Before setting up Learn Amp, as founder of entrepreneurs organisation The Supper Club, I spent fifteen years working with, and learning from, over 1000 of the UK’s most successful scale-up CEOs. In that time, I chaired around 700 round-tables and people management came up every single time. If there is one thing common across all of these successful leaders it’s their ability to attract, develop and retain great talent. Nothing else comes close.
It turns out that the key to attracting, developing and retaining great talent is to develop an amazing end-to-end experience in much the same way we’ve become adept at doing so for customers. So when we started to think about how software could help design and deliver the ultimate in Employee Experience we were keen to take inspiration from software outside of HR-tech where we’d inevitably be tempted just to iterate on what already exists.
Our customers are forward thinking and expect the same from their software vendors. They want to buy the future, not back the past. So we’ve built and continue to innovate for the businesses of tomorrow not today. And to do that we have to feel confident we have a good take on what tomorrow looks like.
The macro trends shaping the future of work
An employee will have an experience at work whether it’s managed or not. A good one can be delivered without the need for software but only, in our view, if you have a small business with no ambition to scale. For everyone else we’d argue you need help delivering Employee Experience for everyone, every day - rather than for some, on a good day!
And here’s why. As we see it there are four key societal trends that are driving and shaping the workplace of the future. Each creates complexity and challenges that mean the gap between the best employers and others is ever widening and with it increased competitive advantage (or disadvantage). These are driving fundamental changes in the way people work:
- Risk and regulation – the 2008 Crash was a watershed moment. In the decade since we’ve seen increased regulation not only in financial services but across all sectors. The introduction in the EU of the GDPR, for example, has huge implications for all businesses. Increased public awareness and transparency more generally mean that the inappropriate actions of one employee can expose a business to substantial liabilities or losses however unintentional. Training needs to be reframed around understanding and mitigating risk rather than simply complying with regulations.
- The age of AI - AI is driving change in almost every role. And with it are ever increasing rates at which employees are having to develop new skills to stay relevant in tomorrow’s workplace. Employees need engaging tools to become lifelong learners with access to content, courses and experiences that inspire, inform and improve performance. Yes, relevant content should be surfaced in the flow of work, but we also need to connect skills development and personal development pathways to performance reviews and peer feedback. Development must involve more than reading articles, watching TED talks and taking short, online courses. However great these are at inspiring and informing they are only part of the solution. Lasting improvement needs to integrate the human element: access to the right expertise at the right time, relevant coaching and above all work and experiences that allow practice and improvement.
- Job structure and tenure – younger employees expect work to integrate far better with personal life: with flexibility in how and where they work. How long someone stays in a business is increasingly about how visible and credible opportunities for development and advancement are and what leeway there is to work from home or adapt working hours to suit their personal situation. People want to access work related learning and communications on the move making mobile a prerequisite. With it taking upwards of six months to get an employee to full effectiveness in a new role and average job tenure amongst the youngest employees being little over a year this trend is crippling business growth (and even threatening survival) in many cases. If your purpose as a business isn’t clear and those you employ are not aligned to your vision and values you can expect high employee turnover. Glassdoor makes it easy to benchmark against other businesses precipitating attrition. Great culture drives better talent retention.
- Education system – Millennials and Gen Z (now making up more than 40 per cent of the workforce) are the product of a highly structured and prescriptive education system focused on exam results in subjects that don’t prepare people for the world of work today let alone the future. Essential life skills are not the key consideration they should be. As Simon Sinek explains so articulately students come into the workplace with high expectations about how they want to work but aren’t fully equipped for the autonomy they seek . Striking the right balance between structure and flexibility is key to high engagement and better retention. Providing a visible pathway, with support and transparency over how people can develop and advance will be vital.
Implications for the workplace of the future
Faced with such a combination of challenges business need the right blend of tools. So what are they, how do they need to evolve and what should be combined in one platform and what part of a broader integrated tech ecosystem?
- The limitations of the traditional LMS
For two decades the Learning Management Systems (LMS) has been the tool of choice for delivering compliance and other mandatory training. Most LMSs are designed for the administrator not the end user. Such training was often tolerated because the amount of time it took was small and a job depended on it. But times move on. With the advent of smart phones and the ubiquity of intuitive consumer applications people are less willing to put up with systems that are difficult to use. Those that don’t update systems will drive lower employee engagement and instil a sense of ‘us and them’ reducing any potential alignment between employee and the employer.
Effective risk management also needs much more than compliance training. Risk is increasingly nuanced and requires a certain mindset. People need to understand and interpret risk far more. This means training must be engaging to be effective or the risks won’t be mitigated at all. And in turn that means an LMS needs to be more than a glossy redesign, it needs a complete re-work of the user experience from learner to administrator, coach to curator.
- Next steps for the LXP
As roles change with increasing rapidity the best talent will increasingly expect to drive their own development. This may be either task specific, where accessing content and courses ‘in the flow of work’ is most important, or where developing new skills is part of broader career development. Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs) evolved to deliver this learner-centric approach.
What will be key in the future is how well content and courses are curated: are they easy to find at the time of need. Is content truly curated rather than simply aggregated? People are too busy to wade through a vast library so if not they’ll default to Google if they don’t see the additional value?
Is it easy to assess the quality through other user ratings? And can you differentiate between internal ratings for the business and those of the wider community? Is content in context either as part of developmental pathways or easily searchable for those looking for solutions to an immediate challenge? Can individuals shape their own learning pathways and can all of this be done on the move via mobile?
- LMSs and LXPs should no longer be siloed
Whilst the LMS is primarily designed to deliver training that is required by the employer the LXP delivers learning driven by the employee. We believe if you have a culture that aligns the goals of company and individual these two systems should not be siloed but be in one place, with a single ‘look and feel’.
For those businesses with a LMS that’s hard to move away from, a system that has LMS capability as well as LXP capability just makes it that much easier to map an integration and provide a far more engaging learner experience!
- From individual to community learning
One issue to date has been that the LMS and LXP have been very much focused on the individual.
Some ‘next generation’ learning platforms have started deliver functionality that connects learners in meaningful ways but too often the focus is on chat and low value interaction that drowns out the gems of knowledge, insight and improvement. In a misguided drive to show higher engagement some platforms have higher volumes of activity than traditional platforms but there’s little value or impact on performance improvement.
Real community (or social) learning combines the support experts and peers can make to developing individuals with enhancing and driving continual improvement in knowledge and know-how.
- The arrival of the Employee Experience Platform
An Employee Experience Platform goes further. We recognise that if you want to drive continual improvement and if you want knowledge and expertise in the business to be not only retained but shared and developed over time, you need a platform that facilitates that too. One that has the tools to take the pulse of teams, connect learners with experts, coaches with courses. To build a sense of community.
Community builds engagement and commitment and makes it easier to connect people across different locations, time zones and languages. That all leads to happy people and higher retention.
And finally, what good is learning and knowledge sharing if you can’t connect that to individual, team and company performance? How else can you effectively measure the return on investment?
There are many components to a great employee experience and employee success but for us the three standout elements are what we call the integrated elements of Learning, Engagement and Performance. Together they can truly drive growth.
The concept of Employee Lifetime Value
If you buy into my take on the future or the workplace and the potential for an Employee Experience Platform like Learn Amp, how then do you convince your colleagues of the need when time and budgets are under such pressure?
One of the best analogies we’ve found is to view what we do as the equivalent of maximising Customer Lifetime Value, except in our case it’s Employee Lifetime Value (ELV). It’s a simple and intuitive way to show the impact; the return on investment (ROI).
As the graph below shows, regardless of role the total value to a business of an employee is the area under the curve above the x-axis less the cost (negative value) in induction/onboarding before they reach the point of delivering net positive value.
We are a platform for managing the key elements of the Employee Journey from the moment your job offer has been accepted to the point at which they leave. Put simply Learn Amp helps increase overall Employee Lifetime Value by:
- Reducing the time to it takes to get someone up to full effectiveness in a role;
- Helping drive greater performance in that role through skills development; and
- Helping align personal goals and performance with those of the business in turn leading to better engagement and higher retention rates.
The Employee Journey
When we talk about ELV and show the graph it’s easy to see how if the Employee Experience is managed well at each stage an employee can be more effective faster, and if engaged and aligned with business goals will stay longer. The key here is that to deliver a consistently great experience we believe you need a platform that helps manage that experience in the context of each Employee Journey.
Life is a journey. Humans are hardwired to want to move forward, to progress, to develop and grow. To deliver effective learning and to deliver a great experience it’s our firm belief that experience is best mapped out as part of a clear Employee Journey. And to manage that at scale providing a unique experience to each employee you need a platform built with the journey in mind.
Making visible the various pathways that individuals will go on makes it more transparent as to how they can develop and progress within your business. Greater visibility will help engender higher levels of engagement and commitment. Some pathways will be common to many employees: like induction, onboarding or becoming a manager for the first time. Others less so. The key is that they should be easy to manage and adapt.
Businesses like LinkedIn pioneered the idea of ‘tours of duty’ where an employee buys into a specific role for a period of time in the knowledge that if they perform well they can expect a new exciting progression to follow with additional experience and development wrapped in. We build Learn Amp with this approach in mind. Why would you keep someone good in one role just long enough for them to get bored and leave when you could have retained them by offering a new opportunity avoiding the need to rehire for both roles instead of just the one they move on from?
The Business Journey
We recognise that just as an employee is on a journey so too is the business for which she works. As a business grows in size so does complexity which is why the business should be able to keep things simple to start with and grow into features as they become needed. We believe in growing together.
But businesses don’t just grow in scale, they can often develop operationally and culturally over time. As the workplace moves away from command and control styles of management it’s vital any platform managing the employee experience has the flexibility to accommodate evolving management styles. Business reviews might move in time, for example, from line manager to coaches or peers. Annual appraisals may move to more regular ‘check-ins’ and one-to-ones. Flexibility and simplicity should be built in.
Blending Science with Soul
We believe that any great software platform should appeal to both heart and mind. It should be enjoyable to use and highly effective too. We took the best of what we saw in consumer applications and applied the same principles. For employees that principle is that it should be entirely intuitive, fun and above all effective in helping deliver both structure and guidance whilst allowing the autonomy to self-serve and drive personal development too.
Every experience for an employee is driven by the context in which it happens. Whether it’s a manager setting up a one-to-one review, an administrator mapping out or updating a module of learning (what we call a Learnlist) or an employee looking to find and develop a skill they recognise they need to master, context is key.
All our Learnlists are created around the idea that learning should follow five key stages:
- Identify – what is the learning need
- Inspire – start with something that will open the mind and answer the question Why?
- Inform – deliver insight, knowledge, expertise in the most engaging way possible
- Improve – ensure there’s a chance to practise and to test that new knowledge or skill
- Impact – assess the impact of the learning on performance in the role
Stick to what you do best, partner on the rest
If we think about just how many sectors have been turned on their head through technological disruption in the last decade and compare that to the decade before, it’s easy to see just how fast markets are evolving. When innovation happens at that pace no business can pretend to be the best (or even just good) at everything. The days of large vendors offering a solution that covers all bases well are long gone - however much some will try to preach otherwise.
So when we thought about what to make core to our product and what should be excluded we thought long and hard. What areas are catered for well by software vendors but in very niche areas only and which are delivered poorly. In other words where could we make the biggest impact?
Our belief is that until recently there’s been little or slow innovation in the learning platform space so that’s where we started by building the world’s best Learning Experience Platform (LXP) within a year of launch.
Next we recognised that many SMB/SME and mid-market customers didn’t want simply to bolt on an LXP to an existing LMS, they often wanted what each promised but in the same platform. So we applied our same gift for building great User Experience and Interface (UX/UI) to building LMS capability.
Having built a best-of-breed integrated LXP/LMS we next went about adding functionality that would amplify the impact across teams and the business as a whole. We built tools to help make it easier to connect and amplify the knowledge and expertise within a business, what is often referred to as social learning.
Finally, we looked at the best performance management applications and weaved in what we thought would work well to complete the platform and to close the loop between learning and performance improvement.
And that’s it. We’ve combined the key parts of the employee experience into one seamless platform and partnered with those we admire most in areas they do better. And the result is what we consider to be the ultimate Employee Experience Platform set within an ecosystem that delivers the best value and the best impact for any growing business that’s preparing for the future.
Learn Amp is after all about ‘making work life, work better’.