#FilteredForum with Heineken’s Nicole Stead

By Toby Harris & Nicole Stead

18 minute read

2021’s looming. L&D professionals need to think about how they’ve done well, and badly, in response to the year’s unique challenges. And they need to prepare for what’s coming next.     

Catch our latest #FilteredForum recording below to see what Nicole Stead, Heineken's Global Digital Learning Lead had to say on:

  • How Heineken has responded to the crisis
  • What ‘going digital’ has meant for learning
  • What L&D leaders should look out for in 2021

We have also added the full transcript below so you don't miss a thing!

Nicole Stead from Heineken #FilteredForum

#FilteredForum: Heineken with Nicole Stead - Transcript 

Nicole Stead:

Like many other companies, we had to accelerate our own digital transformation at Heineken, and a lot of our employees have had to adapt to new ways of working and to collaborating online remotely, et cetera. We needed to find ways to support and add and develop our employees in that environment. So, although we were on a journey to transform our learning landscape at Heineken, the results of COVID are what accelerated it.

So in June this year, we launched a global learning platform, a new learning tackle. We did have a legacy platform before, which was not used at all. And so we needed to sort of up our game. And this platform now is available to all 85,000 employees at Heineken and we call it 'My Learning'. And within the platform, we have access now to all of our functional academy content. So that's each of our eight academies: we have a supply chain, finance, commerce, et cetera. And in addition to that, we also have some cross-functional content available and accessible to all employees as well. That's powered by LinkedIn Learning. So we use LinkedIn Learning's content as our global catalog. So we've done quite a lot of work and I'll share a little bit more about some of the things that we've done even more recently since that launch in other areas as well.

 

Toby Harris:

Right. So it's kind of provided an opportunity, I suppose, given the huge need there is to get something up and running to push forward projects for - well, it sounds like two things, from what you've said - centralizing things that were maybe quite dispersed and variegated across the organization, but also getting people to actually use things, because, of course, as you said, the elephant in the room with the legacy platforms is they tend not to be used apart from compliance. So it's a big opportunity there. 

 

Nicole Stead:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Compliance driven learning was something we were well known for prior to all of these changes. 

 

Toby Harris:

That's an interesting question, actually, and we'll cover that more, which is the rebranding, I suppose, of learning teams around the digital initiative and around upskilling as opposed to compliance. That's an interesting dimension. So moving directly onto that - could you tell us about the kind of projects that you're working on at the moment and whether the main themes of the projects you are working on have stayed the same or have evolved?

 

Nicole Stead:

Yeah, so I mentioned, Toby,  just before that we were on a journey to transforming our learning landscape anyway at Heineken. There were many reasons for that, one of which we knew at sort of in back in 2019 that what we had in place just simply wasn't cutting the mustard, for lack of a better word, in terms of employee experience, engagement, the content that we had in our legacy systems was not scalable, and it also wasn't that engaging - it was very much sort of all the eLearning digital format. So, we really knew that something needed to change there anyway, and we were moving and progressing towards that. But what came to fruition more recently, so this year, was a global digital upskilling initiative, which we started to work on early in the year. Mainly because we added a new pillar to our organizational strategy, which was to connect in the digital world. So based on this, we knew that we needed to also upscale our employees to a level that they understand the common language needed to actually succeed in a digital age.

And this is where we used 'Digifit', which is our global digital upskilling initiative now, also accessible to all 85,000 of our employees. Digifit that is powered by; we use both My Learning, but also what we call our in-house Digibot, which is a personal digital assistant. This digital assistant is powered by Filtered, and is working well, we find, because, of course, we are very globally matrixed organisation. We have 85 operating companies across the world, many of which are very local in terms of their market needs, in terms of their local learning strategies. So we needed to make sure that we could find a robust solution that could scale across all of those operating companies, but still, be able to deliver on the key framework that we had created around this digital upscaling initiative. That's been a big area of focus for us and will continue to be a big area of focus for us in terms of campaigning, in terms of driving engagement over the coming years. It's a key part of our organizational strategy, as I said. 

 

Toby Harris:

So there's a couple of things I wanted to comment on, and one of them is just to ask, where on earth did you come up with that name Digifit from? Because the concept of digital fitness is extremely strong. When we were talking initially, I was kind of green with envy that we didn't come up with that and it was like a Heineken thing now. Because it is quite strong and because it's often been a good way of reframing other things, such as mental health, for example. 

If you talk about fitness, you tap into this idea of like, “are you doing OK?” not “are you some kind of super geek who knows all about AI and blockchain,” but “are you fit for purpose, this stuff?” Where did that idea come from, that brand?

 

Nicole Stead:

Yeah, that's a great question. We have a very creative bunch of people working in our team at Heineken and we kind of threw around a couple of ideas. But, the reason why I coined the term Digifit actually, I thought, OK, exactly as you say, how can we campaign about/how can we create a story around that's going to stick and resonate? And fitness, of course, is one of the first things that came to mind. And it literally was a matter of thinking about digital and fitness and just combining the two words together. And it's amazing how so many amazing sorts of themes and narratives have been able to emerge from that specific topic or should I say that name. 

So, for example, now we're also building what we call a 'Workout Plan', which will also be recommended to all of 85,000 employees in the coming months. And this is a plan that enables employees to have meaningful conversations with their managers around what they need to learn in the context of their personal development plans around digital fitness. So, if I do say so myself, I think we hit the nail on the head with Digifit.

 

Toby Harris:

Absolutely. Absolutely. And that example of calling a conversation with a manager, a workout plan is such a good way of reframing in a positive light. Something that could be perceived negatively and just kind of changing it. I think this analogy of seeing your digital support systems is like a personal trainer to offer guidance, to provide a plan for actually putting the owners of the work squarely on the user is really, really cool.

 

Nicole Stead:

Absolutely. Yeah. 

 

Toby Harris:

I'll try not to steal it too much and will try to leave it with your concept. The other question I had is; can you give the audience a sense of how you accomplish what is probably the most impressive characteristic of it which is that you have 85 operating companies operating across hundreds and hundreds of different brands and territories. How on earth does the technology you have personalized to that level - like to those audiences? And did you have to overcome any challenges to make it work, you know, to actually make what people see relevant to that particular situation? Because to be honest, the local context seems to me like the issue upon which any initiative like this would founder.

 

Nicole Stead:

Yeah, absolutely. That's a really good question. And I think maybe to start, I don't know if the word is fortunate, but we certainly were in a good position when we started, because we knew based on our organizational strategy and ambition, and based on our senior sort of executive engagement, that we would be able to drive this from the centre. So we built a framework around digital upskilling from the centre, and what we needed to do was make sure we could find technology that would scale that, but also then adapt. For example, within the framework, we have five different pillars and one being consumer experience, so understanding the importance of consumer experience, omnichannel experience, etc. Another pillar being understanding digital technologies. The other one, digital trends happening in the world around us like AI, blockchain, etc. We also focused on digital productivity and then what mindsets are needed to succeed in the digital age.

But of course, as you rightly mention, this framework is all well and good. But I as an individual might not need to know everything that sits under all of those frameworks to a level of expertise or mastery that somebody else in a different role or different function needs to know. We needed to make sure that whatever solution, whatever technology we use would be able to flex and adapt and personalize content recommendations within that framework to personal needs.

And this is where Filtered came in. So because Filtered works as an AI learning recommendation platform, we were able to create the framework around the technology that enabled that kind of personalisation. So, to give an idea; when the learner is prompted to go and visit the platform, which we call 'Digibot', they are then met with a couple of questions from a chatbot. Behind that we have also done a lot of work with Filtered to map the questions from the chatbot to competencies that we developed around these five foundations. So, the learner will then respond to the chatbot questions and will then get assigned a unique skills signature. Based on that skills signature, they will receive content recommendations that are supportive of achieving their learning goals. So this is what's really helped us. Of course, other things like the fact that we were able to use different languages in the platform was a big tick box for us, because being 85 operating companies in global languages, we simply wouldn't be able to do that without being able to cater to those sorts of requirements. These are the sorts of things we were able to achieve through the right technology and the right partnership with those technology providers. 

 

Toby Harris:

Excellent, thank you for that. The language question seems interesting to me from the personal trainer analogy - who could imagine a personal trainer who wasn't talking to you in your native language or at least very close to it. It's not the same, is it? 

So, the next point I want to discuss is basically we've seen that with the other #FilteredForum discussions that the rapid adoption of digital tools, in all respects, has applied pressure to learning ecosystems. These learning ecosystems have been tested and some platforms have played well and some have been changed and so there was a question about what LMS you are referring to. But I would suggest that we politely don't answer that question now and that can be dealt with 1-1 later, just to be fair to everyone. So how has the learning ecosystem changed in this rapid uptake of digital technologies and tools? 

 

Nicole Stead:

I think one thing to probably mention is that we didn't do a robust benchmarking against our learning behaviour at Heineken prior to this and there are reasons for that, one of which I mentioned earlier which is that we were just compliance-driven before this big change. And all of the learning we did online was compliance learning. So, we didn't have anything to benchmark against. 

I am quite confident, based on the usage that we see now in our platforms that if things haven't happened the way they did this year, I don't know that the numbers would be as good as they are right now. To give you an idea, we have about 30% adoption 5 months into the launch and that might not seem like a good number, but it is pretty good if you consider all things. We have no compliance learning in those new platforms, so it's about marketing, curiosity. We have great engaged and quality learners. This is something that is telling of not only the times people are more accustomed to using digital platforms, but also feeling more acquainted with using them for learning. But I think it's also the sign of the accomplishments that we've made in terms of changing the learning landscape at Heineken and stepping up our game. I think that's what also got a lot to do with it. 

 

Toby Harris:

And just on how are you capturing data from this change, cause obviously what's been deployed is an ecosystem that is combining the existing legacy LMS, the My Learning platform, so the learning experience platform and Filtereds technology on top of that. How are you managing to knit this together? 

 

Nicole Stead:

So, just yesterday we launched our Unicorn Power BI dashboard and the reason for the name is; trying to pull data from different learning platforms into one dashboard sounds like an easy task when you've got all that great Power BI technology and all that great tooling to do it. But it's not as easy as you think. So we are pleased we got to that point quite quickly. So what we now have is a Power BI dashboard that contains all the data, relevant to what's happening in the My HR Learning (our LMS where all our compliance learning sits now) and then also what happens in My Learning, so all the functional academy and learning, and our cross-functional learning like Digifit, LinkedIn Learning, and the, of course, Digibot as well. So we are really pleased with that. It is MVP, so we are trying to take the 'start small' mindset and we continue to develop and evolve that. And I can imagine because we're focusing a lot now on continuing to evolve our learning technology staff, but there will be more tools and more data to include going forward as well. 

 

Toby Harris:

There are some great questions stacking up as well in the chat, and I think that we should unveil those pertaining to this question around reporting and come back to them at the end. But, just one point I want to throw out is a question from someone who is an anonymous attendee about what all this work, which sounds amazing, has meant for other learning libraries. So, has it shown that other libraries are or are not working? So I don't know what the landscape was like before. Obviously, we do tend to see LinkedIn Learning perform extremely well when it's been used in this way, but are there other libraries (and again, you don't have to then have to name them), but are there other things that you've consolidated? 

 

Nicole Stead:

That's a really good question. So, we use LinkedIn learning as our global content catalog. I have to say for more of the functional learning, we do partner with vendors who do the functional side of things. So, it's quite difficult to compare or correlate what the data says about LinkedIn Learning versus and what the data is saying about the functional content because it's just not audience wide. It's vertical segments. So at the moment, we're still quite early days. The Power BI dashboards that we've got in place now will shine a spotlight on the stuff that's not working so well. That's one of the great things about having data, and I talk about this all the time; data is our best friend when it comes to improving the experience and ensuring that we have the right content. Another reason why Filtered is great is because there are the mechanisms to sift outdated content that isn't relevant, that isn't working in these platforms.

 

Toby Harris:

Just before we move on to your view on the key trends, could you just hit, as you mentioned; 30% adoption, but that's where you are, that's the proof in the pudding, right? Did people use it? Can you hit us with any other numbers that show that there has been a step-change in self-driven development from compliance?

 

Nicole Stead:

I could probably mention a couple, for example, we're seeing a lot of people take the time to rate content and give reviews instead of just consuming it. I think that's also very powerful because it says something about people's behaviour around learning. No one's forced to do that. But by doing that, it's saying something about the fact that they do take time and they want to provide their input inside their feedback.

At the moment, our content rating, with LinkedIn Learning being there, the ratings are significantly better. At the moment, it's about 4.6 out of 5 stars, which is great. We also see tens of thousands of hours spent in the last five months on LinkedIn Learning. And I don't want to say these are the exact numbers, but I can say it's over ten thousand mark now, just on LinkedIn Learning alone, and that's completely unprecedented. No one's being forced to do this. I also found out that a number of engaged quality learners, when we look at industry benchmarks against other organizations that have done something similar to what we have, we are in the top three in terms of engaged quality learner and status, which I think is a very good sign that we are going in the right direction.

 

Toby Harris:

So this shows the difference; pulling an integrated ecosystem together changes the nature of engagement. You're not just saying, hey, let's become a learning culture/company. You're saying we need to do something around digital fitness and you're using that language in that brand. I agree. Both of those numbers sound a lot higher than when it's launched as 'you can't work, so off you go, go and do some learning!'

 

Nicole Stead:

Absolutely. There's all that going on as well. So maybe if that wasn't the case, the numbers might have been even better. But they are just numbers as well. Numbers don't say enough, and I'm aware of that, which I think this is what our next phase in the journey will be; what is the impact that this is making in terms of performance.

 

Toby Harris:

Absolutely, and we're coming to the end of the discussion portion of this because there are so many questions. Could you give us your take on what you think the key trends for organizational learning are going to be over the next year? 

 

Nicole Stead:

Skills are changing as fast as we're learning them at the moment. So I think what we at Heineken need to focus on is building a strong learning strategy that ensures employee skills are kept up to date. While jobs continue to evolve with all of this technology, we need to understand what skills are needed and what kind of tools can help us to understand that, because this is not something that we can do without some form of automation, some form of intelligence to support us.

We need to know what new jobs are going to be created as a result of all these technological shifts and changes. We also need to know what jobs are no longer necessary, how do we reskill for new jobs and for these jobs that aren't necessary anymore? We need to understand what our strengths are as humans in learning and development and also understand what AI strengths are to help us as humans in learning and development.

I definitely think more AI tools are going to be implemented to support us. We're a huge organization and we simply can't do this with just a team of only five of us. I think what we need to focus on is developing our own capabilities in the areas that will support us. So, for example, in understanding how to build and future-proof competency and capability frameworks and using the intelligence and the data we get from AI. I think we need the human touch today.

 

Toby Harris:

There seems to be a theme coming through all of what you've said, and the success of the project in its gestation and its next steps, which is obviously; skills, and understanding skills and capabilities as per change within the organization. What seems to be behind how it's been possible to achieve such success with this is because you've had that firm grounding. But, what you're saying is also interesting, as we've been working in this space for many years now, specifically with our AI for three or four years. And we've seen the idea of what is AI really used for, why is machine learning that important in organizational learning shift and change. Is it about powering a chatbot where we are going to have a natural language conversation? Or is it about understanding content? Is it about assessing people?

And what you're saying is in all of those key trends, you think it's actually skills. The skills problem is sufficiently hard that there's something that humans can do, but we need to bring automation to bear on that. We need automated processing of data. Does that sound about right?

 

Nicole Stead:

Yeah, I think that you summarized that really well. You've hit the nail on the head. 

 

Toby Harris:

Thanks so much for sharing that and there's so much more to go through. Sam, I'll hand over to you to pick out the juiciest questions from our discussion or maybe to pose some of your own. 

 

Sam Franklin:

How do you curate recommendations from the plethora of learning content available?

 

Nicole Stead:

With a lot of ease; when we have partners like Filtered. In all honesty, specifically around the digital initiatives, when we started this, one of our key criteria in a partner was to support us with exactly that. Because we just knew we did not have the time, the resource and even the expertise to handpick that high-quality content from the internet, for example, the premium content, because we didn't just want to rely on LinkedIn Learning. We needed to have a wide range to cater to a wide range of learning styles and needs, etc. So for us, it was a very big and important criteria in our selection process. And not only Filtered helped with the curation of external content but also in the journey that we had to take at Heineken, securing our own internal content around digital skills, because, of course, these things were happening in Heineken. We have a plethora of digital projects happening. But the problem - is we just haven't been able to curate them and put them in a place where everybody can see this is what's been going on. So that in itself is a journey and that we also got support with. Unless you have a huge team of learning people able to support you with that, you do need to have extra hands for that. You can't rely on the machine, in the beginning, to just recommend that content and ensure that it's going to be high quality, that it's going to be relevant. You really need to start the handpicking beforehand. And that's the secret sauce to the whole solution. 

 

Sam Franklin:

Yeah, I mean, everyone's dealing with content overload, right? So it's just you can't just chuck it in, as you said, and expect it to work. So appreciate that and thank you. 

Are there any particular functions that have adopted the new solutions, more sort of in terms of learned behaviour? 

 

Nicole Stead:

Yes, actually they are. So, the data are pointing to the fact that our supply chain has. But, that could also be because it is our biggest function at Heineken. However, having said that, the supply chain is also doing a ton of digital project activities. Top of mind, we have a big initiative called the Connected Brewery at Heineken which is all about how we use the Internet of Things, blockchain A.I., all of the big trends to really optimize what we do in production.

So there's a lot of activity happening there. Now it's early to say exactly why one function is using solutions more than another because we're quite into the deployment. But also because we've not been using too much learning marketing, as we're only just getting into that now, which is another super exciting topic. And I'm looking forward to seeing how that progresses and what kind of impact this will have for us going forward as well.

 

Toby Harris:

And I'll jump in here - when you say learner marketing, what do you mean? What are we talking about here? Is there anything interesting or unconventional or kind of innovative about what you're doing to market and re-engage users? 

 

Nicole Stead:

Well, interestingly, because we are very much a federated organization and we work from the centre and we've developed all of these frameworks, we've implemented all these systems, but we rely heavily on activation. So we've been building toolkits and templates for them to really start to and push or should I say pull learners into our systems. And these are tactics that you can use and anchor them around the narrative of the organisation.

At the moment we've got a new CEO who has just come in and he talks a lot about being a learning organisation and being curious, being in your growth zone. Because we can tie this with what our senior leaders are talking about, it has so much more resonance for people. Similarly, if you look at what's happening in the world today, you read the World Economic Forum and you create a bit of a burning platform around why it's so important to upskill yourself. These are the kinds of tactics we use. 

But equally, we have tools that enable this as well. So, for example, in Filtered, we use the marketing tools that are available from that platform to really tailor and target specific campaigns to specific audiences based on their needs? It's very much around segmentation; it is like consumer marketing applied to learning.

 

Toby Harris:

A simple way to put it, isn't it? The hard thing is getting that over the line and implemented in large organizations aren't used to it. I wanted to pick the next question, which is the question from Stephanie. She wants to know about the metrics in your Unicorn dashboard. And specifically, she wants to know what questions are asked to source performance data. And on that point, you mentioned supply chain are both big users of this and also undergoing big digital transformations, which for me suggests quite a good link between learning and performance. Can you tell us more about both of these measures and metrics in the dashboard? As much as you can tell us.

 

Nicole Stead:

Great question, by the way. And it's also prompting me to think about what we need to do to improve our dashboards, which we launched yesterday. But at the moment, we are at the beginning of that integrated data analytics dashboard journey. So right now, we have standard data in there and we're starting to look at unique logins versus a number of active users. That starts to say something about quality engagement and we're starting to talk more with the functions around what it is that they're doing, what kind of initiatives they're doing, and also how they need to look at the data to support what they're doing.

We're focusing on breadth at the moment rather than depth. We have to also take into consideration that our functions know more about what's going on, what's going on in their functions and what they need to add to performance in their function. But it's my job to be a business partner to them to say; look at the data in this way, look at these and see what actions these insights can actually provide and who you serve. So I think that's a journey in itself. The next phase of this is to work more closely with the functions to understand how we can support them better to use the data as well. So this is the beginning. 

 

Toby Harris:

Absolutely, and I think we've got time for one more question, so which one do you think we should tackle?

 

Sam Franklin:

Has all the reporting that has been generated by this project influenced any decisions so far or informed any decisions that you've made as a business?

 

Nicole Stead:

Yes and no. What we are noticing for Digifit, for example, is that if we don't continue with our marketing campaigns, if we don't try to drive engagement in a very strategic and tactful way, we run the risk of losing our audiences. That sounds like a very obvious one to catch, but it's good to catch now because we can start planning ahead for what we can do to bring the people back in, to keep driving engagement.

For example, this workout plan probably wouldn't have come up on our radar had we not been able to look at the data and see that if we don't bring something into this from a senior level that we want all of our regions and companies to take it seriously, then essentially they're not going to. Those are the kinds of decisions we're starting to look at and certainly they are helping us to continue framing our strategy going forward.

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