A fully blended digital and collaborative learning strategy has been a key element of a broader business transformation initiative within Optus, which has delivered significant cost savings as well as a significant step-change in employee experience, according to Kirby Grattan, director of organisation capability for Optus.
Prior to the new digital learning strategy, Optus had a relatively traditional learning approach which was not cost-optimised and did not have adequate scale or reach to meet future business demands, said Grattan.
“The learner journey was primarily reliant on face to face meetings with some e-learning thrown in,” she said.
“It didn’t deliver bite-size learning and it was somewhat mobile-enabled, but it was not integrated and seamless – and these factors combined to deliver a mixed learner experience.”
This coincided with a broader organisational transformation that was heavily focused on customer first and improving the employee experience, said Kirby, who was speaking ahead of the HR Innovation & Tech Fest, which will be held at ICC Sydney from 18–19 November 2019.
Upskilling and capability development are important enablers of this transformation, according to Kirby, who added that these are also critical to competitive advantage in staying ahead of market trends in areas such as 5G network capabilities, AI, automation, data analytics, cyber and cloud ICT.
This was coupled with an overarching strategy in which Optus is shifting away from pure telecommunications into adjacent opportunities in content and multimedia products and services, which also require different capability requirements.
In order to deliver on the goal of customer first, Optus is introducing technology and customer-centric solutions that are simple, intuitive and personalised, said Kirby.
“We wanted the learning experience to be the same for our employees, where they can learn anywhere, anytime and any way they wanted, so this required us to shift from a one-size-fits-all approach to a more customised, employee-owned self-service approach,” she said.
“We wanted the learning experience to be the same for our employees, where they can learn anywhere, anytime and any way they wanted”
“This was about learning in the flow of work, so essentially we required a fully-blended digital and collaborative digital learning platform with scale and reach, which was underpinned by a philosophy of reflect, learn, teach and share.”
Cost optimisation was also a key component of the digital learning business case, which projects a 33 per cent saving per year at the third-year mark on traditional content.
Learning experience platforms
Kirby looked at the main providers in the learning experience (LXP) platform space, however, she observed that this market is still maturing.
“Some platforms delivered a downloadable mobile experience, whereas others delivered a mobile experience, but content wasn’t downloadable offline, for example,” she said.
“There is still an immaturity in this marketplace, so we made a call that for the next few years we will let the learning experience market mature and instead move to a learning platform that delivers a baseline experience, solid content from one provider and downloadable anywhere, anytime through both mobile and desktop,” she said.
This approach also allowed Optus to move into content curation and curated pathways based on learning needs and drive up a self-service mindset in learning and development.
“We’ve bought around 60 per cent of licences for the organisation, and we are looking at the other 40 per cent when we can demonstrate traction with the licences we already have,” she said.
This approach is also providing more Optus with more insights from a data analytics perspective, a richer learning experience for employees as well as more cost-effective utilisation of licences and provision of certifications.
“We made a call that for the next few years we will let the learning experience market mature and instead move to a learning platform that delivers a baseline experience”
“When we looked at the cost scenario and the business case for the learning platform, we will save about 10 per cent of certification costs in just year one because we have pivoted from face-to-face certifications to online certifications,” said Kirby.
Business generated content and gamification
Another pillar of Optus’ digital learning strategy is around business-generated content, in which employees develop and share their own learning.
“The organisation capability function has shifted to more of a coaching/performance consulting role, in which we coach the business on the learner experience,” said Kirby, who explained that the digital learning strategy is about 70 per cent buy and 30 per cent build at present.
“Organisation capability no longer owns the content, but moreso the e-learning product, if you will.”
Utilising a cross-charging model, Kirby said this approach has saved more than 75 per cent of costs in shifting to a business-owned content model.
The process of sharing content was aided by a social collaboration platform (called Learning Jam) which encourages people to build, learn and share content out into the organisation.
Optus also wanted to gamify the learning process in order to improve engagement and traction with content.
“We used gamified dashboards, leaderboards, quizzes and badges, for example, to encourage learners as they go the learning journey,” she said.
“We’ve rolled that out to our retail stores to test and learn, but we haven’t got a plan to roll that out more widely across Optus as of yet – but it’s certainly working well in the retail environment.
“Those types of insights help us to take more of a predictive approach to learning, rather than just looking at lag indicators which are focused on the past”
“It’s likely to work well in a customer service environment, so as we are transitioning our offshore partners in our call centres to the platform that is where we’re looking to roll that out next,” said Kirby.
Managing vendors and partners
Prior to the new digital learning strategy, Optus had a significant number of vendors who provided bespoke training: “these were the business unit favourites, but we were getting no buying power and no leverage there,” said Kirby.
“We also wanted to make sure that vendors that were partnering with us also had a digital learning strategy that underpinned the work that they were doing for Optus.”
A vendor panel was set up internally in order to centralise the process of vendor selection, which focused on significant areas of expenditure.
“We focused on the lion’s share of learning budgets, so with sales methodology, for example, we brought that into a centralised strategy and then rated vendors through the panel based on a digital learning strategy that underpins their offering.”
Parallel to this, Optus examined which curated content providers would be best suited to help provide a better digital learning experience in key areas.
“So on the topic of automation, for example, we partner with a company that specialised in automation certification and has a strong digital learning orientation, and that has been ideal for us,” she said.
A final key element of the strategy focused on data analytics and building lag and lead indicators around learning.
“We wanted to know what people are learning, what they like, what they are recommending and what they are sharing,” said Kirby.
“Those types of insights help us to take more of a predictive approach to learning, rather than just looking at lag indicators which are focused on the past.”
Creating a culture of development
Underpinning the strategy was the challenge of creating a culture of development to encourage employees to embrace a self-service approach to digital learning.
“Our employees were used to the traditional approach of learning being served, rather than self-serving,” said Kirby.
“A big one for us is how to drive a culture of development where employees adopt a digital mindset and start to own and self-serve their development, where they learn, teach and share with their colleagues.
“We all do it naturally on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or whatever the platform might be, but when employees come to work they don’t naturally gravitate to the same kind of learning and sharing.”
Content is delivered in short, bite-size, microlearning formats, and Kirby said this helps in engagement and uptake.
“We still do face-to-face, but it is very blended. We want to make the shift to digital learning, as this is where the real ROI is,” said Kirby.
“Embedding learning is still a challenge for us too, and we are working with leaders to help create a feedback culture to try and embed learning as a way of working.
“It’s easy enough to tick the box and have someone go and consume the learning, but whether or not apply and use it is another question.”
Kirby will be presenting on “empowering performance by creating exceptional HR experiences” at the HR Innovation & Tech Fest, which will be held at ICC Sydney from 18 – 19 November 2019. For more information please visit the website or call +61 2 9955 7400.