Episode #5: Launching a New Strategic Centralized Learning Function – an Interview with L&D Leader Malika Viltz-Emerson

What is the best way to launch a strategic centralized learning function within an organization? Malika Viltz-Emerson, an L&D leader who has worked for the likes of Xerox and Grubhub and is now the Senior Director of Global Learning, Strategy & Program Management with Microsoft, answered this question on episode 5 of the Learning and Development Stories Podcast.

Linking Learning to Business Strategy

In a recent role, Malika needed to develop a learning function that aligned to the organization’s strategy and technology capabilities.

“People were craving knowledge so we needed to develop learning paths to help employees have the tools to be successful,” she said.

To align learning to the business, Malika first did an evaluation. This entailed going through a listening phase. It was imperative for her to have a “seat at the table” with business leaders (for example, being present when leadership was meeting with their managers).

She created a strategy by partnering with stakeholders of different lines of business, identifying key performance indicators and then aligned this to learning. She came up with a scorecard that highlighted how learning initiatives could generate results on a quarter-to-quarter basis.

“By being in the room during business conversations, we can identify tactics that might otherwise be missed,” she said. “We can come up with strategic approaches on how we can partner.”

Following this exploration, Malika and her team created learning paths that were user friendly and provided a positive overall experience.

“Managers were seeing positive changes in how employees were doing their jobs,” she said. “There were changes in how employees communicated with each other and shared information.”

In summary, Malika highlighted five critical success factors for transformational learning:
– Strategic linkage
– Learner centered
– Technology enabled
– Integrating solutions

– Collaboration

Lessons from Mistakes
Throughout her career, Malika used a standardized approach when doing analysis. In one particular role, she believes that she relied too heavily on this approach and it didn’t work as effectively. Part of the reason was that millennials made up a significant portion of this organization’s employees.

“I had to learn what works better with that group,” Malika explained. “That humbled me. I work in L&D and performance which means I am always a student and need to be continually learning myself.”

The Link between Learning and Employee Engagement
Malika is not a proponent of surveying employees too frequently. However, it is important to do from time to time. She and her colleagues were able to leverage the analytics and data from the learning platform to gauge how employees engaged with learning.

“Engagement changed with the learning platform. There were more interactions. We found that people were coming to us and asking for information. People are often eager to learn but don’t have the tools and resources in place.

Communications Tactics
For Malika, there are two key components to communications: interactions with leadership and promoting the learning experience to employees.

For leadership, the scorecard was an important component. It visually communicated the impact of learning from the previous quarter and identifying opportunities for improvement in the future.

For marketing the overall L&D function, Malika  initially communicated with key stakeholders to get their buy-in. Eventually, she needed to go into marketing mode and raise awareness more broadly about key initiatives, such as a new learning platform coming to the organization. In this case, a serious of videos was one means to generating buzz. Once launched, the learning platform itself became a means for raising awareness.

Fostering Knowledge Transfer
Malika thinks L&D professionals need to be “navigators”. By that, there is an abundance of knowledge that is available online. L&D professionals need to make sure that whatever learners are consuming is the most impactful. For Malika, it is important to provide personalized learning, to capture conversations and then to create an atmosphere that encourages collaboration.

In terms of tools, Malika believes L&D leaders need to be actively involved in due diligence and that a learning platform is key to capturing the impact of informal learning.

In terms of resources, she recommends the CLO Magazine, eLearning Guild, ATD, Slack and the Learning and Development Stories Podcast. Books she recommends for L&D professionals are Clark Quinn’s Revolutionize Learning and Development and Dan Lyon’s book Disrupted.

You can connect with Malika on LinkedIn.

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