It’s no secret that every industry is undergoing massive changes and that learning is the way to keep up. What everybody is trying to work out is how: the steps learning needs to take to galvanise and reinforce this change. There’s no one right answer here, even within particular industries, but your best chance is to listen to the relevant experts right in the middle of it. And that’s what we’ve done.
We spoke to Lloyd Dean, Head of Digital and Innovative Learning at EDF Energy, about how the utilities sector needs to respond to the massive changes transforming the industry. With data offering huge new capabilities, constant innovation in both products and methods, and the realisation that, in many ways, remote working is here to stay, it’s clear that widespread digital transformation is the highest priority. However, as Lloyd makes clear, that won’t just happen by itself. Learning needs to drive digital transformation in the right way, otherwise the foundational changes won’t stick, and the framework won’t be there for your business to continue to transform in the future.
What are your opening reflections on where you see the most prescient challenges for learning in the utilities area at the moment?
What I’ll do is give you a context of EDF and the nuclear industry which will keep the long term view in mind. So EDF, today, has a number of nuclear power stations we’re using to produce low carbon energy. We’re currently building Hinkley point C which is a large project in Europe and we’ve also got plans to build another similar power station around Sizewell, which is in the Southeast. There’s also other plans to build a power station in Bradwell. The reason I mention this is that we’re probably going to shift from mainly operating nuclear power stations, as we did up into 2013, to building more and more power stations. But we’ll also be commissioning a number of power stations that are going to come to their ‘end of life’.
And so the nature of what people are delivering and, therefore, the nature of their training is going to change. We have central learning teams and then we have local learning teams and business unit learning teams. People, for a start, aren't going to be needed to work in a power station. All of a sudden, we're going to move into this new field of decommissioning, where people have got to do completely different jobs.
Other contexts: the demographics of people who are working on our nuclear part of the business. It ranges from those who have recently finished graduate courses over the last four or five years though to those who can remember some of the power stations initially being built and are very close to retirement age. And so all of that knowledge leaving the business is huge. I know that's not unique to EDF. For us it is going to be a massive, massive challenge. Because if, for example, the power station goes off for a couple of minutes, or hours, there are financial impacts because of this.
And then we've got the change in nature of our customers’ part of the business. The price gap that the government put in a couple of years ago - there’s talk of that happening again. What the business has been doing with the creation of a new entity called ‘Blue Lab’ a few years ago is try to drive up innovation internally inside of the business and start creating products.
So what we see we’ll probably be doing is creating other sources to sell electricity. We acquired Pod Point last year, which is one of the country's largest electronic vehicle charging solutions. And so strategically, the company will move more and more into that field. Dare I say, even creating electric vehicles of some sort - I wouldn't rule that out. And again, that changes the whole dynamic of what skills we need internally.
I think if we look at all of the things that we need to achieve, digital skills in particular are absolutely key. Over the last couple of years and in our customer business units, we've seen a number of requirements for digital capabilities (in the realms of coding and that type of area). Even this year those requirements have been increased which means the company is working on digital data labs and stuff like that.
Now COVID-19 has accelerated some things that the company needed - and needed to do - in order to achieve those things. So, as an example, the company had a two or three year strategy to get customer service operatives working from home and more remotely. Well they had to deliver that in two weeks. And there are a number of war stories I imagine you've heard from organizations and you guys probably have some of your own.
What it's highlighted to us is that what’s going to be absolutely key to success is this area of digital functional skills. In the old world you needed English and Maths just to do basic things. People will need digital literacy in the same way. And that's going to be a huge cultural shift. One of the things we've seen from our IT department is a new digital workplace strategy.
But, as we've been impressing on senior leaders, just installing Microsoft Teams and adding that functionality isn't going to solve this. Overnight, you’re going to have senior leaders, leaders of teams, team members, having to use tools they've never used before. And it's not like some kind of course they go on every so often, use the skills and think about them once every couple of weeks. They're going to have to use some of these collaborative tools every single hour, every single meeting. And if they don't do that, it's a challenge to the business in terms of its productivity and efficiency. We also think if we don't achieve that, it's going to dramatically impact wellbeing.
We have some early data to show that. We run a pulse survey every couple of weeks to see how business is getting on. And what we're seeing is, early on, people were loving the work IT were doing, they were loving working from home. Now, a lot of our comments are around people not having any time, that they’re constantly on meetings. Some of the behaviors have changed: little things like people thinking it's acceptable to add hour long meetings the day they’re supposed to happen and people just randomly calling all the time. That’s a sign that the tools we have in place aren't being used to their capability. Getting our team set up on Microsoft Teams and using the functionality is going to be a way bigger challenge than we think.
What you're saying is interesting in that people don't need guides on how to run meetings. Rather, they haven’t really adopted the technology properly and that’s the real issue.
Yes, or they view it as an alternative to Skype for Business and use it in the same way. But I think how those things are embedded in use throughout the business is key. For example, IT teams are measured on delivery. So they roll out tools, they roll out functionality and that’s great. Whereas other parts of the business, we’re not measured on delivery, we’re measured on impact, and usage of certain things. And I think if some of those IT teams could be measured on those same things, it would change how teams work.
So our IT team is great, let me be clear about that. But they are a typical IT team. We talk about user experience and we feed things back to them. And it goes on a log chart but it’s just not processed in the same way. One of the conversations we've been having is: how can we strategically create tactical conversations between some of the IT teams and the other teams that involve employees and stakeholders through various projects? With Learning and Development as a key part of that. I also think that, if those relationships don't change and evolve, this problem won’t be solved and people will continue reverting to type.
Previous discussions like this have revealed that the shift to digital and working from home has done something to normal communication dynamics because it has subtracted the chance encounters you have in physical spaces. So, how are you thinking about creating those chance encounters again?
I think there’s a few things in there that we've been thinking and talking about. We've discussed a project we call the future of the workspace. A lot of people said that one of the key reasons to come to the office is to ‘collaborate’. But we've got focus on this word. And actually we've evolved it because there are a lot of digital tools out there that will help people to collaborate. How do we build those connections?
We've thrived as a business because we've had preexistent networks and relationships; but not everyone has those networks and relationships. Without face-to-face human interaction, that itself is a risk. From an onboarding, leadership, and external supplier perspective - sometimes you need to eyeball someone and have a conversation.
So, we are exploring other means building connections. For the last few years we've done quite a bit on certain innovative technologies. We're starting to take a bit of time to say: “okay, what is out there that might help create these kinds of organic conversations between people?” And we’re looking at the use of augmented realities, some things around avatars - although we’re just starting to explore that. We most likely will start something before the end of the year to initiate the journey in that, whether that’s research or a small proof of concept.
We’ve seen that a key issue for the utility and energy sector is the skills surrounding data analysis. Does that resonate with what you're facing?
Yeah, it does. On our personal journey inside EDF what we're trying to work on is making sure that we can get data in an easy way. Rather than data collection that requires going from platform to platform to platform. Where you've got one person filling one request for a senior leader and they're spending a good four or five hours to get something - it just shouldn't take that long. So, in short, we're on a journey with that, it's still a bit messy. And what we're finding is that we're starting to move away from certain platforms.
Then we've got this other side which is the skills internally. I’m talking from a learning and development perspective, not an IT one; because within IT around data and skills, the job descriptions are very well defined and so is the pay scale. Whereas, what I'm finding from an HR perspective is that there are certain individuals who have some of the capabilities, others who don’t - but that, those with the skills, I think are underpaid. And one of the risks for us is: how do we retain? We want to get those skills in and not lose them elsewhere. And that's why I think we definitely need to build a structure around keeping the right people.
On this point of efficiency, in our experience we’ve found that utilities companies repeatedly had issues with the siloing of knowledge and a lack of cross-departmental sharing. Have you found this to be the case in EDF? And, if so, do you think that new technologies might be able to help?
I think technologies can always help and I think the technology has always been there. Culture feels like an easy word to say but that’s been stopping people playing ball. If I'm being really honest though, to answer this question, a couple of years ago we went to restructure. We went through the reorganization, essentially to reduce headcount, and it was quite a significant reduction.
I genuinely believe that from a central function perspective, we removed a lot of our bloat. So, now it's very easy for me and the team and others to work cross functions across teams. And I think a big reason that is because the bloat’s been removed.
What kind of things can you do to enact the broader culture shift towards digital working and heightened agility?
I think the initial response to COVID-19 showed that when there was no room for maneuver, when individuals and senior leaders have no excuse not to do something, then stuff can happen. So I think we need to be quite honest when we roll out some of the strategies we intend to enact, and also be quite clear about the consequences of these things not being achieved.
I was speaking to our Chief People Officer yesterday and I mentioned this new kind of work. And I said: “I really don't think that people take into account the entire impact of this digital culture change. I think it's going to have a huge impact on people.” So there’s this point about being honest from the top. And honest in our communications beyond “we've enabled this technology” or beyond “we're gonna let you work from home.” There’s a conversation that needs to happen where we all say: “no, this is a journey”.
Once we all acknowledge that we’re going to go on a journey, we can actually talk about how we’re going to get there. And we can talk about some other strategies. I don’t like the sound of competency frameworks, but we can begin setting some sort of standard of what is good and what is not. We can have a better conversation about that. We can identify people who are doing well. We can allow the people who lead us to say: “you know what guys, I was a great manager in the office. I'm really struggling with this.” We create a conversation based on reality rather than this falsehood we have today. And the falsehood won't disappear if you don't do anything about it.
How have you found vendor relationships holding up during the last few months?
I think that relationship with vendors is still key. In the past we've had more autonomy to do explorative things, and I think some of that might be reduced. But I definitely then think the focus and energy will be on where we strategically want to go. I’ve been speaking with my director and we’re still very focussed on pursuing our journey with data and AI, and around immersive technologies.
With the whole people-based department, there will be a lot of scrutiny with what we do and don’t do. Before COVID-19, what we really tried to do was focus on longer term relationships with vendors and suppliers - rather than a scattergun approach.
One of the bigger things we did was a pilot with LinkedIn Learning and we got some really good data. In March we were supposed to go to the HR exec and share our findings on the journey. But that decision making process was just accelerated and we’ve had some really good internal feedback, sign-up, and usage.
While we’re on this, I've also had conversations with the head of leadership about one of my fears. Don’t get me wrong, LinkedIn Learning for our business now is great for a large portion of our workforce: in the pilot we had a 92% satisfaction rate. But I can definitely foresee a time where people see that there’s too much to navigate and can’t find exactly what they want. A couple of years ago, everyone was sharing TED Talks. I can’t bloody stand them now, there’s too many.
I think this will happen and you can see the kind of role that Filtered could play internally to our organization. People want this selection in the offering and a tool like yours could help to refine it and make it more specific. And another thing that validates that: a few years ago we did a restructure and brought in some learning curators and a learning culture manager. Part of their job is to look at how we can market learning through things like emails, notifications, and nudges. On that journey we found that it’s very difficult to be specific with these communications, and that it didn’t achieve our needs. So we’ve been looking at tools that can send things a little more specifically. We did have an offering before, we still have it, now we’re gonna need to refine and be more specific at a local, departmental, or team level in the future.
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