Over the past two and a half years, Skillsoft has been on a transformational mission, which has included launching many new innovative products, including our Percipio intelligent learning experience platform, Digital Transformation content portfolio and Skillsoft Leadership Development Program. Our new executive team believed that to continue this transformational journey, Skillsoft also needed to prioritize the development of its sales leaders and build a pipeline of future talent. Given the target audience, our Sales Enablement team was the perfect candidate for this task. So in March 2017, we began the work of creating and deploying “Leadership in Focus,” a leadership development program for 69 sales leaders and 13 high potential salespeople.
To get the ball rolling, we figured as the global leader in corporate learning we didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. We just needed to talk to some of our colleagues who are very familiar with the inner workings of a wheel. We also have great customers who design amazing programs themselves, so we were determined to utilize both powerful resources.
Our first step was to consult with our colleagues on the best design practices they use internally and have observed with our customers. We then reached out to the Skillsoft Value Engineering team, who guide customers to ensure their learning efforts bring value and ROI to their organizations; they helped us incorporate measurement methods from industry experts like CEB Metrics That Matter, The ROI Institute, and The Center for Talent Reporting to measure the business impact.
Obstacles to overcome
As with other organizations, several internal restrictions influenced our program design.
- A geographically dispersed audience with limited time for training: Skillsoft’s sales leaders are located around the globe in multiple time zones. They all work in a faced-paced environment with high-level targets for growth and most work remotely.
- A diverse audience: In addition to being located around the globe, the sales leaders are at varying levels of leadership, and work in three distinct business units.
- Measuring impact: Among the areas the executive sponsors identified for development was soft skills (e.g., executive presence), making the measurement of business impact of the program difficult.
The resulting program
The “Leadership in Focus” program was a continuous, blended program, which included a mix of online and virtual instructor-led training, along with virtual discussion groups. The program provided weekly learning for five months. John Maxwell’s Five Levels of Leadership provided the framework with each month focused on a new level with additional topics that supplemented and customized the learning.
Skillsoft’s world-class library of online microlearning assets, including videos, Skillsoft Books, and Book Summaries about management and leadership topics served as the core of the program. We also incorporated publicly available articles and blogs into the content for each month.
We asked participants to commit at least two hours per month and then further broke this time down into easy to achieve shorter time allotments.
We kicked-off each month with a live leader-led virtual session, conducted virtual discussion groups and finished the month by assessing participant learning.
To accommodate our dispersed and busy audience, we delivered the program via the learners’ Outlook calendars. While the program was hosted and tracked in Skillsoft’s Learning Management System, the calendar assignment in Outlook incorporated the program into the learners’ daily workflow.
Once learners accepted a meeting invitation for the program, they were prompted via calendar reminders to invest a few minutes in learning, reflection and on-the-job application. Each piece of microlearning was no longer than 15 minutes so that learners could easily review a piece of learning when they had a break in their day.
Measuring business impact
Our team used two tools to collect data about the program’s effectiveness and the business outcomes. Skillsoft’s proprietary Impact Analysis and an Action Plan, a custom-built document tailored towards the program’s defined behavior change expectations, which enabled us to quantify the program’s impact.
We built the online Action Plan internally as a way for learners to track how changes they made as a result of the program affected the business. Learners were asked to reflect on what they learned
throughout the program and document behavior changes that directly or indirectly impacted the overall company goal to increase revenue. For each module, learners were asked to document:
- What metric or quantifiable result(s) they expected to see if they adopted or refined behaviors aligned with the module objectives; and
- What actionable steps, using the desired behaviors, they could take to drive their expected results.
When the program was complete, we then asked learners to return to their Action Plans and document whether the results they expected occurred, as well as any associated monetary value.
The program brought a cultural shift to the organization in that it generated conversations about leadership amongst the sales leaders and high potential sellers that had not previously existed. Discussion groups comprising sales leaders from varying management levels and business units ensured participants had exposure to diverse thoughts and experiences. At the end of the program, one participant shared, “The discussions with my peers was the most rewarding part of the exercise.”
The learners’ overall reactions to the program were positive. When asked if they would recommend the leadership program to a peer or as part of leadership onboarding, 91.18% agreed. Additionally, the program was found to be exceptionally effective at driving behavior change across the sales organization.
Participants reported seeing a 15.7% skill gain in the topics addressed as part of the program. Additionally, learners confirmed they are using their new skills to add value to drive key business outcomes.
The impact on the business
The data we captured from Skillsoft’s proprietary Impact Analysis and an Action Plan allowed us to calculate the monetary benefits of the program, which totaled more than $540,000.
The cherry on top of these amazing results were the two awards our team received! Skillsoft’s Leadership in Focus program won Gold in Brandon Hall Group’s Excellence Awards for Best Unique or Innovative Leadership Development Program. Elearning! Media Group ranked the program in the Top 40 of its prestigious Elearning! Learning! 100 Awards.
In short, the gauntlet was thrown, and together the company rose to the challenge.
Katie Maloney is a Senior Manager, Sales & Leader Enablement at Skillsoft.