Archives for July 2012

How to Narrow Your Selection of LMS Vendors

Two valuable features of an LMS that you may want to make part of your selection criteria right off the bat include (1) single sign-on, which allows users to access the LMS from a secure employee portal without creating new user names and passwords, and (2) historical training data integration, which involves integrating past training records into the new system.

You will also want to take the following steps to narrow your pool of possible solutions and proceed with the selection process.

Determine if you want a hosted or internal solution

Creating an internal solution allows you to contain sensitive information, and may result in less issues dealing with firewalls and security. It is important to consider, however, that this also makes it your responsibility to manage updates and issues internally.

A hosted solution is maintained by the provider, and can be less costly. There are numerous sources for researching these two options, including publications by ASTD, the eLearning Guild, the Brandon Hall Group, and Bersin & Associates.

Decide which features and functionality are most important to your organization

For example, many systems now are capable of supporting processes such as:

–competency mapping
–succession planning
–social learning forums
–deep-linking to internal websites
–performance management
–career development.

Look at providers’ customer base in your industry

They are more likely to know about challenges often faced by others in your field. They can offer best practices from peers, and may have user groups that enable you to network with others in your industry. For these reasons, you will want to reach out to current clients of the vendors you are considering.

Vendors typically will provide contact information for references that include their happiest customers. Another best practice is to reach out to companies that are not on this list, and schedule time to talk with them about their experience in working with the vendor.

Some questions that may be beneficial to ask a vendor’s current clients include:

What lessons did you learn during the implementation process?
What worked well?
What would you do differently?
Were there any unanticipated issues that you have had to deal with?
If you could change one thing about your system, what would it be?
Were there benefits of the system that you didn’t anticipate?
How long did you allow for implementation, and was that time sufficient?
What tasks during implementation did you underestimate?
Why did you select this vendor?

Customize a checklist to include with your RFP

When you have identified potential vendors, you will want to customize a system requirements checklist (see the job aid LMS Requirements Checklist at the back of the Infoline issue) in order to include it with your request for proposal (RFP). This checklist allows you to include features that are important to you, and to determine at a glance whether these features are part of a standard implementation or are offered at additional cost.

Your RFP should be simple and straightforward. You will want to include a description of what you are interested in purchasing, as well as a timeframe in which vendors must respond to the request in order to be considered.

Make note of each vendor’s responsiveness. A delayed response may be an early indicator that the vendor doesn’t have the capacity to manage additional customers, or simply that their response times are poor. Also make note of the vendor’s approach to your request. Are they simply responding to it, or are they reaching out to you in order to better understand the needs of your organization?

In addition, remember to discuss with the vendor which functionalities are configurable (tailored in the interface to meet your needs) versus customizable (often more expensive and requiring changes in coding).

Set up stakeholder demos

Your next step will be to set up demos with stakeholders. It may be helpful to schedule a time over the course of one day to have vendors make their demonstrations and allow stakeholders to discuss feedback and first impressions. Although this may not be possible for a global company, in-person demos typically offer the chance to capture greater feedback and allow stakeholders to collaborate in identifying the preferred solution.

Whether your demo is offered via webinar or in person, you can allow time before the demo to remind everyone of the critical features you identified in the assessment phase, and make time after for discussion. It is helpful if a member of your department takes detailed notes throughout in order to capture all feedback.

If you currently have another LMS solution, it can also be helpful to take some time with the group prior to the demos to show the current LMS, and remind the group of any system limitations that you are hoping to address with a new solution.

Remember that a large part of your stakeholder group may not be a daily (or even monthly) user of your LMS. They should be made aware of the issues you face with your current provider. You can also meet with key stakeholders ahead of time to determine any questions you’d like to pose to the vendor.

Vendors may have a “canned” demo that they use, but is helpful

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to identify the tasks you would most like to see demonstrated, and those that will be relevant to your audience. Let the vendor know ahead of time which specific features you would like to have included in the demo.

Again, if you already have an LMS and are looking to switch providers, what are your pain points that impact the organization? Are there tasks or processes with the current system that are cumbersome for the end user? Make sure you have an opportunity to see how these processes work with the other vendors.

Following the demos, the vendors should provide you with access to a “sandbox” site, where you can experiment with system functionality and test out the look, feel, and overall usability of the system. It may be useful to include a sample of end users in this process, also.

After the demos are complete, plan to communicate back to the stakeholder group with next steps and to acknowledge their part in the process. Frequent communication during each step in the selection process will help to engage senior leaders.

Evaluate costs and pricing

When considering costs of an LMS, be aware of the “true cost” of ownership. Elements to consider include:

–Service Level Agreements (SLAs)
–user licenses
–data storage
–staff training and support
–integration with web conferencing, CRM, and other software
–mobile applications
–various assessments and measurement tools.

When you have come this far in the process of selecting an LMS, you will want to prepare a business case for your preferred solution. An executive summary, which provides an at-a-glance summary of your business case, can also make a great hand-out for stakeholders and other decision makers involved in the process.

About the Author:

This article is excerpted from the July 2012 Infoline, “Selecting and Implementing an LMS.” Reprinted from Learning Circuits newsletter

An Early Warning Strategy for At-Risk Diversity Hires

It has been almost 50 years since Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination in the workplace, yet women and people of color continue to face challenges in receiving equal treatment on the job. Discrepancies can start at day one or even before. Common problems range from hostile co-workers to inequities in initial job placements that may block career paths. Other barriers may be encountered in areas such as training, mentoring, task force appointments, and other opportunities for advancement.

One way to identify and eliminate this kind of treatment before it creates employee turnover, litigation, or corporate reputation damage is to measure new employees’ work experience in their first few days, weeks, and months on the job. New hire surveys that are delivered and analyzed electronically can simplify the process.

While these surveys are designed to be given to all new employees, primarily to uncover weaknesses in recruitment and onboarding practices, they are also a valuable tool for detecting problems that will undermine efforts to retain high-potential women and minority employees.

Survey Early; Survey Often

New hire surveys are designed to identify systemic problems and successes around recruitment, new hire orientation, onboarding, and early training. Conducted at one or more intervals after the employee’s start date, they can assess whether or not new hires are being welcomed and assimilated appropriately into the organization.

The goal is to take the guesswork out of why new employees do or do not feel comfortable in their new work environment and ensure that all employees—including women and minorities—are on a path toward long-term success with the organization. Surveys administered at different times will yield different insights.

For example, companies looking for feedback on their recruitment practices should administer the new hire survey 20 or 30 days after hire, when the interview and job offer processes are still fresh in the employee’s mind. This can help identify issues such as discriminatory interview questions or incorrect job descriptions.

Surveys conducted at the employee’s 30- to 45-day point can help HR and diversity managers learn if the corporate culture is welcoming to all new employees regardless of their gender, age, or race. Are minority new hires being invited to group colleague lunches? Are they shown where important resources are located? Are they being introduced to the people they need to know in order to be successful?

Conducting new hire surveys at 60 to 75 days helps expose training problems. Are minority new hires receiving the same level of training as their non-minority peers? Are they assigned challenging projects or being ignored?

Similar information can be gathered at the 90-day mark, but by that time many new hires will have forgotten their early experiences or already be planning their exits. The first survey, therefore, should be conducted much earlier, but multiple surveys can help paint a complete picture of the overall success of the hire experience.

Asking the Right Questions

Employers, HR managers, and diversity managers will want to ask a wide variety of questions on a new hire survey to get the full picture of an employee’s experience. Most questions should be positioned as flexible statements in which employees agree or disagree on a sliding scale.

In the area of diversity specifically, special attention should be paid to questions that will help detect barriers for women and minorities related to the environment, supervisor, opportunity, and corporate culture. Sample questions might include:

Environment: When I first started, I felt welcome by co-workers, supervisor, and other management.

Supervisor: My manager has done a good job at helping me get started in my position.

Opportunity: I believe I will have the opportunity for professional growth and advancement with this company.

General company culture: I am beginning to feel like part of the team.

The key is to administer new hire surveys to all employees (not just diverse employees) and then compare the results. If a company’s white males are rating every statement with a highly satisfied rating, but women and minorities are rating the same statements with highly unsatisfied ratings, there most likely is a problem that needs to be explored.

By being able to directly compare the responses of all new hires, organizations can see which groups of employees are assimilating into the culture quickly and which are not. In some cases, analyzing the data by department, division, and job type can expose the source of the problem. All of these capabilities are available with a click with electronic new hire surveys.

Fixing the Problem

While every company has different diversity issues and concerns, getting to the root of the problem makes it possible to create solutions. If new hire surveys reveal that minority employees feel shut out from leadership or management training, for example, one popular solution is to set up a mentoring program that pairs high-potential junior employees with company managers and leaders inside or outside of their departments or divisions. Some companies choose to create mentoring pairs of the same gender or race, while others set up cross-cultural mentorships.

But you can’t prescribe a solution until you know the problem. Using surveys to ask new employees what’s right and what’s wrong is a simple way to bring issues to light at an early stage when they can be addressed. With all the effort that goes into diversity hiring, a new hire survey strategy can help preserve the investment while also combating early attrition for new employees overall.

As the saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine. The sooner you are aware of new hire dissatisfaction, the faster you can respond to keep that employee from walking out the door.

About the Authors:

Beth N. Carvin is president and CEO of Nobscot Corporation (, a provider of online HR tools and associated services designed to generate actionable information that can assist companies in combating turnover, improving hiring practices, and recovering from downsizing. Kerrie Main is Nobscot’s in-house journalist.

Reprinted from Training Magazine

What to Do When a Rising Star Falls

Imagine me, moving through the hallway to a meeting I don’t want to attend but where something has to be done.

Jon had been a top performer and received a promising promotion just 12 months ago. Unfortunately, the rising star had fallen. Staying in the role was no longer an option, and there was only one question left: removal from the company or a second chance?

By its very nature, talent management planning is mostly about the positives: designating strategic roles, attracting and nurturing talent with potential, providing great development and plotting the next moves to maximize growth and impact. It’s the fun part of the job, and Jon had been a stellar product of this work, until now.

I had a few minutes to gather my thoughts before entering the room where Jon’s business and function boss would meet to debate the second chance option. In preparation for the meeting, I formulated a five-point checklist to guide the conversation and reach the right decision for all concerned.

Did Jon cross the integrity line? If yes, then no second chance. Fortunately in Jon’s case, ethics and values were never in doubt. The problem stemmed from other issues.

One trap here is if the performance track record has been superior, there is a temptation to issue a temporary pass on organization values and ethics. The best organizations make the so-called tough call to dismiss the high-performing, low-value leader. We all wish more would do so.

Does Jon have the skills to win? The current role could be such a mismatch for Jon that odds of growing the necessary skills for success are quite low. In that case, more time in the role or development interventions are wasted time and energy.

The issue then becomes whether Jon has valuable skills — differential competencies — that the organization needs. If so, then the discussion should focus on other valuable positions where he could succeed.

The trap is to replant someone with a performance issue into a holding role that doesn’t really do any good for the organization or the performer’s self-esteem.

Does Jon still have the sponsorship to succeed? Even with a good second-chance role, Jon may not make it without continuing sponsorship. Some cultures and leaders are more forgiving of a misstep than others.

As I think about the conversation with Jon’s manager, I want to test the confidence and commitment. Are we committed to bringing the best out of Jon in the new role?

If there is hesitation, my experience is that we are delaying a bad situation and possibly making matters worse down the road as Jon tries to rebound without the necessary support from above. The same holds true for peers and other stakeholders.

Does Jon have the resiliency to recover? Being removed from a job after 12 months is hard on the ego, especially for a high-flyer who has done well in previous roles. Even with the right amount of support, I’ve seen second-chancers never fully recover. They lose their ambition and the innovation and boldness necessary to win. Jon will need to be resilient, learn the lessons of failure and use the experience to build new levels of self-insight and determination.

Are we all better off with a fresh start? The final question is about balancing interests. First, in fairness to the company, do we have a good backfill for Jon right now and other promising candidates to fill roles which would be Jon’s second-chance job?

A weak pipeline needs to be one of the considerations for next moves. Second, would a fresh start at a new company, a new setting, be better in the long run for Jon? This question feels a bit more caring but is also difficult to ask.

This type of discussion is never easy, and even with these five questions to guide it, emotions will be high when deciding Jon’s options. Talent management is about doing our best when things turn out well and also when they don’t.

About the Author:

Kevin D. Wilde is the vice president and chief learning officer at General Mills and author of Dancing with the Talent Stars. Reprinted from Talent Management magazine

Gamification: Deloitte’s Leadership Learning Motivator

Professional services firm Deloitte LLP needed a way to increase engagement on the Deloitte Leadership Academy, its online learning portal for leaders. The portal, which was launched in 2008 and gives Deloitte leaders access via their laptops, smartphones or tablet computers, was designed to streamline content into 12 areas of study and equip leaders with the competencies needed to be successful in the firm’s global business.

But a year ago the program was falling short of the firm’s desired participation, so some of its learning and digital strategy leaders got together to create a solution.

“We were thinking about how can we increase participation and engagement of this platform?” said James Sanders, product manager for the Deloitte Leadership Academy. “Because training content is not always the first thing a person thinks of when they have some free time.”

The challenge was making the learning experience on the Deloitte Leadership Academy more fun, rewarding and engaging for the user. The answer was gamification.

By maximizing variations of gaming techniques used in other traditional educational settings — such as school, where students are placed into levels, handed grades and given rewards for achievements — Deloitte’s learning leaders could motivate its workforce to increase participation in the online portal.

“People are used to being in a very ‘gamified’ environment when they’re going through an educational process,” Sanders said. “And we thought, ‘How could we replicate this digitally on the Leadership Academy?’ That’s where we started to work with Badgeville.”

Started in 2010, the Badgeville gamification platform aims to use rewards and recognition — badges — to help clients maximize engagement and drive behavior through the Web.

“We define [gamification] as taking things that work inside games and then applying them to things that aren’t games,” said Kris Duggan, CEO of the Menlo Park, Calif.-based firm. “By rewarding people, mostly by the way of purely virtual rewards, you’re able to drive a very high level of engagement that you wouldn’t otherwise see.”

After working with Badgeville on the integration for a few months, Deloitte recently rolled out the completely gamified version of the portal this spring.

“People are already earning badges, [and] people are sharing those badges on LinkedIn and Twitter, which is great because if they’re sharing with their external network then they obviously value them enough to boast about them,” Sanders said.

Users’ ability to share learning achievements through social media is also a major reason why gamification is a successful engagement driver, said Frank Farrall, lead partner of Deloitte Digital in Australia.

Also, Badgeville’s platform includes a leader board, so users can see where they stack up on learning objectives in relation to their peers.

Farrall said it’s not just people’s desire to compete with one another that has made gamifying the platform more engaging; users also have found the learning motivating because they want to try and compete against their own achievements, to “beat their personal best.”

Sanders said it’s too early to collect data showing just how much Badgeville’s usage has increased participation. But there is already empirical evidence showing more engaged behaviors in the portal.

“I don’t think this will increase usage for every single user, but there are a portion of our users that this will really engage — because they’re competitive people, and they’re driven by those types of competitive techniques,” Sanders said.

Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer magazine

New Survey Reveals Employees Still Not Feeling the Love

As an employee-owned company, engagement carries special significance for ITA Group, which helps companies drive employee loyalty through rewards and recognition programs.

“Because of the work we do for customers, it is critical that our own employees be highly engaged. Essentially, we try to eat our own dog food,” says Jaimee Chism, employee loyalty practice leader at ITA, based in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Emphasizing engagement has helped the privately owned company post double-digit revenue growth each year from 2004 through 2011.

Engagement measures an employee’s level of commitment and loyalty, Chism says, but that is only half the equation. Putting employees in control of client relationships, including responsibility for customer service, billing and satisfaction metrics, is equally important.

Empowering them to think critically and, when appropriate, respectfully challenge ITA’s long-standing practices or policies also drives engagement, Chism says. “Our leadership constantly asks: ‘Are we putting people in a position to be successful? Are we enabling them to be engaged?’ “

ITA can boast about its engagement levels, but a majority of employees give their organizations a failing grade. Some 63 percent of U.S. workers are not fully engaged. They are wearied by a decade of doing more work with fewer resources and rewards, according to a July global workforce study of 32,000 workers by New York-based consultancy Towers Watson & Co.

Among employees who aren’t fully engaged, 43 percent say supervisors don’t remove performance obstacles, and only 26 percent believe management involves them in decisions that directly affect them, according to the survey.

Engagement is often broadly defined as an employee’s intention to stay or willingness to exert extra effort. Missing from the definition, however, is the concept of shared ownership, says Kevin

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Sheridan, senior vice president of HR optimization at Avatar HR Solutions Inc., a Chicago-based consulting firm whose clients include ITA Group. He is also the author of Building a Magnetic Culture.

Sheridan says his company is the first to pioneer the idea of shared accountability for engagement. Besides providing tailored engagement surveys, Avatar recently unveiled a Personal Employee Engagement Report, or PEER, for employees to monitor their own engagement levels. By answering its 16 questions, an employee receives a numerical rating of engagement, along with suggestions for boosting the score.

Companies for years have surveyed engagement and analyzed the findings, dumping responsibility for improvement primarily on managers. “But no one stopped to ask what the employees’ role is in all this. That’s the ultimate irony: trying to drive employee engagement without ever involving the employees themselves,” Sheridan says.

On the flip side, slower-than-anticipated job creation has lulled other organizations into a false sense of security, Sheridan says. “Most companies are way too complacent about engagement. They appear to be resting on the idea that the job market stinks and their employees will stick around.”

In fact, companies face a potential exodus of top performers at the slightest glimmer of job growth, according to recent survey data. Fifty percent of workers who report feeling devalued at work plan to hunt for a new job in the next year, according to an online poll of 1,700 U.S. adults by the American Psychological Association, a trade group in Washington., D.C.

Companies also are receiving mixed results for their engagement efforts. According to data produced by Princeton, New Jersey-based consulting firm BlessingWhite Inc., engagement among North American workers ticked up to 41 percent through the second quarter of 2012 compared with 33 percent in early 2011.

At the same time, BlessingWhite found that one-third of engaged employees do not believe their current employer provides ample opportunities for career growth—widely considered an influential factor in engagement.

“In light of the fact that engagement is a hot topic, one might expect it to be discussed during annual performance reviews. It’s not,” Sheridan says.

In a recent poll by his company, Sheridan says only 5 percent of 1,000 North American managers acknowledge doing so. “Chief executives are tired of telling managers to build action plans every year. What they’re asking now is: ‘When does the employee start to accept responsibility for engagement?’ “

About the Author:

Garry Kranz is a Workforce Management contributing editor. Reprinted from

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