Winning hearts and minds

You’ve chosen your provider, the technology’s in place and you’re ready to
go. But there’s just one problem – your staff are far from convinced. Lucie Carrington
asks how you can woo employees over to new methods

It doesn’t matter how much you spend on an e-learning programme, or how many
hours managers put into aligning it to business needs, it’s not going to work
if the workforce doesn’t buy into it too.

"Many firms sell e-learning to their finance departments as a cheaper
option. But if you don’t take people with you and you have a high failure rate,
then it becomes expensive," says Mick Durham, a consultant with

Employers shouldn’t underestimate the support e-learning needs – both
technical and interpersonal, Durham says. "If you think about it,
classroom learning has been around almost unquestioned for thousands of years,
so e-learning is a major cultural change," he says.

The first barrier when selling the whole concept of e-learning to the
workforce is fear. However computer literate we think we are, many people are
still afraid of e-learning technology.

Then there is the fear of isolation that e-learning engenders. "They
worry that there will be no one to turn to for help if they don’t
understand," Durham says.

But there is ego in there too. It may be easier to learn at your desk in
your own time, but having your manager recommend you for a two-day course makes
people feel valued. "These kind of thought processes lead people to think
that e-learning is just not as good as traditional learning," Durham says.

There are ways round this. To start with, don’t be too ambitious when you
first set out. "Make sure there are some early and achievable goals to
keep people motivated," Durham says.

This is an approach KPMG Consulting took when it designed its Internet 101
e-learning programme. It’s a massive programme, training 22,000 employees
across 783 countries in e-business skills. But KPMG used a tightly focused and
contained pilot project to introduce e-learning to the workforce.

Nonetheless, motivating staff to use the system was one of the problems
first time round, says senior partner Grant Ritchie. "Never underestimate
the change management aspects of something like thisÉ In this second phase [of
the e-learning programme], staff are much more self-driven," he says.

As KPMG found, how you introduce e-learning to staff makes a huge
difference. Ian Clague, chief executive at blueU, says e-learning is still a
new concept, so awareness raising is vital. It could begin with a good use of
e-mail or the corporate Intranet, but don’t forget the importance of human

"Some clients hold awareness-raising sessions or face-to-face launch days,’
he says. "It’s also worth arranging some test sessions – employees find it
quite exciting."

Another way of taking employees with you is to create a community of
e-learners. This is an approach Royal & SunAlliance took with its
communications skills programme.

Programme manager Katherine Plant and her team organised face-to-face
workshops for staff before they began e-learning. "This enabled people to
find out more about how it worked but also to make some e-learning
buddies," she says.

Blending e-learning with traditional training sounds eminently sensible when
it comes to getting employee buy-in. But it does have a hint of flavour of the
month about it, and Clague warns against training firms that claim they can do
it all on their own.

"It wouldn’t make sense for an e-learning company like blueU to employ
a staff of training experts too.

"However, there are plenty of established players in the training arena
and we are proud of the fact we are able to co-operate with some of them,"
Clague says.

Whatever employers do, there will always be people who don’t enjoy
e-learning, but let’s not overplay the problem, Clague says. We are probably
talking about 10 per cent of the people we are addressing.

"By and large, the feedback is very positive because people are
motivated to improve their skills and e-learning is a convenient way of doing
that," he says.

Case study
Chinese whispers can’t stop success

Royal & SunAlliance is in the
middle of a three-tier e-learning project for 2,500 staff to improve IT and
customer service skills.

The first tranche of learning, a one-hour customer relationship
management course, has already been delivered. The second is also nearly
completed – a communications skills programme. And the third tranche of
learning, designed to deliver a new IT system, will be rolled out early this

"There is always going to be a certain amount of
uncertainty because it’s new," says programme manager Katherine Plant.

"When we announced the programme, people said it was
great, but when it got out to the [customer service] centres, then the Chinese
whispers started and somehow the message fell flat."

Plant and her colleagues overcame staff anxieties in several
ways. To start with they designed the training with people from the business.
"They’ve gone back to their centres telling everyone how brilliant it
is," she says.

R&SA opted for a blended solution for the communications
training. E-learning sessions were topped and tailed with practical workshops
that gave people the chance to discuss what they were going to learn and then
what they had learned. "We talk about how people feel about the training,
whether  it would be useful to their
work and how it could be made more beneficial," Plant said.

In hindsight, there are things Plant would have done
differently. She thinks a roadshow or video introducing the training would have
stalled some of the anxiety people felt. And she would have rolled out the more
interactive communications programme first. "It would have sold the
e-learning idea better because the more interactive you can be and the more fun
the blended solutions, the happier people are," Plant says.

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