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A Complexity Reduction Journey

About a dozen years ago, I had an opportunity to take an idea we had generated while I was CLO of Sun Microsystems and spin it off into the market with a small team of former Sun employees. Although we ended up selling it to SuccessFactors/SAP before taking any investor funding, I was able to talk to nearly three dozen venture capital (VC) firms about our product and the learning industry. Looking over my notes, I remember very clearly one conversation with a VC partner who had just recently started investing in the corporate learning field. “What a fractured industry,” he observed. “So many mom-and-pop shops, and not enough suppliers to go in and solve big problems for companies.”

Sometimes it takes someone outside your industry to speak the glaringly obvious, and his words stuck with me as I subsequently went back into CLO roles, most recently at Visa. Finding suppliers who could solve big challenges, bringing in not only consulting, but also learning services and technology, was still the exception, not the rule. And this isn’t a trivial matter in today’s complex learning environment. I’ll give you two examples.

For almost any company that builds products or services for its customers, a standard learning offering is product training. In the pre-pandemic world, that could look like a product manager putting together a presentation deck and flying around the world giving the same presentation over and over. Or it could look like a page-turning e-Learning that your average salesperson avoided with distaste. Wanting to imagine something engaging and inspiring for our sales team, I talked to some of the most innovative learning professionals I knew and asked them who they recommended. That’s how I first came across LEO Learning, part of LTG. Eventually, we built an entire gamified world, combining capabilities that relied on content development from LEO and GP Strategies, with technology from Watershed, Rustici, and Gomo. Altogether, to deliver our award-winning gamified sales training, we used technology and services from at least ten different providers, counting our underlying LMS and learning delivery system. Launching only months before the pandemic, we were grateful to have a completely virtual solution in place that yielded a 432% increase in sales opportunities from program participants.

The second example was a development program for emerging executive women. This time, we were amid the pandemic and short-staffed. Not wanting to put more of a burden on our staff, I looked to GP Strategies to help us design, deliver, and support everything from program management to the talent decisions on who would attend to the facilitation of learning circles. I had always appreciated how well GP played with others, and in one contract, I was able to bring in a major university and a gaming company that taught the lessons of poker for business to support the curriculum. This time, we had at least six different services and technologies, but only one contract for anything that wasn’t part of our underlying technology stack. Without the full-service capabilities of what GP brought to the table, the program simply wouldn’t have been created, to the detriment of 40 emerging leaders and all those who may follow in subsequent offerings.

When I thought about this next stage of my career, it’s then no surprise that I wanted to be a part of something the learning industry has needed for so long—a big player who offers consulting services and technology. Even better, someone who can customize to my needs while offering simplicity in contracting. That’s what drew me to working here, knowing that the opportunity is so big to deliver meaningful results to our clients. What surprised me was how many—to me—hidden gems there were in this organization, and hopefully it will help make sense of why we’re moving things around a bit here to better deliver our capabilities to our clients.

I’ll pick just a couple of the hidden gems. I mentioned LEO Learning already, as it was the lead in building the product training for Visa. It was a European colleague who turned me on to their imaginative content development, including gamified solutions. Another one of our content solutions that offers an entire suite of DE&I learning and consulting capabilities is PDT Global, with an impressive array of both standard and leading-edge content. One of the most fun gems for me to discover was PRELOADED, with design capabilities that some of the biggest names in technology are using to define their own future offerings to the market. Bringing these capabilities into the fold of the GP Strategies brand will help us deliver an even broader set of integrated solutions to our 6,000 clients.

On the technology side, there were also some wonderful nuggets to discover. Not to cover them all, but I don’t think any CLO should be without Watershed’s capabilities for learning analytics, especially when combined with metrics consulting from GP. I now know that any LMS I use should be fueled by Rustici, so updates to content or the LMS won’t break due to mismatched standards.

There’s more, but hopefully you get a sense for how what were disparate solutions are coming together into a powerful new set of integrated offerings to solve big problems in the industry—so long overdue.


About the Authors

Dr. Karie Willyerd
Karie Willyerd is the only CLO to have taken two companies to number one in the world. Most recently she was the CLO for Visa. Prior to that she was head of SAP’s global customer education business. She came into SAP when Jambok – a video-based learning platform where she was the cofounder and CEO – was acquired by SAP SuccessFactors. Dr. Willyerd served as the CLO for Sun Microsystems and head of talent or learning for Solectron, Heinz, and Lockheed Martin Tactical Air. Dr. Willyerd is a prolific author on the future of work, learning, and human capital leadership, with two best selling books and articles/blogs published in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and all the major learning trade journals.

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