that can affect two measurable outcomes: speed and cost. He says,
“When trust goes down in a relationship or company, or with a customer, you will
see speed go down with it and cost go up.”
Therefore, trust not only affects the internal culture of an organization, but also
its external goals. The statistics speak for themselves as 77 percent of respondents
said they refused to buy a product or service from a company they distrusted. The
solution means overhauling ethics training and that means going all the way back
to school basics, business school that is. But it’s not just paying lip service
to the topic.
“In their curricula, business schools need to focus more on integrating the ‘soft’
focus on values-based leadership with the ‘hard’ focus on details,” writes Joel
M. Podolny, dean and vice president of Apple University, in a 2009 Harvard Business
Publishing blog post entitled, “Are Business Schools to Blame?”
He also notes that some experts have argued for the b-school equivalent of the Hippocratic
Oath, and suggests that an existing professional governing organization should go
along with it to punish any transgressions.