It hardly needs to be said, but 2020 has been a particularly challenging year. All over the world, people are doing their best just to make it to the holiday season in one piece. For L&D leaders, the coming weeks will - hopefully - be a chance to rest and take stock.
But what about 2021? What will the next 12 months have in store for us, and what kind of employee training challenges might we be faced with? Right now, it can be tough to find the energy to tackle these big questions - no matter how urgent they may be.
That’s why it was so great to cap off the year by sitting down with Theresa Cook, Director of L&D at PwC Luxembourg. Theresa has been working hard with her team to plan out her L&D strategy for the coming years, and her energy and enthusiasm was just what I needed.
We started off by discussing how every L&D leader needs their own personal crystal ball.
The world of workplace learning is always changing. As Theresa explains, keeping up with the latest training methods is crucial for a professional services firm like PwC.
“Everything is speeding up, and we’re using a lot more technology in our training, especially with digital tools,” she says. “Now, we’re moving away from traditional classroom learning to creating and delivering content that is flexible and responsive to what people need. This trend has been underway for many years, but lately it’s really taken off.”
For Theresa, this shift to offering flexible and responsive content can create some new demands. “Now, we don’t always have the option to pilot our training first. Instead, I need to see around the corners, and to look at what will be important for us in the future.”
“This means working with talent acquisition to identify the skills that are harder for us to attract and build them up internally.”
Now, we’re moving away from traditional classroom learning to creating and delivering content that is flexible and responsive to what people need.
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As Theresa explains, PwC’s broad scope of services can create a wide range of employee training demands. “We have a large spectrum of sourcing needs,” says Theresa. “If someone asks for training on a new product so they can present to a client in a matter of weeks, then I need to have a provider lined up already.”
This also means making sure the right content is available at the right time. “We need to provide training exactly when people need it - not six months later. That’s the biggest challenge. It’s not the fact that things change - it’s how quickly they change, and how quickly L&D needs to respond.”
“This is going to be even more of a focus in the future. We need a broad pool of providers, whether it’s training in sales skills, using data, or digital technologies. It takes great relationships, because they need to be primed to deliver as soon as you pick up the phone.”
For PwC, this quick delivery isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s critical to maintaining the firm’s reputation. “If you can’t respond to these business needs on time, you risk losing credibility,” says Theresa. “We’re in the service consulting business, and our clients are always pushing to be more competitive. We’re there to lay out the tracks to help them. As an L&D team, we need to give our people the right tools to do that.”
We need to provide training exactly when people need it - not six months later. That’s the biggest challenge. It’s not the fact that things change - it’s how quickly they change, and how quickly L&D needs to respond.
So, how does Theresa deal with these significant L&D challenges? How can her busy team manage a complex range of employee training demands?
As she explains, it takes four key steps.
“We have to constantly triage the competing requests coming to us, because we have to decide what we can delay,” says Theresa. “To do this effectively, my team needs to move within the business and understand the nature of our client engagements. We need to know exactly what’s coming down the line, and how it’s going to impact our business.”
Developing the right training strategy also requires a deep understanding of the business. “Our L&D team works closely with other parts of the firm, because this kind of business acumen is more important than ever,” says Theresa. “We need to understand project methodologies, processes, and the tools and apps our clients are using. This way, we can be responsive.”
“For example, we had a team working with a client based in China, which gave us a set of technical constraints with our project delivery. We had to understand what these constraints meant in terms of providing the learning support. It’s helpful to think of our L&D team as dedicated training consultants, but working within the firm. That’s the mindset we need.”
For Theresa, this responsive approach to L&D also takes the right people with the right mentality. “When I’m hiring, or when I’m coaching or developing my team, one of the things I’m looking for is the ability to pivot quickly,” she says, “More than anything, I need people who can respond with energy and enthusiasm without despairing whenever there’s a change.”
“We look at a lot of ‘what-if’ scenarios with our L&D strategy,” says Theresa. “For example, what if we centralized certain training? What would happen if we produced content internally but offered it to clients too? What if we pivoted solely to just-in-time videos and online content? It’s a helpful exercise for deciding where to put our time and energy.”
Even more helpful? Inviting people across the business to participate in this planning. “We have design thinking workshops to establish what the actual learning experience would look like, and a pool of people representing a cross-section of the business come and work with us. Then, we match these scenarios against our five-year business strategy and see how things line up.”
As Director of L&D, a key focus for Theresa is setting the right accountability for spending. “We work closely with leadership and HR to hold people responsible for their budget,” she says.
“For example, we ran some change management training recently, and I made it a condition to spend some time with the team afterwards to make sure the tools and the methodology were actually being applied. Otherwise, all we get is a lovely certificate.”
This approach to employee training can require some uncomfortable discussions, but it’s worth it. “If the training isn’t being put into practice, then we might need to look for a new provider, or stop it altogether. We have had one or two examples of training that was never actually used in practice, and we had to have a formal sit-down for them to explain what had happened.”
We finished our session with a discussion about another fundamental part of PwC’s L&D strategy: measuring impact.
I made it a condition to spend some time with the team afterwards to make sure the tools and the methodology were actually being applied. Otherwise, all we get is a lovely certificate.
When you have a lot of competing priorities, it’s crucial to make sure your training strategy is generating the right benefits. For Theresa, this means looking at two different metrics.
“One of the easiest and quickest ways to measure our impact is through the financials,” says Theresa. “In other words, if we decide to run all of our training in-house, how much would it cost to hire structural designers, versus the cost of hiring external support?”
“In terms of talent acquisition, we also look at the cost of training up existing staff for the skills we need, especially around data analytics. We compare the cost of hiring someone to this role against the cost of training three or four people internally, and we see how it stacks up.”
Then, there’s the question of time and convenience. “If everything is internal, and we have our own instructors out there working with our teams, then what is our implementation time? With external providers, you may have to run a pilot first, whereas internal trainers are ready to go.”
“There’s a convenience factor too,” says Theresa. “Right now, our trainers have direct contact with our lines of service, and if people want something changed, they can do it right away. But if everything is centralized, we have a few more steps to go through.”
“It’s always a trade-off. As the L&D team, it’s up to us to make the right decisions.”
Thanks again to Theresa for taking the time to join me for this inspiring discussion!
While you’re here, check out my expert interviews with Tuba Kazmi of Coca-Cola İçecek on how she nurtures a diverse workforce, and with Bill Ball of DISYS on how he used great L&D to drive a 30% increase in sales meetings in his first year. For more on L&D in the world of professional consulting, take a look at our interview with Matthew Smith of McKinsey & Company.
Want more peer insights on transforming workplace learning? Check out #CLOConnect, our interview series with top L&D leaders on driving growth and scaling culture through Collaborative Learning. You can subscribe (below 👇) to our weekly newsletter to receive our latest posts directly in your inbox.