When an iconic, even beloved, name goes through hard times in the technology industry, it is unusual, to say the least, for it to bounce back. But that is exactly what Nokia Networks (formerly Nokia Solutions and Networks, Nokia Siemens Networks, or NSN) is doing. When a Phoenix arises it has always been through the refiner’s fire. This is the story of the refining and the part eLearning has played.

Peter Holmark (head of TLO Expertise, Nokia), based in Berlin, Germany, leads a deliberate strategy to use eLearning to help save and re-position Nokia Networks. (Editor’s Note: “TLO” is an acronym for Talent, Leadership, and Organization Development.) He describes the challenge: “At the beginning of 2013 we had just eight quarters of trading left before we ran out of cash. We had an unattractive portfolio and our competitors were rapidly eroding our customer base. The organization was in turmoil as we changed ownership and our name in a bewildering sequence.”


Peter Holmark

Peter and his colleagues looked at what they could do to help in a situation where they had minimal budget, no time, and where learning was not exactly at the top of the leadership team’s agenda. “We knew lots about managing change and we believed we had a strong capability to deliver it. But our leaders needed support in leading change.”

Appraising the existing learning portfolio and its business impact, Peter realized that the manifestation of the 70:20:10 model, which served the business well in the stable state, was just not fit for the purpose in times of dramatic and turbulent change. “Our leaders could not give the bandwidth or the time to do what the model requires in supporting people through the uncertainty.” The changes were dramatic. In the subsequent two years,
15 – 25 percent of the payroll (17,000 people) left from every location around the world.

So what could they do to help and to ease the pain of loneliness felt by those taking the hard decisions, all while watching a clock ticking towards extinction if turnaround failed? Peter and his team extracted helpful material from the existing learning library, re-packaged it, and marketed it in ways that made for easy engagement. Then they installed a new portal to enhance global individual accessibility.

“We also looked at new stuff that we thought would help. We turned to neuroscience, aided by the Neuroleadership Institute. With them we created just four new 30-minute videos that we used in a webinar-based blended program. We made huge use of global webinars incorporating the videos but also local facilitation in which HR was extremely helpful.”

The results have been dramatic. While the program was aimed in its first four months at the upper levels of the leadership, the asynchronous take-up has been spectacular, with over 40 percent of the 55,000 staff accessing the program, often repeatedly, over the year of its operation. “What the blend, its focus, and its easy accessibility seems to have done is to create a space where those at the sharp end of turnaround leadership can talk to people trying to do similar things but in different situations. Their questions were the same, the experiences and answers helped just through sharing, and the loneliness, isolation, and the emotional strain of constant tough decision-making were reduced.”  


It seems that the secret was in a package that was experience-based but designed to be capable of re-visiting—in itself a comforting oasis when nothing else is stable.

I asked Peter what differences he had seen in the take-up and reaction from different global cultures. “Take-up of the program was high everywhere. It was what happened as a result that was different. For example, the Italian operation was hit very hard with a 25 percent cut in staff but the remainder had a bright future as new business spun off providing good job opportunities—but they went on strike! The contrast would be in Germany where people seemed to take on board the fact of redundancy but their heads did not drop and they maintained performance until the very last day of employment. In our home territory of Finland, the strength of the online communities is such that, to this day, there is a strong “post Nokia” alumni group—with post-retrenchment parties being organized and peer-support happening.”

Today, nine quarters later, Nokia Networks is once again turning in good operating profits, the revenue stream is good, and portfolio expansion is beginning. Turnaround has been achieved. Peter and his team look back with satisfaction that harnessing technology has played a part in making sure that Nokia’s people were able to come through the fire in a strong way.

Peter Holmark can be reached at peter.holmark@nsn.com