The learning needs for a global company are often as diverse as its workforce. Learning leaders may struggle to devise a strategy where disparate workers have access to pertinent learning materials, depending on their specific needs.
Autodesk — which produces engineering, 3-D design and entertainment software, and products that have been used in movies and video games as well as to construct bridges, buildings and more — was no different. The company lacked a state-of-the-art learning strategy to match its products and help employees maintain high performance.
So they turned to Harvard Business Publishing for help. Together, the companies inculcated Harvard ManageMentor — software that makes learning accessible through online modules aimed at enhancing soft business skills — into Autodesk’s learning strategy, which has helped personalize learning for employees worldwide.
Before Harvard ManageMentor, Autodesk employees went through offsite training conferences composed of different workshops or classroom lessons. These typically took one to two days to complete. But these options were only available at the larger global offices, so employees who did not work at one of these locations had to be flown in to attend. Travel costs were taken out of the employee’s department budget, which made employee training costly.
“Your options are smaller,” said Mark Potterf, Autodesk’s manager of user experience. “If you have two conferences that we have to pay to send you to, there is less available to you.” Using the new software, employees in remote locations gained greater access to learning materials, and it significantly cut down on training costs.
Although there were teaching resources already in place, there was no mandatory training enforcement, and it was difficult for learning leaders to know which resources were being used and which were ineffective. So, they decided to switch up their approach.
Harvard ManageMentor is a software database with hundreds of modules. Individuals can select the lessons they would like to cover, watch videos, take assessments, complete reflections and develop an action plan to take their newly learned skills and apply them at work. This streamlines the learning process by allowing employees or managers in specific departments to only consume information relevant to them, Potterf said.
Autodesk learning leaders decided to implement the technology because it could be applied globally. Executives liked that the tool could offer the same training to employees regardless of their location, which helped to regulate training standards in every office, said Harry Wittenberg, a senior manager in the learning and organization development group at Autodesk. “We’re about 7,000 people in 60 countries with 120 offices around the world. We wanted to focus our efforts, our dollars and our effectiveness with one thing that we could really promote and integrate into our system.”
Autodesk managers have used the new software to develop their communication, management and leadership skills. Potterf, who has been in a leadership position for eight of his 10-year career, said the software helped him become a more effective manager. So far, he has completed five modules, including the coaching and difficult interactions lessons. “It was hard for me to determine the difference between leadership and management,” Potterf said. “Having the examples in the modules really helped me determine the difference, so now I’ve taken a new approach in my management style.”
That new approach involves separating performance conversations from personal development conversations for members of his six-person team. Doing this allows him to focus on one topic at a time and dig deep into what he is discussing, Potterf said. It also fosters higher employee engagement. “They seem to be a little bit more fulfilled, and I’m seeing them practice some of the things we’re talking about,” he said.
Once a month, Autodesk senior executives host “brown bag” webinars where they discuss one module from Harvard ManageMentor at length. Each employee is required to complete the module before the talk. This gives both leaders and employees a chance to learn about and practice concepts from the modules at the same time. It also enhances the standardized learning approach Autodesk has shifted to since it began using the software.
Harvard ManageMentor has also had an effect on employee participation at the company. According to company analytics, the software has an 88 percent active-learner usage rate. Autodesk has increased the number of licenses purchased every year for four years because of the high participation rate, Wittenberg said.
“As someone who is working full-time, I’ve considered going back to school to get a master’s or Ph.D.,” Potterf said. “These modules cover an entire course in a couple hours; it’s more efficient and cost effective than going back to school.”