For some businesses — like Degreed — remote work is built into the fabric of company culture. For others, it’s a new experience.
We’re interviewing clients to find out how they’re supporting their remote workforces, creating virtual learning programs, and maintaining productivity in unusual times. We hope that by sharing these insights and real stories, we can all grow, learn, and thrive.
In this installment, we sat down (remotely, of course) with Melanie Davis, Chief Learning Officer at Ford Motor Company. The iconic automobile manufacturer is headquartered in Dearborn, Michigan, and has nearly 200,000 employees.
Degreed: How has coronavirus affected the Ford business?
Melanie: This is the first time in history that Ford production has stopped. We’d always had cars being made on the line since we opened over a century ago, and we currently don’t. Today, our factories are producing masks, gowns, and other personal protective equipment. (Note: Ford resumed some car manufacturing on Monday, May 18, following this interview).
Degreed: How is Degreed working with you, and how has that relationship evolved as you’ve responded to COVID-19?
Melanie: Degreed is probably my favorite partner right now when it comes to managing learning during the pandemic. Degreed and my team were working on a pilot for how we bring a virtual learning component into a portfolio heavy on in-class, instructor-led training (ILT). We’d been going down that path, as all project plans do, as slowly and bureaucratically as possible.
The folks that lead me asked, “Is there anything we can do to speed up the pilot?” And so we came to Degreed and said, “Hey, what’s the fastest we could make this live? What would that look like?” About two and a half to three weeks later, we were able to launch with a minimum viable product (MVP). We launched to all of our people leaders, HR, and IT with single sign-on, which was the user story that was most important to me, as well as access to some free and some paid content.
Degreed: How has the Ford learning team’s work been affected?
Melanie: This has been a great opportunity for the entire team to go from the conceptual idea of virtual and asynchronous learning to the actual necessity of it.
No matter what happens, we’re definitely not doing in-person learning for the rest of the year. With that decision comes a whole host of changes to our portfolio — the way we think about learning strategy, the way we think about marketing, the way we think about learning design. There’s been a lot of transitioning of everything that was habit, of everything that we knew worked, to “Wait, how do I solve this in this new environment, where I’m asking my learners to do something on their own time?”
So what does it look like when we really need to extend trust to our learners? As Ford works on its aspiration of being the most trusted company, what better way to do that than by trusting our employees with their own learning?
Degreed: Can we talk a little bit more about trusting your people? How are you dealing with that?
Melanie: It’s about mindset. I wish that there was a silver bullet, that I could say, “Hey, you can solve all of the fears by just doing this one thing.” No, what you’re doing is saying, “I’m accepting it’s a different kind of risk.” So, that’s really a mindset shift. The question is always, “How do we know they learned?” As a learning industry, we’ve fallen into the habit of knowing that if their bottoms were in the chairs and someone checked off their attendance, that learning must have happened, because we can prove the credit, right?
But now, suddenly, how do we really measure people? How do we really measure the impact of our programs when we can’t get a bottom in a chair? Maybe we can get a marked complete, but most people forget that part.
So how do we really start treating our learners differently? This might be controversial, but I really believe that it’s treating them more as an adult, that they don’t have to prove anything to us. It’s their responsibility to learn what they need to learn. That’s how I want to be treated. I’m an adult. I can make good decisions, and this is a good way to be treating them too. It’s just accepting a different kind of risk, right?
Degreed: What are you thinking about as success metrics, or how to measure the transfer of knowledge?
Melanie: We’re still figuring that out, probably along with everyone else. There are a few ways that we’re going to start to do this. There’s a crawl, walk, run approach to this. Crawl is engagement — how many people are active on the site, completing things, and viewing things. What topics are they looking at? What types of content are they consuming? Those are observable behaviors that we can measure.
As we look forward, we can start to align some of that consumption and engagement to the company’s core capabilities. I won’t get into what all of those are, but they’re classically what many companies are doing right now around design thinking, being agile, and many other things. And then in addition to that, people are rating their skills. And if they’re saying, “Hey, I’ve got a skill rating on design thinking of a seven,” we might also be saying, “Okay, across the company it’s a seven.” They do some learning, and now suddenly it’s a five. That tells me that people are getting into the conscious incompetence, right, as opposed to unconscious incompetence. So even if it goes down in the near term, that’ll be good.
Long term, we’re going to start looking at business outcomes. Not just measuring the effectiveness of the learning itself, but taking a look at whether we’re focused on the right things.
Degreed: Let’s talk more about how you’re thinking about the future. What’s changed? What’s stayed the same?
Melanie: I think our new normal will be a much more diverse portfolio as we think about our product set for any of our learning items. I can speak to the central function specifically. That’s going to be in leadership, professional development, our core capabilities, everything the enterprise needs. How are we viewing our total product portfolio, and is it truly what our customer, our learner really needs and would access? Many people have talked over the last several years about the 70/20/10 model, right? So, 10% of your learning is formal; 20% is person-to-person, coaching or mentoring; and 70% is informal or on the job.
One of the big struggles of a formal learning organization is how to add value to that 70% of on-the-job learning. And so a huge part of how we think about our product set moving forward is how to add value to that part of the business that’s been largely ignored. And again, that’s not unique to Ford. That’s the learning industry.
Degreed: Can you share any lessons learned?
Melanie: Don’t be scared to launch before it’s entirely ready — that’s part of being agile. We had intended to launch in mid-June with the first iteration of the product. We were going to come out with all of the content libraries in, all of the comms already set, a huge launch program. And we’re still going to have that, but we can actually, in this beta version, be getting a lot of value, even right now, during our implementation timeline. Don’t be afraid to launch a minimum viable product as early as possible. Get the word out there. Get some early adopters who are not just learning professionals. And get some data about how the platform is used, so that you can make better long-term decisions.
Degreed: How are you emphasizing the user, the employee, the workforce? How are you creating experiences that are more than a nice user interface?
Melanie: Single sign-on is the most important user story. Making learning easy to access. And there are a few other things. We’re being very tactical with the groups we’re opening this up to first. The three that I’ll talk about right now are HR, IT, and people leaders. These three entities have a big impact on the employee experience, because they cover how employees are treated, the tools that they use, and the person who gives them their work and provides them development. By opening it up to those three categories first, we’re able to test it, get some early buy-in, and provide support later on.
It also gives the people leaders a chance to role model their own learning before they ask their employees to do it, so that it’s seen as something that’s for everybody. The fact that a first line employee in finance, or in the factory, has access to the same content that a director or vice president might have is pretty unique and not something we’ve done before.
Degreed: People often ask us, why would I invest in someone who’s going to leave, who’s in a high turnover position, who’s hourly, who I might have to pay for their time? How has Ford handled this?
Melanie: I have three ways I want to answer this.
First, I have to quote Henry Ford himself: “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.” That’s been the ethos of this company for over 100 years.
Second, I am so impressed. Our manufacturing L&D team is the team that is out in front of our technology learning capabilities. They’re the ones who are experimenting with augmented reality learning. They’re the ones who are experimenting with virtual reality learning. At Ford, that team is the furthest ahead in terms of innovation.
Our manufacturing organization is not just 50% of our company. Without it, I mean, Ford makes vehicles, that’s what we do. Not investing in those folks would mean not investing in Ford.
And third, it might have high turnover, but your factory exists in the same community year over year over year. And almost all factories that I have been a part of have family members working there and have generations of people working there. And so, no one ever really leaves. It’s a community and it’s a family. Potentially their turnover is high, but they’re just turning over to their brother, their cousin, their son, their daughter, their aunt, their mom. So having it be a good experience that develops people is super important.
Degreed: What do your employees think? What are they doing? What does their learning behavior look like right now?
Melanie: I’ll answer that two different ways.
First, I’ll talk about the team that is working with Degreed and bringing it to bear. They’ve learned that they can work at this pace, and that this pace does not mean “everything in a shorter amount of time.” It’s about being willing to be excited about an MVP product, to truly feel proud of it and not like you put something out that wasn’t finished. It’s about feeling like you did put something out that was finished, and that you have more finishing to do.
Second, in terms of the learner response, I did a webinar with HR, which is one of our pilot beta groups. So much of the chat was, “We love it. This is awesome. We’re so grateful. Thank you so much.”