Episode 9: What is the Future of Learning? (Interview with Catalina Schveninger, Global Head of Learning at Vodafone)

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The top trend in the Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report for 2019 is the need for organisations to change the way people learn. The report highlighted three broad trends in how learning is evolving. It is becoming more integrated with work. It is becoming more personal, and it is shifting slowly towards lifelong models.

Our guest this week is Catalina Schveninger, Global Head of Learning at Vodafone, and we're going to look at this new world of learning. You can listen below or by visiting the podcast website here.

In our podcast, Catalina and I discuss:

  • The evolution of corporate learning at Vodafone

  • The role of personalisation in learning, and the challenges that need to be overcome in this area

  • The links between learning and organisational effectiveness as well as how learning can support strategies around skills in the future

  • We also look into the crystal ball to ponder what the role of HR will be in 2025

This episode is a must listen for anyone interested in learning, either working in corporate learning, or actually interested in learning themselves, the personalisation of HR and the shift towards continuous and lifelong learning.

Support for this podcast is brought to you by ClickIQ - find out more at www.clickiq.co.uk.

Interview Transcript

David Green: Welcome to the Digital HR Leaders show, Catalina. It's great to have you here. Would you like to give listeners a quick introduction to yourself, and maybe your vision of HR?

Catalina Schveninger: Sure. Thank you for having me, David. I hear it's been a long day with a lot of great content, and a lot of great speakers. I'll do my part hopefully. A bit of background, I'm actually a trained journalist, and I bumped into HR 20 years ago, and decided to hang around. I cut my teeth in HR in GE for about 10 years. Then, after I built quite a decent skill set in terms of running both COEs and as a HR generalist, I decided to join Telcos, and now seven years in Telcos with the last five years having spent in Vodafone, and currently I lead learning capabilities at Vodafone here in UK with a global remit.

David Green: Obviously, there's been a huge change happening in the learning space, and what are some of the key trends that you're seeing, and trying to apply with Vodafone?

Catalina Schveninger: We're seeing a couple of very interesting trends. I think the one that I'm excited about is that we finally got a grip of skills, so if you look at skills and capabilities, a bit of the skills of today, but mainly the skills of tomorrow, what the digital world is bringing in terms of the capabilities agenda is very exciting, and learning, we've done a lot of work already on customising a learner's experience, and catering to that skill set and the ability to upskill ourselves, and re-skill, so you see a lot of recommendations driven by skills. You see a lot of skill assessment and skill profiling in industry, things that we also work with in Vodafone.

Most recently, you see a lot of interesting accreditation and certification is back again. It used to be back in the days. Now, it's hot again, so we're working as well with badges, and also most recently, we're testing badges in blockchain. So again, a lot of exciting things on the skill side.

I think the other trend that we're seeing in learning or trying to harness is how can you get people to build a new habit to learn a lot, and to do that in the flow of work, to do it every day seamlessly, so what we're seeing is tools like, for example, the Microsoft Suite - Teams allow learners to get in and out productivity of learning seamlessly, and that's something again we would believe we're onto something. As I said, I think we need to do a better job in building that habit, flexing that muscle, getting people to learn not just on specific moment in time, not just necessary to dedicate time, but to do it throughout the day.

David Green: Throughout the day. Yeah, and I guess that one of the big trends is around personalisation, and I know that's something that you've been working on specifically at Vodafone. So, looking at the role of Vodafone and obviously, I know you inherited something that had already started. What's been the journey of Vodafone around how you've changed learning and development there?

Catalina Schveninger: I'm still a novice. I think to use my own skill framework methodology, I'm a level one going to level two practitioner, and as you said, I was lucky that my predecessor, Jamie Tate, had already built a state of the art learning university layer, but I think what we've done this year, we refreshed the thinking around learning. So okay, going back to the world of skills, we did a lot of work on refreshing the skills framework to reflect especially digital skills, and also to start building this culture. So, okay once you have the platform and the great content, we said it's not about consumption of content. It's around driving the right behaviour, so building a narrative around leadership, and the importance of learning, talking, using the hashtag learn a lot in every single narrative from a leadership perspective from everyday learners.

If you look we have done a lot of campaigns, I think again, a lot of great fundamentals are there already, so we have a platform. We have great content, and now it's all around communication, and getting people to build a habit, and also getting people to understand how they can understand what their skills are, what the gaps are, and what content or resources are available to address those gaps, and typically learning used to be focused around curation, and the creation of content. We said wait a minute. We have so much content. It's not about that. It's about focused learning, it's about guiding people on what learning is suitable for their skills, and getting them to understand what skills they need today or tomorrow, whether they're in an HR tribe, or whether they want to be promoted, change careers, which is something that we're seeing as a trend right now.

David Green: In terms of actually doing this, what are some of the challenges that you've come across?

Catalina Schveninger: I think I'll be talking about this tomorrow at UNLEASH. There's a lot of hype around the personalisation of learning, but really the level of personalisation right now, it's pretty superficial. If you look at the types of personalisation we are using, obviously learning path that's, it's matched to your skills. That's pretty straightforward to do. There's technology that does that. We implemented that already.

There's another personalisation, which is more around social filtering, ala Netflix. Yeah, David is reading this, so maybe you might like to read it. I think we like to go a level deeper, and understand how people learn, so understand the science of learning, and understand also capture all the learning that's happening outside of the 10%, right? If you look at the 70/20/10, we capture a lot of personalisation of the 10%, but do we really know what people learn from each other, from coaches, from their boss, from daily projects. That's I think the second level, the meaningful personalisation that we're looking at.

I don't think there's a silver bullet for this. I don't believe that there's any piece of tech that kind of nailed it, but I think we are on to something, and this is something that I'm going to share tomorrow at UNLEASH. We've got a couple of bright sparks in Vodafone, and our friend company, IBM, to look into is there an algorithm? Is there a way to capture all that knowledge from where people learn, who they learn from, and to start nudging to grow this learning habit, so again more on this, watch this space. Again, I think personalisation is great, and there's a lot of interesting things happening, but it's at a very superficial level for now.

David Green: Yeah. Well, it certainly sounds very exciting, and anything that involves nudges obviously gets everyone excited at the moment. What's been some of the feedback from employees at Vodafone around some of the changes that have taken place?

Catalina Schveninger: The feedback is positive. I think what you're seeing is that there is a lot of great content that we make available right now. That is well received. The other feedback is it's overwhelming. It's too much, and even when you filter, and you make personalised learning path, that is still too much, so I think we heard from learners in our design thinking sessions, can you make it even more personal? Can you listen to me more?

Second one I think it's how to access the knowledge base. There's a lot of knowledge in the organisation in the heads, and the desktops of experts, for example, and how do we harness that knowledge, and how do we bring it to life, and share it with others in an engaging way, and a simple way? That's been the consistent feedback.

We've become much more data driven, and that would be music to your ears. It's a massive learning curve for the function. Now that my learning team is looking into what is data, and what is Google Analytics telling us about the user behaviour, and we started step by step, for example, killing lots of content that's not being used, or not being searched. We started looking at what people search for, so a lot of our road map is driven by the insights that we get from data, and again, as I said, we feel uncomfortable. We're not experts, but we're learning how to listen to the data, and inform our decisions, more than probably what we used to do in the past.

David Green: Yeah, and you mentioned design thinking, so you're actually working with employees to design some of the learning experiences?

Catalina Schveninger: Yeah, even previously, our Vodafone University, which is really a learning experience layer built on SharePoint has been designed with user feedback. We had idea sessions. We had design thinking sessions held by a couple of UX/UI designers in-house, and we continuously iterated that platform, so it looks today different than it looked two years ago when we launched it, and the journey has been always continuous listening, get them back in the lab, get feedback, do quick surveys, and learn from the learners. In ideal world, they will start owning it totally, and they will actually contribute with content. For now, it is still a learning platform, but what we're trying to do is to get more traffic towards it, and integrate also external content because you and I and others also learn from Twitter, learn from LinkedIn, learn from other sources, from other MOOCs that we might not have in-house right now. That's-

David Green: Yeah, it's combining the best internal with what's available external. It's like putting it all back in one area, so people can access.

Catalina Schveninger:  Exactly.

David Green: Yeah.

Catalina Schveninger: While we did that. We realised that there's a lot we don't know about where people learn, and what they learn. Right? So, the more traffic we get, the more we give them the access to all other sources of content, the more we will learn, and it will inform our content roadmap, and also everything we're doing in terms of new skills, that we want to launch campaigns, and so forth. So again, very data driven design, and also a lot of listening to what learners are telling us.

David Green: So, maybe it might be helpful, because we've talked about technology throughout so far, can you summarise some of the technologies that you've been using to support the shift in learning at Vodafone?

Catalina Schveninger: Sure. I think what is the role of the technology we're using? A is understanding the learner's behaviours. For example, we use Google Analytics to look at what people search, at what moments of the days they search, what type of content they consume, what size of content, and so forth. So again, very basic. Google Analytics is a free platform, and it's fully integrated with our SharePoint site.

Another cool piece of technology that we've stumbled on a couple of months ago out of our Italian operation is an aggregator of external content, so it's a simple algorithm that pulls lots of great content that's out there, be it from Ted, from YouTube, or from MOOCs. Again, we found out that about 40% of all the sources of content are outside of our platform, so why not bring them in house? We also learned from the likes of Coursera, and Udemy that we have a lot of learners at Vodafone who actually privately go and consume learning from these platforms, so these are two of the platforms that we've integrated recently. In addition to that, as I said, we are now working on an MVP to also nudge learners with reminding them what they learn a couple of months, or a couple of weeks ago, what other learners are doing, and create more opportunities for social learning, and that's again that's something that is right now work in progress.

David Green: Okay. Well, we'll have to have you back on the show, so you can tell us more about that in a few months time then.

Catalina Schveninger:  Sure.

David Green:  I've seen quite a lot of organisations start to link learning to cultural organisational effectiveness. Is that something that you're doing, or planning to do at Vodafone?

Catalina Schveninger: Yeah. If you look at culture transformation, I think everybody's going through a digital transformation, or a culture transformation of sorts, and really you can't separate the what and the how, so if my team in learning are working a lot on the what, on what are the core skills that power digital Vodafone, there's also leadership shifts that are out there that will enable this digital transformation. We have phrased five massive shifts, and one of them is we want our leaders to be more learn a lots versus know a lots. There's another shift where we're asking people to be much more externally focused than internally focus. All of these shifts obviously will be enabled, and informed by the learning interventions that we're doing. So again, we can't work in isolation. I work very closely with Dylan who runs Leadership Development, and all interventions at the top level at the organisation, but also in all the campaigns we do for all the learners, kind of blend the two, right? So, blending the what and the how is really important in the context of digital transformation.

David Green: So, what's next? If you look at the journey of Vodafone moving forward, starting to see how potentially you can link that to the skills of the future that you need at Vodafone, and you can start with understanding what are those skills we need? How can we infer those people maybe have those skills, or could acquire those skills quite easily, and actually linking that to the workforce planning thing. Is that something that you're also looking at at Vodafone and, if so, where are you on that journey?

Catalina Schveninger: This is definitely work in progress. If you look to ... in my old days when I was HR director, workforce planning was an Excel exercise that was very much based on volume, and the right sizing of the organisation based on revenue growth plans, whatnot. Whereas now, if you think about how you  right-size the organisation, and whether you hire should all be be driven by skills, and we learn that in the last couple of years when we started both building and buying the new skills that again the two go hand in hand.

I think we have a couple of pilots in technology where we go full on workforce planning, especially around IT skills, but not only driven by the insights we're getting in the skill assessments. Done some work with Gartner already two years back, and will continue to build on that. So, early on, but I definitely think that the future is workforce plan is powered by skills, and also a lot of work is being done right now in the skills of the future, but the reality is nobody has the silver bullet. We don't know what the skills of the future are. We can only look a year or two ahead of time.

David Green: I guess it's all about testing different scenarios, and then ruling them out as the future starts to unfurl.

Catalina Schveninger: Exactly, and hopefully there will also a piece of technology coming to us that will be able to predict the skills of the future, and the gaps in organisation, so if you hear anything about that, let me know.

David Green: We'll let you know. Obviously, previous to the role now as global head of learning. You actually did a similar role as Global Head of Employment Brand and Talent Acquisition, are you starting to look at things like people's learning agility now when you're actually hiring people in because obviously people are having to learn more on the job as you sit in the flow of work? Are you looking at things like learning agility, for example, when you hire a person?

Catalina Schveninger: I think traditionally Vodafone has always looked at, at the definition of potential of people who have high learning agility, and there's obviously lots of psychometric tests on that, so definitely that's one of them. It's interesting the shift that I see even from five years ago when I joined talent acquisition in Vodafone we're starting to be much more serious about skill assessment versus we were much more around personality and cultural fit, so I think that's a shift in talent acquisition.

That's obviously directly linked with learning, and we all know that the new skills are in demand. Right? So, it's about time we get very serious around assessing experts. I think in the past, in my past, we used to trust people based on the CV that they really know how to code, or they are really good at big data. I think those times are gone, and right now talent acquisition is looking in more robust ways to actually test that knowledge, and that level of skills at the gate, so that you know what the baseline is, and how we can help people develop further, or how to fill in the skill gaps that you have in your organisation, so that's a shift I've seen in the talent acquisition space.

David Green:  Which is a good shift, I think, so-

Catalina Schveninger:  Yeah.

David Green:  -actually this is a question that I think will be interesting. You're global Head of Learning, how do you learn yourself?

Catalina Schveninger: Well, I was actually reflecting on my ways of learning the other day in the context of lots of social media activity, and the decreased level of focus that we all have because we're bombarding so much information, so I'm guilty as charged. I spend maybe way too much on social media, mainly to learn. I get a lot of knowledge and insights from my peers, from thought leaders. I get lots of great articles. I love your blog on when you curate the best articles around people analytics on LinkedIn and so forth.

David Green: Cheque is in the post.

Catalina Schveninger: Yeah, so that's my way of learning. I also go very deep. I'm passionate these days about neuroscience, so I feel like it's a new space for me, although I kind of know psychology, I didn't know the brain science space, so I'm going a bit deeper, and doing a couple of micro learnings and micro degrees with different books, so I kind of go superficially across checking what's hot, and what's new in the markets, on social media, and then  going deeper, and doing a lot of self study around subjects that I'm passionate about. I think I found my vocation. A year ago when I moved into learning, I was a bit reluctant as a novice, but I think it's a very exciting time to be in learning as everybody's shaping a learning culture

David Green: Well, I think sometimes you have to challenge yourself to do something new, and obviously you're very well respected in your previous role as one of the leading thought leaders, I guess, around talent acquisition in large organisations, so it sounds like you're doing the same in the learning space now.

Catalina Schveninger: Yeah. Now, obviously I'm practicing what I preach. I'm getting a stretch assignment and walking into an area where I knew almost nothing about, so a year later, as I said, level one will lead to level two.

David Green: Oh, I'm sure you're being a bit too modest there. So, this is a question we're asking all of our guests on the show actually. So, where do you see HR in 2025, the role of HR will be in 2025? You can have fun with this one.

Catalina Schveninger: It's a bit scary, right, because 2025 is around the corner, and I think HR will still be around. There is a recent study by the Vodafone Institute, which is a think tank, and they said that there are five professions and core skills that will be still around, and one of them is HR next to-

David Green: That's good to hear.

Catalina Schveninger: Exactly. There will still be a need for empathy. There will be a need for people to get career counselling, a need to be employee advocates, and to go back to our basics, to the basics of our core function, and hopefully with the rise of AI, and automation, all the clutter will be taken away from us, so we'll have more time, and space to do all that good stuff. Right, so again, I think we'll still be here doing podcasts maybe with different type of technology, talking about the role of HR going forward in 2030.

David Green: So, you see it as the technology being an opportunity for HR rather than a threat?

Catalina Schveninger: Definitely. I think we got over this AI and automation are going to come and take our jobs away. I think there will be a lot of administration and non-value add work that will be going away, and therefore, we'll be freed up to do the value-add stuff, and you see that already. There's a lot of work in shared services that's been automated. We see the increase of the quality of the conversations people have both in HR and at the core centers, just because they have more time to do more research, to listen to internal customers, to be more empathetic, so I think definitely, but let's see. Let's meet again in 205, and see whether we were right.

David Green: Well, we'll find out. Catalina, thank you very much for being on the show. If people want to follow you on social media, and elsewhere, how can they do that?

Catalina Schveninger: Sure. To follow me, my Twitter handle is @cschveninger, if they can spell that. I know it's a tricky surname. I'm on LinkedIn. Happy to connect. Thank you for having me.

David Green:  It's been a pleasure. Thank you much, Catalina.

Catalina Schveninger:  Thank you.

David Green:  Thanks very much, Catalina.

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