Online Learning Specialist ELK Online
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A cautionary tale of L&D miscommunication

As a business unit, L&D needs to get better at working with other departments. This cautionary tale of a learning platform migration gone wrong illustrates exactly how to avoid communication mishaps.

1st Mar 2021
Online Learning Specialist ELK Online
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Frustrated millennial female worker sitting at table with colleagues, felling tired of working quarreling at business meeting. Upset stressed young businesswoman suffering from head ache at office.
iStock/fizkes

Relationships between the learning department and the rest of the business don’t always run smoothly, but failing to take the time to address issues can have disastrous consequences for your project. Consider this cautionary tale.

Working in a silo is never going to get the job done, because life doesn’t happen that way in a business with many moving parts. 

One Monday morning at 8am, my laptop is whirring to life and the vapours arising from my coffee cup are effectively chasing away the last echoes of sleep. I’m working for a large hospitality chain and over the last few weeks we’ve been implementing a brand new learning platform across all of the sites, one area at a time. On Friday, area five went live, here we are on Monday morning and I’m confronted by an email from the operations manager for area five, let’s call him Todd.

Subject: the new learning platform is broken!

Not a single one of our new starters could do their mandatory pre-shift training over the weekend. That is 12 people our sites have been desperate to recruit, 12 people that had to give up their shifts because they weren’t trained. We’ve managed to convince them to come back in today and do their training. I need you to turn the old site back on today. We cannot afford to mess these people around any more.

This isn’t the only email. I have an email from every site that had one of these 12 new starters and they all say the same thing – the new starters didn’t get a welcome email from the new platform and therefore didn’t have their login details and subsequently could not complete their training. This isn’t good.

My phone rings, it’s Todd. Do you really think I’m going to answer that?

No. First I need an idea of what’s happened. I throw an email in his direction telling him I’ve seen his email and I’m on the case, but I cannot turn the old site back on. Then I fire off emails to every person on the project team that can investigate the user journey with me.

The story so far

The learning and development team have been at odds with the business for more than a couple of years. Depending on whom you ask, you’ll get a different answer about what caused it. L&D will tell you the business is just being awkward; they regularly undermine the department by bringing in their own training support and will do their own thing no matter what. The business, on the other hand, will tell you that L&D can’t be relied upon, they have failed the business on a number of occasions and go through more restructures than a derelict Tudor mill.

The new learning platform switch over should have been relatively simple. All we had to do was add the area five sites to the data feed that took information from the existing HR system and automatically create the account for the learning platform. So, we started investigating:

  1. Did we switch on the correct sites? Yes.
  2. Did the existing users migrate over successfully? Yes.
  3. Did the data feed from the HR system to the LMS process correctly? Yes.
  4. Were there any new starters for these sites in the HR data feed? No.

No? Well that is odd, because we didn’t do anything to affect the HR system. I check with HR and they confirm that not a single one of the 12 new starters had been added to the HR system over the weekend. So, why did the sites think they had new members of staff?

The penny drops

As I’m looking at reports that show that these 12 people, to all intents and purpose, don’t exist as employees I remember the last conversation we had with Todd.

Me: When the new platform switches on all of the existing staff will be migrated over and they will lose access to the old system. New staff will automatically be given a learning account when they are set up in the HR system so that’s one less thing managers need to set up.

Todd: But managers will still be able to set up new learning accounts if they want to, like in the old system?

Me: No. Once the site is live managers will not be able to create new accounts, this is a business wide deliverable that we agreed at the start of the project.

Todd: I can’t agree to that. The sites need to keep that.

Me: That isn’t possible, in order to switch on the automation we have to switch off the manual and the business deliverable is to make this automated. This has to be the same for every single site in every area.

Todd: This is too much change for the teams to deal with. You can migrate existing users and switch the sites on, but you cannot take away the manager’s ability to create accounts.

I’ll be honest, I’d lost patience with this discussion. Deadlines were tight, resources were scarce and now I was being asked to make the system do something that was impossible.

Me: Sorry but that just isn’t possible. Here are the communications for the teams so they know exactly what is happening and they know that all they need to do is set a new staff member up in the HR system and everything else will happen automatically.

Then I left it at that. After all, whether Todd liked it or not, the second we switched the site onto the new platform the managers would lose the ability to create accounts, that’s just how the system works. So, there wasn’t anything for me to gain in spending more time trying to convince him to let the inevitable happen.

I check the communication that went out to the area five sites. Someone had changed it. The message that should have told people that they had to set people up on the HR system first had been reworded to more of a polite suggestion rather than a critical task. Worse still, the sites had been told their ability to create accounts would be removed in a few week’s time, suggesting it still existed. The managers of these 12 people thought they could still create the accounts, they could not, and as a result these 12 people couldn’t be trained.

No, the learning platform hadn’t failed, the people implementing it had. I picked up the phone and call Todd.

Key learnings

  • Working with the business can be difficult when you don’t have a good relationship, but it is never a good idea to bulldoze your way through with or without them.
  • Always take as much time as you need to work through issues to make sure both sides come to a good understanding, whether or not you agree with each other.
  • Know who holds the power in the relationship. We thought we had it because we were rolling out the system, but really operations had it because they communicated the change to the teams.
  • Always double-check any communications that are going out and challenge them when appropriate.
  • Bad press is hard to come back from.

Working in a silo is never going to get the job done, because life doesn’t happen that way in a business with many moving parts. If L&D wants to be taken seriously and work effectively within the business, learning professionals need to foster open lines of communication and take time to work through issues with other teams.

Interested in this topic? Read Training requests: why L&D must do more detective work.

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