Archives for January 2015

What FarmVille Can Teach E-Learning Designers About Social Gaming

The rise of social gaming giant Zynga is something startup dreams are made of: Going from a small, 27-person company bringing in a respectable $5 million, Zynga skyrocketed in 2009, raking in $209 million in revenue in just one year. And the game most responsible for the overnight success? FarmVille.

You probably received the invites from people you’d barely spoken to in the last 10 years via social networking. After all, by the end of 2009, a whopping 20 percent of all Facebook users were using their free time to harvest imaginary crops and annoy their friends with requests. FarmVille spawned a number of other social games by Zynga and its competitors, including the mega-popular Candy Crush Saga by King in 2012. In its heyday, Zynga brought in $332 million in revenue before its stock tanked in 2012 (but that’s a story for another day).

Now, why are we talking about a practically-defunct farming game that was popular with middle-aged women in 2009? While Zynga might be an economic lesson for startups, it’s also a lesson in the allure of social gaming for eLearning pros. From Candy Crush to FarmVille, Words With Friends, and Bubble Witch, social games hold a certain appeal for playing.

Whether it’s sharing achievements with friends, working with others to beat a level, or competing against other players, social gaming offers the ability to essentially crowdsource gameplay. Zynga was able to—even if only for a short time—capitalize on players’ social need to share, compete, and support others through what might seem like an inconsequential game.

If L&D pros could harness the power of social gaming in their current efforts, the results could be of pretty epic proportions. By picking and choosing the most effective components of typical social gaming applications, gamification becomes much more than using games to teach: instead, it’s using games to drive users to interact, engage, and better absorb material—no farming necessary.

The Gamification of eLearning

Gamification as an eLearning topic is old news. We already know that utilizing game-like components within modules can help users test knowledge and assess their progress. They might answer a few test questions, complete a simulation, or even participate in a trivia challenge to ramp up user engagement. Awesome.

And for the most part, gamification does what it sets out to do: increase motivation and break up modules with periods of interaction. But while game-like components can stop your learners from simply clicking through, gamification has certain limitations that could keep it from reaching its full potential as a learning tool.

First, gamification is highly isolating. Without the ability to share scores and compete against other players, the motivation to achieve is pretty low for learners. Unless game scores are going to be saved and used as a barometer for literacy, there’s little motivation to actually perform and perform well while experiencing game components within a module.

What’s more, unless built into the module, there’s really no way to track results gleaned from gamification. And even if there were, is there any incentive to score higher if no one else is going to see or assess the results? Probably not.

Gamification, when done on an individual, intrinsic level, is flat. You can hope that your learner wants to perform to improve herself and gain knowledge, but it’s not always the case, nor is it always realistic. By tapping into the social needs of your learner à la FarmVille and other social gaming, you create a three-dimensional experience that goes deeper and reaches farther than previous gamification efforts.

Taking a Page from FarmVille

While opinions may vary on what exactly made FarmVille such an overnight success, here’s a hunch: It was the first game to introduce social networking as the main facet of play. Sure, other games offered a social aspect (think World of Warcraft) but required separate sites, add-ons, and ultimately a group of strangers.

Games built to play in conjunction with social networking, however, are friendlier than your average online gaming platform. They utilize a site players already use. They offer gameplay with family members and friends. They allow automatic and simple sharing tools to earn levels and announce achievements to the masses, prompting even more game play.

And perhaps that’s where social gaming really got it right: The addition of badges and achievements to help keep players glued to the game. By offering recognition when players reach certain levels and complete tasks, the games no longer rely on intrinsic motivation (“I want to complete this module because it’ll make me a better employee.”) but extrinsic results (“If I finish this level, I’ll move to the top of the leaderboard and earn a reward.”) Perhaps it’s a simplified version of how players are motivated by badges, but it’s simplified and true.

Social gaming, first and foremost, allows players to make the games a community experience. It then turns time and effort into a tangible achievement through the use of badges. Badges essentially become micro-credentials—a currency by which learners trade in on their time, knowledge, and energy. Social games like Mafia Wars and Candy Crush are a variation on the same theme: Instead of just playing because a game is enjoyable, players focus on achievements, badges, leveling up, and beating their colleagues.

Don’t Hate the Player…

We know that humans are social animals. Unfortunately, your gamification may not have caught up to that philosophy, forcing learners to isolate themselves in the name of accessible modules. But just because you strive for convenience and accessibility doesn’t mean your module can’t also be social in nature.

By tapping into the human need for competition, support, being part of a group or team, and the ability to apply knowledge, badges and social sharing create the ideal environment in which learners are completely engaged.

Social sharing caters to those who prefer to learn on their own time, but still require the added motivation of collaboration. Consider the ways in which badges and social tools can bring your gamification efforts to life:

  • Competition. Igniting the fire of competition is a tried-and-true method of motivation for most (if not all) learners. The ability to share scores or check leaderboards online lets your learners know exactly where they stand, pushing them to achieve more.
  • Tangible achievement. Some learners need more than just the satisfaction of a job well done to motivate action. Awarding badges for completion and mastery could make all the difference.
  • Group sharing and collaboration. Imagine a learner gets stuck on a specific quiz question. She might give up and disengage from the module, but imagine if she had the capacity to use tokens or points toward asking a group of co-learners for their input. Social tools make collaboration simpler, creating a symbiotic relationship between the learner who needs help and the learner who wants to demonstrate his knowledge base.
  • Litmus testing for knowledge. Social gaming is the ultimate litmus test for where each learner falls in the pack. Sizing up proficiency against other coworkers helps each learner understand his or her strengths and weaknesses in correlation to colleagues and other “players.”
  • Feedback looping. Don’t forget that social gaming also offers benefits for leadership and management. Scores, leaderboards, and badges are simple ways for management to see real-time feedback in the form of proficiency and engagement. Issuing feedback and pointers then become more effective and personalized, based on a learner’s actual performance.

In short, social gaming works because it taps into players’ human nature. The drive to be the best, paired with the need to work as a team become the main motivators for logging in, experiencing modules, and gaining the achievement and badges necessary to unlock new levels or level up to other material and information. What could be simpler?

Game Changers

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the idea of adding badges and sharing tools to your existing modules is completely out of your price range: Thanks to open-source code currently being used for mobile apps, the availability is there: It’s up to you to harness that power for your organization’s needs. It’s likely that what could make the biggest difference in terms of learner motivation is already well within your grasp.

Tracking and recognizing learners via badges creates an interesting conversation, particularly surrounding typical credentials and education. While course badges probably won’t completely replace traditional post-secondary achievement, recognizing those badges as real training and education could be fairly disruptive to the L&D scene. By making it possible for learners to display and utilize their badges as credentials, you further incentivize their participation while offering recognition for a job well done.

Zynga’s heyday might be past, but there’s much to be learned from the gaming giant’s rise to revenue. Social creatures to their core, players seek out achievement when interacting with a game-like module. Adding the ability to share, collaborate, and (let’s face it) brag about mastery creates a whole new experience. If social media is already a learner’s “happy place,” training should be less PowerPoint and more Words With Friends.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

An Examination of Certification in the HR Field

Many in the human resources community were caught off-guard last summer by the Society for Human Resource Management’s surprise announcement to offer its own certification program. The messy public rift that followed with the HR Certification Institute — the selfsame certification partner SHRM founded in 1976 to create and administer the exams — has also reignited discussion over the quantifiable business value of certification programs.

The dust may be starting to settle as SHRM begins accepting its first applications for the new certification exams this month. But the debate over which certificate holds more value is just heating up as the 275,000-member trade association’s SHRM Certified Professional and SHRM Senior Certified Professional knocks heads with HRCI’s venerable Professional in Human Resources, Senior Professional in Human Resources and Global Professional in Human Resources certifications.

Not everyone in human resources is conflicted by the SHRM-HRCI split, and some even see it as a healthy competition that could generate more finely tuned best practices, ultimately strengthening HR’s hand as a strategic business partner.

Tori Dickey, a client support manager in Portland, Oregon, for HR outsourcing firm ADP, views the conflict through the lens of a profession undergoing dynamic change fueled by globalization, the rise of a multigenerational workforce and flatter matrix organizations.

Dickey was one of 1,700 beta testers to take SHRM’s pilot exam last year, though she’s no SHRM acolyte. A 10-year veteran at ADP, Dickey transitioned to human resources two years ago, a move she capped off by earning the PHR certification from HRCI in January 2014. In addition, Dickey has a Human Resources Information Professional certificate from the International Association for Human Resource Information Management.

She said SHRM’s program lowers the barrier to certification by eliminating eligibility requirements based on years of experience or status.

“I’m very excited that SHRM is making additional certification options available. I think it will make HR more inclusive,” Dickey said. “We have a number of professionals in nonexempt positions at ADP who now have the same opportunity to win recognition for their knowledge, skills and abilities as exempt professionals. It also gives them another way to obtain knowledge pay as part of ADP’s ongoing education.”

Dueling Certs: Does Anybody in HR Win?

Higher pay for HR professionals is one concrete way to assess the impact of HR certifications, although precise measurement of business impact remains elusive. A 2013 report by Payscale found that the likelihood of certification increases the higher up the HR career ladder someone climbs. It also concluded that nearly two-thirds of HR assistants got promoted within five years of obtaining a certification, compared with one-third who failed to move up without it.

Dickey’s support notwithstanding, SHRM seems to face an uphill battle to persuade other HR practitioners its new competency framework represents a meaningful step forward for the profession. Indeed, 67 percent of the 699 people surveyed by the Human Capital Media Advisory Group — the research arm of Workforce— said they have no intention of getting the new SHRM certification.

The new SHRM Competency Model identifies nine behaviors that supposedly indicate how successful an HR professional will be with its SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP designations. That’s in contrast to about a half-dozen certificates provided by HRCI, including the PHR, SPHR and GPHR certifications.

J. Robert Carr, SHRM’s senior vice president for marketing and external affairs, said SHRM has developed “the most rigorous competency model to date,” culled from survey data of 30,000 HR executives and focus groups in 33 countries. SHRM’s exams present hypothetical situations and a set of actions an HR professional could take; of course, only one choice is ultimately correct. Carr said SHRM’s exams are designed to separate highly effective HR practices from basic competence.

“One thing we heard over and over is that the established legacy exams — even ones SHRM has supported in the past — don’t test what HR people do in actual fact. We see the SHRM competency exams as a way to tease out the behaviors that make an outstanding HR professional,” rather than reward someone for passing a multiple-choice exam, Carr said.

No one was more surprised by SHRM’s announcement this summer than HRCI CEO Amy Schabacker Dufrane, who scoffs at the idea that SHRM is breaking new ground. Scenario-based questions have long been included on HRCI certification exams, she said, and the exam content is amended each year by more than 300 HRCI volunteers.

“Our certifications are built on a body of knowledge that has almost four decades of rigor behind it. Building certifications takes a lot of time and effort. It’s not something you can launch overnight,” Dufrane said.

The high-profile spat between the two bodies may be entertaining theater, but there are serious repercussions to the HR profession, said John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University who is also an HR consultant.

“It creates the perception that HR doesn’t have its act together. I personally have had people in other fields call me after reading about this and ask me, ‘What the hell’s going on in your profession?’ It’s embarrassing,” Sullivan said.

Even more embarrassing, he said, is the lack of objective metrics to prove the worth of HR certification, adding that evaluating a certification based on promotion or higher pay misses a more important question: Are companies with certified HR professionals actually gaining market share or higher revenue as a direct result?

“Having letters behind your name doesn’t mean you learned the right things. The question has to be: ‘Does getting a certification move the needle?’ And there’s no evidence that’s the case. Certification should be a data-driven area, but nobody — not SHRM and not HRCI — has those numbers,” Sullivan said.

The Evidence Is In — Anecdotally

Certificate holders roundly disagree with such an assessment, claiming that certification demonstrates mastery of a universally accepted body of knowledge and best practices.

“It’s benefited me in a lot of ways, especially now that I do more business internationally,” said Angeles Cordova, a senior vice president of global HR transformation at financial services firm Citigroup Inc., who is also an HRCI board member.

Cordova already had an MBA when she pursued the PHR certification through HRCI in 2008. She said the additional credential served to round out her formal academic training.

Certification exams CHART December 2014

“Even though I haven’t been an HR generalist for a while, I remember that I very frequently referred back to the learning modules and the certification material. I can think of lots of questions I was able to clarify in relation to compensation and employee relations. I made it a practice to have an open-door policy, so when people came by with questions, we would pull out the material and go through it as needed,” Cordova said.

And, she adds: “I never ruled out the fact that I may not have gotten the full perspective of HR knowledge and competencies with my formal university studies alone.”

O. David Jackson, a director of human resources at Microsoft Corp. who is also on the board at HRCI, likens an HR certification to the credentials obtained by a doctor or lawyer. He said being certified is becoming a baseline expectation for anyone with career aspirations in human resources.

“It shows that you have a continuing dedication to the art and science of the profession,” said Jackson, who achieved HRCI’s PHR certificate in 2005 and has recertified twice. “It also gives you a way to calibrate your skill set and confidence you can execute, based on what you’ve learned.”

Jackson is part of a planning team that examines Microsoft’s technical road map in the context of shifting global markets and claims the designation enables him to match theory with practical application.

“One of the points I’ve been making to the team is that the technical shifts we envision as a company have to be complemented by talent and cultural shifts as well. Understanding talent and culture have strategic importance in enabling the business to execute on its future plans,” Jackson said.

Multiple-Choice Certs

SHRM’s Carr said more than 10,000 people signed up for the pilot exams following its launch. The goal initially was to limit the test to 1,000 people, but SHRM twice expanded the test pool before finally capping participation at 1,700. “That was almost twice as many as we wanted to have, and even after we cut it off, we still had people asking, ‘How can I take a pilot?’ ” Carr said.

HRCI certificate holders aren’t sure what to make of SHRM’s plan. Jackson at Microsoft said he had not fully studied the details of SHRM’s proposed exams and wasn’t prepared to comment. But he acknowledged the talk of certification, even in the context of a dispute, could prove to be a net positive for the HR field overall.

“Anytime a profession seeks to elevate itself through the creation of standards, I think it clearly validates why this type of credential is important,” Jackson said.

SHRM meanwhile has announced its first test window for the new exams, which runs from May 1 through July 17. That has many certification proponents like Dickey eager to participate. “I have great respect for the PHR I earned through HRCI, but I’m a ‘more is better’ type of individual. Having these different certifications available helps me have more broad and diverse exposure, which ultimately will allow me to be more successful.”

Garry Kranz is a Workforce contributing editor. Reprinted from

4 Ways to Maximize Online Recruiting

In 2010, Maersk Drilling, a rig operator based in Copenhagen, Denmark, set a lofty recruitment goal: Double the company size by 2018.

This meant hiring 3,000 new employees in a small and highly selective industry. Offshore drillers begin their careers with apprenticeships, using the experience to develop necessary technical skills on the job as they progress through the industry.

It takes roughly 12 to 15 years to reach a senior-level position. And the lifestyle is demanding. Drillers typically live and work on the rig for two to three weeks at time while putting in 12-hour shifts on a 24-hour-a-day rotation.

Physically demanding work and specific skills restricts the talent pool. So like many employers, Maersk turned to a special tool that has come to redefine recruiting: the Internet.

But as the company quickly learned, it’s not as simple as moving the application process online and waiting for the right applicants. Maersk needed to pay attention to certain details if it wanted to find the right applicants — details that, even in 2015, some companies may overlook.

The Internet has revolutionized recruiting, with great benefit to both the employer and job seeker. While recruiting for a job in the pre-digital age would have involved a narrow number of candidates in a limited geographic location, today most jobs posted online are viewable and open for application by any candidate anywhere in the world.

For job seekers, the Internet has greatly expanded the tools available to apply. Not only can a résumé be created and submitted to multiple positions within a matter of minutes, but interviews, pre-hire assessments and a number of other communications can happen without having to go anywhere.

And as mobile technology has expanded, all of these tasks are at people’s fingertips from anywhere at anytime. What was once a barrier to the traditional recruiting process — mailing in a résumé, traveling to a job interview, posting job ads in a newspaper — is no longer standing in the way. Today’s recruiters and job seekers are more connected than ever.

Still, recruiting in the Internet age has its share of strategic nuances talent managers should pay attention to.

Mind the Volume

For starters, the sheer volume at which the Internet enables recruiting is sometimes both a blessing and a curse. “The Internet has created more hay on the needle,” said Elaine Orler, CEO of the Talent Function, a recruitment industry research and consulting firm. “There may be more needles in there, but there’s equally more hay.”

The issue of applicant volume has only increased since the recession. As jobs have come back, so have open positions listed online and people looking for new work. According to Talent Function research, about 200 people apply online for each available position posted on a company’s website.

“Before we had this connectivity, most organizations wouldn’t see 200 people walk in the door to hand in a résumé or even mail in a résumé for any single position,” Orler said, “let alone all the positions that a company might have available at that time.”

The Internet, in effect, completely eliminated the problem of proximity. Physical distance from a job no longer prevents someone from applying. The Internet also created the potential to recruit candidates on a global scale.

Although the increase in volume has helped build larger talent pools, Orler said this doesn’t necessarily mean recruiting has gotten any easier. “To get to those that are truly highly qualified still takes a lot of recruiter intelligence,” she said.

The volume problem means that today’s recruiters must have a clear definition of the ideal candidate and use the correct digital avenues to reach that particular talent pool. It doesn’t make the recruiter job easier, but, if done correctly, it has the potential to make it more effective.

Create a Clean Candidate Experience

The influx of candidates flooding companies’ websites puts a greater emphasis on the online candidate experience.

Attracting candidates is only one way that the Internet can be used to improve a company’s recruitment strategy. Recent efforts at streamlining the application process have helped to motivate candidates to apply to positions.

In oil driller Maersk’s case, moving recruiting operations online meant revamping the company’s website.

Fredrik Tukk, the company’s head of communication, marketing and branding who was hired to help move recruiting online, said the functionality of a firm’s website is paramount when creating an easy-to-navigate candidate experience. This is why one of the first things he did at Maersk was work to overhaul the way potential job candidates experienced the application process on the Web.

In 2010, Maersk already used its website for recruiting. But navigating to open positions from the home page was not intuitive, Tukk said. Even though the company’s website was averaging 15,000 visitors a month, such visitors were spending 90 seconds just browsing around.

Tukk oversaw the building of a repurposed website to make finding and applying for jobs easier. Six sublanding pages were created to provide easy guidance to recruitment. Each topics page included a “call to action” intended to drive visitors to the jobs and careers page where they can apply for positions. Videos and employee testimonials were added.

“You only have a couple of minutes to reach people,” Tukk said. “If you can catch their attention and give them the option to send an application later, you’ve made a connection and [made] possible a recruitment.”

Another aspect of creating an easy-to-use applicant experience online is making sure potential candidates don’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with administration. This, Orler said, can be a challenge given the need for user credentialing when applying for a job online.

“There is no reason that any job seeker should have to start with a user name and password, create an entire profile and spend 40 minutes recreating a résumé on a corporate website,” Orler said.

To bypass the often-cumbersome process of online credentialing, Orler said many companies have enacted technology that enables users to port information from LinkedIn, Facebook or other popular social media websites when creating online job profiles.

Balfour Beatty, a multinational infrastructure firm based in London, unified its online presence onto a single LinkedIn page in part for the ease of application the platform provided.

“Candidates only have to create their personal information once,” said Katie Willison, a digital media executive at the company. “After it’s uploaded, recruiters can see it instantly. They can then scan and see if the candidate is right for the job before devoting extra time to vetting a candidate.”

Use Social Media

Integrating social media platforms such as LinkedIn also expands the traditional timeframe for job applications from business hours to whenever a potential candidate has a free moment.

According to April 2014 LinkedIn data, 41 percent of its users enter the site via a mobile device. And current projections suggest that number reached 50 percent by the end of last year.

Maersk, which also has a LinkedIn presence, has also found that giving candidates the ability to access company information and apply in the moment has been a key to its success toward achieving its recruitment goal of doubling its employee count by 2018.

With social media, employers not only have the ability to ease the application process, but it also provides a channel to advertise job openings so potential candidates visit the website. Social media helps make the recruiting process more transparent.

Nevertheless, with increased transparency comes greater hesitancy on the part of corporate executives, many of whom can be skittish when it comes to getting involved in social media because of potential legal and privacy concerns.

“There is a fear within organizations about what social media really is,” said Andy Headworth, the founder and managing director of Sirona Consulting, a recruitment strategy firm that helps companies work social media into their talent acquisition strategies. “They don’t understand it, so they undervalue it.”

This was initially the case at Maersk. While the company’s website overhaul helped it bolster site visits and applications, it still wasn’t quite on pace to reach its recruitment goal.

“When we finished the website we went back to our senior management team and said that we need to take the next step to get the right people to actually find the site,” Tukk said.

Tell a Story

Establishing an easy-to-use website to post and accept job applications and creating a social media presence are both vital cogs in selling the company’s story, something talent acquisition experts say is paramount when recruiting online.

And in many cases, the primary — and likely most powerful — avenue for companies to tell their story is social media.

For Maersk, Tukk was convinced that to effectively leverage the recruiting capability the Internet presented, the company had to increase its social media presence.

After some initial executive resistance, Facebook was the first platform Tukk and his team tackled. They began by creating a company page and posting open positions — and quickly learned that this strategy was not driving engagement.

For social media to be effective in telling the company’s story — as a result driving potential job candidate interest — the medium cannot be used as another job board but as a way to communicate with potential candidates.

“The Internet is a drop-off-a-résumé, receive-a-receipt and hope-you-get-a-call-back [medium],” Orler said. “Social is much more of an expectation of a bidirectional relationship. It’s about curating content that creates a community for candidates.” Bidirectional relationships can take the form of page likes, comments and shared content, Orler said.

So instead of posting job openings, Tukk began to post content that captured life as a Maersk employee. “We’re telling our employee value proposition in pictures, in videos, in stories, in portraits and in employee testimonials,” he said. “We can post a picture saying ‘sunset on the Gulf of Mexico,’ and 40 people will comment asking where they can apply.”

According to Tukk, 10 percent of applicants apply for a job after seeing a post on Facebook. Each Maersk Facebook post also averages between 1,500 and 2,000 likes.

And as younger generations begin to enter the workforce, successful recruitment will likely look more like successful social interactions. Orler said she thinks candidates will begin applying more of a Yelp mentality to job applications, referring to the popular consumer reviews app and website.

“They’re looking at the same kind of information,” she said. “How did they treat the last person there?”

Building the company brand and demonstrating what it’s like to actually work at Maersk allows the company to reach beyond the 10 to 20 percent of Facebook page visitors who are actively seeking employment to the 80 to 90 percent who had not considered a job at Maersk until viewing that post.

“People actually come back and ask for a job even though we never actually say we have job openings,” Tukk said.

Implementing a social media strategy has produced significant results for the firm’s website. Maersk has gone from 15,000 to 80,000 unique visitors a month. Each visitor spends approximately four minutes on the website.

“We have found the ability to tell these people about why we’re good employers instead of going to work for whoever they work for today,” Tukk said.

Tukk and his team collect weekly data reports on the performance of the seven social media channels the company implements. If there is a dip in activity, they will move on to a different approach.

“We’re always open to finding new ways,” Tukk said. “You have to be flexible in recruiting.”

Establish Good Learning and Development Goals Up Front

January is the start of a new fiscal year for many organizations. This makes it a great time to reflect on the importance of setting good goals for your outcome, effectiveness, and efficiency measures — basically all the measures that are really important to you for 2015.

Too many practitioners still focus primarily — or in many cases exclusively — on trying to determine or demonstrate the value of their training initiative after it is completed. While an after-action review is certainly warranted for key programs, more attention needs to be paid upfront to what you want to achieve.

In fact, if you have limited resources, it would be better to spend more time upfront setting good goals than to spend time after the program is deployed determining its actual impact.

Why is the upfront goal setting so important? Because this is your opportunity to talk with senior leaders in your organization about their needs and whether learning might help achieve their goals, such as a 10 percent increase in sales. And if you both agree that learning could help achieve the goal, then spend the time with the goal’s owner, like a senior vice president of sales, to reach agreement on three things:

  1. The specifics of the initiative — i.e., number of participants, completion date, learning objectives.
  2. The planned impact of the learning initiative on the goal — i.e., 20 percent contribution to a 10 percent increase in sales.
  3. The roles and responsibilities for both you and the goal owner to achieve the planned impact.

Reaching agreement with the owner on these three items will establish you as a strategic business partner and position you to meet regularly throughout the year to discuss and manage the initiative’s progress. And let’s face it, without the active engagement of the goal’s owner, your learning initiative, no matter how well designed and delivered, has little chance of truly impacting your company’s goals.

So, spend the time upfront to form this partnership with senior leaders and to help them understand their critical role in the initiative’s success.

Likewise, the chief learning officer or the learning and development department head needs to spend the time at the start of a new fiscal year to meet with staff and agree on two things: the effectiveness and efficiency measures that will be included in the plan and the plan value for each of these measures. Most organizations these days can report on hundreds of measures each month, and unfortunately this often leads to paralysis.

The senior L&D leadership team needs to decide on the vital few measures to be actively managed throughout the next 12 months. Out of the hundreds of possible measures, what are the 10-20 that are most important? This is where the team will need to direct its attention, and it starts with agreeing on a plan or goal for each of these measures.

For example, if the team believes it is important to improve overall employee satisfaction with learning (Kirkpatrick Level 1), then it needs to set a reasonable goal for improvement — like an increase from 71 percent favorable to 74 percent — and decide on action steps to be taken to achieve that improvement. If the team believes it is important to increase the utilization rate for e-learning courses or reach a larger percentage of employees, then it needs to set a goal for each and agree on steps to take to make it happen.

This is what we mean by running learning like a business: Set goals, review progress against goals each month, and take corrective action to get back on plan when required.

Hopefully, you can see the power behind this approach. By focusing first on setting good goals, you have set yourself up for success. You establish a strong partnership with senior leaders to deliver agreed-upon outcomes, and the L&D senior leadership team has clarity on its goals for effectiveness and efficiency measures.

Good goals allow for focus and accountability, and these helps drive results. If you have the resources, by all means do a good job both upfront in planning and at the backend in determining actual impact. If you are only working the back-end today, consider shifting some of that time to the front-end to set good goals.

Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer magazine

A Checklist of 2015 Benefit Contribution Limits

At the beginning of each year, there are certain contribution limits for retirement plans and welfare plans that I check on just to make sure I am current on my numbers. While the list is not exhaustive, there are some that seem to jump out more often than others and I have compiled a list of those that I commonly refer to.

  • The annual dollar limit for FSA contributions increases to $2,550.
  • But the annual limit for dependent care remains the same, at $5,000.
  • The HSA contribution limit for 2015 is $3,350 for single and $6,650 for family. The catch-up contribution limit remains unchanged at $1,000.
  • The IRS limits for high-deductible health plan (HDHP) maximum out-of-pocket amounts for 2015 are $6,450 for single and $12,900 for family.
  • Something to note: under the Affordable Care Act, the maximum out-of-pocket limits for an HDHP are $6,600 for single and $13,200 for family. Remember, though, that a plan has to comply with the IRS limits even though the ACA may permit them to be higher.
  • Also remember that under the ACA, the deductible, while part of the out-of-pocket expense of the participant, has its own limit. The maximum amount most plans can require participants to pay for deductibles increases to $2,050 for individuals and $4,100 for family.
  • The ACA transitional reinsurance drops to $44 per enrollee, but the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute fee increases to $2.08 per covered life.
  • The adoption assistance tax credit rises to $13,400, and the range for phasing out the credit now starts at $201,010.

And lest we forget about retirement plans:

  • The elective deferral limits to most defined contribution retirement plans is increased to $18,000. The catch-up contribution limit for people over 50 increases to $6,000. Though not necessarily benefit plan related, the IRA contribution limit remains unchanged at $5,500, with a $1,000 catch-up limit.
  • The annual limit for a defined benefit plan remains unchanged at $210,000.
  • The annual limit for defined contribution plans increases slightly to $53,000.
  • Finally, the compensation limit used in the definition of “highly compensated employee” increases to $120,000.

If you are a benefit plan administrator or HR professional, chances are you will run across these numbers at some point during 2015, so keep them handy.

Keith R. McMurdy is a partner with Fox Rothschild focusing on labor and employment issues. Reprinted from Employee Benefit News

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