Why Sky needed a radical rethink of L&D  

29 October 2018:

The concept of workplace learning today bears almost no relation to what most organisations were practising even a decade ago. Classroom cohorts have given way to user-centricity. Textbooks have been replaced by smartphones. Peers are as likely to take the lead as trainers.

But while it is easy to talk about reinventing L&D roles, the reality of initiating such a shift is daunting, even in an organisation as inured to change as Sky, Europe’s largest media business with 30,000 employees and revenues of almost £13bn.

Five years ago, says Tracey Waters, the business’s head of people engagement and development, it took 12 months to design a leadership development programme before it could even be piloted. Most soft skills and onboarding was handled in classrooms. In a business that had begun a broad digital transformation, that meant learning was in danger of lagging behind. “It wasn’t responsive,” as Waters puts it.

The L&D team set out to shift the way learning was delivered, doing away with cohort-based, scheduled programmes and instead introducing a mindset focused primarily on solving employees’ problems, where staff could take control of their own development.

That meant L&D had to borrow both processes and practices from digital development, going from what Waters calls a ‘waterfall’ mentality of cascading information, to an agile world where ideas are prototyped and iterated to succeed fast.

“We needed to embrace a mindset around user-centricity, data-driven decisions and iterative development,” she says. “That is so far removed from how most L&D teams work. You have to get used to products that might feel a lot less polished, rather than delaying a release until it is a complete solution.”

The new vision was necessary because Sky was facing a fresh array of nimble rivals – not just the likes of Amazon and Netflix taking on its core TV business, but YouTube and social networks competing for customers’ attention. The business had also recently launched Sky Mobile and was continuing to grow its other divisions.

“We need to be fast, and so does our L&D,” says Joanna Lewis, director of HR for the UK and Ireland. “That’s not easy in such a varied business. We’re a creative business, a customer service business, a technology business. We are constantly innovating.

“The wrong answer would be a development offering that takes people away from their work for long periods – it’s not effective and it would be almost impossible, and impossibly expensive, to create a learning catalogue that covers all the company’s existing and future skills requirements.”

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Source: People Management

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