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Oct 10, 2017

This is part two of a three-part look at how companies can manage change in meaningful ways that make sense for individual employees and the organization as a whole. Today’s post focuses on the role of learning and development in change management. Part one is here.


Is it better for a company to develop a sea of generalists or specialists?

The ideal answer is probably yes — in the sense that you want to have a mix of both types of workers. But given limited resources, which would yield a better workforce?

In this series’ second installment, I want to focus on how change influences learning and development efforts, and vice versa. Read below what execs from Caterpillar, Shell, General Mills, Deloitte, and other big companies say about how they manage change. Their insights come from an article I wrote some years back, but they are just as relevant now.

Note that companies and titles reflect people’s roles at the time the article was published. (Their current titles are shown.) In fact, almost none of the 25 executives interviewed work for the same corporation, and even fewer hold the same job today. You know, things change.

To view their full comments, and those of other executives, check out the original article, “Will Your People Be Ready?

Bonnie Fetch

Now, Director, Aftermarket Parts Distribution, Caterpillar Logistics; formerly, Director of People and Organizational Development, Caterpillar Inc.

In last few years, we recognized that we were moving people far too frequently and maybe trying to give people more experiences than were necessarily healthy for the organization or our customers. So now, we want to move people around cross-functionally only when it makes sense for their intentional development.

The pendulum has swung back to a notion of deep expertise — which doesn’t mean that we expect our leaders to always be experts, but the good ones know how to leverage their networks rather than just try to figure things out on their own.

Ton van Dijk

Now, Director Strategic Workforce Planning & People Analytics, EY; formerly,Senior Advisor of Global Resource Planning, Shell

Some companies make the mistake of prematurely releasing personnel when their skills are no longer needed — e.g., in times of downturn. We don’t usually do that because we recognize the long-term nature of building skill-based capacity. We know we will need skilled professionals in the future, and it would take a long time to rebuild capability once gone. Of course, one of our goals is to ensure that we recruit people who have the capability to be very flexible to move from one business unit to another, too

Kevin Wilde

Now, Executive Leadership Fellow, Carlson School of Management; formerly, VP of Organizational Effectiveness and Chief Learning Officer, General Mills

The problem is not so much how long you take to develop someone but how you do it. That means constantly adjusting a person’s development curriculum to broaden the individual. For example, our leadership institute ensures that anytime anyone makes a transition into a new role, that person gets individualized training. You need to have a feel for context and that person’s skills rather than use a one-size-fits-all approach to development.

Michael Trusty

Now, Head of Learning and DXC University; formerly, Head of Capability Consulting, Rolls-Royce

While I don’t like clichés, I don’t know any other way to say it: It comes down to learning agility. The people who have a comfort level with ambiguity and can pick up concepts easily are the ones who will thrive.

Craig Gill

Now, Managing Director and Deputy Chief Talent Officer at Deloitte Consulting; formerly, Director for the Development Center of Expertise, Deloitte Services

To be ready for what comes our way, we’ve had to build up skills related to industry knowledge, communications, business empathy, and leadership. This sort of soft stuff is actually the hard stuff to teach, and we’ve come to realize that these skills must be taught very differently than technical skills. It’s made us adjust our approach to teaching, where we now teach these competencies more experientially, through role-playing and simulation.

Eric Biegansky

 Now, Principal, People Advisory Services at EY; formerly, North American Change Management Practice Leader, KPMG

I’ve seen a lot of clients choose a flexible, contract-labor force. When they need people with certain skills, they hire them without bringing them into their payroll. That might work to an extent, but you cannot just farm out 30%, or whatever, of your workforce.

There’s no perfect answer, other than to say that we try to hire as much as possible for baseline, more transferable, traits related to interpersonal relationship management and emotional intelligence. My bias is to be extremely careful when we’re hiring someone for a very niche, technical fit — because unless we can generate sustainable long-term value from a worker, we’re going to have problems down the road

Patsy Doerr

Now, Global Head, Corporate Responsibility & Inclusion, Thomson Reuters; formerly,Global Lead for Diversity & Inclusion and Learning & Development, Thomson Reuters

Because of the pace of change, people get exposed to a lot more experiences in a shorter time frame than they used to. This gets more acute when you go into rapidly developing economies, where people are exposed to four to five times as much change as at corporate headquarters. I know a lot of people find this frustrating, but I think this is all for the positive. It helps accelerate learning. Sure, things come at us faster these days, but technology also makes it possible to get things done faster.

Bill Tarnacki

Now, Global Director, Talent Management, OD & Learning at AAM – American Axle & Manufacturing; formerly, Director of Talent Management and Corporate HR, Pulte Group

We also look more broadly toward vendor education. Instead of looking at the vendor across from us and pounding the table and saying, “We demand that you shift and do it this way,” we educate and help vendors up and down the supply chain. They don’t operate independently, and helping them do their work better helps us too.

Sun Sun Chung

Now, Strategy Consultant at MAR346 Consulting; formerly, VP of Global Learning and Development and Strategy Integration, Pfizer

In recent years, our strategy has been to move from a country-, region-, or location-based leadership and hierarchy to a much more matrix-business-unit structure with a focus on therapeutic areas or diseases.

It’s a cultural shift that has moved away from a direct command-and-control model. In fact, when we got a new CEO in 2010, we did a full cultural analysis to determine whether we have what it takes to achieve our goals and where we want to be in the longer term. The answer was no. So we’ve been really working on shifting our culture around this matrix-, rather than location-based, model. In some instances, this required developing different skill sets to help employees understand how to operate within the new framework. Instead of having managers come in for a three-day training session or dumping a binder on their desk and saying, “Here’s everything — now go away,” we’ve spread training across six to eight months in a curriculum focused on key business concepts, financial acumen, and other skills to adjust people to the new structure.

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