Driving any kind of initiative in a large or growing company can be a challenge. This especially holds true for implementing tech skill development programs at scale. We’re tempted to build a distinct organizational structure to oversee the program—or else wrap it into Human Resources, where they already know how to implement training programs—and we’re often inclined to ease the effort by making it uniform throughout the org.
Those paths may be the easiest, at least at the start. But they are not the best practices for cultivating a powerful and useful skill development strategy at any kind of scale. At Cerner, we find that bringing learning initiatives closer to the technical teams, partnering across L&D and IT to create alignment with the org, and allowing education to grow at a grassroots level are critical to our success.
The following strategies have enhanced our technology skill development, and they are adaptable for almost any engineering organization.
Bringing L&D into the technical fold brings your people closer to the skills they need
Partnering with TSD leaders greases the wheels for efficient tech skill development
While L&D is closer to Engineering, it’s still a distinct entity: Our goals and operations are different, even though they’re aligned in the same direction. We definitely collaborate between the tech side and the skill development side, and I view L&D as a partner of mine from both an operational and a strategic standpoint.
Here’s how we establish a roadmap together:
- We start with an annual company-wide assessment. The leaders throughout the company put together organizational placemats, detailing our imperatives and initiatives for the year. As the technical stakeholders, we assemble our key initiatives and focus areas; from those, we can determine the skills we need to grow and learn. Some of those carry over from the previous year, and we always identify new ones.
- We then review the content resources we already have and fill the gaps where needed. We take what we have at hand, from our onboarding program down to the on-the-job learning experiences we offer, and adjust those as needed for our goals. We see what content and capabilities already exist within our technology learning platform. Then we try to align these resources with subject matter experts on our end—people with domain knowledge and some level of tech leadership.
- The learning organization facilitates the skill development. L&D can help do things more programmatically at scale. We need people to organize events, coordinate the attendees and handle communication. They have developed a blueprint for how to coordinate the skill development we need, at the scale we’re at. They benefit all of us by making the whole process more efficient.
- Bi-weekly touch-ins keep us on track. We meet with the learning organization every two weeks to go through what skills we’re working on and how it’s all going, and to adjust our annual plan as needed.
Grassroots skill development ignites the natural desire to learn
As a company scales, these strategies naturally evolve. We have about 8,000 people in various tech roles, and some of them need more emphasis than others on upskilling. It’s our job to pilot new programs, find success within and then provide them at scale. It’s also our job to help these initiatives play out from a grassroots level instead of implementing everything from the top down.
My philosophy and experiences are that top-down efforts work better with regulatory compliance. When 100% of people need to check these boxes, that’s a perfect HR effort. The tech space, though, works differently. Different people in different roles need different skills. We try not to crack the whip on enforcing their skill development. Rather, we want to continue to give people the tools, processes and mentors that will help them grow. We want them to have access to the content they need in a range of areas. We want to serve up opportunities and make it easy for our people to gain knowledge and learn.
Yet even the most motivated learners benefit from some guidance. We’ve purposely positioned technical leaders—both managers and people who still code on a regular basis—to use the same tools and processes as their team members. That way, they can help connect people to the skill development they’ll benefit from.
Having a community of learners that includes on-the-ground leaders drives these efforts. It also builds champions, and word spreads quickly about how some course or tool or process helped them improve their skills. That kind of grassroots marketing does a better job than executives ever could.
Not every organization has an L&D team sitting as close to the technology team as we do. If yours doesn’t, work toward it. This tight partnership has given us clarity, alignment and focus, with a path for how to deliver value to our population now and in the future. It’s been critical to our ability to continually build new skills, leverage new technologies and drive health care innovation.
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