19 October 2021

Workplace Stories Season 3, The Skills Odyssey: Using Skills to Create a Learning Culture

Dani Johnson
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst
Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

TL;DR

  • This is the second episode of our podcast: The Skills Odyssey, Season 3 of Workplace Stories. 
  • In this episode, Stacia Garr and Dani Johnson of RedThread Research talk to Vidya Krishnan, Chief Learning Officer and Head of Global Learning and Development for Ericsson. 
  • Vidya shows us how Ericsson is using Skills and Learning to fulfill its Purpose: to create connections that make the unimaginable possible. 
  • “Learning our way to a better future is something that all of our people need to do.” 
  • Build an ecosystem to make Learning easy. Build a culture system to make Learning a habit that matters. Build a business system so that Learning truly drives profitable growth. 
  • Where do I start? How do I connect Skills, data, and Learning? What does pizza have to do with what I can do? 
  • A special thanks to our sponsors, Visier and Degreed, for their support of this season! 

Listen

Guest

Vidya Krishnan, Chief Learning Officer and Head of Global Learning & Development at Ericsson

DETAILS

In L&D, we talk a lot about creating the conditions for Learning: isn’t that kind of definitional about what we do? Well, maybe we need to tear up the rule book and start thinking a bit harder about what that means in a much more digital, much more automated, much more diverse, and much more unstable world than maybe we all got comfortable with. That’s certainly our read on what Vidya Krishnan, one of RedThread’s favorite learning thinkers and practitioners, is doing over at Scandinavian telco giant Ericsson. And, you’ll be relieved to learn, while Skills is absolutely the key she’s using to unlock some big doors there, marked things like ‘Future’ and ‘Becoming Your Own Career CEO,’ and data the rocket fuel, she says, maybe like you do, that it’s a journey she’s on… maybe, indeed, an Odyssey. But it’s one we can all start, she reassures us in this, one of our best conversations for a long time. Oh, one last thing: you might be wanting pizza near the end. Don’t worry, you can tell the boss it’s for Skills research.

Resources

  • Two references come up in the show you might want to check out:
  • The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity (2017, Lynda Gratton, Andrew Scott)
  • What is an ‘OKR’ metric?
  • Vidya is happy to make connections and drive the conversation through LinkedIn (as her commitments allow, obviously). She also invites people to check out her employer’s site, which has updates on the project’s progress, here.
  • We’d recommend, if you haven’t had a chance yet, to catch up with the first Workplace Stories season on Skills, which we released February through June 2021, entitled ‘The Skills Obsession’: find it, along with relevant Show Notes and links, here—where you can also check out our intervening season on all things DEIB, too, which is also relevant, as indeed is our joint season with Chris over at Learning Is The New Working on Purpose.
  • Find out more about our Workplace Stories podcast helpmate and facilitator Chris Pirie and his work here.

Webinar

As with all our seasons, there will be a culminating final live webinar where we will share our conclusions about the show’s findings: we will share details of that event soon as it is scheduled.

Partner

We're also thrilled to be partnering with Chris Pirie, CEO of Learning Futures Group and voice of the Learning Is the New Working podcast. Check them both out.

Season Sponsors

 

 

We are very grateful to our season sponsors for ‘The Skills Odyssey,’ Visier and Degreed. Visier is a recognized leader in people analytics and workforce planning; with Visier, organizations can answer questions that shape business strategy, provide the impetus for taking action, and drive better business outcomes through workforce optimization. Visier has 11,000 customers in 75 countries, including enterprises like Adobe, BASF, Electronic Arts, McKesson, and more; you can learn more about Visier at visier.com. Degreed is the upscaling platform that connects Learning to opportunities; they integrate everything people use to learn and build their careers, Skills, insights, LMSs, courses, videos, articles, and projects, and match everyone to growth opportunities that fit their unique Skills, roles and goals. Learn more about the Degreed platform at degreed.com, and thanks to both of our season sponsors.

Finally, if you like what you hear, please follow Workplace Stories by RedThread Research on your podcast hub of choice—and it wouldn't hurt to give us a 5-star review and share a favorite episode with a friend, as we start to tell more and more of the Workplace Stories that we think matter.

TRANSCRIPT

Five Key Quotes:

It’s maybe paradoxical—we're supposed to be experts—but I think we're living through times where we have to be equally humble about the fact that we don't know nearly what we need to know, and we have to be the learner.

I define Skills as know-how that can be gained and grown; know-how that can be cultivated in other people, but can also be cultivated in yourself. And I think that for me is really what characterizes both talent, as well as opportunities. Any opportunity, what Skills I can define the opportunity in terms of what Skills does it require, what Skills will it help me grow? And I can define and characterize talent as not only what Skills do you bring, but what Skills are you hungry to learn? And so I think, for me, it's almost a unit of work.

I think for too long, L&D was almost considered as the sole entity that had responsibility for Skills. But I think we're living through a reality where any company that wants to emerge from this successfully realizes that every part of the company is responsible for Skills—and creating that co-ownership, shifting from this model where the L&D sort of curates and creates and the rest of the company consumes to one where it is genuine co-ownership because we own the critical Skills, we connect them to our strategy, we take accountability for shifting our people as a team, in the direction of those Skills to execute our strategy and we do it with speed, we do it at scale, we make investments in this. I think that level of coordinated co-ownership is super worthwhile, and I will admit it is super challenging to achieve. That's what I meant when I said we have to be the learner; I absolutely don't sit here and say, we know exactly how to do it, we have the roadmap. And we just know we have to learn our way of doing that work the right way.

Stacia and I always default to systems, because it's easier to change the system than it is to change the person in the system.

You could almost say we're on a crusade to establish that skill shift as an OKR that becomes another metric for which leaders take accountability and teams take accountability. Because Skills are vital, they’re like oxygen, you need them to breathe… but you can't see them, and the analytics is what makes them visible. So the data visualization becomes so important, because it's for a point.

Chris Pirie:

Welcome, or welcome back, to Workplace Stories, brought to you by RedThread Research, where we look for the ‘red thread’ that connects humans, ideas, stories, and data helping define the near future of people in work practices. The podcast is hosted by RedThread co-founders Stacia Garr and Dani Johnson, with a little bit of help from myself, Chris Pirie of The Learning Futures Group: we’re excited to welcome you to our third podcast Season, which we call The Skills Odyssey.

Our first podcast Season focused on what we call The Skills Obsession, and we asked ourselves why so many organizations and leaders are currently focused on all things ‘Skills.’ We learned that the shift to Skills-based practices was something of a journey—an Odyssey, if you like—and we decided in this Season to go deeper and find more examples of program strategies and experiments.

We’ll be talking to leaders who are starting to run experiments and programs using the Skills concept to rework how we think about all aspects of talent management. We hope to learn why they've embarked on the journey, how they're progressing, and what they hope to accomplish. We’ll seek to find out the approaches they're taking, the challenges they're encountering, and the successes or potential successes that they're having—and we'll definitely meet some amazing talent leaders along the way, so listen in: it might just help you think through your own skill strategy, and it will certainly be fun.

We are very grateful to our Season sponsors, Visier and Degreed. Visier is a recognized leader in people analytics and workforce planning; with Visier, organizations can answer questions that shape business strategy, provide the impetus for taking action, and drive better business outcomes through workforce optimization. Visier has 11,000 customers in 75 countries, including enterprises like Adobe, BASF, Electronic Arts, McKesson, and more; you can learn more about Visier at visier.com. Degreed is the upscaling platform that connects Learning to opportunities; they integrate everything people use to learn and build their careers, Skills, insights, LMSs, courses, videos, articles, and projects, and match everyone to growth opportunities that fit their unique Skills, roles and goals. Learn more about the Degreed platform at degreed.com, and thanks to both of our Season sponsors.

Vidya Krishnan:

It's maybe paradoxical—we’re supposed to be experts—but I think we're living through times where we have to be equally humble about the fact that we don't know nearly what we need to know, and we have to be the learner. So remembering to be the learner and actually being the learner and getting the whole team to prioritize being the very people we try to serve and constantly changing ourselves: that’s the number one challenge I face.

Chris Pirie:

That's Vidya Krishnan: she’s Chief Learning Officer and Head of Global Learning and Development for Ericsson, and she brings extraordinary clarity and significant insights into our Season's exploration of the current Skills Odyssey that we're all on.

Vidya clearly has a learning mindset, as well as responsibility for how Ericsson can transform capability creation, and catalyze a teaching and learning culture for over a hundred thousand employees worldwide. In this episode, Dani and Stacia sit down with Vidya to understand why and also how she and her team are progressing on their Skills Odyssey.

Dani Johnson:

Welcome to Workplace Stories!

Vidya Krishnan:

Thank you, Dani; it’s so nice to see you again, and be here.

Dani Johnson:

We really appreciate you taking time to share your insights with us. We have a long history; I think last time I saw you in person, we were on stage at a Lens event and we almost got killed by a giant ‘E’ that fell on the stage.

Vidya Krishnan:

I think I remember saying the ‘E’ was for ecosystem, but that is a memorable way for us to be together on stage, yes.

Dani Johnson:

For sure! I actually looked for that video on YouTube after the fact and couldn't find it, so I think they scrubbed it as much as they could try.

Vidya Krishnan:

Or it’s on the Dark Web; we could be on the Dark Web somewhere. Very memorable 😉

Dani Johnson:

We want to start with just some rapid questions, and then this section is just kind of a quick and dirty hit to sort of get to know you a little bit. Can you give us a quick overview of Ericsson, its Purpose and its mission?

Vidya Krishnan:

Yes, absolutely; we’re so excited because we really are articulating our Purpose and it's a beautiful one, which is Ericsson's Purpose is to create connections that make the unimaginable possible. It really is a reflection, I think, of the fact that we are a 140-year-old plus company that refuses to act our age! We’re on the cusp of a very exciting future that we're helping to bring about through the work that we're doing, and it's all about transforming business and pioneering a sustainable future —really bringing that to life, so we're very excited about our Purpose and the work ahead.

Dani Johnson:

Talk to me a little bit about yourself: so what's your job, what's your role? And how do you describe what you do?

Vidya Krishnan:

I'm very proud to be Ericsson's Chief Learning Officer. I get to be part of an amazing team that is dedicated to creating capability—creating the capability for us to create the connections that make the unimaginable possible. In short, I tell people that we have the pleasure and the privilege of working with a hundred thousand people to help them change themselves. I'm in my fourth career; I hope I have at least that many ahead of me! I have been everything from a camp counselor and an engineer working on our awesome networks to a digital business leader. And now I'm super-proud to be part of Ericsson's people function and leading learning and development globally.

Dani Johnson:

I love that. I also love the fact that you've had four careers. We often run across the discussion of mobility when we talk about Skills. And so we'll probably get a little bit into that today, too.

Vidya Krishnan:

I have been on the move, and I hope that all of us will keep moving.

Dani Johnson:

Sounds great. Tell me a little bit about how you came to do this type of work?

Vidya Krishnan:

I think Learning has always been my love and my challenge, and it really was something that kept coming up as a theme in every piece of work that I ever did. I've always been a fan of the almost magical effect that I've seen Learning have; I have to say I grew up in a family where I watched my family change itself through Learning. My mom, for example, was one of the first in her school to be a female engineer, back in India, and then she had to stop working when she had me, because at that time where we lived there was really no childcare, no support whatsoever. When I was about 11, I saw her struggle to re-enter the workforce. And by that time she was the age almost that I am now, a little bit younger, and at that age, my mom put herself back in school; she went back to community college, a good two decades older than everyone else there and believe it or not, one of her teachers became her summer internship manager. She turned all of that into a career that lasted almost two decades in the pharmaceutical industry, working on software. And again, it changed our family; it changed our finances, it changed our prospects, it changed my parents' relationship, it changed everything about our family. And my father was in research. And so to have these two really amazing, extraordinary examples of Learning transforming lives, our own as well as other people’s, I think that definitely made this something that was always my love and challenge. And then every job I did, I couldn't help but notice that I kept finding some way to work on this on the side. So when I was a camp counselor, or quite frankly, it was about how kids learn and, and Learning with them, it was one most fulfilling things I've ever done; when I was an engineer, it was about seeing how capability literally changed our experience of each other, of our work, and changed the customer's experience.

As a digital business leader I finally, for the first time, got to make Learning not just my passion but my profession, actually leading our North American customer training business, and seeing that as much value as we attribute to education, we saw our customers put a high valuation on it and really see how it was changing their capability. And so it felt, even though it feels like four crazy different roles, it really felt like a progression for me of discovering how much I wanted to be working in this space, where creating capability with speed and scale and accountability feels like the most important thing we could be doing right now. We have to learn our way to a better future, and it's never felt more necessary.

Dani Johnson:

I love that; I’m glad they finally pay you for your passion.

Stacia Garr:

It’s fun when your passion and your profession become the same thing; it’s very nice!

Dani Johnson:

For sure! So final question in the rapid question section, what is the most challenging aspect of your work?

Vidya Krishnan:

I think it's to be the learner, constantly be the learner; I think we can't do this work unless we constantly are the learner. It’s maybe paradoxical—we're supposed to be experts—but I think we're living through times where we have to be equally humble about the fact that we don't know nearly what we need to know, and we have to be the learner. So remembering to be the learner and actually being the learner and getting the whole team to prioritize being the very people we try to serve, and constantly changing ourselves; that's the number one challenge I face.

Dani Johnson:

That is a very good answer.

Vidya Krishnan:

It's true. Not easy, but it's true.

Stacia Garr:

Well, let's switch gears a little bit and talk about this Season. So this Season is all about Skills, as you know, which is a very hot topic, as you also know. And the point of the Season is really to talk to people who are starting to figure this out and experiment with it, and that's why we wanted to speak with you. So could you help us out by telling us, how do you define Skills?

Vidya Krishnan:

I think I define Skills as know-how that can be gained and grown; so know-how that can be cultivated in other people, but can be cultivated in yourself. And I think that for me is really what characterizes both talent as well as opportunities. Any opportunity, what Skills–I can define the opportunity in terms of what Skills does it require, what Skills will it help me grow? And I can define and characterize talent as not only what Skills do you bring, but what Skills are you hungry to learn? And so I think for me, it's almost a unit of work.

Stacia Garr:

So, it may seem obvious, but I'm still going to ask it: why are you all focused on Skills right now? What has brought that about?

Vidya Krishnan:

I think there's an unprecedented confluence of conditions that are showing us it's a time to Skill, like never before. We do see many reasons that we have to learn our way to a better future; I think the wellbeing of people, of the planet, is under siege. In one sense, we also see that the acceleration toward digitalization—that our company's proud to be part of because connecting people is literally connecting life—is transforming both what people can do and what they need to do. I think we also see that the speed of change is only increasing, and the capabilities that we bring literally define and determine the outcomes that we have.

I think our own company recognizes very much that Learning our way to a better future is something that all of our people need to do, and when we do that, we are creating the capability to create connections that make the unimaginable possible. So we know that we also see the trends of attrition, of where people are going, people are looking for their Purpose; they’re looking for the matching of talents, Skills, Purpose, opportunity, all of those things. The ability to create conditions where people can not only build skill, but constantly reinvent themselves in a direction that grows not only the company but also fulfills them, I think is for me the ultimate definition of winning. So I would say we see that this, whatever you want to call it, the ‘Next Normal,’ is anything but normal—it's characterized by shattered norms; we have an unprecedented multi-generational workforce, we have people living what the book The 100-Year Life calls a multi-phase life, that they are transitioning in and out of different phases. We see that data is used not just for big data, but for the small data of personalizing what we can do. And the ground has never been more in motion, but also more ripe for people to unlock the capabilities of other people.

Stacia Garr:

I love a few things about what you said there. First is, I think you might be the first leader in our space we've spoken with who's tied this to some of the climate change and some of the other significant things that we're facing as humanity. Actually just the other day—Dani and I haven't even talked about this—but I think that is somewhere that we're going to start to see people go more, because I think that it's impossible to solve or even really to fully think about some of those problems without thinking about Learning and our connections to each other and organizations, so iI love that you pulled that out. And then the second thing is just connecting to that overall human Purpose, that sense that we all need to have that fulfillment and sense of working towards something larger than ourselves: we did a whole podcast Season on Purpose, and just love how you were making that connection so explicit.

Vidya Krishnan:

I think our people help us make it. And being in the technology space, being a technology company, you cannot help but be in a technology company without realizing technology itself is inherently upgradeable. And so are we.

Dani Johnson:

I like that.

Stacia Garr:

Yeah. So can you talk a little bit about what you're hoping to accomplish with this Skills mindset at Ericsson? I think you've laid it out, but in more concrete terms?

Vidya Krishnan:

I think first of all, we want to achieve and accomplish the successful execution of our strategy. Our Skills are absolutely connected to our strategy, and we believe that shifting capabilities, shifting mindsets and skill sets, is one of the most powerful enablers of accomplishing our strategy. So that for us, is I think, top of mind; we also want that each of our people feels that they have both the conditions and the capability to design their own future. We say be the CEO of their own career, and if you want to be the CEO of anything, you need both insight and intelligence. So again, we feel that through a Skills mindset we can create both the insight and the intelligence for people to be the CEO of their own career—to be on the move through Ericsson in ways that grow our company and grow them. And if we can do that well, again, it will culminate in the growth of both our people and our company, so I think that is what we want to accomplish most. And we believe that it is also necessary for people to be well and do well—for a sense of wellbeing that we actually create conditions in which Learning becomes a form of self-care.

Dani Johnson:
Yeah. I actually really love that; Stacia and I have been doing some research over the past few years about how performance and engagement and experience and Learning, all these things, are becoming one big conversation, and it seems like you maybe have gotten there before many other companies—you’re starting to see the ability to grow and learn and develop as a really basic part of that wellbeing.

Vidya Krishnan:

I think, again, that's us listening to our people. I'm very proud of how Ericsson has made the safety and wellbeing of its people our number one priority, especially now; and we see more and more that people have translated that to mean, I have to make time to grow myself, to grow what I know to grow, what I can do, that’s what equips me to get through these changes in the way that still allows me to connect to the people I care about, and live my Purpose and do fulfilling work. I do think that's sort of an unmistakable sentiment that we see reflected in our people.

Dani Johnson:

We've talked a lot about some of the inherent, beautiful things associated with the Skills efforts that you're doing. But on our prep call, you said something really interesting—you said that that are at the root of all that we care about, and I'd love for you to talk just a little bit more about that?

Vidya Krishnan:

For example, Skills are uniquely at this intersection of strategy, execution of the strategy, and the engagement experience that people have. So that's what I mean when I say they're at the root of everything we care about; when you are able to create shifts in the capabilities of people and what they know, what they think, what they believe, what they can do, I don't know of a single parameter that isn't positively affected by that. We always say it's about two things: it’s about our customers and focusing on our employees, and both of their experiences are made better when we equip ourselves to serve them better, and we do that again through Skills. Translating our strategy into the skill shifts that we have to make to realize it is what makes it real. Making the employee experience one that creates inclusivity and Belonging and aligning our personal Purpose with our company's Purpose, living with integrity—every one of those things has at least some aspect of it that is completely rooted in creating meaningful Skills, building future critical Skills. So for me, it really is at the heart of many things.

Dani Johnson:
Well tell me how this has affected your job? So a focus on Skills is upsetting a lot of L&D organizations across the globe. How has this focus on Skills affected you personally, and what you're doing?

Vidya Krishnan:

First, I have to confess there's a little bit of that Dunning-Kruger effect, right? That you come in and start doing something, and then you discover the complexity and suddenly you have this moment where you become more aware of all you don't know and then think, Oh my God! So that's happening, that's definitely happening. But I do also think the way it's affected me personally, I mean, first of all, the drive that we feel and maybe the sense of urgency that not only, I mean, Learning and skill-building has always been important—that part's not new, but what I think we feel that is new is this urgency to truly do it systematically, to align and configure the machinery if you will, of our company so that building future critical Skills is something that happens systematically, predictably, intelligently, repeatedly.

And that work is both extensive and intensive, so we definitely feel that. I think sometimes we also see how much coordination it requires—but it's so worthwhile, because I think for too long, maybe in the whole industry, L&D was almost considered as the sole entity that had responsibility for Skills. But I think we're living through a reality where any company that wants to emerge from this successfully realizes that every part of the company is responsible for Skills, and creating that co-ownership, and shifting from this model where L&D sort of curates and creates and the rest of the company consumes, to one where it is genuine co-ownership because we own the critical Skills; we connect them to our strategy; we take accountability for shifting our people as a team in the direction of those Skills to execute our strategy and we do it with speed, we do it at scale, we make investments in this. I think that level of coordinated co-ownership is super worthwhile, and I will admit it is super challenging to achieve. That's what I meant when I said we have to be the learner; I absolutely don't sit here and say, we know exactly how to do it, we have the roadmap, and we just know: We have to learn our way of doing that work the right way.

Dani Johnson:

I really like that. It's kind of comforting to hear you say that because I'm a fan, Vidya—whenever I talked to you, I learn something new and so it's comforting to hear you say, dude, we're in it just like everybody else, we're feeling our way through it and we just had to jump in with both feet and just, just work on it. That's what we're doing.

Vidya Krishnan:

And I think being a learner is the most important attribute. That's why I said that—because we have to learn from our people, we have to learn from the problems we face, we have to learn from the things we get wrong just as much as the things that we get right. We have to learn how to balance the execution of this work with recognizing how it's an elemental part of self-care for our people.

Dani Johnson:

I love that, and I especially love the fact that you're talking about this systemically: Stacia and I always default to systems, because it's easier to change the system than it is to change the person in the system. One of the ways that we've been talking about it, and I've heard you mention it a couple of times—I don't know if you came up with it or I came up with it, but we're at least aligned on it— this idea of conditions, creating the conditions for Learning. So it's not just developing content, it's actually creating conditions. Talk to me a little bit about how you and Ericsson are creating those conditions for this continuous learning that you've talked about.

Vidya Krishnan:

We believe that creating conditions really has three parts to it. One is the ecosystem: for us, that’s about how we make learning easy. It is all of the technology and the platforms, but really we say ‘ecosystem,' because it's more than the technology and platforms: it’s the total experience, it’s the interconnection, it's the personalization. We often talk about our ecosystem being an empathy engine, because the real high Purpose of that is to connect people, not just to content, to build Skills, but actually to connect them to each other—to connect them to each other's lived experiences so we can learn with and from each other. So the ecosystem and making Learning easy is I think one dimension of those conditions. I think the second dimension is really our culture system: how do we make learning a habit that matters—one of consequence? Meaning we believe that learning happens through the experiences you have through the opportunities you discover, and it is much more about the contributions you make than the curricula you complete. And in that sense, we really value that we need to have a teaching culture in order to have a Learning culture. And so for us, that is all about the culture of giving, of knowing and showing and growing who our teachers are, leveraging them as skill multipliers and creating experiential learning that, to some extent, can find the learner and not just the other way around. So for us, that culture system of being on the move, recognizing that the way people are moving through the company is vastly changing and enabling that is the second dimension for us of creating the conditions.

The third one really is about our business system, which is that Learning has to drive profitable growth. Therefore, we have to connect Skills to strategy: we have to do it systematically and we have to treat up-skilling and re-skilling as strategic investments where, along with these spearheads that through mergers acquisitions, through accelerating certain Skills, through entrepreneurial-ism, that whole combination has to be aligned to growing the company's critical Skills so that we are delivering growth. And so for us, it's really we create the conditions by addressing those three systems, if you will: building an ecosystem to make learning easy, a culture system to make learning a habit that matters, and then our business system, so that learning truly drives profitable growth.

Stacia Garr:

So then we build the system, these conditions for this to happen: let’s now actually talk about the individual. How do you empower them to take advantage of this?

Vidya Krishnan:

I think there's three ways we have to empower them: it’s what they know, what they feel and what they do, right? So I think the first thing is, they have to know what Skills matter—as I said, being the CEO of your own career requires intelligence, having intelligent analytics and being informed and being able to see this is an area of growth, this is an area maybe of reduction, this is a critical skill for our future, this one is not. So I think that's the first thing—they have to know what the critical Skills are aligned to our strategy, and how to go about building them. Then I think they need to feel that they really are the CEO of their own career, and that the systems around them are progressively trying to become more personalized and more intelligent to give them that intelligence in real-time about what opportunities are out there, which ones match their Skills, their profile, and maybe more importantly than their static profile, but their progression—the fact that you were at level one and you've got to level three should almost become not just a static profile, but a signal that we can read in terms of data and systems and say, okay, if that's you, that should help you and help us unlock and know what are the opportunities? What are the vacancies?

And sometimes it's not about vacancies—what are the projects, what are the things that I can do and help with? Sometimes because I already have the skill, but other times, because I don't; where can I find these opportunities to help me grow the Skills that I do not yet have? So I think we want people to feel empowered and supported by their manager, supported by the investment that we make in our employees, by the things that we do to make learning more equitable and accessible, that they can take advantage of those opportunities. Then in terms of do, we want them to make time. We want them to make time to learn, and we want them to lead as learning drivers and actually teach and create conditions for one another where it is based on the contribution they make; we want them to contribute and make impact.

So I think for us, that personal empowerment really is what do they know, what do they feel and what do they do?

Stacia Garr:

How do you all bring all of that to life? I know we talked about internal mobility and the intersection with Skills, but can you help us understand what are the specifics of how this comes to life?

Vidya Krishnan:

Yep. First, we’re very much at the beginning of this journey. So I don't want to misrepresent that we've already done it, but I think the way we bring this to life first, what do they know? They know what the critical Skills are. That is all about the process that we use to connect Skills to strategy, to make sure that we have partnerships with the right people throughout our company, so that the defining of the strategy has as its derivative these are the critical Skills, and that we use the communications engine of our company to make sure everyone knows them, sees them, recognizes them, can find them anywhere and everywhere. So I think that's the first part of this: helping equip our employees with the intelligence to know what Skills are most critical for Ericsson's future.

The second thing about feeling that they are the CEO of their own career is really all about the things that we do to make talent mobility easier and better than ever, which is everything from our brand, our employer brand, and the conditions we create a reward and recognition to the way we make it easier for them to find their way to opportunities—and, as I said, to make our talent systems more intelligent so that opportunities eventually can find them so that based on your profile and based on your learning feed, when you go in you might see a message that this position looks like a good fit based on other people who've applied to other positions like this—did you know that you have the Skills to apply to this? Which is not something that's there yet, but we believe this making this happen is a huge part of providing the mobility for them to feel that they are the CEO of their own career.

And then the other part is, culturally, to make sure that part of Ericsson on the move is that we are equipping our leaders really to be Learning drivers because we are all busy, but we make time for our staff meetings; we make time for our team, we make, we read and take the things that our leaders tell us, Hey, read this, take this course—we do it, we find the time. So leaders do have a powerfully disproportionate impact and influence on the Skills that their teams build, so we really want to embrace that fact. And for us, equipping our leaders, specifically targeting them and equipping them to be Learning drivers is another part of how we believe we bring this work to life. So I think for us, it really is about creating the architecture where these things can happen, creating the culture where people know how to behave to encourage their people to build those Skills and then giving our people the intelligence and the data to know which direction to go in.

Stacia Garr:

I love the point about giving people intelligence and data. Can you share a little bit more detail on that? I mean, is that information that people could literally search for around: these are the types of Skills that Ericsson is looking to develop? What does that literally look like?

Vidya Krishnan:

Yeah. I think there's a part that's easy and a part that's hard; there's a part we have and a part we don't yet have. The part we have is we know what the critical Skills are absolutely do. We also know that this is also not a static thing. It changes as our strategy does. So I think first, just giving people that insight and then making sure that they also have the data of, if I want to build this skill how do I measure myself? What does it mean to be at this level or this level, or this level, and giving them the framework to know so that again, there's parity and Equity and Skills that somebody who says, I'm a level three here can go to another team and they would still be a level three, and that would actually mean something that has a currency and a value that goes across the company. So I think that's sort of the data that they have—giving managers, for example, the analytics that we use through Degreed to be able to see what Skills their teams have chosen to build, to connect the designation of your focused critical Skills to the performance management that we do as a team—those are things that we can do right where we are.

Then there's the harder stuff of some of the intelligent inventory, and we're not there yet. But what we would like to be able to do is to tell people that based on the inventory of Skills in the company, here are the people who are at this level you can find them; we have an accurate inventory of all the people who are experts in this, all the people who are novices in that, and that we know what Skills and what levels tend to map toward getting what jobs, so that we could actually in the future tell our people, you may not have even realized that your skill progression and your profile make you a match for this opportunity —they actually do. You couldn't see that, but our AI engines can do the pattern matching, they’re learning every time someone fulfils a job and they are recognizing patterns that maybe we can't see. And that I think is a very special form of intelligence that we would love to be able to share with our people. We're not there yet, but we believe that that's the kind of thing people need to know.

Dani Johnson:

I think you’ve made a really interesting point, and that's around giving people information so they know where to go—but also on the other end, allowing them to have sort of a signal to the organization, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ So Stacia and I have talked for years about reputation, and how we think it's going to be absolutely necessary for movement and mobility and all kinds of things in the future, especially as we move toward more of a Skills mindset. I’d love to understand what you all are doing with this idea of that signal, sending it out to the rest of Ericsson, and what kind of effect that has.

Vidya Krishnan:

So I think first of all, the signal, the way we see it: signal’s almost three things, right? It's your profile, it's the experiences you bring and the contributions that you've made. It is your progression, seeing where you are moving in your Skills and where you want to move, and then it's your Purpose—these are the things that you really care about and really want to work on. And when we do this right, I think having that kind of data and being able to see that kind of data allows people to literally send out a signal, ‘This is what my next looks like.’ And then if we can similarly characterize our opportunities, be it project opportunities or vacancies by describing them in terms of Skills,—which is something that for most companies today that that's an evolution, getting your job catalog to be something that is interpretable and it's of Skills—so that you can actually do that kind of matching. That means that the signal that you emit gets you something back, and what it gets back is matching to opportunities, not just to put your Skills to work but also opportunities to learn on the job with guidance and build the Skills that you don't have.

This for us as the ultimate aim, because I think this is how I would want to move through a company, this is how people would want to move through a company—I would want to be seen as the blockchain of everything I've done, everyone I've helped the good things I've done, the positive way I've treated people, the experiences I've acquired, the knowledge I've shared, the things I'm interested in and how I'm growing myself. I would want that to be a differentiator; I’d want it to be that when I am being compared to other employees for an opening, that it matters that, oh, look, that person clearly has been teaching others, this person has clearly done things to build their skill level and that that progression has a positive consequence because it leads to actual differentiation of who gets the role who gets the opportunity. So I think that's what we would like to see.

Dani Johnson:

Well, that's awesome—let’s talk about how you're getting there. A lot of organizations, when we talk to them about Skills, we get the deer in the headlights, and then they start talking about Skills, data, and taxonomies, and all kinds of things, and we never actually get to do the discussion on data. So I'd like to talk to you a little bit about data: what data are you leveraging to get the picture that you have of people in the organization and what do you see being able to leverage in order to create that utopia that you talked about?

Vidya Krishnan:

I think it's very easy to make it complex so we're trying really hard not to, to keep it somewhat simpe. So the first thing is, again, we really care about the critical Skills, and I'd like to say that the critical Skills are what are connected to strategy, but what I'd also want everyone to understand is our definition of the critical Skills is a combination of technology, sales, commercial, and power Skills. And many people would think, oh, this is a tech company so that their critical Skills are all tech Skills. Nope: nope—they are really meant to be technical commercial Skills that span the spectrum, including power Skills of things like partnership and storytelling and digital transformation, and things that maybe in the past, people would have called soft Skills but we know that these are not soft in any way, they’re the hardest ones of all, and we choose to call them like many companies are doing now power Skills because we see how they power, empower, and disempower the other Skills.

So the first thing is for Skills data, to know how people line up with these critical Skills and to be able to simplify that by saying, okay, we're going to have this number of levels and that's it—company-wide, if you've got this skill, you're either top level, bottom level or somewhere in between, and that means something consistently across the whole company. So it's simple, but it's also, I think, significant, because it creates a parity. The next thing we really care about is skill shift; if we know that our strategy requires us to shift our Skills, then as teams and as leaders, we need to be accountable for our results. We are already used to being accountable for financial results, business results, project results, customer satisfaction, employee engagement; now we believe we have to be responsible for skill shifts as an OKR. And what we mean by that simply is, if we were to say, these are the levels a year ago, this is the population that was at this level, this level, and this level, over the course of a year in critical skill areas, success looks like shifting the number of people who have mastered and applied that skill at these higher levels; I should be able to change the population of people and know who they are, so that more people are now at third level or fourth level or the highest level. If I can make that happen at scale with speed, that shift is what I need to be held responsible for. So it's not a complicated metric, but I think this data and making it something we can see, that we can measure and that we can dashboard ourselves on—this is a big focus for us because even though it's not a complicated metric, we think it's a fundamental one.

Dani Johnson:

Can I ask a question about that?

Vidya Krishnan:

Yeah.

Dani Johnson:

When you say, ‘we,’ who are you referring to? Is it L&D, is it leaders? Is it individuals… Who's the ‘we’ that’s accountable for that skill shift?

Vidya Krishnan:

I think as I said earlier, and I know it'll sound cliched when I say that we are really trying to make skill shifts as an OKR, a metric that every business leader shares. And today, if you ask me the question who's responsible for the financials of Ericsson, you would not hear me saying, oh, the finance department. No, I would never say that. It’s every one of us. I mean, that's just sort of a known response, right? Every one of us is responsible for those results. Why would it be any different with this? It is as crucial, because this is essentially the leading indicator for a lot of those other lag indicators. You could almost say we're on a crusade to establish that skill shift as an OKR becomes another metric for which leaders take accountability and teams take accountability. So it's not just about the individual building skill in best effort in your spare time, but it becomes, again, a very determined, very prioritized and strategic shift that, as a team, I've got to get my team from here to here—‘here’ being, this is the number of people I have at this level, this level, this level, and ‘there’ says I've got more people at that higher level because I've defined that higher level. As if you're at that level, you can do this kind of work.

Stacia Garr:

I love how that systematizes what we've been talking about, right? It makes it go from kind of a fluffy concept that, Hey, you need to upskill your team, you need to make sure they have these Skills too—this is actually what every leader in this organization needs to be held accountable for, and we're going to have a way to look at that and scale it and measure it and ultimately report on it and hold you accountable for doing so.

Vidya Krishnan:

It's a journey to get there, if I can say— not everyone gets there in the same path and so on back to creating conditions, right? Some people will get there through experiential learning programs, other people will get there through self-study. Other people will get there through mentors and working on the job. And so we need to create conditions where there are multiple ways of getting there. But what we really take accountability for is that people get there.

Dani Johnson:

I also love the fact that you all have drawn a box: most organizations, when they go into this, they see Skills as this wide, open field and they get overwhelmed because they're trying to document every single skill and whatever—you all have drawn a box around, this is what we're going to measure, and here are the critical Skills for our organization. We're not going to look at everything. We're going to look at the ones that we think are critical to the strategy that we have in place.

Vidya Krishnan:

Yes, and that's not easy, but I think it's so important, it’s so important. And we still feel overwhelmed anyway, but I think it is so important to define what are the vital few. Again, the process of strategy really helps you do that.

Dani Johnson:

I'm going to ask you one more question on data, and then I think we're going to switch gears to Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging. What are your biggest challenges with respect to your data?

Vidya Krishnan:

I think there are several. One I think is simply being able to access it, because today it lives across so many different systems, so it really is a disproportionate amount of work to even access it in the first place. And because it comes from different systems, and it's typically not linked to each other and it's not correlated in the way we'd like, I think there is a very under-appreciated extensive amount of validation cleaning, if you will, does this thing really go with this and so forth. And also I would say huge sensitivity. We absolutely want to uphold and respect data privacy and treat data the way it should be treated and anonymized, so that there's just nothing but high integrity in the handling of that data.

I think so that's all the under-the-water stuff that nobody kind of appreciates, but that's crucial, and then there's the stuff above the water, which is, I think creating out of that data insights that are easy to understand, which is, I would say the art and science of data visualization. How do you depict this in a way that anybody would get it? Our phones have mastered this with the icons that show up in our phones and distract us all day long, but with this kind of data, we have not yet figured out the right way. And I think, again, the analytics for me is the most exciting and game-changing area for Skills. It's also the place where I would say we're most immature, because Skills are vital, they’re like oxygen—you need them to breathe, but you can't see them, and the analytics is what makes them visible, and so the data visualization becomes so important because it's for a point, right? I'm trying to tell a story with the data that equips you with wisdom and insight that you didn't have before.

So I think the two things below the water, if you will, or getting it in the first place, connecting it, cleaning it, treating it, making sure we respect and uphold everything with integrity, security, and privacy, and then above the line, how do you get it into the right hands of the right people in a way that is so easy to consume that it drives the right action?

Stacia Garr:

We can add to that—we’re doing a study right now related to this—is also to present it in a way that it helps you make a decision. It can't just be that it's interesting. Oh, we have these Power Skills, like okay. Who cares?

Vidya Krishnan:

Actionable!

Stacia Garr:

So I think that the other thing that we're seeing as being so critical is driving appropriate decision-making.

Vidya Krishnan:

And here, I think we have a lot to learn from other fields, right? Because when you think about everything from avionics to medical care, to again, what's shown up on our phone, instrumentation has come a long way in certain industries. There's no reason we can't use some of that same science of instrumentation to create Skills instrumentation in the way we do this so that, as you said, insight leads to action.

Stacia Garr:

We do want to switch gears again, and talk a little bit about this in terms of DEIB and how do you see Skills as helping with our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging efforts?

Vidya Krishnan:

I think there are three big ways. I think the first one is access—making sure that everyone has access to knowing what the critical Skills are, to seeing what the opportunities are, to being able to apply to those opportunities, and having a fighting chance to get those opportunities. So I think making sure that that access is really fair and universal. I think the second one is Equity: and for me, Equity takes on special forms because it's also about being able to value contribution, and not just completion: someone might show up with a lot of credentials and that's wonderful—if we can make sure that some of those credentials are things you can only earn through contribution, then people who may say, I'm not that good at taking that test and I'm not that good at that time pressure of that assessment, but I have been able to contribute these things and I've been able to help other people and in really material ways and that may earn me a different set of credentials, but I know that when I'm being evaluated for opportunities and when things are being pushed to me, that that has special weight and I'm not being counted out because I'm not showing up in the same parameters as other people.

So I think it's also Equity. If we do this work correctly, Skills helps make sure that there's Equity, because there's so many different ways of getting Skills we have to value contribution in my mind much more than just completion. I think the third one, though, is momentum, because we recognize that if we can make skill-building something that happens to you on your way to solving a problem, and if we can create more and more experiential learning opportunities at Ericsson, then you're breaking that chicken/egg cycle of, I'm not going to get that job because I don't have the Skills and I don't have the Skills because I can't get a job like that. By recognizing that you can learn your way into certain jobs, and that certain opportunities are project-based Learning where in building the skill you're actually doing the work. So the business impact is unquestionable, but that opportunity is coming with, again, teaching, mentoring, sponsorship, guidance, support. So for me, that's the other thing, if you can build experiential learning and make onboarding something that happens, not just once when you enter a company, but maybe even at the project level—onboard into a project, you onboard into an assignment, you onboard into an opportunity—then I am starting to value people for their demonstrated momentum, and not just my perception of someone's potential. And I think that is also very powerfully necessary for DEIB.

Dani Johnson:

I love that— the thing that stands out to me is the phrase that you said early on: skill-building is something that happens while you're figuring out the work. I think that's how you phrased it?

Vidya Krishnan:

Solving problems.

Dani Johnson:

It's a really interesting way to look at it, because it's so counterintuitive to the way the L&D has done it for such a long time.

Vidya Krishnan:

It's counter-intuitive, but yet it's fundamentally true: if any of us were to just reflect on our own Skills and how we really got them, I think most of us would come out and say, yeah, that's what I did on the way to solving some crisis or some problem or some project, but that's how we how can we ignore the truth of that's how we got them, so why wouldn't we harness that?

Stacia Garr:

We talked about a lot of the concepts and where you are, and I know that you're not through the full journey yet, but today, what sort of results have you experienced?

Vidya Krishnan:

I think numerically, first of all something we saw through the first year of the pandemic last year is that we saw that there was almost a 50% increase in the amount of time people are spending in Learning and there was more than a 50% decrease in the amount of expenditure that people needed to do it. And we really credited our ecosystem with making that possible—that more people had more access to more Learning, more accessibly, than they did before. So that I think is something quite numerically that we're very proud of.

The other one is skill shift. There are certain areas where Skills that are connected to our strategy are not brand new, they're somewhat mature, they've been there for two or three years. Here, we actually see results that the number of people we have at the highest level went from zero to a much bigger number—the number of people that weren't even assessed at the introductory level are now at a much higher number, so there are some areas where we can actually show skill shift as an OKR, kind of proving that it works to treat these upskilling-reskilling journeys as strategic investments.

I think the other result is that everyone at Ericsson should know what the critical Skills are. We have done that work for the first time, and it is an iterative work, but we have actually defined our Skills connected to our strategy. I think the other results that I'm extremely proud of and we need even more of is our simplification—Learning is not always easy. We were appalled looking at the number of emails and clicks that it was taking for people to undergo some really simple transactions and a shout out to Domino's Pizza, because like that was like our role model, like the way it made us all eat a lot of pizza. I have to say the name of research, but the team keeps joking, like the way you order a pizza and then you see everything that's happening and you know at every moment where your request is and what it takes to procure it and all of that stuff—that’s been kind of our model for transforming simplification. I think it's being more AI-driven, seeing that the tools and the platforms that we're using are using the power of AI in a good, humane, safe way to help people by making recommendations and pushing content and pushing contacts in communities to people. I think that is also a result that we take a lot of pride in.

Dani Johnson:

This has been really great, Vidya; I think you've given us a lot to think of—you’ve given me a lot to think about, for sure. We'd love to understand what didn't we ask you that we should've asked?

Vidya Krishnan:

Maybe when we talk about being systematic, what do we really mean?

Dani Johnson:

That's a good question!

Vidya Krishnan:

Because it’s an easy word to say, a very hard thing to do. And I would answer to you that I think, for us being systematic is really about three things. It’s first sensing what are the critical Skills—constantly sensing—staying ahead of the curve instead of behind it and connecting that strategy. Then I think it's this very important, humbling, beautiful, and difficult work of creating meaningful Skills journeys. Some of which are all about upskilling-reskilling/experiential Learning, others are very strategic pointed things. It's this partnership with this university on a micro-degree, it is this entrepreneurial thing that is starting up and attracting people to it, it’s this skill accelerator that we took a hundred experts virtually and asked them to multiply. So it's the skill journeys, building them. And then I think it's the skill shift as an OKR and making sure that we then say, okay, we did all this—is it working? Is it actually working? Are we actually moving the needle in terms of how many people have what levels of expertise and are we putting them to work, and do we see that reflected in our analytics and our mobility?

I think for me, this is what it means to be systematic. This is sort of our roadmap, our aspiration—but also our operating plan.

Dani Johnson:

I think you've given a lot of companies some hope.

Vidya Krishnan:

It's the beginning, we're at the beginning of the journey, and we're on with so many other companies. I gotta shout out to all of the companies that help us by talking to us.

Dani Johnson:

I also love that you said that, Vidya, it's not an isolated problem. We shouldn't be solving it for ourselves— it’s a huge, big, hairy, messy problem, and the more people we can get on it, the better.

Vidya Krishnan:

I think it's one of the most beautiful things about being in this field. There's some fields where you can't talk to anybody else about the work you do, because that would be bad. And I saw this from the earliest days I was in it; you go to a conference and everyone is so ready to talk to you about what they've done, the mistakes they've made, the way they solved them, they want to hear your story, they love your story. Everyone's so affirming! And it makes sense if you're in the field of Learning to say that ‘I'm not going to learn from other people’ would be wrong, but, but it's a beautiful thing that I think we just have to leverage more and more; these are problems that as challenging as they are, they’re not unique to Ericsson. And I think our industry feels a shared responsibility to be on this journey together and to go together. Go far together.

Dani Johnson:

Well, along those lines, how can people get in touch with you?

Vidya Krishnan:

Probably LinkedIn is the best way; I’m out there on LinkedIn, and ericsson.com, you can find more about us and the work that we do and our blog posts and all about our amazing Purpose and all the things we're doing to bring that Purpose to life.

Dani Johnson:

Final question—we always ask this question. Why do you personally do the work you do?

Vidya Krishnan:

I have seen, first hand, that Learning is I think the second most powerful connection there can be between people, right next to love. I've seen it change my own life, change my parents' life, my family's life—changed the lives of people. It's the one thing that no one can take away from you. And as powerful as it is to make a strategy happen, it's even more powerful, in the name of self-love and self-care. And to combine Learning and service, I think truly excites me, challenges me and, absolutely, it's my Purpose.

Dani Johnson:

Thank you so much for being with us and for being so open and sharing your story and everything you're doing.

Vidya Krishnan:

Thank you for the opportunity. And now I kind of want a pizza.

Stacia Garr:

Thank you, Vidya.

Chris Pirie:

Thanks for listening to Workplace Stories; it’s a podcast brought to you by RedThread Research. If you'd like to stay updated on our research and insights into people practices, including our latest studies on the Skills and analytics that organizations need to foster a more inclusive workplace, simply sign up for our weekly newsletter at redthreadresearch.com; you’ll hear about our latest research and find all the ways that you can participate in our roundtable discussions, Q&A calls and surveys, right from your inbox. It’s a great way to share your opinions about everything from DEIB to people analytics, from Learning and Skills to performance management and leadership, and also meet and exchange ideas with your peers in the industry.

As always thanks so much to our guests, to our sponsors and to you, our listeners.

Written by

Dani Johnson

Dani is Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research. She has spent the majority of her career writing about, conducting research in, and consulting on human capital practices and technology. Her ideas can be found in publications such as Wall Street Journal, CLO Magazine, HR Magazine, and Employment Relations. Dani holds an MBA and an MS and BS in Mechanical Engineering from BYU.

Stacia Garr Redthread Research
Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

Stacia is a Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research and focuses on employee engagement/experience, leadership, DE&I, people analytics, and HR technology. A frequent speaker and writer, her work has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal as well as in numerous HR trade publications. She has been listed as a Top 100 influencer in HR Technology and in D&I. Stacia has an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.

Share This