The Importance of Learning On-the-job
More companies likely should follow VMware’s example, and poll their workforces regularly to assess what technologies will help them do their jobs better. Then tailor training offerings to what employees see on the job every day. This learning strategy has marked business benefits as well as implications from a talent management perspective.
“It communicates to the engineer population that they have a say and that the company values their input,” Ulbrick explained. “At the end of the day business needs will always trump whatever the population suggests if there’s misalignment, but we’ve found that most of the time developers and engineers are keen to expand their knowledge of relevant technologies. They’re often the best people to ask what’s hot, what’s coming up, what should we start looking to incorporate into our training?”
However, the key to this strategy’s success is that before these training suggestions come to life in the company’s curriculum, they are carefully vetted to ensure business alignment. For instance, a hot technology or something industry trends suggest is special might appear in the annual assessment. If that technology has nothing to do with the company’s product or service offerings, however, VMware won’t provide training.
“The important thing is keep what’s coming up in the realm of consumable,” said Bob Mosher, CEO, APPLY Synergies, a learning consultancy. “It has to be balanced. Coming up could be 10 years from now, something on the horizon, but where is the reality check? Where do you draw the line?” The ability to discern what technology is merely popular and what technology should receive training because it has business implications is an off shoot of an organization’s foundational perspective on learning. VMware has established that training is a key factor in its enterprise growth, but like all companies it is conscious of spend.
For instance, in 2016 following its acquisition by Dell, the company slashed its training budget significantly. “We had half as much money to work with,” Ulbrick said. “We as a training vendor had to get a bit more clever about how we spent that money, and ensure that every dollar they spent was not wasted.”
Ultimately, Ulbrick said DevelopIntelligence was able to communicate training’s value by paying closer attention to registration numbers and evaluation results, often reading every single word a student wrote in the open comments section. The company also coached its instructors to provide more nuanced training so they could quickly build rapport with students, and get to the heart of what they need, what their pain points were. Then it shared that information with VMware in ROI terms that made sense.
“When we measure training, we look at it a number of different ways,” she explained. “One example, the speed a single team is able to push updates. How quickly are they able to move through their sprint? How many bugs do they find in their code? If we can provide training that increases productivity, reduces the time to productivity and reduces the number of bugs, that saves time. Time is money.”
DevelopIntelligence also pays close attention to manager feedback. For example, if managers say “after my team went through this training, we saw significant improvement,” the company’s learning leaders couple that intangible evidence with hard numbers, enabling them to tell a powerful story illustrating how training saves time, and in enterprise software, time equals money.
To retain key talent, boost performance and nurture innovation, VMware regularly turns 20,000 technical professionals from its global workforce into an active army of business-training subject matter experts. By analyzing data from this population, the company can more easily identify what technologies have exhausted their usefulness, which ones are safe bets for the future and which ones have the most value for the business. As a result it can minimize lost business opportunities, forge a strong relationship with its talent, and promote continuous improvements along the employee and business life cycles.