Pick Low-Hanging Fruit

Pick Low-Hanging Fruit

We wanted an instant, highly visible indicator of success right out of the gate once the project was accepted in order to prove our commitment to the initiative and our ability to achieve our goals. To do this, our team bought a library of 300 off-the-shelf training courses from Smart Force, because the company met all of our criteria for a self-paced e-learning solution provider. The courses covered primarily soft skills and IT training because that was what was available at the time in an off-the-shelf format, and the company needed that training.

We bought the entire package before we secured commitment for the project. The courses were loaded and ready to go on the server when we presented our business case to executive management. It was a risky step, but it had the potential for enormous reward. If the project was accepted, we had the capability to flip a switch the moment we received buy-in, and within minutes we could achieve our Year One goal of converting 30 percent of the curriculum to computer-based formats. It would be the home-run success we needed to launch the program. And it gave us two years to work on our Year Two goal of converting another 20 percent of the curriculum to computer-based formats. We knew this goal would be harder to achieve because those courses required custom content unique to Rockwell Collins and couldn't be bought off the shelf. The extra time would allow us to continue to meet established goals successfully and well ahead of schedule. We also needed the savings achieved through this simple step in order to fund our next steps.

There was a downside to this plan, however. If the project hadn't been accepted, we would have had a tough time explaining what we'd done with the annual training budget that was spent on these courses and the hardware to support them. As a team, we acknowledged the risks and value associated with the decisions and had our resum s updated and ready in case the whole thing fell through.

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  1. Have defined each element of your strategic plan. For every core objective, you must make the case for why it's important and how you intend to achieve it.

  2. Have written an action-item list that breaks down the details of your core objectives. Each objective requires a set of actions you intend to take in order to achieve that goal. The more detailed you can be, the more accurate your budget and timelines will be.

  3. Have calculated the cost and impact of the project. No matter how much anecdotal evidence you have, the strongest selling point of the strategic plan will be your numbers . Break down the time and costs associated with each element of the plan and what you expect to spend or save as a result of your changes. This data will be critical when you attempt to sell the project.

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Chapter 5: Step 5 Select Your Vendors


"The wisest mind has something yet to learn."


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  1. Establish criteria.

  2. Rank vendors.

  3. Choose your tools.

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We knew that employees throughout Rockwell Collins were frustrated by the constraints surrounding the classroom-based offerings. Not only were employees outside Cedar Rapids concerned about their limited access to training, but even those groups based in Cedar Rapids struggled to find the time and flexibility to leave their worksites to attend training courses that conflicted with their daily work schedules. Employees wanted and needed training at their worksite that was easy to access when time became available. They also wanted a wider range of topics and learning formats ”in their primary language ”and they wanted the ability to take only training that was relevant. They wanted to get out of the classroom and they wanted the ability to start and stop training when doing so was most convenient for them.

Along with the need for training closer to their home offices, was employees' and managers' desire to have access to training twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, on an as-needed basis. The learning strategy we applied was designed to meet these requirements and to meet the needs of dispersed employee populations, providing easy access to the same training as employees within the Cedar Rapids locale. The culture and structure of the company were ready to experience something new in learning.

The decision to implement technology as a tool for delivering training at this point in the process was simple and clearly the right choice. It was obvious from our data and the resulting six core objectives we defined that Rockwell Collins employees needed to get out of the classroom, so the overall solution we built was based on implementing alternative technology-based training solutions. Eighty-five percent of the training in place at Rockwell Collins today ”training that resulted from our comprehensive strategic initiative ”is computer based, which contributes largely to the learning and development department's ability to do so much more with less.

But, once again it is important to reiterate that the transformation to a learning organization is not synonymous with implementing e-learning . If your objective is to install e-learning in your organization regardless of the indicators, you will be unsuccessful . Building the correct delivery system is driven entirely from the required business objectives and supported through an accurate assessment of your culture and its perceived readiness for something new and targeted to the culture's needs. Unfortunately, we've seen dozens of companies that embarked on this mission, and all of them are wondering today why nobody uses their wonderful e-learning Web site. It's because they had the wrong objective.

This learning organization transformation process is about becoming a learning organization. It's about the fundamental change that is needed when a company decides to become a learning organization. It requires a cultural transformation that gives employees the tools and empowerment to actively pursue the knowledge and skills they need to do their jobs as effectively as possible. Management makes a new contract with its employees. No longer is it the company's responsibility to "fill the empty cup" when an employee attends a learning event. It is now the employee's responsibility to do the work necessary to gain the skills and knowledge to do his or her job. At the same time, the company must make the infrastructure available to that employee so that he or she can go out and get relevant knowledge in an easy-to-access format.

As you approach this process, your objective must be centered on a goal, and a mission to improve some aspect of the business. If technology supports that mission, that's terrific , but don't put the cart before the horse.

Technology is a valuable part of the learning-organization transformation because it enables you to deliver knowledge at the speed of a changing economy. Without technology, you can't deliver training fast enough to meet the needs of the learning organization, but you must keep it in its place in the process. E-learning technology is simply a tool, a vehicle that we chose to deliver training because it was appropriate for the needs, values, and corporate structure of this company. When you approach e-learning from this vantage point, you are far more likely to create a system that will support the business and the needs of your employees.

We did not think e-learning would be a magic bullet to solve all of our training needs. We did not assume that suddenly training would be used only when it was necessary and that because it was Web based the quality would be first rate. We simply determined that, based on our research and in conjunction with our efforts to change the learning culture, e-learning would be the best, fastest , and most economical way for us to achieve our core objectives.

It is only at this point in the process that you can even consider whether e-learning is the right choice for your company based on the core objectives you built using the data that defines your training history and needs. If you understand that e-learning is a tool, not a solution, you can make it work for you. It worked for us.

While we researched the technological needs of the organization, we also built a strategy to support this implementation (see Chapter 4). These efforts are obviously concurrent, because each supports the other. Choosing and implementing technology is but one piece of your overall strategy. It's a huge process that cannot be completed successfully without a robust cultural strategy surrounding it.

If we had taken this step without dealing with all of the issues ”the lack of standards and processes, the gap between training and the business-unit objectives, and the disorganized approach to learning and its general ineffectiveness ”it would have resulted in an enormous waste of money and a certain failure. We would have purchased the wrong technology and delivered it to a frustrated workforce that would be no better served online than they had been in the classroom because we still would not have understood their needs. Because we knew where the gaps were and created solutions to bridge them through our workflow processes, our team would be able to make this radical transformation to e-learning smoothly and with the support of the Rockwell Collins community. Make no mistake about it: Implementing an initiative of this proportion, even with the best planning we could provide, is still extremely difficult.

Once we decided that technology would be at the core of our strategy, we turned our attention to the software and hardware we would need to select. Because every Rockwell Collins employee had access to a computer at work and 56 percent had computers and Internet access at home ”information we gleaned from our organizational assessment ”we knew the transformation would not be extreme. The company already had a foundation of technology to support e-learning; the learning and development department just needed to take advantage of it.

We learned at this point a valuable lesson that is pretty universal ”the current technology environment will have much more capability than you and your IT department realize. Don't underestimate the flexibility of your system or the intelligence of your population.

Bringing training to the workplace through computer-based learning would allow trainees to control their use of and access to learning, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, regardless of their location. They would be able to take self-paced courses over the intranet, join in live courses using virtual-classroom software, and use CD-ROM-based content anywhere they had access to a computer. Technology-based solutions would allow us to deliver training to every employee without the astronomical costs associated with basing trainers and building classrooms at all of Rockwell Collins's sites.

Technology would allow us to achieve the core goal of the learning-organization process: to allow individuals to take responsibility for their development by actively pursuing learning opportunities. Rockwell Collins's leaders would do their part by supporting our initiative to provide employees with self-paced, easy-to-access content that supported their learning needs.