Case Study: Creating a Center of Excellence

Recapturing Efficient Learning & Development Operations at General Electric Aviation

If too many people are tasked with Learning & Development activities, it's hard to know where responsibility lies. When the ad hoc team lacks essential skills, the result is low quality, duplication of efforts, low levels of learning effectiveness and other forms of productivity waste. 

In this case study, we describe how we created a Center of Excellence to centralize key tasks and supported decentralized L&D teams to create engaging and effective learning that was responsive to local needs.  

The Situation

Due to the combination and then separation of several businesses within a Fortune 100 conglomerate the Learning and Development (L&D) function remained with one business, and left the other businesses without sufficient L&D support. While there were few, if any, L&D resources in the other businesses, the need to train for compliance, safety, quality and skill development continued to be pressing for each business. Subject matter experts and other available resources were tasked to create and deliver training and complete administrative tasks in the Learning Management System (LMS). As a result, the training quality was low, effectiveness was not measurable, and duplication of efforts was rampant. 

Challenge

Over the course of more than 5 years the reputation of the L&D function plummeted. Learners came to expect that nearly all training would be out of focus, too long, out of date, and a general waste of time. However, since the company culture had a strong tradition that training was the route to promotion – learners continued to sign up for and attend training voluntarily in addition to the ever‐growing list of required training assigned to them. A company‐wide employee survey conducted every two years revealed employee frustration with training and the functions that were trying to use it (compliance, safety, quality) as a required means of achieving development. The related pains had finally pushed this issue to the forefront. It was time for reform and reinvention.

Goals

Several results were required for this intervention to be considered successful.

  1. The total number of courses in the LMS needed to be reduced.
  2. The number of people with the ability to assign training needed to be reduced.
  3. The quality of training needed to be raised.
  4. The effectiveness of training needed to be measurable.

Solutions and Results

In this highly process‐oriented organization, it was common to apply Lean Six Sigma (LSS) principles to identify opportunities for improvements. For more about the parallels between the learning and development process called ADDIE and LSS, see the related white paper.

Goal One: Reduce total courses in LMS                                          

The LMS had more than 2,500 business‐specific courses (excluding courses from other businesses and the corporate office). Our team analyzed detailed reports about the course details and targeted courses for reductions based on these criteria: date last assigned, date last updated, extent to which content is still accurate and complete, and whether better quality duplicate courses exist in the system.

We employed three strategies to execute on the course reductions. First, we asked identifiable course owners to review the list of their courses and indicate any that they felt could be retired. Next, we grouped courses by function and asked the executive level leader of that function to designate an authority from the functional team to make decisions to reduce courses by a goal number we provided. Third, we identified courses that were duplicates and worked with the diverse course owners and users to create a new, unified course and retire the old courses. After 6 months of effort, we had reduced 40% and are on track to reach an ambitious goal of only 50 business‐specific courses in the LMS. Going forward, we have a lifecycle management standard in place which requires courses to be updated or retired after one year. This should help us maintain low numbers of courses which are also current and relevant.

Goal Two: Reduce number of people who can assign training

One of the critical pains was that people who were not thoroughly skilled in LMS administration were assigning training and making errors resulting in the wrong courses being assigned to learners. Our team reviewed a list of all LMS administrators at our business and what their levels of permission were. Starting with 250 administrators, we were able to reduce the numbers by 25% by simply asking people to volunteer to retire their administrator rights.

Next, we focused on the 50 administrators who had the ability to assign since we considered other rights such as running reports to be harmless. We used a two‐pronged approach to reducing this number. First, we introduced our Center of Excellence (CoE) and discussed how our team could take over the LMS administration work for them. Once these administrators understood that the work would get done correctly and promptly without any effort from them – the majority joyfully handed over the tasks and their administrator rights. Next, we created a tollgate process timed with an LMS upgrade that required the remaining 10 administrators with assignment rights to re‐train with our CoE so we could be confident that their assignment skills were well mastered. As a result, there has only been one instance of a bad assignment which was reversed before learners became aware of it and which served as a lessons learned for following our processes.

Goal three: Raise training quality

Training quality was variable with the majority of the courses being very low quality in communication and education. Most creators of training were subject matter experts who generated lengthy, detailed PowerPoint files which were submitted to the LMS as training. We approached this issue in three ways. First, we devised a set of standards based on our years of experience in creating high quality, effective training. This 45-item checklist became a tollgate for us to determine whether a course was high quality enough to deserve to enter the LMS. Second, we built several very concise supports (videos, checklists, diagrams) to help our training creators understand the process and make the transition from creating expert content to creating learning content. Third, we provided instructional design services for the courses that were most likely to be widely assigned.

Goal four: Make training measurable

Working toward this goal gave us a few ancillary benefits. We started a new tradition of intake phone calls with a project manager, instructional designer and LMS administrator consulting with the end client. These phone calls take place when the client thinks they are in Implementation phase and we (often) find them to be no further than Analysis phase.

Our team learns the clients’ goals and requirements or constraints and makes recommendations for how the client can achieve them while also satisfying the training quality and effectiveness goals of the business. We were able to redirect many clients who reflexively assumed training was the method to achieve their goals to use other means such as email, flowdown communication from leaders in staff meetings, posters, newsletters and other means of communication. This had a side benefit of reducing the total amount of training employees would have. It also reduced the amount of effort the client had to put in to achieve the goal.

It was in our Intake calls that we would share the rather new requirement for measurement of training. When strategically important for the business, we would request that the client provide learners with the opportunity to test out of taking the training by passing a pre‐test. The focus on mastery of content instead of attendance at training meant that people who already know a subject will not waste their time in remedial training. Additionally, to prove that the business benefitted from the training (as evidenced by learning gains) we asked the client to provide a post‐test. We also provided just‐enough training and support to enable our clients to write assessment questions that are rigorous and fair, ensure enough questions aligned to each learning objective so they could be pooled and randomized. One more benefit of this strong focus on measurement was that course length typically reduced from an hour to 30 minutes. For example, in one course, this meant a time savings of approximately 19,000 employee hours. Use the contact information below to learn more about how your organization can eliminate waste, improve quality, and reduce costs in your learning and development function.

What General Electric has to say

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Use the contact information below to learn more about how your organization can eliminate waste, improve quality, and reduce costs in your learning and development function.