•   Article   •   7 mins

Our Favorite Questions from Degreed LENS Lite 2021

Degreed LENS Lite was a lot of things — a chance to highlight our ambitious product roadmap, a networking extravaganza for our friends and customers. We even learned to cook scallop ceviche.

But more than anything, our flagship virtual conference on Wednesday was an opportunity for dialogue. 

We welcomed more than 11,000 people from 133 countries on our event platform. And with so many insightful business leaders on hand — including keynote speakers Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, and Adam Grant, author and organizational psychologist — people came with questions, ideas, and an energy that lit up the (virtual) room.

If you missed LENS Lite, it’s okay. We’ll be writing more about its compelling sessions in the weeks ahead. Sessions like the one led by Leena Nair, CHRO at Unilever, who spoke about improving your people’s experiences and said: “Investing in learning is about creating a better you, building a better business, and ensuring a better world.”

If you want to watch all the sessions for yourself, you can find all the video content at our On Demand page.

For now, let’s explore some of our favorite questions (and answers) of the day — takeaways from a wide range of participants that we hope you can apply to your unique strategy.

1. Given full authority and unlimited resources, how would you change education in the world?

This first question went to Branson, who said he’d like to see more companies de-emphasize academic credentials in recruiting.

“One of the first things I would do is what we’ve done at the Virgin Group, which is to do our interviews based on the individual and their particular skill set, their character,” he said.

Education needs to be relevant. If you’re going to have formal education, make sure it’s grounded in reality. Talk about Bitcoin. Talk about what’s going on under the oceans, Branson said, urging people to reimagine learning.

Click to view larger: Degreed’s Chris McCarthy with Sir Richard Branson.

2. What advice do you have for people who aren’t a fit for current models of education but want to do great things?

Let life educate you, Branson said. He described how he and his team bootstrapped their early business endeavors and grew Virgin to what it is today, echoing themes from his most recent book, Finding My Virginity.

At the age of 16, “I dropped out because I was dyslexic and found conventional schooling really, really tough. I wasn’t enjoying it. It just seemed to be a waste of time. I dropped out to start a magazine to try to bring about change… The magazine became my education.

“That education was very, very real — and worked.”

3. What are some strategies for building a strong learning culture?

Grant fielded this one. In his latest book, Think Again, he challenges all of us to open our minds and reconsider our assumptions. Building a learning culture, he said, requires a similar mindset.

“The starting point for me from an individual perspective is to recognize that every single person you meet knows more than you do about something. Your first task is to say, ‘Even if I’m more senior than this person and experienced… they have expertise that I don’t.’ I want to hone in on that as quickly as possible and then try to soak up some of their knowledge.”

Modeling that curiosity, Grant said, becomes contagious.

At the organizational level, “One of the things that stands in the way is best practices,” he said. “I get what you’re trying to do when you create a best practice. You’re aiming for a repeatable system that is going to maintain excellence of execution. The danger of best practices, though, is they create an illusion that you’ve reached an endpoint.”

Instead, aim for better practices, Grant said. “What’s ‘best’ today may actually be inefficient or counterproductive tomorrow. And we should keep searching.” 

4. Does Ford Motor Company have any advice for people at the beginning of a learning experience technology journey?

At Ford, workforce development is built on three pillars:

  • Learning is a collaborative responsibility among equals
  • Learning is a human-centered, growth-oriented, everyday experience 
  • Ford invests in learning that matters most to company and career 

When you’re investing in a new technology, create a strong business case and secure significant leadership support, said Dr. Marsha Parker, Director of Learning Services & Infrastructure.

When she proposed Degreed at Ford, Parker highlighted the gap between the company’s existing learning technologies and the needs of its workforce.

“To build the business case, you really need to focus on the learner,” she said. “What can you build to include your [learners’] skills but also demonstrate business value?”

If learning isn’t aligned with the business, making change is always an uphill battle.

5. Any tips from Signify for launching a learning platform to multiple countries?

Signify takes a balanced approach, said Hans Ramaker, Senior Director of Learning Innovation and Technology: “No countries are exactly the same. Some countries want certificates. Some don’t. Don’t treat implementation the same in all countries. The needs are different.”

6. What’s some advice from BAT for someone with a small team taking on a big project?

To help BAT (British American Tobacco) get the most from Degreed, its learning team of only two people embraced the “three Cs” of marketing: creativity, community, and communications.

Among other tactics, they partnered with corporate comms and used guerilla marketing that drove adoption, said Amritha Murali, Global Digital Learning Innovations Lead. In one such project, she learned how to create a promo video inspired by an engaging Apple ad to tease the launch of the BAT learning platform.

“It resonated with a lot of people,” Murali said, encouraging learning leaders to get inspired by work they see every day, particularly in the marketing space, and to reinterpret those ideas.

Her biggest piece of advice? “Speak to a lot of people. There are a lot of people who can guide you in the right ways to get you the information you need. . . You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

Click to view larger: A compilation of our favorite photo booth snapshots 😃

7. How did FICO and Whirlpool overcome fears that worker skill data won’t be used for good?

FICO intentionally decoupled skills from performance, said Chrissy Chamberlain, Senior Director of Digital Learning. 

“We keep skill data confidential between the person and their leadership chain,” she said, adding the company celebrates progress made over time, and emphasizes that people should feel good about growing. 

At Whirlpool, the philosophy is similar, said Rayssa Medeiros, Corporate Learning & Development Sr. Manager. “We emphasize that the main objective of this process and experience is learning and development and growth… It’s not around the measurement itself, but to inform learning experiences.”

8. Does Citigroup have a standard for how many skills to focus on when mapping skills to roles?

At Citi, L&D is committed to being more skills driven — to increase agility and efficiency. And yet leaders understand that the company’s shift from skills to roles would never happen overnight. It takes alignment and commitment across the organization, said Chris Funk, SVP of Talent & Performance Platforms.

For skill mapping, there’s no right number to focus on, Funk said. “Some initiatives are very clear cut, and you can align three or four or five target skills to them. When you start thinking about roles, and the variability of work within a single role, it’s hard to put a limit on it. You can always identify the top 10 or the top 15, but that doesn’t mean you eliminate the bottom 30 or 40.”


9. How did Novo Nordisk design its data ecosystem?

Integration and anonymity were key, said Derek Mitchell, Global Performance Data Lead.

“Our ecosystem is very simple. . . We have Alteryx sitting in the middle, then we have Degreed and lots of other data systems that anonymize the data and then spit it out to Power BI. The anonymization is very important because we allow anyone in the organization to go in and look at the data.”

10. How do learning leaders at Tata Communications partner with others to prioritize learning success?

Executive alignment has been critical — dating to the start of the company’s digital transformation journey nearly five years ago, said Ina Bajwa, Sr. Director and Global Head of Learning, Organisation & Leadership Development. 

“Our CHRO led the conversations with our top team members, to ask them what are the skills they need for themselves and their teams to be successful in the near term. And very surprisingly, we did not get very definitive answers,” Bajwa said. “And that actually led us to then start a dialogue across the organization with employees.”

That dialogue reiterated the importance of learning, reinforcing the likelihood that people’s jobs would change drastically over the next three to five years — and that the onus was on them to learn what they needed to stay employable. This process then led to leadership alignment.

Fast forward to 2019, when the company still had disparate learning solutions and also a new CEO. Upskilling and reskilling had gained speed and scale. A more unified learning solution was needed, and again the executive team quickly aligned — this time around adding Degreed to the ecosystem.

11. At CVS, what’s your perspective on mobility?

Mobility is a huge and hot topic that raises important questions, said Ted Fleming, Head of Talent Development.

Among those questions: How do you foster talent mobility? How do you move people around?

The answer isn’t mobility for mobility’s sake; rather, it’s applying skills in different situations to gain new experiences, Fleming said. It’s, “How do we give people a diverse set of experiences, so that they have nuance in their skills?

“That’s really what we are looking for.” 

Want more great LENS Lite insights? You can find all the presenters mentioned above and more on our On Demand page. And look out for announcements regarding our next LENS conference in Los Angeles, California, November 2021

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