How We Chose Our Core Objectives
At Rockwell Collins, The Performance Engineering Group conducted cultural surveys to get a perspective on employee opinion of the company and its training initiatives. Combining that information with our extensive historical and survey data and notes from focus groups and interviews across the organization, we targeted six recurring themes that led us to the core objectives that would become the foundation of our learning-organization initiative. As we defined each objective, we created a set of learning measurements by which we would be able to later verify the effectiveness of our efforts.
Learning needs to be tied to the business objectives.
Learning needs to be closer to the work environment.
Learning needs to be available 24/7, globally.
Learning needs to be of the highest quality.
Learning needs to cost less and do more.
Training needs to be focused on the front end of the learning process.
Learning Needs to Be Tied to the Business Objectives
This is the most important of the six objectives we defined, because no company can be a learning organization unless all learning is tied to corporate goals. Everything we do in this process to turn Rockwell Collins into a learning organization links back to this primary goal, and each objective that follows is ultimately grounded in this first critical statement. Learning that doesn't support your business goals has no place in your company.
As you define your core objectives, keep this in mind. While each company is different, and the needs and execution style you implement will vary widely, this is undoubtedly the first and most important objective for any strategic plan to become a learning organization. Regardless of your size , your industry, or your history, tying learning to the goals of the company must be at the foundation of your intent. If you do nothing else but this, your initiative will likely succeed. If, on the other hand, you omit this critical step, if you do not make this the primary goal of your learning initiative, your initiative will certainly fail.
It became clear early on in our research that Rockwell Collins's training offerings had little to do with business needs or goals. Before meeting with the executives, we found historical data showing that none of the company's previous training offerings were tied to the core competencies of the company.
The fact that 76 percent of the 1,400-plus individually titled courses delivered in the previous seven years were delivered one time to an audience of no more than eight people each showed us that the training department had no processes in place to justify courses, costs, or design methodologies. In the existing model, a call would come to the learning and development department from a manager requesting a training course. Without exploring the learning needs, target audience, or existing skill gaps, the learning and development person would locate an outside expert who could be flown in at the company's expense to lecture for one to four days on the subject at hand, gather a fee, and disappear. No standards were applied to the experience, and the knowledge imparted was delivered one time only to those few souls who happened to be present that day.
There were no common design standards, front-end analysis, or targeted core competencies. The learning group simply fielded requests for training and provided content as quickly as possible, regardless of need. Essentially the learning-group employees were little more than order takers with no more responsibility than the person who says, "Would you like fries with your burger?" at a fast-food restaurant.
To further confound matters, more often than not training was not even the correct solution to the performance problem. For example, shortly after Cliff Purington arrived at Rockwell Collins, a business-unit director of customer service requested training for all of his people on dealing with difficult customers. He contended that his people lacked the necessary skills for dealing with such customers. When Purington asked him if all his customers were difficult, he stated they were. This type of request should set off alarm bells for anyone in training. After meeting with this director, Purington agreed to conduct a needs analysis to further understand the problem. Through this analysis, he discovered a number of problems, ranging from unclear roles and responsibilities to lack of proper work processes, inadequate tools and equipment, and informal processes that frustrated and angered customers. From the data collected, he compiled a list of solutions and actions for that director, none of which were training to deal with angry customers.
In the past, the learning and development department would have responded to his request with a course on customer service, then suffered the backlash of having provided ineffective training that didn't solve the problem ”a problem that wasn't training related in the first place. The learning and development department didn't link business requirements to any learning experience, and as a result a vast amount of money was wasted . Of the $100 million spent for training in the prior seven years, $76 million was in essence lost, because that figure represented the money spent on one-time-delivered courses. Even more disastrous was the fact that for seven years Rockwell Collins employees had limited access to targeted training opportunities that would dramatically improve their ability to perform and produce, and no knowledge was collected through the development of courses so that everyone had access to the same information.
We resolved that from this point on, no course would ever be offered unless it linked directly to skills or knowledge that supported the goals of the business. Every learning opportunity would support our vision ”to deliver superior customer value, create sustainable and profitable growth, to make Rockwell Collins a global leader in the markets it serves, and to ensure it is considered a "best place to work" by its current and future employees. We would establish standards and tracking processes to guide training developers and oversee their progress. We would redefine our department roles and responsibilities, evaluate content before it was delivered, and commit ourselves to creating a performance-based training environment.
Doing this would ensure that every training dollar from our budget would be spent directly on an effort to bring Rockwell Collins closer to its vision. We would measure our effectiveness in achieving this objective constantly against our defined goals, through students' reactions ; post-learning surveys; management feedback; analysis of tasks , competencies, and learning objectives; time to delivery; and cost per hour of training.
Learning Needs to Be Closer to the Work Environment
We drew this conclusion from the fact that 60 percent of Rockwell Collins's 17,500 employees worked outside the Cedar Rapids office, but all training was conducted at the headquarters. Frustration over the centralized training environment was brought up repeatedly by employees in interviews, survey data, and focus groups. The message was clear: They wanted their training opportunities to be closer to their workplace. Managers resented the dollar costs and lost productivity associated with sending employees to Cedar Rapids for training. Employees didn't want to spend days away from their families and they didn't want their own work to pile up while they spent time off site for training. Because courses had to be planned so far in advance, everyone found it difficult to schedule their time effectively, which was one of the greatest contributors to the huge numbers of training cancellations we discovered in our research.
The data also showed us that some employees were getting hundreds of hours of training each year while others received virtually none. This data reinforced our opinion that because the training department worked in isolation, it wasn't meeting the most basic learning needs of an immense segment of the Rockwell Collins population. Some employees were taking advantage of their easy access to unnecessary training as a perk, and others struggled in their jobs because of skill gaps that could not be bridged because training was too inconvenient.
This information also underscored for us how ridiculous the often-used training metric of "average hours of training per employee" is. This metric can provide a rough order of magnitude for budgeting purposes, but it is completely irrelevant when determining whether the training department is actually doing what it is supposed to.
To change that, and to be sure that all employees had access to the training they needed when they needed it, learning opportunities had to be offered at every Rockwell site and in a more timely fashion.
Our project actions to support this objective included adding learning-resource rooms to each major geographical area. The success of this objective would be based on usage of learning centers once they were implemented and usage of computer-based learning by each business unit. We added the resource rooms to combat the attitude of management that employees who are at their desks should be working, not training. We knew that some employees would need someplace to go ”away from their desks ”to take online training undisturbed. To ensure accessibility, we purchased and installed caching servers in offices around the world to store and update learning modules.
Learning Needs to Be Flexible and Available Twenty-Four Hours a Day, Seven Days Per Week, Globally
This objective was born largely from the existing training calendar of events. Even though the population was dispersed over several time zones and many employees worked three shifts, training was offered from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Central Standard Time, Monday through Friday, in the Cedar Rapids classrooms. If that wasn't convenient to an employee's schedule or locale, tough luck. At Rockwell Collins, training was planned around the needs of trainers .
Employees voiced their frustration over the rigid scheduling, the limited times when the training they needed was offered, and the fact that they were often forced to sit through a forty-hour course when all they needed was a two-hour chunk of the training.
The classroom model Rockwell Collins had adhered to for fifty years was not meeting the needs of its dispersed workforce. It was inflexible and inadequate. We needed a model that allowed employees to receive training when they needed it, regardless of what time zone they were in.
Our learning measurements would be based on usage of courses by individual employees, business units, locations, and language.
Learning Needs to Be of the Highest Quality
Data collected from the "best place to work" surveys, conducted every two years to gauge employee satisfaction at Rockwell Collins, and the training evaluations given at the ends of courses, regularly showed that the quality of the training offerings was subpar and generally unacceptable. The instructors' guides offered no learning objectives, and the training department used no standards of curriculum design to build the content in-house or buy it from learning vendors . Courses were usually unfocused data dumps that were considered by most of the Rockwell Collins population to be irrelevant to the performance needs of trainees. Most employees were more impressed by the catering than the training and often saw the experience as a justified waste of time to get a free lunch .
Quality is an issue that many companies overlook in their haste to implement e-learning. Without quality, how training is delivered doesn't matter. Training can be in a classroom or online ”if it has no value, no one will use it. And unlike in a classroom, which at least forces people to stay until the end of the session, no one monitors those who take an e-learning course. If training is going to be self-paced , quality has to be obvious and inherent in everything you deliver. It has to capture the trainees' attention instantly and define why the course will help them do their jobs better, faster, or cheaper.
Before we could even consider technology to deliver training, we needed a strict set of instructional-design standards that tied learning offerings to key skills related to job tasks and business objectives, and we needed a process to guarantee quality and uniformity in the messages we were delivering. We would do that by adhering to clearly designed standards based on instructional-systems methodology and by choosing vendors and products that met clearly stated criteria based on the needs of end users.
We planned to measure the level of training quality through the use of employee feedback, employee and management surveys, learning-council reviews, and actual production and course usage.
Learning Needs to Cost Less and Do More
This objective actually came at the end of our strategic-development planning process. We did not go into the plan with the goal of saving money. We went in with the goal to transform the way Rockwell Collins's people received knowledge and required skills, and to eliminate waste from the system. But as the plan unfolded and we created a process for achieving each core objective, we were able to calculate the specific costs associated with achieving our goals. It was an honest plan with aggressive milestones that just happened to be cheaper because we built a system that made better use of training dollars.
When we put the budget back together based on our new approach to training we were astounded to discover that implementing our plan would deliver 400 percent more training ”all of it of higher quality than what had been delivered in the past ”and we could do it for a budget that was 40 percent less then what we had been given. That amounted to $31 million in savings over four years ”and that was a conservative estimate based on hard costs relating to travel, material, and labor. Had we factored in the anticipated performance improvements, the number would have been even larger.
Most of the savings came from a commitment to efficiency and a vigilance toward overseeing processes from the front end, before waste crept into the process, and from making cost-effective choices for worldwide distribution of training.
If we hadn't gone through the process of breaking the plan down into the specifics and pricing each element, we would not have realized this critical piece of information until it was too late to include it as part of our sales process. Even if you think you know what your initiative will cost, this is a valuable exercise and, if nothing else, it will give you hard numbers with which to validate your assumptions.
Training Needs to Be Focused on the Front End of the Learning Process
The data we gathered showed us repeatedly that no set of guidelines was being applied in the selection or development of course content. Trainers were working the back end of the learning/training process, evaluating courses after the fact. They were utilizing end-of-course satisfaction surveys instead of conducting detailed needs analyses up front to determine if the training courses were necessary, were related to business goals and core competencies, and had clearly stated learning objectives in mind. Their only role within the company was to field calls for training and set up courses in response. They were demoralized and disillusioned, with no leadership to guide them.
Employees at Rockwell Collins, like those at many companies, believed, with total faith, that if there was a problem ”any problem ”training was the solution, and the learning department supported that belief system. This was at the heart of Rockwell Collins's culture. Training was the easiest choice to make when something went wrong. Asking for training was "what you did at Rockwell" in response to a problem.
In reality, training is the solution less than half of the time, at any company. Most often the problem isn't a lack of skill but a lack of effective processes and tool sets, poorly defined roles, or convoluted communication styles. Unfortunately, it is easier to throw training at a problem than to change the way employees do their jobs.
Without the needs analysis, the learning and development team had no way of knowing whether the training that was requested was actually needed or whether it would address a given problem. And, even if training was the right choice, without instructional-design standards or learning objectives there was no way of ensuring that the resulting course would effectively deliver a skill or knowledge that in any way affected performance. Because course guides had no learning objectives, the instructors had no way of judging the success of a course. And when training was over, there was no way to determine if the experience had affected anyone's ability to do a job. The only things that were rated was whether employees enjoyed the experience and the quality of the free lunch.
We needed to establish criteria for developing and delivering content that would guarantee that training would contribute to the success of the organization or it wouldn't be offered. We needed to refocus trainers on the front end of the learning process and create work standards for the training experience from start to finish, ensuring that every course was measurable, valuable, and performance based. The project's success would be measured by our adherence to defined processes and standards for defining learning relevance and value.
Have identified the recurring problems and themes in the data you collected through your organizational assessment.
Based on these themes, have defined the three to seven core objectives that will be the foundation of your strategic plan. Core objectives are enterprise-level solutions for the shortcomings in your learning system. They come from the data you collected in the previous step and, when chosen with care, will act as the road map to lead you toward the future vision of a training structure that will directly affect the success of the business.