Learning COVID-19 Recording: AON's Linda Cai - 5/28/20

In response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and its unprecedented impact to business and employers, i4cp holds a weekly series of standing calls to help Learning and Development leaders navigate this unpredictable time. 

This week’s Learning and Development action call hosted a special guest: Linda Cai, Global Head of Learning, Leadership and Talent Development at Aon. She was interviewed by i4cp Senior Research Analyst Tom Stone.

Following are four key themes that emerged:

1.  Digital transformation in L&D has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic period.
As similar to many organizations, going back several years at Aon, 90% of training in leadership, sales, etc. was in-person instructor-led training (ILT). There was spotty coverage in some regions, inconsistency in part due to Aon’s acquisitions over the years, and very long wait times for some of the most popular programs—and for Cai this was not acceptable. So they created a digital platform to provide consistent, contemporary, and timely learning opportunities for all Aon colleagues. They were an early adopter of Workday for performance management, talent reviews, and more, and so selected Workday Learning as their LMS. Given the lack of mature learning experience platforms (LXP) in the market about 18 months ago, they made the tough decision to develop one in-house. In this way they could get exactly the features they wanted to cover all the content, topics, and expertise needed, and far more people could feel invested in the platform. One key program enabled by this platform has been their Aon United initiative focused on developing a collaborative culture. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the importance and use of this LMS/LXP platform. Examples Cai gave included 30-year senior leaders being excited at their ability to follow an online learning journey or to have an online mentorship session during these challenging times. Demand for digital learning solutions has exploded, and as at other organizations, has required quick pivots to focus on some topics such as virtual leadership, mental health, wellness, time management, etc.  

2.  Going back to a “new better.” There continues to be a lot of energy around both short-term return to the workplace plans and strategies (see i4cp’s checklist and other resources) and longer-term future of work considerations. Cai described the approach for both at Aon, noting they are describing the return as a “new better.” She anticipates that her L&D team will be involved with training and communication, to help drive real behavior change where needed and avoid a check-the-box compliance mentality. She noted a good analogy to training on WebEx, where L&D has helped go beyond features training that IT or an external vendor would focus on, to drive real behavior change that includes the people skills needed to effectively hold online meetings, webinars, and virtual classroom training. Also of note was that a participant on the call, Mitchel MacNair from Dow, shared his organization’s very robust return to workplace playbook—another great resource for leaders to leverage as they develop their own strategy.  

3.  Sharing is still critical. While the “sharing economy” (think Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, WeWork, etc.) is in many ways struggling due to the pandemic, and certain types of sharing of physical objects is of course discouraged right now, sharing of knowledge and the importance of networking and relationships is more important than ever. So it is very timely that Cai is co-author (with Chris Yates of Microsoft) of a new book out earlier this year and published by Bloomsbury Business: Share: How Organizations Can Thrive in an Age of Networked Knowledge, Power, and Relationships (available in hardcover, Kindle, and Audible audio formats.) She shared with us the genesis of the book, and how many of the stories and points in the book are all the more relevant in the current context.  

4.  There are many, though varied, positive impacts of this pandemic period. Clearly there are many stresses and negative aspects for those suddenly forced to work from home in 2020, especially given the unique constraints imposed by the pandemic (e.g., kids also at home, few external escapes, etc.) But after the first few weeks of transition, many are reporting positive impacts. Recently i4cp asked the following open-answer pulse survey question: “This transition has brought a broad change to our working lives. What aspects have surprised you in a positive way?” Answers were varied, but several key themes emerged from the survey and participants on the call:

  • No commute. There is both the time savings (leading to either a boost in productivity and/or more time for family and leisure) and the positive environmental impact.
  •  Work-life balance. Time for walks, better health from not eating out, more family time, etc.
  •  More focus. Some have escaped challenging open-office spaces or frequent colleague interruptions.
  •  Faster decision making. This can arise from less bureaucracy, less paperwork, more streamlined processes, or increased responsiveness.
  •  More personal connection to colleagues. There is a newfound authenticity from seeing people in their home settings, both colleagues and leaders.
  •  More trust. More honesty, transparency, humanity, etc. were also all mentioned.
  •  More collaboration. Some noted this was increased within a team, some saw it as increased across silos.
  • Less politics. People aren’t in an office just to be seen and there is a more merit-based system because everyone just needs to get stuff done.
  • Level playing field. Since for now everyone who can is working from home, the prejudices and confusions about working from home have faded.
  • More time for learning new things. This can be informally or via virtual classroom / e-Learning.

In addition to the recording above, please see the many resources at our i4cp Coronavirus Employer Resource Center.