HR Management & Compliance, Learning & Development

The Strategic Value of Learning for Business Leaders

In a recent episode of HR Works Podcast, I sat down with Tanya Staples, VP of Product, Learning Content at LinkedIn. We discuss the latest learning trends, the strategic value of learning for business leaders, and handling learning among the 5 generations that currently populate the workforce.

learning

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Jim: Hello, everyone, and welcome to HR Works, the podcast for HR professionals. We really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy day to join us. I’m the host of HR Works Jim Davis and the editor of the HR Daily Advisor.

This podcast aims to put valuable tools and knowledge into the hands and ears of you, the HR professional. These tools will arm you with the best methods and strategies for attracting, motivating, and retaining top talent. Where does learning fit in with all this? Even if you onboard the best employees, if you don’t train them well or at all, everything suffers, from the employees right down to the bottom line.

Today, we are lucky to be joined by learning expert Tanya Staples. Tanya is the VP of Product Learning Content at LinkedIn. Over 10 years ago, Tanya was an author and online video creator at lynda.com, a LinkedIn property. Driven by her passion for education, she joined the company full-time and has worked closely with cofounder Lynda Weinman to ensure her teaching style and philosophy are represented in all lynda.com instructional content. She now oversees both the content management team, which defines the content strategy, and the production team, which executes against that vision. Tanya, thank you so much for joining us today.

Tanya: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.

Jim: You’re most welcome. Just to begin, could you just tell us a little bit more about LinkedIn Learning and your work and how that platform is different from other learning providers?

Tanya: Absolutely. We’ll sort of put it into context. So, LinkedIn Learning is a new product that we launched at LinkedIn after the acquisition of lynda.com. So lynda.com really evolved. We put lynda.com online officially in 2002, and that was our online subscription business, which was the baby of Lynda Weinman and her husband and cofounder, Bruce Heavin. They had a very successful book in classroom business for many years and then had to, for various reasons, sort of pivot the business to make it cost-effective and easy for people to access training.

So that’s when lynda.com went online in 2002. We had 32 video courses at a time before there was any YouTube and people didn’t have high-speed Internet access, and at the time, it really sort of served the creative pro market. And then it really evolved between 2002 and when LinkedIn bought us in 2015 to serve a broader audience and really start to tee us up to be able to serve the L&D pro, which is kind of what are our primary target market is right now on the enterprise side.

LinkedIn Learning is essentially taking all the goodness of lynda.com—all the years of expertise that we’ve built up creating great video-based content—and wrapping it in the goodness of what LinkedIn brings us. And there are sort of a few things: So, we have our content that comes from the many years that we have of developing content with lynda.com. We have about 14,000 courses and growing across 7 different languages—English, German, French, Spanish, Brazilian, Portuguese, Mandarin, and Japanese—and we add about 60 new courses every week.

So that’s kind of number one; sort of the base of the pyramid is content. Then, we layer on insights. One of the great things about being part of LinkedIn and launching LinkedIn Learning is that through the LinkedIn economic graph, we’re able to really drive a deep understanding of what our members and our customers need, what the skill gaps are, and what their course preferences are, and that allows both us and our customers, which, like I said, are primarily L&D professionals, to really understand what their learners need so that they’re serving up content that really serves the larger organization that they’re serving.

Then, the last part is the learning experience, which again, because we have this really rich economic graph data, we know a little bit about people through their profile, and it means that we can target the content to them in a very unique way to serve up things that—you know, what a developer needs is maybe different from what a marketing manager needs, which is maybe different from what a technical writer might need.

Then, in addition to that, we’ve also got some great community and social and interactive experiences. We just launched a Q&A feature that allows our members to watch a course—maybe they struggle with a section or don’t understand a section, and they can post their question, and people who are taking the course, members of the community, or the instructor can respond and give feedback to them directly. So it’s kind of through the content, the insights, and the learner experience that really is what makes LinkedIn Learning what it is.

Jim: What do you think that the landscape of learning in general in corporate America is? What does it look like right now compared with maybe 10 years ago?

Tanya: That’s a great question. I think we’re in the midst of sort of a big pivot in terms of learning, and I think 10/20 years ago, learning was really focused on—think about how prominent the manufacturing industry was, particularly in the United States, for so many years, and at that point, it was, “How do I make someone be more efficient? How do I make someone do something quicker?” Right? And now, it’s really changed in that technology is kind of the driving force behind everything, right?

Most people need to be using a computer or using a mobile device to do their job, and what that unfortunately means, given that software programs and hardware are updating pretty much every second of every day, is it really creates a world where people have to be learning all the time and refreshing their skills. There’s a stat that basically indicates that the shelf life of skills has started to increase and is maybe down to as little as 5 years. So it’s really forcing people to sort of have to learn on an ongoing basis. When I went to college, there was sort of this promise that you went to college, you got a job, and the school part was done, right? Now, there’s the school part of your life, but learning really becomes something that’s essential every single day.

So this notion of lifelong learning to continue to evolve your skills is really important. And I think in companies, there are sort of two parts to that. I think L&D is now getting a seat at the table that it maybe didn’t have in the past. We’re seeing that, unlike even as little as a couple of years ago, when 27% of L&D pros said that they had a limited budget at the top challenge. Or now, it’s 27% who say they have budget challenges versus 49% a couple of years ago. So that’s almost in half, right? They’re definitely starting to get a seat at the table.

Also, we’re seeing individual employees ask for it. We see that 74% of employees say they want to learn during their spare time at work. Many employees are saying, “I would value learning opportunities more than a pay rise or something else because I really see that I have to evolve my skills on a regular basis to be relevant and successful in my job.” So again, like to just sort of recap that, it’s really with technology driving everything; it’s forcing people to learn on a much more ongoing basis, and I think that it’s sort of a pivot point right now for L&D teams.

Jim: Seeing that increase in the number of companies that are budgeting for learning suggests that leaders are starting to understand how important it is because without the leaders on board, there is no funding.

Tanya: Absolutely.

Jim: Do you have any information on how people are getting through to their leaders or maybe even any advice for someone who knows his or her workforce needs training and he or she doesn’t think that maybe leadership is taking it as seriously as it should?

Tanya: Yeah, I think the best advice I could give to somebody who’s in L&D is that you’ve got to have a really solid partnership with your business partners; whether your business partner is the head of engineering or your business partner is the COO or the CEO, it’s really about starting the conversation by listening and really understanding like, “What are we trying to do as a business? What are we trying to accomplish? And what is it that we feel we need our talent to be doing and not doing over the next year or 2 or 3 years to help get us there?” Right? So it’s what does the business need, what do our teams need to do to evolve, and then what do individual employees need to do to do that?

I think that the more that L&D leaders can be really closely partnered with their business partners—that’s the most important thing. And you’re right: When you get the C-suite on board, that’s where it happens, not just in terms of funding but also in terms of engagement. We have a company in Zimbabwe, actually, where the CEO published a video to all the employees that basically said, “We bought LinkedIn Learning for you guys. We want you to be engaging 1 or 2 hours of every single week.”

So when you have the C-suite on board and making that type of statement, it’s not just that you’re getting funding—it’s that you’re giving the employees the permission slip to do it because the number one thing we hear from people about why they didn’t engage with the learning product is like, “I didn’t have time. I didn’t have time,” which is really, in the grand scheme of things, a euphemism for “I didn’t make it a priority.” Right? But when you have managers, senior leaders, and business leaders giving permission verbally, vocally, and in a public setting, that’s really what sort of changes the behavior in an organization.

Jim: I talk about that particular issue with getting leadership buy-in and usually beyond just a financial standpoint a lot because it’s critical; just like if you’re talking about company culture, that has to start at the top.

Tanya: Absolutely.

Jim: And if you’re talking about learning culture, that’s the same thing, right?

Tanya: Yep.

Jim: One of the things is that there are so many different facets to why a workforce may not be engaged or why a workforce may be falling behind, and they’re all critically important, and that learning is really just one part of it. How would you advise HR leaders that, you know, they’re trying to do it all—they’re trying to solve their employee engagement problem, and they’re trying to solve their wellness benefits problem, and each of these is so critical to the success of that company, and they’ve identified that learning is also something that really needs to happen. How would you help them prioritize this?

Tanya: Do you mean how to prioritize learning against other initiatives?

Jim: Yeah, or even just among them and make sure that they’re … You did talk about partnering with your leaders, but just to make sure that your leaders understand that this isn’t just another thing that HR wants; this is something that’s really important.

Tanya: Honestly, I would start with what we call employee voice survey, and LinkedIn actually just purchased a company called Glint not too long ago—late last year—and Glint is exactly that. It’s an employee voice survey tool that is kind of constantly helping you get the pulse on what your employees think and feel about their experience at their company. That is, I think, really critical for business leaders and L&D and the broader HR team to really understand exactly what’s on their employees’ minds because sometimes, it is exactly what you said: It’s the comp and benefits that are really what’s on folks’ minds.

Then other times, once you sort of get folks beyond that, that’s when they start to get into learning. But when you can use employee data to say, “Hey, 75% of our employees want this,” or “60% of our employees want this,” or “10% say this isn’t valid,” or “80% say this isn’t valuable to them at all,” then it actually makes it a much easier conversation. So what we recommend with Glint is that usually on a quarterly basis, there’s an employee voice survey, with short, sweet, simple questions that really get to the root of things, and then as HR and, more importantly, as business leaders and as C-suite, you can kind of be looking at the pulse of the employees and understand how people feel.

That really helps to see the gaps of what to focus on. So I would definitely suggest to any company that is not using EVS, employee voice survey—it’s a pretty critical thing. And I can say I see the benefit of that on the product side working with the Glint team, but then also myself as a business leader—I oversee a team of 300 people globally—I couldn’t run my team without that. I couldn’t prioritize which things to tackle without a tool like that.

In part two of this article series, I’ll finish my discussion with Staples. Specifically, we’ll discuss various generations in the workplace and how to approach learning in such an environment.

To listen to the entire episode, click here.