In this article, I outline how performance support became a pivotal component in the approach taken by Bayer’s crop science division to shape functional skills and contribute to achieving business outcomes. I will begin by telling you a little about our company and the crop science division.
Bayer is a life science company with a more than 150-year history and core competencies in health care and agriculture. It develops new molecules for use in products and solutions to improve the health of humans, animals, and plants. Bayer’s research and development activities are based on a profound understanding of the biochemical processes in living organisms.
With its products, Bayer aims to contribute to finding solutions to some of the major challenges of our time. The growing and increasingly aging world population requires improved medical care and an adequate supply of food. Bayer is working to improve people’s quality of life by preventing, alleviating, and curing diseases. The company helps to provide a reliable supply of high-quality food, feed, and plant-based raw materials.
The crop science division has businesses in seeds, crop protection, and non-agricultural pest control. It is organized into two operating units: crop protection/seeds and environmental science. Crop protection/seeds markets a broad portfolio of high-value seeds along with chemical and biological pest management solutions, at the same time providing customer service for modern and sustainable agriculture. All marketing and sales colleagues in this area are the target group for SkillCamp, the learning initiative described here.
Organizational context (strategy, and marketing and sales)
Bayer’s crop science division is headquartered in Germany and is structured in global, regional, and local country organizations. Marketing and sales (M&S) activities are organized as “commercial excellence” and partially coordinated by a global marketing department. Global training activities are steered from headquarters.
What is the SkillCamp learning framework?
SkillCamp is a globally steered marketing and sales (commercial
excellence) training initiative targeting several thousand marketing and sales
colleagues across many countries. The central element for all of SkillCamp is
our customer-centric 12-step go-to-market approach, which covers four stages
1) Creating (customer) insights
2) Creating value propositions
3) Creating success
4) Measuring success
Figure 1: The 12-step go-to-market approach
The cornerstone of all SkillCamp learning activities is an electronic repository for all relevant and actionable information that serves as a single point of reference and truth for all global colleagues in marketing and sales as well as their key interfaces. This so-called EPSS (electronic performance support system) needs constant updates and revision via a tightly organized “curation” process to ensure that content remains current and can always be trusted. (More details on this below.)
The first SkillCamp training format that we developed was a three-day SkillCamp foundational training that aims to provide a sustainable overview of our 12-step go-to-market approach for commercial excellence, using a state-of-the-art mix of methodologies (lectures, exercises, case studies, simulation elements, crop science, and other industry examples), and an introduction to our performance support system, SkillCamp Online.
While this format was rolled out to more than 4,000 colleagues within three years and continues to be available on an ongoing basis, we continually add other training formats—for example, webinars or classroom deep dives in specific areas of our go-to-market approach.
This way, SkillCamp links seamlessly into a lot of other training initiatives within Bayer as a much larger company.
Initial setup and motivation
While the crop science division had professional marketing and sales training as well as co-operations with universities before the creation of SkillCamp, there was also some fundamental criticism toward these approaches.
Content was often addressed more from an academic or textbook perspective, even when working with case studies. Learning content was detached from the real working environment of the learning individual. Once participants returned from the inspiring classroom training to their offices, they were quickly overtaken by their daily tasks and worked with colleagues who shared none of the insights from that training. We saw opportunities to align marketing and sales activities in a better way by integrating learning through a comprehensive performance support solution to the workplace.
Before SkillCamp was started, Bayer made a strategic decision to accelerate the transformation toward stronger and more integrated marketing and sales organizations. Relevant competency criteria were defined with a top-down as well as a bottom-up alignment approach. In order to really meet our internal needs for a learning framework, we held many stakeholder interviews, for example with senior managers, marketing and sales leaders, subject matter experts, and potential participants.
As we ventured into implementing our new approaches, we soon realized that we really needed a common storyline and common language to consistently convey our messages, processes, and ideas.
This is where we created SkillCamp as our marketing and sales training framework. It takes content and customizes it with the relevant industry details and competency elements.
As we created SkillCamp and looked for a compelling story on how to teach commercial excellence, we defined our storyline not only for training, but for commercial excellence as such. In this way, our 12-step go-to-market approach was actually created from the need for a motivation for commercial excellence within SkillCamp.
We linked the reality of our business to how we teach it. One of our mantras is: “We need to teach what we do and we need to do what we teach.” The creation of training is linked to our strategic goals.
The 12 steps are now the essential framework of commercial excellence in Bayer’s crop science division.
Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher define performance support (PS) as “providing intuitive, tailored aid to a person at his or her moment of need to ensure the most effective performance on the job” (see References). This could be, for example, checklists, templates, job aids, or simply signs in a hallway.
An EPSS is a technology that, through following a PS methodology, helps people to learn in the workflow and recover on their own quickly from mistakes they make.
SkillCamp focuses on providing our commercial excellence resources from a single source of reference, the EPSS that we call SkillCamp Online. Besides providing moment-of-need task and concept support, SkillCamp Online also provides resources such as checklists, templates, contacts, glossary terms, tools, plans, examples, concepts, and videos.
The basic idea is that an employee downloads, for example, an Excel tool and starts using it in her workflow. In SkillCamp Online, she will then find the manual or detailed explanation on how to use or fill in this Excel tool. She can have the EPSS open in parallel and use it as a help function that guides her through the process of using the tool for her own purposes.
In this way, SkillCamp Online serves as a single point of reference to find tools, and it provides performance support for applying the tools.
The context for all content in our performance support system are the 12 steps outlined earlier (see Figure 1) that represent areas of work for our marketing and sales staff and their key interfaces. The content along our 12 steps is broken down into work tasks. Work tasks are broken down further into actions below each task. For all described tasks, we also provide relevant resources like tools, checklists, or examples. We believe that truly connecting the learning content to the “context” of the Bayer employees is crucial for its success.
We illustrate this principle with the content pyramid described by Gottfredson in “the five moments of learning need” (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Gottfredson’s content pyramid (left) and the 12-step process (right), related via color coding
The overall idea is that employees can navigate and learn about all relevant resources at one single point of reference. Within the overall SkillCamp learning framework, we will provide classroom and other training formats on certain tasks or closely related areas. But at any time, users can access and use the entirety of content that could be relevant for their daily work in SkillCamp Online. To ensure that our employees use our SkillCamp Online resources in the right way, we have integrated these resources as an important tool within our trainings. In fact, in the meantime, the SkillCamp Online tool replaces the traditional PowerPoint slides in many areas.
SkillCamp success criteria and metrics
When designing SkillCamp, we held many stakeholder interviews and learned that key elements of a successful learning approach would be a common and consistently used terminology or language, a close cooperation between marketing and sales, relevant examples from our and other industries, continuity, top-down support, and a close link to implementation.
Based on this insight, we defined our first challenges, which were:
- To train around 4,500 colleagues in marketing and sales functions and their key interfaces with a SkillCamp foundational classroom training
- To ensure a common mindset and language around our 12-step go-to-market approach
- To provide relevant and actionable processes and tools for the daily work of those colleagues in an EPSS
Once running with our trainings, we defined five clear objectives for SkillCamp as a sustainable functional learning and performance initiative. These objectives are defined along the learning journey of the individual learner. SkillCamp:
- Provides sustainable learning, i.e., learning that sticks
- Helps learners to use available resources, e.g., via an EPSS called SkillCamp Online that hosts resources like tools, examples, plans, and videos
- Aims to improve the performance of individual learners and their communities—for example, their effectiveness, speed, depth of knowledge, or contextual understanding
- Aims to improve sharing and community building across our organization globally, regionally, and locally
- Continuously improves the content, learning material, know-how, and messaging of commercial excellence
We measure these objectives with specific indicators for each of our five goals.
The return on investment of the SkillCamp initiative must be seen in the results generated via the learning or via the application of what has been learned. The investment in SkillCamp and SkillCamp Online cannot be justified only via classic feedback mechanisms like participation rates and participant feedback sheets. We must also ask whether participants actually apply the learning in their daily life at their moment of need, whether they actively use SkillCamp (Online) resources, and how they interact with our performance support and learning offers. Eventually, we should be able to see if these measures lead to more success in our market space.
Stakeholders and SkillCamp advocates
It is essential to align and to be continually in touch with all relevant stakeholders of such a global change initiative as SkillCamp in order to get and keep their buy-in, support, and resources.
In addition to the identified stakeholders, we are building a community of SkillCamp advocates. These are interested colleagues from around the world who give SkillCamp a local voice. Becoming a SkillCamp advocate is independent of one’s hierarchy or role within the organization; interest in the topic of learning, facilitating, and supporting SkillCamp counts more toward being part of that group. SkillCamp advocates play a more and more central role in promoting, explaining, leveraging, and improving all the ways people can use SkillCamp as a meaningful learning framework to support our strategic goals.
Success factors for large learning initiatives
We identified the following success factors for our SkillCamp initiative:
1) A clear and commonly agreed upon objective with global alignment. It was very important for us to clearly define the scope for SkillCamp: SkillCamp aims to create a common mindset for commercial excellence and provides globally accepted trainings and performance support resources for the marketing and sales functions. In order to achieve this, we held a lot of stakeholder interviews, continuously aligned what we were doing with global, regional, and local stakeholders, and eventually pressure-tested our first and foundational training format with all marketing heads in our organization. We rolled out our first learning format top-down in order to ensure maximum buy-in and multiplication via our management layers.
2) Agreement to call it a change initiative. Via linking training to our strategic company objectives, we positioned SkillCamp close to the business and therefore were able to treat it as a global change initiative that really aims to trigger behavioral changes in the learners that clearly can affect our business success.
3) The use of performance support. Our performance support system, SkillCamp Online, is a cornerstone of the success of our initiative. It represents the single source of reference for our learners. It is an embedded system that provides contextual resources for daily work tasks. It enables the transfer and application of new insights and tools from the training stage into daily work, and therefore enables learners to sustainably access and use these resources and new skills.
4) The presence of urgency. Without the new business focus on marketing and sales excellence a few years ago, the total restart of our marketing and sales learning activities would not have been possible. Only with a firm anchoring in strategic business objectives is it possible to successfully establish and run a large change or learning project.
5) Setting the
right organizational framework to avoid potential break points. This point
aims to look at success factors from the perspective of potential breakpoints.
In fact, we had asked this question during our stakeholder interviews: “What
can go wrong with an initiative like SkillCamp? Or … what are potential break points?”
Looking at SkillCamp from this point of view, it became clear that it could not have worked without a clear organizational setup and clear responsibilities. Without the backing from top management, conflicting messages from other projects or academies would have made it very difficult for SkillCamp to thrive. If we had not connected SkillCamp with business objectives in the form of a change initiative, many would not have understood or invested into SkillCamp because they would not have understood the relevance for them. A classic classroom or business school approach would not have been enough to make it tangible, relevant, and sustainable in daily life. And finally, had we not talked to all stakeholders and critics up front, it was likely that they would bring forward their concerns at a later stage. Such a delay would have left far fewer opportunities to build in their insights as well.
- Clarify: When embarking on large learning initiatives, it is important to clarify exactly what the objectives of the different stakeholders are and establish a consensus on the way forward. In our case, it took around nine months to get clarity.
- Establish clear milestones and objectives: In our case, we decided to target the majority of our global M&S staff with our foundational training and performance support communication in order to really move the needle. We also linked SkillCamp to strategic company objectives and established clear SkillCamp objectives as well.
- Take your time: In our case, it took roughly three years to spread SkillCamp throughout the organization and establish buy-in and a very positive feedback regarding the usefulness of the approach. SkillCamp was set up as a continuous initiative, not as a project.
- Multiply: It helps to define, in the beginning, large learning initiatives like SkillCamp as change initiatives. Once running, it is important to have a clearly identified group of champions or advocates helping drive the initiative and making it locally relevant.
- Support performance: SkillCamp is on a continuous journey to reduce PowerPoint slides in training context. Instead, we want to explain where to find and how to apply relevant resources at the individual learner’s point of need with a state-of-the-art electronic performance support system.
The SkillCamp learning framework now offers several learning formats besides an extensive performance support approach. Examples are webinars or classroom trainings. Since we rolled out our SkillCamp foundational training and introduced performance support for marketing and sales, employees now truly use a common language and common processes for commercial excellence. If a marketing manager from Malaysia meets a colleague from India at a regional conference, they can quickly align and exchange their activities along our 12-step go-to-market approach. A sales manager from the US can easily contact the right colleagues at headquarters for specific questions, and a manager from New Zealand can benefit from a case study provided in France. A common language, common basic approaches, examples, tools, concepts, videos, and contacts are shared in the community via our EPSS.
Innovation for SkillCamp will likely lie in personalizing the content provided in our performance support, be it for specific roles or even for individuals. Another interesting area is improved community features that could help learners interact with one another when applying tools in their daily work, at their moment of need. If we can help the organization to interact in faster, more efficient, and interactive ways to serve the needs of our customers via using commonly shared learning and performance support resources, we can make learning much more business relevant.
Gottfredson, Conrad, and Bob Mosher. Innovative Performance Support: Strategies and Practices for Learning in the Workflow. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education, 2010.