4 Takeaways from Weekly Learning & Development Action Calls: COVID-19 Business Response


This week’s Learning and Development action call again hosted a special guest: Brooke Finlayson, Chief Learning Officer at Mondelēz International, a fascinating company with 80,000 employees and best known for snack brands such as Oreos, Ritz, Toblerone, Tang, and many more. Finlayson was interviewed by i4cp CEO and co-founder Kevin Oakes, and we also shared fresh pulse survey data on organizations’ employee reboarding processes. Here are four key themes that emerged: 

1.       L&D has important connections with other talent and HR processes. Finlayson’s role at Mondelēz includes both L&D and performance management, a combination which speaks to the important connection between the two areas. She noted that in recent years they have evolved their approach to PM to be more conversation-centric, and have made sure that learning, development, careers, etc. are part of conversations between managers and their employees. They have evolved the technology used to support this, and while they still have key reviews at the half-year and full-year milestones, they have created a performance feedback culture where managers now give more timely feedback closer to key events, projects, etc. As a global firm, there have been some cultural challenges to making this shift in some regions, so Finlayson’s team needed to meet leaders where they were, and script out the new process to some extent.   

2.       L&D can both leverage existing resources while adapting quickly to employees’ needs. Many organizations had at least some learning resources relevant to critical topics arising in the past several months. That was the case at Mondelēz, but they also realized that some of the materials needed to be adjusted in various ways, such as reducing the length from a 90-minute work-from-home module to providing the essentials in only 30-45 minutes (additional resources were then provided for those that wanted more). As discussed on previous calls, Finlayson’s team also needed to be comfortable emphasizing speed and agility over perfection. Doing so allowed them to quickly roll out a key program spanning 110 sessions, in 11 languages, for over 7,500 employees.

3.       Reboarding is ramping up, but is a very intentional process at most organizations. The most recent i4cp pulse survey focused on “reboarding,” i.e., how best to bring back employees to the traditional workplace who have either been working from home or were furloughed. The survey indicated that close to half (45%) are doing this now, with 21% already having completed the process, and another 19% planning for the process coming soon. HR is not surprisingly very often in a lead role in this process (53%), or at least playing a prominent role on a task force that also includes regional leaders, business unit leaders, facilities, corporate communications, and for some organizations, leaders from legal, risk and operations as well. When asked what actions organizations are taking to ensure an effective reboarding process, the most common practice was providing a return to the workplace playbook or similar resource (80%), followed by providing training on new safety measures (74%). Two additional L&D actions were indicated by less than half of respondents, including upskilling leaders (e.g., soft skills enhancement such as coaching, active listening, conflict resolution, etc.) to help their teams navigate the new normal (42%) and training all managers to recognize and address signs of stress among their direct reports (29%).

Oreo cookies have been a critical snack during the pandemic. In a very unscientific poll, we asked call participants which of ten different Mondelēz International (USA-centric) snack products they had consumed at least once during the COVID-19 pandemic period so far. The run-away leader was Oreos cookies, followed by Philadelphia cream cheese and Wheat Thins crackers. Based on the discussion in the call’s chat, double-stuff and mint-flavored are two very popular types of Oreos, and a few people were delighted to learn for the first time that there are over a dozen different types!


This week’s Learning and Development action call hosted a special guest: Anne Gotte, Senior Vice President, Global Talent at Ecolab. Ecolab is a fascinating company for many reasons, but two very timely ones are their specialization in products and expertise in creating healthy living and working environments (critical during this pandemic period and beyond), and the fact that they are headquartered in Minnesota, where the recent killing by police of George Floyd sparked both protests and violence in the Twin Cities that soon spread around the country. Gotte was interviewed by i4cp CEO and co-founder Kevin Oakes, and we also shared are most recent research on the pandemic’s impact on organizational culture. Here are four key themes that emerged:

1.       L&D’s role in organizations’ responses to civil unrest and I&D initiatives. In recent years many organization’s L&D functions have stepped up in response to headline-grabbing I&D issues, such as Starbucks’ instituting unconscious bias training at all stores after the 2018 incident in Philadelphia. Similarly, in the wake of the killing by police of George Floyd, Ecolab’s L&D function, led by Gotte, pivoted very quickly, first by working with their ERGs to create employee listening sessions, and then working over a weekend to create an ally guide and a full e-Learning module on “allyship” (i.e., ways in which employees in majority groups can be better allies to racial or other minority groups). Emotions are very high at Ecolab since they are located in Minnesota where the killing took place, but the L&D team worked with relevant ERGs to quickly craft this course which covers what allyship is, the importance of unconscious bias, how allies can help via inclusion, more specific actions that allies can take, and then specifics around race-based allyship.

For more on how organizations are responding to the death of George Floyd, see the i4cp article 5 Ways Companies Are Responding to Escalated Racial Tensions and Social Unrest.   

2.       The importance of continuing to focus talent mobility. Gotte noted that Ecolab already had a focus on talent mobility prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that it can be challenge much like a diet – easy to say, harder to do and stick with. Ecolab’s employer brand promise hits directly on the importance of talent mobility, learning, and development: “Own your future. Impact what matters.” And so during the last several months Gotte and her team have been focusing on internal mobility anew, always aligning with the changing needs of their customers. Compared with some organizations, Ecolab emphasizes freedom over structured career paths, and they have also grown a lot via acquisition over the years. So focus is needed to make clear the learning and career options employees have, especially during times of fast change and regular distraction.

For more on talent mobility and the need to focus on the broader talent supply chain, see the recent article Why HR Chiefs Must Rethink Talent Management after COVID-19 in the Financial Times, written by i4cp’s Chief Research Officer, Kevin Martin.  

3.       The increasingly important role of L&D now and in the future. Gotte noted the critical role of learning and development at Ecolab, and how it will only increase in the post-pandemic era. The function is mostly decentralized at Ecolab, with a small group of about a dozen who focus on core leadership and other topics, and then over 200 individuals who sit in the various business units and have a significant emphasis on sales training. That is needed because Ecolab’s broad product line and expertise – which spans clean water, safe food, healthy environments, abundant energy, and more – means that over 50% of their employees are in sales-related roles. All these individuals must live the brand for Ecolab to continue to be successful. The pandemic has meant significantly increasing their digital skills, and has also brought some shifts in products and services themselves. Gotte also noted that they had recently launched an updated frontline manager program, but then needed to “rethink their rethink” on that topic given the increased digital needs of the times. Overall, the urgency around learning and development for the organization is as high as ever.  

4.       The impact of COVID-19 on organizational culture. A recent i4cp pulse survey had 75% (over nearly 200 respondents) indicating that their organization’s culture had been impacted by the pandemic in a positive way. Gotte noted one way this has been the case at Ecolab, paradoxically even amongst the many employees working from home for the past three months, has been the increased sense of community and a “we’re all in this together” attitude. Humera Shahid similarly noted via chat that “The pandemic has been a galvanizing force. … I wonder if we can continue to emphasize shared experiences for our workforces? This is something that is built into our leadership model at Intuit. An emphasis on shared experiences for people around a common purpose or a challenge.”

When asked if they anticipated major changes to their organization’s culture in the future as a result of the pandemic, 57% of pulse survey participants said yes (leaving open whether those changes would be positive or negative). John Cone, chair of i4cp’s Chief Learning and Talent Officer Board, closed the call in the chat by asking this provocative question: “If you made a list of all of the things you are deliberately doing differently (enhanced communication, focus on collaboration, connecting at a personal level, etc.), could your leaders make a conscious decision right now about which you will deliberately continue?”

For more insights on the impact on organizational cultures during the pandemic, see the Human Resource Executive article Positive Product of the Pandemic: Culture, by i4cp’s CEO Kevin Oakes.


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.


This week’s Learning and Development action call hosted a special guest: Jay Moore, Global Learning and Culture Leader, GE Crotonville at GE. He was interviewed by Kevin Oakes, CEO and co-founder of the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), and we shared some of our latest pulse survey data on return to the workplace trends. Here are four key themes that emerged:

The pandemic has accelerated L&D shifts, such as an increased use of digital approaches. GE’s Crotonville facility is the most iconic leadership development facility in corporate America. Dating back to 1956, it has seen its share of both growth and evolution. But even at a location with such a strong legacy, the pandemic is causing some changes. GE was already increasing their use of digital technology, such as video content and virtual classroom learning. The blended learning mix is and will continue in this direction, with some plans for 2021 or beyond being implemented much sooner.

In-person ILT will change, not go away. In the short term, starting when it reopens in June, the Crotonville facility will more likely host regional groups than those coming in from around the globe. As with in-person ILT programs at other organizations, there will be changes to policies and procedures, e.g., some class sizes being smaller. GE’s programs were already shifting towards having more on-the-job learning and coaching elements, spread over many weeks, and then one-week of collaboration, networking, etc. at Crotonville—so this sort of blend will no doubt continue going forward.

Leaders as teachers. GE is also seeing an increase in a practice that i4cp has long recommended: leveraging leaders as teachers. This has benefits for both the learners, such as learning rich stories from the leaders who experienced them, and the leaders themselves, such as sharpening their reflective, communication, and presentation skills. This remains a practice that too few organizations take full advantage of, so see the i4cp/ATD whitepaper Leaders as Teachers: Engaging Employees in High-Performance Learning to learn more.

Leadership has quickly become more nuanced. Again, many trends in leadership capabilities and skills that were already underway pre-pandemic have been accelerated by COVID-19. Stronger listening skills (active listening followed by asking for clarification) are even more critical for remote leaders managing virtual and hybrid teams. Empathy is also key, with a focus on the highly contextual understanding of each employee’s needs. Others mentioned in the conversation were humility, transparency, and communication skills.


This week’s Learning and Development action call again hosted two special guests: Molly Hill, Vice President, Global Talent at Starbucks, and Dan Cousins, Vice President, Talent and
Organizational Performance at Kaiser Permanente. They were interviewed by Kevin Oakes, CEO and co-founder of the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp). Here are four key themes that emerged:

1.     Using an informal learning approach has been a major pivot for Starbucks. A major shift towards informal, discussion-driven learning began back in May of 2018, when Starbucks closed all locations to conduct bias training. Hill noted that the approach is neither traditional instructor-led training nor self-paced e-Learning. Rather, store partners gather around iPads to view videos together, and then an online facilitator guides discussion on the topic. This approach has been used for many learning topics, with measurement of effectiveness shifting away from a compliance mindset towards measuring engagement in what they call “Third Place Discussions.”

2.     L&D is very focused on developing “return to the workplace” training and resources. We polled participants on the call about whether their organization’s L&D team has started developing new learning resources for a “return to the workplace” phase. 55% said yes, and another 36% said they were planning or talking about doing so. A great example of this came from Hill at Starbucks, as they are working to reopen their many store locations beyond drive-thru operations only. The latest iteration of their informal learning approach is their “Homecoming” return to the workplace program, which goes by the name “Connecting to Our Purpose Together.” One variation from the approach described above is the use of audio content instead of videos, as partners cannot gather closely together around iPads given the current need for physical distancing. A two-day program, day 1 focuses on empathy, the common thread of the partner journey, shared experiences, and even fears involved in returning to the workplace. Day 2 has a more operational focus, covering safety procedures, health check procedures, and store format changes.

3.     The need to maintain development momentum while emphasizing new areas such as well-being. Kaiser-Permanente is both a healthcare plan and direct healthcare provider, serving over 12 million members and with over 220,000 employees (over 300,000 including doctors, nurses, etc.). Critical employees involved in the delivery of care have of course been very busy over the past several months, and this meant pausing any training and development initiatives they were involved in. Initially the thinking was that their programs would simply be on pause, and would resume again say in September. But Cousins said they have realized now that aspects of some programs need to change, such as more focus on equiping managers with skills on how to address employees’ holistic well-being. (This is also the topic of an extensive new i4cp report released this week and available to all: Next Practices of Holistic Well-Being.)

4.     Creating an environment and culture of psychological safety is very important. Cousins noted another key aspect of their programs is to support their organization’s strong culture of psychological safety and support for “speaking up.” He noted that their speaking up index is the most powerful predictor they have of better performance outcomes, including even tangible results like fewer accidents. One concern is that during this pandemic crisis fear or other issues might lead to less speaking up, so the team is staying focused on this.


This week’s Learning and Development action call hosted two special guests, both from the air travel industry: Bethany Tate Cornell, Vice President - Leadership, Learning & Organizational Capability at Boeing, and Brandon Carson, Director of Learning - Airport Customer Service and Cargo at Delta. They were interviewed by Kevin Oakes, CEO and co-founder of the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp). Here are four key themes that emerged:

1.     Changes have been implemented for in-person instructor-led training. While a lot of training has shifted to the virtual classroom, some programs that must be delivered in-person have continued. At Boeing, a lot of the workforce can only work on-site: “We can’t build planes and rockets from home,” Cornell noted. Likewise, training programs such as FAA-required certifications for manufacturing cannot move to virtual delivery. So the focus has been on how to continue such ILT training in a safe way, with physical distancing practices in place. Cornell said that they reduced class sizes by 40%, increased the number of classes by 50%, and leveraged personal protective equipment (PPE) for hands-on learning. For some skills, rather than the instructor and learners huddling around a lab table, Boeing has leveraged a “cooking show” technique where the instructor models at the front of the room with a camera and screen, and then walks around to watch learners perform the skill, while still maintaining proper physical distance.

2.     New training topics and programs have been needed. Like many organizations, Boeing has seen a surge in interest training and support on virtual teamwork, virtual leadership, and collaboration, as well as modelling self-care and well-being best practices. Delta’s new training needs have gone beyond this because of their new initiative called Delta Clean, which includes strategies to make travelling during these times as safe and clean as possible. Carson noted the broad range of focus areas from the boarding process, enhanced cleaning of planes and airport spaces, not using middle seats on plans for the time being, and more. These changes require training and other support from the L&D team, so that has kept his team as busy as ever.

3.     The shift to digital has accelerated quickly. Carson noted that at Delta, they had already started a shift of some training programs to the virtual classroom, but that the pandemic has accelerated this change. A specific example is Delta’s Leadership Development Academy, which was already a blend of several modalities, but they have even further accelerated their goal of having elements of the program as close to the workstream as possible. Carson noted one benefit of virtual delivery and online meetings is an increase in equality, as everyone in the organization—from a top leader to a first-year individual contributor—appears in a virtual environment with the same square tile.

At Boeing, Cornell noted that prior to COVID-19 digital learning made up about 40% of their training but that now it is more like 60-70%. Boeing had already started using Degreed to provide easier access to learning content, but the pandemic has led to a surge in usage. Cornell also oversees onboarding at Delta, and hiring has not stopped so that has meant a shift to virtual onboarding, including the L&D elements involved.

4.     L&D has focused on organizational culture during this time. At Boeing, significant work on organizational culture was already underway after the two airplane accidents from 2018 and early 2019. These initiatives were building on strengths such as collaboration, innovation, safety, and pride in work, while focusing on improving in areas such as transparency and integration. During the pandemic, leaders have been leaning in to keep a focus on culture by doing check-ins, from the top of the house down. During this time they have seen a 60% increase in the use of resources available to help support the employee experience.

At Delta, the CEO is doing two town halls each month, and each team leader is doing two town halls each week. There has been a noticeable increase in dialog, transparency, and inclusion. Carson said that their leaders can’t communicate too often, as things sometimes are changing by the hour. Lastly, some employees have taken leaves of absence, but they have not been turned off in the systems so they can still stay connected during this time.


This week’s Learning and Development action call hosted two special guests: Sarah Gretczko, Senior Vice President, Chief Learning and Insights Officer at Mastercard, and Joe Ilvento, Chief Learning Officer and WW Director of Talent Development at Commvault. They were interviewed by Kevin Oakes, CEO and co-founder of the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), and new survey data was presented on the issue of collaborative overload during this coronavirus pandemic period. Here are four key themes that emerged:

1.     Return to the workplace planning is here. Two weeks ago an i4cp survey found that 65% of organizations had a team or task force working on their “return to the workplace” strategy, and likely that number has only increased since then. At the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) we have been curating a lot of resources on this, and this week we launched a new Return to Work and the Workplace page at our Coronavirus Employer Resource Center. This page includes i4cp’s new and robust Return to the Workplace Checklist, as well as over a dozen links to best practice articles and corporate practice guides, toolkits, and playbooks.   

2.     Learning and Development will have an important role to play. While some organizations might rely on their corporate communications team to simply provide information to employees on what has changed in the workplace, many will rely on the function is best able to help educate employees and change behavior: the Learning and Development team. Trainers, instructional designers, and L&D leaders are dedicated to learning, training, and behavior change.

Both Ilvento from Commvault and Gretczko from Mastercard stressed that their L&D teams will be very involved in designing content for the return to the workplace process, using various modalities from short training modules, to frequent digital reminders, and more, to both educate employees on new recommendations and requirements for their workplace life and help cement real behavior change. Leveraging the existing L&D infrastructure (LMS platforms, content creation tools, learning models, etc.) also gives organizations a measure of legal coverage that strong compliance programs can provide.  

3.     The pros and cons of collaboration during the pandemic. The latest i4cp survey of several hundred HR leaders was on the topic of collaboration and collaborative overload during the pandemic period. The largest percentage of respondents (39%) said that their level of collaboration with colleagues was at this point about the same as prior to COVID-19 and any shift in work that has taken place. But 29% said that the amount of time they spend collaborating with others is much higher than before, and they are feeling overloaded as a result. One major cause of this is the number of meetings (almost all virtual today), as 44% indicated they are in five or more meetings a day, and 20% said they are in seven or more a day. On the other hand, 17% of respondents said they are collaborating more now but that they feel energized by it rather than overloaded, and 9% said they are currently underutilized and would welcome more collaboration time. 

4.     Shift in L&D training approaches and topics. Both Gretczko and Ilvento shared how their organizations’ L&D functions have pivoted to best support the needs of their learners. As discussed on previous calls, there has been a clear increase in both virtual classroom (synchronous) training and self-paced eLearning (asynchronous) use. Gretczko described that a central focus of her team’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been to provide curated digital learning experiences, with new topics of emphasis including stress management, working remotely, digital fluency more broadly. Leveraging the Degreed platform and in partnership with the business they are creating learning pathways in these and other areas, and see learning as a primary driver of employee experience and engagement.

Ilvento noted many L&D innovations at Commvault during this COVID-19 period, all aligned to their culture and values and with an emphasis on agility. Examples included leveraging text messaging as part of pre-boarding and for managers to drive engagement; modifying 60-90 minute training modules into smaller segments; using drop campaigns for some content reinforcement; and greater use of quickly assembled solutions as needed.  


This week’s Learning and Development action call hosted two special guests: Cameron Hedrick, Chief Learning Officer at Citi, and Humera Malik Shahid, VP, Talent Development at Intuit. They were interviewed by Kevin Oakes, CEO and co-founder of the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), and new survey data was presented on “return to the workplace” strategies and planning. Here are four key themes that emerged:

1.     Return to the workplace planning is ramping up. According to i4cp’s latest survey (which included over 300 HR leaders from organizations of 1,000+ employees), 65% of organizations have a team or task force working on their “return to the workplace” strategy, and another 26% are discussing the need for such a team soon. Hedrick said that at Citi they have had this in place for many weeks, due to the global nature of their company, which includes operations in China and other areas further along the COVID-19 path. He noted they are taking a slow and data-driven approach to return to the workplace, taking some steps and then seeing the impact of each. Shahid noted that at Intuit they plan to survey all employees to learn their various needs, recognizing that a return to the workplace will not be a short-term, flip-the-switch approach, but rather a gradual process.   

2.     Conservative approaches to returning to the workplace means blended and virtual learning is here to stay. Even when some roles that can’t work from home return to the traditional workplace, many that can work remotely will continue to do so for some time—either full time or in hybrid ways whether due to preference, flexibility, or the need to limit numbers for social distancing at the workplace. As a result, the recent surge in blended and virtual training will likely not be a blip, but rather here to stay for a long time to come. Hedrick noted that initially some of their L&D programs were paused due to the pandemic, but that they are ramping up now with virtual approaches being used and likely to continue to be prominent for at least 6-18 months. One key is to make sure the technology involved is hardened as an increase in IT security threats can be expected. Shahid said that at Intuit they had been already increasing their use of virtual training and that the pandemic has accelerated that shift. She noted that the L&D team has become very agile, creating in 3 weeks what used to take months. They are not sacrificing quality, but are recognizing that they can’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good—what matters is whether the learning outcomes will be achieved from what they provide.  

3.     Leadership communication is key. Return to the workplace strategies will clearly vary greatly from one organization to the next. What will be universal is the need for strong communication from leadership about what is being done to make employees feel safe, as ultimately perceptions will be key to morale, engagement, productivity. Both what is being done and why it is being done needs to be shared, with all of it anchored in the organization’s values, Shahid noted. At Intuit they have had a significant increase in leader communications, including weekly update emails and video updates via the Slack collaboration platform.  

4.     Expanding learning topics and resources. During the first couple weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organization’s L&D teams scrambled to update or create content on remote work and virtual leadership. Shahid noted that when it comes to good management, the what has not changed, on some aspects of the how. While these topics on aspects of virtual work are still a focus for many organizations, some are now also creating training on crisis management or updating existing content on change management. L&D teams have also surveyed the employees they support to find out what training and resources would be most useful during these times. Shahid noted that one area for her team has been supporting employees who are parents with children doing online schooling. Several participants shared resources in the chat on this, including providers such as Outschool, Revolution Prep, and See also the curated list at i4cp’s page Resources for Parents Educating School Age Children at Home. 


This week’s Learning and Development action call hosted two special guests, again both members of i4cp’s Chief Learning and Talent Officer Board: Karen Kocher, General Manager, Global Talent & Learning Experiences at Microsoft, and Michael Killingsworth, former L&D executive at ABB, Shell, and American Airlines. They were interviewed by Tom Stone, Senior Research Analyst at i4cp, and new survey data was presented on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on leadership development and succession planning. Here are four key themes that emerged:

1. Self-development during isolation. Michael Killingsworth set the stage by sharing a great quote from author Henry David Thoreau, “We must first succeed alone that we may enjoy our success together.” He then led a discussion of the importance of self-development during this time of physical isolation. He described the various ways in which he is focusing on learning and development for himself, including networking (leader forums, webinars, and LinkedIn), formal learning (books, online courses, and from nature), coaching / mentoring (both self to others and others to self), and finally making sure to sustain these efforts through good calendar management, self-discipline, and proactive planning.

2. Book recommendations. During the discussion of self-development, several participants on the call shared books they are reading or re-reading during this time. Included were:

·       20-Minute Networking Meeting, by Marcia Ballinger
·       The Coaching Habit, by Michael Bungay Stanier
·       The Infinite Game, by Simon Sinek
·       Winning from Within, by Erica Ariel Fox
·       Great at Work, by Morten Hansen
·       The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle
·       Barking Up the Wrong Tree, by Eric Barker

3. The importance of agile development. Karen Kocher from Microsoft noted that they have been very successful over the years developing effective learning experience, but that much of their focus had been on in-person learning experiences. Because of COVID-19, they needed to take a step back and work very quickly and very iteratively to create highly effective virtual learning opportunities. A key learning for her team has been a focus on agility while maintaining a high level of quality. Participants on the call shared the following additional perspectives on the need for speed:

  • Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.
  • What is needed is a mix of quick, heavy prioritization and rapid development.
  • More resources, less courses.
  • Curation of external content is important compliment the internal learning resources and tools.
  • Just in Time (JIT) is key: how do we get them what they need when they need it?
To determine what content is most needed, desired, and timely, use multiple sources of information: surveys, Teams/Slack channels, HR hotline feedback, employee resource groups (ERGs), etc. 4. Leadership / succession data. The latest i4cp pulse survey data was shared, with this week’s topic being the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on leadership development, succession planning, and talent risk. Key findings included:
  • Only 4% of those surveyed said COVID-19 has not had any impact on their organization’s leadership development programs, with only 7% saying the same for their succession planning / management process.
  • 70% said that leadership development programs have been rescheduled or delayed, 73% said that at least some programs have been delivered virtually, and 60% said they are encouraging leaders to leverage self-paced e-Learning programs where applicable.
  • 40% indicated that talent reviews that are part of the organization’s succession planning / management process are continuing but being conducted virtually, with 33% saying such meetings are being delayed or rescheduled.
  • While 27% said that talent risk for current leaders at their organization would increase somewhat or significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, even more (32%) said it would decrease somewhat or significantly.                          


This week’s Learning and Development action call hosted two special guests, both members of i4cp’s Chief Learning and Talent Officer Board: Joe Garbus, Chief Talent and Inclusion Officer at Marsh, and Brenda Sugrue, Chief Learning Officer at EY. They were interviewed by i4cp’s CEO Kevin Oakes, and new survey data on virtual classroom training during the COVID-19 pandemic period was also presented—here are four key themes that emerged.

1.     Virtual classroom training is a major focus right now. Our latest pulse survey data included 60% of participants indicating a significant increase in the use of virtual classroom training due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with another 31% indicating a modest increase. Garbus noted that at Marsh the L&D team has been very focused on quickly training their trainers to be proficient with the virtual classroom modality, at the same time they work to migrate core content as well. He said they are learning a lot as they pivot quickly in this direction, and expect some of those learnings to carry through into a future where virtual training and remote work in general are more common.

Sugrue at EY noted they too are using virtual classroom a lot: running train-the-trainer programs, leveraging producers, and relying on their strong WebEx integration with Success Factors to manage it all. On the content side they have two levels: a light conversion approach that minimizes redesign work by giving the facilitation team new options, and a full conversion approach that deconstructs the entire program and creates a blended approach that uses a combination of virtual classroom sessions and asynchronous content where objectives don’t require live instruction or peer to peer interaction.

2.     Virtual classroom training has new challenges during this pandemic period. Beyond standard challenges with virtual classroom training (e.g., cultural resistance, making the programs interactive and engaging, and technology issues such as bandwidth lacking for consistent video), we asked call participants what was the biggest new challenge the modality is facing because of our shared situation with COVID-19. The results indicated a wide variability across organizations. 15% were overwhelmed by the need to upskill trainers and convert content, and 10% said the top issue was security concerns from the sudden surge in interest in the platforms involved—both indications of strong interest in virtual classroom training. However, 19% indicated a top challenge was people having too much fear, anxiety, or stress to learn effectively now. And the most common response, at 37%, was employees simply being too busy to focus on learning.  

3.     Some employees are a captive audience, eager for learning opportunities. While many employees are as busy as ever (including many L&D roles working on the training and conversion work mentioned above), others can’t work at full capacity during this time period—including in some cases employees working staggered shifts, as one session participant noted. At Marsh, the CEO pledged no layoffs, so this means some have time to devote to professional development. Garbus noted that many are hungry for content, especially in areas like growth mindset, mental health, remote work, etc. Some programs are so popular they have waiting lists. Sugrue also noted significant increases in learning content usage at EY during this pandemic period, including 40-100% increases in off-the-shelf content usage, a 20% increase in course completions, and a 40% increase in badges awarded. One of the session’s participants noted that they are also seeing an increase in the measured engagement with learning content—a further sign of a captive audience, eager for learning opportunities.

4.     Badges are a big hit at EY. Like many organizations, EY has rolled out a badging system for their employees that helps indicate proficiency in various skills and competencies—many of which are otherwise hard to measure or certify due to their granularity or lack of traditional systems such as degrees or certifications. Unlike most other organizations, EY has done more than experiment in this area, as Sugrue described the breadth and depth of their badging system. They have a strong governance model in place, which helps build confidence and value in the entire system. Popular badges include areas such as data analytics, blockchain, security, AI, as well as specialty domains such as manufacturing. They have a four-level system comprised of Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze badges, with various amounts of learning time, experience, and content contribution components required for each.

The results are impressive, with Sugrue noting a measured 2X higher retention rate for those participating in the program. The badges have been very empowering, helping many employees to get noticed for their skills and competencies, and now play a role in the promotion process. The organization has big goals for their badging system, such as awarding one million badges by 2025.


This week’s Learning and Development action call hosted two special guests, both member’s of i4cp’s Chief Learning and Talent Officer Board: Rob Lauber, CLO of McDonald’s and Karie Wilyerd, CLO of Visa. They were interviewed by i4cp’s CEO Kevin Oakes, and new survey data on user-generated learning content was also presented—here are four key themes that emerged.

1.       Job role shifts and employee sharing provide immediate benefits and learning opportunities. While many employees are continuing to do their jobs just from a different location (at home), at some organizations tasks have shifted to accommodate surge activities. Rob Lauber noted that many in his L&D organization at McDonald’s have temporarily been switched from regular duties to helping support the general HR hotline. More broadly, in some regions (notably in Germany) McDonald’s has entered into a employee sharing partnership with Aldi grocery stores. McDonald’s has nearly 1,500 outlets in Germany, but during this COVID-19 pandemic, they do not have enough work hours to give their employees—whereas a grocer like Aldi has seen a surge in business given the massive demand for at-home food. Under the agreement, McDonald’s employees are specifically referred to Aldi on a temporary basis and can return to McDonald’s after the assignment.

While learning and development goals were not the main goal of either of these job-switching arrangements, it will no doubt be a side benefit arising from both. It could also lead to more permanent job rotation partnerships between McDonald’s and other companies in the future, given the same, similar, and adjacent skills between their restaurant positions and many others in retail, or amongst their supply chain, Lauber noted. This sort of approach aligns with McDonald’s proud history of being an early career platform for workers, that includes ongoing investment in their Archways to Opportunity program that includes second language programs, pay for online accredited high-school degrees, and higher-ed tuition assistance for many employees (over 50,000 thus far).

2.       Increased interest in virtual classroom and mobile learning options. As noted on prior weeks’ calls, there is clearly an increased interest in virtual classroom training. Lauber from McDonald’s noted that some in-person instructor-led training has simply been canceled for now, but that some programs are being shifted to virtual. Mobile device content is also important with such a dispersed workforce around the globe.

At Visa, Wilyerd noted that any remaining resistance to virtual classroom delivery is being chipped away by the COVID-19 pandemic. They were already looking for virtual solutions for some key training programs, and such approaches will only expand.

3.       Interest in user-generated learning content is increasing. i4cp conducted a pulse survey recently on user-generated learning content. Nearly three in ten respondents indicated their organization’s were big proponents, with another 15% indicated they are interested but struggle to get employees interested. The COVID-19 pandemic it seems will increase those numbers, as nearly one in five respondents indicated their organization is already leveraging user-generated learning content more during this time period, and another 25% said they plan to do so soon. Lauber from McDonald’s noted some of the same challenges to such content that came out in the survey, from lack of consistency, concern over incorrect information, etc., but also noted that in time such issues can be lessened through the right governance structures and partnering L&D professionals with the employee community to maximize content quality, timeliness, and volume.  

4.       Curation is key. Wilyerd is currently the CLO at Visa, but she has a long history with user-generated learning content, having been the leader of the Jambok product that eventually became SAP Jam. She noted that one issue with both standard self-paced learning content (courses, videos, etc.) and user-generated content is the sheer volume that is available. At Visa they are upgrading their Learning Experience Platform (LXP) to Degreed and focusing on reducing the number of learning pathways that organize their 90,000+ learning objects. To Lauber’s points earlier, they also have strong governance structures before content is posted to the company-wide catalog.


This week we opened up the call beyond Learning and Development professionals, as our topics of remote work, virtual teams, and virtual leadership are on just about everyone’s mind during this time of COVID-19. 

Co-hosted by Kevin Oakes, i4cp's CEO, and Tom Stone, i4cp Senior Research Analyst, we shared i4cp's latest survey data on the extent to which organizations have shifted to remote work in the past few weeks. Learning leaders from i4cp's CLTO Board and others on the call shared what their organizations are doing to support this rapid change, including how they are supporting their new virtual leaders and managers. The conversation, including in the chat, was very robust—here are four key themes that emerged. 

1.       Remote work has exploded. Everyone knew this on some level, but our latest survey data is striking: 

  • The percentage of organizations with a relatively low number of people working remotely (1-24% of workforce) has shrunk from 74% pre-COVID-19 to only 11% now.
  • The percentage of organizations with over half of their employees currently working remotely has swelled from a meager 8% to a significant 73%.
  • The percentage of organizations that are 100% work-from-home has quadrupled from 4% to 16%.

2.       Support for remote work is evolving just as fast. Recognizing that for many workers this is their first experience with working from home, leaders at most organizations have by now curated ample resources, guides, tips, etc.—with some stating that people are complaining of too much information. Some organizations have to be more creative than others, such as healthcare organizations that need to work around telemedicine regulations, and some that already had a lot of remote workers are clearly ahead. A good starting place for any organizations that do not yet have a simple guide for remote work is Microsoft’s Remote Work checklist.

One tip that resonated strongly on the call was to make sure to hold non-business virtual meetings that are more social and fun in nature. Business needs to continue as much as possible during this time, but recognizing the stress people are experiencing is critical to maximize productivity, engagement, and morale. i4cp held a virtual St. Patrick’s Day holiday gathering on Zoom, and our teams are regularly holding morning coffee chats and happy-hours. Participants on the call shared many other virtual meeting types to consider, including birthday celebrations, retirement parties, exercise sessions, riddle/game gatherings, and more.

Many organizations by now also have a chat and collaboration tool available, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. These tools are useful for traditional teams in an office, but are vital for virtual teams to work productively. They not only allow for one-on-one text chatting, but also support persistent chat groups that can be formed around a department, a project, or a common interest area. With modern features like video-meeting integration, file sharing, and more, such platforms are seeing a major increase in use during this time of COVID-19.

3.       Remote work will likely grow, but never be this hard again. There has always been a learning curve when someone starts to work remotely for the first time, whether a couple days a week or full-time. What is making this period so challenging is that it is being forced up so many employees, around the globe, all at once. And on top of that, we have issues that remote workers typically don’t have to deal with: kids at home from school all day, every day; grocery availability and other conveniences curtailed; and in some cases, the stress of knowing that a friend, family, or colleague is sick with the virus. The mantra from the chat on the call was that everyone needs to be patient and kind, and assume the best of intentions during this time (good advice for all times really!).

Given this current reality, it is impossible to know for sure what will happen in the future regarding remote work. Will the current experiences be so challenging that people will not want to continue to work from home if they can help it? Or is the genie now out of the bottle, and even with the difficulties today, many employees will expect some flexibility to work from home in the future? Participants on the call were polled and there was a mix of views. Many said future remote work will only be slightly increased from the time before COVID-19, but about the same number indicated that their will be a significant increase in the future due to shifted expectations, positive productivity results (after an initial adjustment period), and reduced barriers (technological and cultural) regarding remote work.

4.       Virtual leaders need to step up, but they also need support. Those who lead and manage remote workers and virtual teams have long known there are different skills they need to use than their traditional counterparts. i4cp research found that the top skills of this kind are digital fluency, facilitating collaboration, cultural agility, helping others build a strong network. Those who suddenly find themselves with remote workers and a virtual team to lead for the first time need support, including access to training on best practices—something i4cp research found few organizations provide, but that high-performance organizations provide 4.5x more than low performers.

On the issue of facilitating collaboration, call participants agreed that this is as important as ever during this time of increased remote work. Employees can easily suffer from collaborative overload, especially given the new reality of work and in light of all of the distractions and stressors mentioned above. Call participants agreed that now more than ever employees need to be careful to not cause collaborative overload by placing too many demands on their colleagues, and leaders need to create a safe environment where employees feel safe to raise collaboration problems and concerns (a next practice that few organizations do according to i4cp’s collaboration research).      


The second of our series of weekly COVID-19 coronavirus business response video calls for learning and development leaders was well attended, and not surprisingly as we were joined by a special guest, Elliott Masie, the founder of the MASIE Center and a long-time industry analyst and thought leader. i4cp CEO Kevin Oakes and Elliott led a dialogue on a range of issues and concerns for L&D leaders in these unprecedented and challenging times—here are four key themes that emerged. 

1.     Learning and development can really step up and be heroes to their organizations. The L&D community has great skillsets for what is needed now—people really need to learn new things quickly, from how to work from home, to new practices like social distancing/etc., and in some cases rich skillsets such as trainers who need to switch from the in-person classroom to the virtual classroom.

Elliott gave the analogy to one of his favorite movies, Apollo 13, and specifically to the scene where the NASA engineers dumped all of the same equipment available to the astronauts in the damaged spacecraft on a table to creatively problem solve for a situation they never planned for. Similarly, L&D professionals need to “work the problem” and think creatively with the tools at hand. 

Elliott recommends they think very broadly and beyond traditional training, and instead become a performance and learning support function. Fortunately for many this will be an acceleration of change already underway, and not a sudden nor temporary shift, as this focus aligns with many existing trends in the industry already, such as the increasing focus on learning in the flow of work, performance support, micro-learning, etc. Elliott recommended thinking differently by coaching leaders to have virtual coffee meetings in the mornings or similar calls at the end of the day. In general, L&D needs to stay focused on helping people feel and be productive, noting that many are afraid for their jobs now, while also warning against the trap of becoming the group therapist.

2.     For some there will be great opportunity for upskilling in the weeks ahead. Kevin noted that one CLO recently suggested that this feels like a once in a lifetime opportunity, with so many captive learners to upskill / reskill. Elliott agreed, but stressed that the timing needs to be right: if people are stressed about just making it through each day, and have plenty of work to still do, then now isn’t the time to focus on upskilling (or any optional training). One call participant in the chat put that point well: “My reality. . . trying to figure out what our (internal) customers want, have an appetite for, and can handle.”

We asked a poll question on this topic, and 23% said they were using this time to focus on upskilling or reskilling the workforce, and another 32% were thinking about doing so. One call participant noted that they have some employees who can’t work from home, can’t work at the office (due to safety concerns), and who they plan to retain—so providing upskilling opportunities is perfect for them during this time. And one call participant even noted the connection to other trends leading to the need to upskill anyway, such as the growth of automation and AI leading to job role changes. 

3.     L&D professionals need to support virtual leaders, remote workers, and virtual training. For proponents of remote work and virtual classroom training, this current period offers both a great opportunity and some risk. In many cases, leaders will discover that employees can be very productive (or even more productive) when working remotely. The same holds true for virtual training when it is delivered by trainers who are skilled at delivering in an online environment. It is important for L&D to provide support to these endeavors, because the risk also exists that if remote work or virtual training do not go well in the coming weeks, that skeptics will be emboldened to dig in and say “I told you so… virtual doesn’t work at our organization!” 

4.     L&D can enable connections and content. Some L&D professionals have noted a resurgence in the use of their LMS or LXP platform, as employees with newfound downtime quickly wanted learning content on working remotely, time management, handling stress, or a range of other topics. Additionally, the opportunity to leverage the employee base to create content is understood by several organizations. This week we polled call participants on whether they are enabling greater user-generated content than before: 28% said yes, and another 28% said they were thinking about doing so. Elliott noted an uptick in this area but stressed that perhaps more important than connecting people to new content was helping to connect people to each other. In other words, don’t expect employees will necessarily want to learn or upskill by taking asynchronous e-Learning modules on their own, but rather might want virtual classroom or other team-oriented learning activities and coaching to ward off any creeping loneliness or isolation.

LinkedIn Learning has made available a free set of 16 video e-Learning programs focused on remote work, leading virtual teams, the common tools used (Zoom, Teams, etc.), and more.


The first of what will be a series of weekly COVID-19 coronavirus business response video calls focused on learning and development professionals and their concerns, questions, and challenges. There are unique immediate and future impacts to organizations' learning and development strategies, e.g., the need to quickly develop virtual team leaders, increasing the use of virtual classroom and other alternative training options, and much more. The call was attended by over 30 learning and development leaders, including some members of i4cp's Chief Learning and Talent Officer Board.

The following are four key takeaways, followed by a collection of the resources shared during the call in the text chat. 

  1. Empowering virtual managers and leaders. Many organizations are updating their existing e-Learning programs on leading virtual teams, tweaking them slightly for the current context, and encouraging all effected managers and leaders to take or retake the programs. Others are quickly pulling together virtual classroom sessions on this topic, leveraging experienced virtual team leaders who can share known best practices—after all, many organizations have had at least some virtual teams, and therefore virtual leaders, for a long time. Some key points include:

    • Communicating regularly, including announcements, expectations, progress on goals, etc.
    • Modelling desired behavior and expectations, both regarding technology use (Slack, Teams, Yammer, Zoom, Email, etc.) and more general work from home skills (e.g., taking breaks as needed, staying goal focused, etc.)
    • Creating or updating team operating agreements (e.g., norms, expectations, etc.) in the context of working remotely. Doing this helps to increase transparency-at-a-distance so that trust can grow.
    • Setting up virtual check-in meetings, both for business needs of department and project teams, and for virtual meetings that are more social in nature to give a relief valve for stress and help humanize the virtual work environment for those not accustomed to it.
    • Curating and sending proactive tips, on both psychological/behavior as well as technological aspects of working from home.
  2. Focusing on the logistical aspects of working from home. Some organizations are conducting an inventory of all available equipment, most notably spare laptops that can be deployed to make working from home easier. Beyond this, some are expanding work from home roles beyond those with laptops by allowing employees to take desktop computers, monitors, and other hardware home for an extended period of time. Others are rotating which individuals will work at home on each day.

  3. Transitioning from in-person ILT training to the virtual classroom. While some organizations indicated they are simply cancelling in-person ILT training for now, others indicated they are quickly evaluating which programs they might transition to the virtual classroom (Zoom, WebEx, Adobe Connect, etc.). Here are some key actions related to this:

    1. Some organizations are quickly creating job aids of known best practices for the re-design and delivery of high-priority programs, in some cases including time-sensitive onboarding sessions.

    2. Trainers themselves also need to be evaluated as not all have the skill or even the aptitude to quickly transition effectively from the in-person classroom to the virtual classroom. A tip shared was pairing a more experienced instructor to help and provide coaching/feedback, or pairing two trainers together and having one serve as the online producer while the other facilitates—and then flipping the duties during the next training session.

    3. Some are using this moment to re-evaluate what parts of an in-person ILT program truly need to be provided synchronously and socially, with a live instructor. Some content can likely be shifted to documents, videos, e-Learning, etc. and other segments can be provided later as performance support, micro-learning, etc. Only those objectives that are best learned socially with each other from an instructor need be delivered in a virtual classroom session.

    4. Some additional virtual classroom tips shared included using virtual ice breakers, ensuring inclusivity, the warning not to lower expectations, and making sure to explore and use your virtual platform features, e.g., break out rooms, chat forums, whiteboards, polls, etc. 

  4. Re-Discovering the LXP or LMS. Some organizations noted that for many employees, they understandably do not have time right now to focus on professional development. But others noted that some job roles will have down time in the coming days and weeks, whether working from home or still in the office, and so they are using this opportunity to re-introduce their Learning Experience Platform (LXP) or Learning Management System (LMS) and the wealth of content and other learning and development opportunities that these provide. Some also noted the use of these or other platforms to encourage greater user-generated content or expert knowledge sharing, e.g., especially on timely topics such as virtual leadership, tips on working from home, etc.

  5. Curated Best Practice Example Articles 

    Other Resources

    Virtual Classroom Training

    World health Organization: Online training as a weapon to fight the new coronavirus
    This is a free learning resource available to anyone interested in novel coronavirus on WHO’s open learning platform for emergencies. 

    ATD's new Virtual Training Resources center, which includes articles by several virtual classroom thought leaders.

    Additional free resources from one of the ATD thought leaders above, including platform checklists for Zoom, WebEx, Adobe Connect, etc., written from an L&D perspective, as well as conference presentations, articles, etc.

    Virtual Meetings (and Training)

    If you use Zoom, here is the link to their many resources to learn the platform. Similarly, if you use WebEx, here is the official knowledge base from Cisco.