Thought leader interview with SAP’s Kerry Brown: Is life now an open book exam?
In the first of a new series of thought leader interviews in the area of learning technology, I spoke to Kerry Brown, SAP’s VP of Enablement about critical factors in getting adoption for SAP software.
John: What does Vice President of Enablement at SAP mean?
Kerry: I am responsible for organizational change management and training at SAP, but success is really about enabling our customers to do their jobs better and have successful people running their businesses, and the title grew out of that. My title is a one-word elevator pitch on how to drive user adoption and user performance.
With the current momentum regarding UX, the equation that I’ve been encouraging people to understand in our space is that
User Experience = User Interface + User Adoption
Not only is it about having a fantastic user interface, it’s needing to make sure that people can adopt and consume it. Success is if people are enabled to do their jobs better.
John: So is your role about how people can deploy SAP software successfully?
Kerry: It’s about how employees at the companies deploying SAP software can do their jobs successfully.
If I look at an SAP implementation, there are typically 5-50 people at executive level who choose to buy SAP software to get business outcomes for their organization. They give that decision and task to 50-500 people at project level to make it come true. And then that solution is given to 500-5,000 (or 50,000 +) employees to get the results that the executives were seeking. I focus on that third population, the employees, and on helping the executives and project team drive success for those employees to get the outcomes the company is pursuing.
John: How important is learning technology in getting employees to be successful in using SAP software?
Kerry: It is becoming increasingly a key foundational element for scalability and consistency in organizations.
If you look around the portfolio that SAP provides, we have the full spectrum of technology from introduction to performance management and documentation to communication and measurement. Depending on where in the life cycle an organization is, each of those technology supporters accelerates and reinforces good, sustainable content.
For example, if you look at documentation tools like SAP Workforce Performance Builder or SAP Productivity Pak, you are able to create consistent content that’s accessible by users and can help drive self-sufficiency.
From a measurement standpoint, you can look at using Questionmark or SAP User Performance Management (Knoa) to measure whether or not people have actually adopted or consumed, and who needs skill reinforcement.
Looking at communications, you can drive change using something like SAP Communications Center, which uses micro learning combined with communication to really put teeth behind change management.
All these technologies allow for more assurance and better risk management about how to drive adoption, which is ultimately how to bring the business outcomes a company needs.
John: What is the key to get people to change so that software is adopted widely throughout an organization?
Kerry: There are four main reasons people resist change:
- I didn’t know: If I’d known I would have done it, but I didn’t know so I didn’t.
- I wasn’t able: If I could have, I would have done it, but I couldn’t so I didn’t.
- I wasn’t involved: Nobody I know or trusted was involved, so it couldn’t have been a good idea.
- I’m not willing: I had other priorities or something else more important to do.
To get adoption, you need to address these proactively.
To deal with those who don’t know, you need to give the right information. Learning is becoming a much more fluid cycle. It used to be that we’d see learning as an event that you attend, consume and then go back to ‘real life’. Learning is now a continuum from information to micro-learning to formal learning.
To deal with those who can’t, you need to give the right skills and capabilities which might come in a formalized learning capability or can come in micro learning chunks when needed.
Involvement is still key, so the human aspect and leadership are key. Social networks and communities of practice help here.
Lastly, leadership and messaging are still critical – at the macro level from executives and at the micro level by managers.
John: And how is addressing change changing?
Kerry: People are people and people’s response to change is fairly consistent, but there are important changes.
A key one is the consumerization of IT and the way Wikipedia and Google and Facebook and YouTube have changed how we consume and share information.
An example is how we are becoming familiar with crowdsourcing. If you look at learning content, we used to have formalized events. Now if I want to learn something at home, for instance to connect my home wifi, I fire up YouTube and watch a 3 minute video which instantly tells me what I need to do. It’s a low fidelity video but it serves its purpose. So instead of corporations needing to produce slick, beautiful videos, you can have employees produce and share video or learning content that is low fidelity but has high access.
I look at corporate learning like Wikipedia or YouTube, where the bulk of the content comes from the crowd. The organizers are nurturing and weeding the garden, but the planting of seeds comes from lots of locations. The training department doesn’t have all the answers – they set up the right fertile “garden” with the right tools and technology.
John: Where do you see assessments having a role in adoption?
Kerry: Assessments are of course needed for regulatory compliance and to check people have the right capabilities, but one trend I am seeing is increased attention to accreditation and certification. This is partly due to generational changes in the workforce as “baby boomers” retire, and so people have less time in the job. Accreditation is becoming increasingly relevant to be able to “slice and dice” the population and know what capabilities are there and to give confidence for an employer to know whether existing employees or new hires have the right skills to do the work.
Assessment is also becoming more important with more informal learning: “I don’t really care how you learned it, but want to make sure you can do it!” The virtual workplace also has an impact – when people are more distributed and you are not seeing their work, you need to use assessments more. Generally we want to focus not so much on the old idea of “Did they learn it?” but more on “Can they do it?”
John: Where does the Cloud help here?
Kerry: Where cloud is relevant is how employees get access to information and content, which allows them to do their job in a different time or place or in a different way. The Cloud is relevant in that it’s allowing people to be more agile and more fluid and more immediate in decision making and problem solving.
The IT infrastructure isn’t relevant to most employees, what matters is how they do their work. HANA and the Cloud can make something that could take days, weeks or months to happen in seconds, minutes and hours. But you have to focus on how does this change people’s jobs, not just the technology.
John: What are the key success factors in deploying technology?
Kerry: Our industry at large is often focused on the complexity of the solutions we build because they are remarkably powerful. The challenge is to hold ourselves accountable to the litmus test of ensuring people can work ‘simpler’ so their company runs ‘better’.
The analogy I like to use is that employees want to learn how to heat their lunch or make popcorn in a microwave oven, they don’t want to open the back of the microwave and see how to build it. They just want to do what they need to do in the simplest way possible.
We need to focus on how people do their jobs, and how we can help them do them better. And how can technology accelerate and support them in being successful and continuously learning.
Often the technology is provided and built by people who are excited by the “back of the oven”, but we need to deploy technology in a way that allows people to be successful in their daily work – each minute and hour of their lives.
John: What advice would you give a learning technology or training professional?
Kerry: A key aspect of how we’ve all changed our learning behaviors is that we are becoming referential learners.
In the past we used to learn more formally and recall it. So you can probably recite a poem you learned in school. Now you are likely a referential learner where you know you can look up that poem on Google and get it when you want, and so you don’t need to memorize it anymore.
As a training professional, what you are really giving people is access to how to be successful. You’re giving them technology and toolsets to allow them to do their jobs.
Life is becoming an open book exam. Working life used to be like a test where you had to memorize things and regurgitate them. But now you need to give people access to content that they can use to be successful in their jobs.