Maitri Malia Johnson Controls Digital Transformation
Training & Learning

How Johnson Controls Jump-Started its Digital Transformation with a 3-Step Peer Learning Strategy

As an L&D leader, you know the crucial role your team plays in modernizing the services and support your company offers to clients and customers. In a changing world, you’re there to help people keep up with new technologies and skills.

But how can you enable that evolution with the right L&D approach? And how can you draw from peer expertise to keep everyone–especially your sales reps–up-to-date with the latest changes?

I’m always interested in learning about how legacy companies keep up with innovations in technology, and how they use L&D to drive change. That’s why my discussion with Maitri Malia, Manager of Sales Learning Design at Johnson Controls, about her three-step peer learning strategy for digital transformation was so fascinating.

Maitri had plenty of insights and practical tips to share–don’t miss out!

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Why digitizing your L&D is critical to staying current

Since 1885, Johnson Controls has made buildings smarter by driving new innovations in software, services, and technologies. Now, they’re continuing that growth by evolving the way they sell their products. For Maitri and her team, this means committing to digital transformation within L&D–especially in supporting Johnson Controls’s sales teams. 

“A lot of people use ‘digital transformation’ as a buzzword,” she says. “However, I can attest that we’re not just digitizing how we work, but changing what we’re offering our industry. We’re a market leader in sustainability in healthy buildings, and we've been in this business forever. For example, we’re moving from offering a chiller to offering a chiller along with services, business intelligence, and predictive maintenance.”

As Maitri explains, Johnson Controls is focused on adding a new range of digital solutions alongside their well-earned reputation for offering high-quality and dependable building services.

“Thinking from a sales representative standpoint,'' she says, “we’re now moving from offering hardware or other typical standard solutions to making a case for why enhanced intelligence and predictive analysis and insight is the need of the hour for our customers.”

So, how is Maitri and her team facilitating the evolution in Johnson Controls’s product sales? She described everything in her three-step strategy grounded in peer learning.

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A lot of people use ‘digital transformation’ as a buzzword. However, I can attest that we’re not just digitizing how we work, but changing what we’re offering our industry.

Johnson Controls’s 3-step peer learning strategy for digital transformation

“At Johnson Controls,” says Maitri, “learning and development plays a very critical role in enabling our organization. We're very closely connected with our business leaders and the people driving our growth, which helps us understand exactly where we're going.”

But how are Maitri and her team driving Johnson Controls’s digital transformation? As she explains, it’s all about drawing from your greatest resource: peer expertise.

Related: How Our Company Maintains its Competitive Edge through Peer Learning

1. Set a personalized digital upscaling pathway

Maitri says that firstly, she and her team need to build a basic level of comfort with digitization amongst their sales reps.

“One of my colleagues, Susan Clark, designed an adaptive learning survey for all of Johnson Controls’ global sales reps,” she says. “There were basic foundational questions on 17 digital topics. At the end of the survey, we were able to identify where each sales rep was on the knowledge curve for each topic.”

Next up, she worked with business partners and HR leaders to determine where each sales rep needed to be. “We were able to look at our consultative sellers and relationships sellers and identify by topic where a sales rep should be.”

Finally, Maitri’s team provided personalized digital learning upskilling pathways. “Each sales rep would go on their SharePoint page and look at the topic of the month, see where you stand, and understand which way they need to go. Then, depending on that, they would get their personalized digital learning upscaling pathway.”

This gives a foundation for all sales reps to build their comfort with the digital terminology. Next up, Maitri and her team can focus on peer learning.

2. Jump-start your teams with peer-to-peer learning

Maitri and her team have designed two programs based on peer-to-peer learning: Digital Jump-Start One and Digital Jump-Start Two.

“Essentially,” Maitri explains, “both those programs targeted sales reps who were in those critical market areas where we had a lot of opportunity. They’re both global. The first is a five week program and the second is a six week program.”

“We had our ‘Digital from the Street’ program where people from different parts of the world talked about some key questions: what was their main business challenge? How did this serve the customer? What was the benefit from a digital sales opportunity, and what did they learn? The peer-to-peer learning gave our sales reps the ability to see what was possible immediately.”

Johnson Controls Maitri Malia

Maitri added that they also had global leaders speak about where Johnson Controls’s people are going, the company’s roadmap, and how they had invested in a consultative selling strategy.

“We also had some partner programs on how we can expand into places where Johnson Controls hasn’t traditionally been. We also offered people the opportunity to connect with their peers. After a week's session, they could go back and talk in a small group of three or four about what they're understanding and that really makes it personal.”

3. Engage teams in self-directed product training

“Moving forward,” says Maitri, “we're also developing a program called our ‘Digital Roadmap’ which offers training on each of our products. It's going to be a series of pathways that will become a journey on our learning experience platform.”

As she says, this training will be self-directed. “Now, any sales rep can take it at their own time. They don't need to attend an eight week program that's happening on a webinar base because it’s on the learning experience platform. It's intuitive, it's easy, it's bite-sized, and we can have social comments and questions so people can learn from each other.”

Johnson Controls’ three-step peer learning strategy demonstrates many of the advantages of Collaborative Learning in practice. By bringing their sales reps together from around the world, Johnson Controls is encouraging employees to share their knowledge and expertise through group learning–capitalizing on their skills, experience, and product knowledge. 

Related: Self-Directed Learning is Here to Stay, and It’s Up to L&D to Make it Work 

It's intuitive, it's easy, it's bite-sized, and we can have social comments and questions so people can learn from each other.

Measuring the success of Johnson Controls’s 3-step peer learning strategy

So, that’s an overview of Johnson Controls’s three-step peer learning strategy to drive digital transformation. But how does Maitri know they’re moving the organization from a traditional product-based sales approach to an approach based on product, services, and business intelligence?

“With our two Digital Jump-Start programs, we’re looking at the leading indicators: an increase in pipeline, an increase in the number of opportunities, and the number of sales reps with a digital opportunity,” she says. “We want to track our close rates and understand how many more demonstrations our sales reps have been able to do.”

“We also have digital centers of excellence supporting our sales reps with estimation and site assessment. We’re looking at the caseload, and every time a sales rep has a digital opportunity, they're connected to a digital center of excellence.”

According to Maitri, these two indicators tell them that their Digital Jump-Start program has definitely made a big step forward for their sales reps.

“We’re always talking about digital literacy,” Maitri adds. “It’s an ongoing focus, with a yearly program including 17 topics in total and every month we have two topics. For example, as I sit in meetings or as I interview sales reps, I’m seeing our subject-matter experts and our sales reps starting to use that terminology. Those are the connections people are making.”

What does the future have in store for Johnson Control’s peer-learning strategy? “Our team is going to start doing a sales curriculum gap analysis,” says Maitri. “We're working on a sales competency assessment which is aligned with the sales curriculum gap analysis. That's going to be the next step, and something I’d love for us to talk about again in the future.”

Related: 3 Data-Based Ways to Prove Training ROI (+ Free Training ROI Calculator)

We also have digital centers of excellence supporting our sales reps with estimation and site assessment. We’re looking at the caseload, and every time a sales rep has a digital opportunity, they're connected to a digital center of excellence.

Thanks again to Maitri for taking us through Johnson Controls’s innovative approach to jump-starting its digital transformation! !

If you’re looking for more expert insights on how companies can modernize training with peer learning, check out our interviews with Shaun Krietemeyer of Opendoor about meeting learners where they are with peer training, and with Cassandra Lux of ASPS about capturing internal expertise through content curation.

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