How Caterpillar Identified Gaps in Global Learning Programs [Part 2]

In the second part of this Caterpillar case study, Alfonso Riley, learning technology consultant at Caterpillar Inc., explores how an organizational study uncovered the opportunity for the organization to create billions in additional revenue.

Taking a proactive approach to business and data challenges

While conducting a 2017 organizational study, Caterpillar found that standardizing the customer experience across our dealer network would increase annual revenue by $20 billion USD. As part of this study, we also identified a correlation between top-performing dealers and under-performing dealers and how these dealers developed their leadership pipelines and sales and product support workforces. The results showed that dealers with a mature learning and development organization generated better profits—even during unfavorable economic conditions.

Our Global Dealer Learning (GDL) team, which is responsible for supporting the company’s dealers, examined how learning and development was being applied across these key roles (sales and product support) and identified a vast difference in how learning programs were implemented across dealers. As a result, our GDL needed to define a more efficient way to design and deploy learning programs to dealers—with the aim of creating a simple, standard approach that all dealers could follow, regardless of their size and business environments.

Why did we need to change our approach to training?

The business required that our Dealer Learning programs and initiatives be consistent across the globe. In the past, dealer-focused L&D organizations were decentralized, and resources were dependent on where they laid in the organizational chart.

By combining all dealer-facing L&D organizations into one, GDL increases our responsiveness to learning and development needs by:

  • taking advantage of our global expertise, and
  • having standard training programs across the globe.

This approach aligns with our enterprise strategy of our customer experience wherever our customers are through our dealer network.

What areas did we look at and why were they important?

We focused on three key areas: People, Processes, and Technology.

1) People

On the People side, it was important to leverage our expertise across the globe to develop and deliver consistent Global Training Programs. In the past, each region had differences in their approaches, and engagement with our programs was more dependent on who was running it, than the purpose of the programs.

2) Processes

Regarding Processes, given that each program was either developed or deployed differently, we needed standard design and development processes leveraging our SMEs across the globe. This would enable us to not only accommodate regional needs, but also achieve consistent performance results at the same time.

Through the collaboration between all GDL (i.e. product specialists, market professionals, learning consultants, instructional designers, multimedia specialists, and learning technology consultants) together with input from our dealers and business partners, we developed our Career Development Process to achieve such a purpose: A standard process on how to deploy and manage our training programs with the flexibility to accommodate for the individual development needs of our dealers.

3) Technology

And finally, for Technology, we decided to move from a centralized Learning Management System (LMS) approach to a flexible Learning Ecosystem. This change gives our dealers the ability to connect their Human Capital Management (HCM) / Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platforms to our learning content.

With that in mind, we created the concept of a “Learning Marketplace” and used learning systems outside the LMS to align with a “learning in the flow of work” strategy so we could effectively measure the learning impact of our formal and informal learning solutions. Additionally, these changes helped provide a faster turnaround on content updates in alignment to our mission of providing personalized, meaningful, and on-demand learning experiences.

What challenges did we face along the way?

The biggest challenge was changing the culture of our GDL employees. Consolidating operations that had been working in silos, and then having a need to collaborate was not easy.

More than 60% of the staff had more than five years of experience in L&D—especially for our product specialist team, who averaged around 10 years of either developing and/or delivering training. For this group, changing the way training was developed was the biggest challenge together with shifting to using digital channels (such as video and e-learning design). Most product specialists were focused on developing instructor-led solutions, given our company’s own heritage, from our multiple apprenticeship programs for more than 60 years. Adopting new learning modalities, such as microlearning activities and interactive e-learning, was a challenge that most did not want to face, as they were used to established processes.

To address this challenge, we held multiple orientation sessions across the globe on the new tools, ensuring we gathered customer feedback. This information helped us calibrate our plans and improve our approach. This approach wasn’t perfect, given the size of our organization (more than 100 staff members across the globe) and our customer base (more than 150,000 dealer employees).

But we kept focused on our goal, and we are seeing the results of our continuous commitment to excellence. This is apparent when we can say that we moved from averaging 1,052 daily active learners in April 2018 to an unprecedented 3,800 average daily active learners in April 2020. And this last data point shows the ability of our learning ecosystem to meet great changes in demand, even under adverse business conditions.

Do you have advice for organizations wanting to move to a flexible, centralized learning ecosystem?

I will use the cliché, “Think big, start small.” Define a clear vision of your organization and use that to create a plan. Start by assessing your organization in the three areas—People, Process, Technology—and compare your findings to your internal and external customer needs.

Identifying the gaps early in the change management process will ensure the changes you want to implement truly add value to all stakeholders.

While we accomplished part of this process, we moved too fast for our organization’s size and tried to hit everything on the first try. For this reason, we could have done better in deploying through close coordination at a global level. However, we were able to quickly learn from our missteps and ensure our customer promise of providing personalized, meaningful, on-demand learning experiences.

Up Next: Caterpillar’s 5-Step Process Wheel

To increase leadership, sales, and product support-related competencies across the workforces at Caterpillar dealerships, GDL created a competency model for each program. Learn more as Alfonso Riley continues this client story blog series.

The information provided in this series is based on Caterpillar’s 2019 award from the Brandon Hall Group in the category of “Best Advance in Creating an Extended Enterprise Learning Program.” Special thanks to Alfonso Riley, Jeff Barbee, Phil Adams, and Paul Gasparro of Caterpillar for their time, contribution, and insights.

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