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Finding the right tools to drive productivity and growth has always been a challenge for businesses. But back in 2016, Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends report highlighted that integrating work systems was no longer the biggest problem businesses faced.

Instead, their most pressing challenges were big-picture issues like building more agile organisations around teams, improving the capabilities of leadership, enhancing engagement and retention, and creating employee-centric learning environments. They needed to simplify and improve the employee experience, ultimately changing behaviours. The outcome became far more important than the tools they used to deliver it.

At this time, a trend emerged for the ‘Mega Hub’. In a bid to streamline their processes and avoid purchasing multiple tools, businesses tried to find ‘one system to rule them all’, uniting communications tools; HR, learning and performance management tools; work apps; and more.

However, Deloitte’s leading analyst, Josh Bersin, highlights that while it’s possible to buy everything from one vendor, none of them can deliver every feature with the same level of maturity. Buying one system, rather than creating an ecosystem of work apps, may be the easiest solution for IT teams, but often has limited effectiveness in helping businesses tackle real problems and create impactful changes in behaviour.

A single outcome needs a single tool

The old ideal of using ‘one tool for work’ isn’t a true reflection of how we use digital tools in 2018.

Research shows that we now access an average of 9 apps per day and 30 different apps per month — all designed to help us complete different, focused tasks.

It’s no secret that when it comes to designing habit-forming products, the corporate world is widely-considered to be far behind the consumer world.

The products that help us form positive daily habits in our personal lives deliver us with focused apps for focused tasks. Whether it’s watching TV, ordering a cab, learning a language or achieving better fitness, apps like Netflix, Uber, Duolingo and Strava are all focused on helping us achieve a single outcome.

They pick a thing and they do it well. And it works.

Duolingo has been proven 60% more effective than its competitors.

At work, products like Google Apps or Office365, are essentially ecosystems of different tools. We don’t use spreadsheets to send emails or collaborate on proposals.

Our phones are designed for multiple apps and consumers now expect to go to different places to access specific experiences. So it’s okay to deliver your teams with different experiences for different things.

Don’t mix functional outcomes with value-added experiences

Instead of looking to one system to do everything, think about creating an ecosystem of smaller, focused and interconnected apps to deliver your teams with rich and purposeful experiences that fulfil specific business needs.

The worlds of HR, people, and learning are ones we know well at Hive Learning. And in this space we often see businesses make the mistake of trying to use one tool to deliver every different HR related experience you could think of. In the world of people management, the Mega Hub is rife.

Traditional HR platforms and in particular, Learning Management Systems (LMS), promise to deliver learning, compliance training, performance management, recruitment, holiday booking and more — all in one place.

But in curating the Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report for 2018 Bersin noted that ‘as I talk with companies all over the world I hear a continuous story that ‘employees simply do not use the LMS unless they have to’. The reason?

Compliance training isn’t inspiring. But learning something new that helps you do your job better is.

By housing ‘uninspiring’ and functional tools with ‘inspiring’ value-added experiences, you both create distracting ‘clutter’ around the inspirational experience and devalue it.

When you encourage your employees to go to the same place to check boxes as they go to engage in positive learning experiences, you send a message that learning is something they must do, rather than something they want to do. And you take the focus away from the key tasks you want your teams to complete.

The key to designing engaging experiences with impact

When it comes designing your work experience, it’s best to think ‘and’ not ‘or’.

Instead of asking ‘What tools do I need?’, ask ‘What outcome am I trying to achieve and how do I make it happen?’.

That may mean one system or it may mean ten — it’s the business impact that’s important.

So what does ‘designing outcomes-focused experiences’ in the learning space mean?

To set some context, let’s remind ourselves of the critical priorities for businesses according to Deloitte; ‘building more agile organisations around teams, improving the capabilities of leadership, enhancing engagement and retention, and creating employee-centric learning environments’.

So what specific outcome do businesses need to deliver tangible impact aligned with their priorities? We need to turn continuous learning and collaboration into a habit.

To work out how we do that, first, it’s useful to assess the tools you have now and look at how they’re contributing towards that outcome.

As an example, if the desired outcome is to turn learning and collaboration into a habit, look at your existing collaboration tools first. Tools like Slack and MS Teams can deliver scalable communications for teams within organisations because that’s what they were designed to do.

But if you need to enable business or group-wide collaboration, achieving learning retention or long-term change through those tools will be difficult — because that’s not what they were designed for. As a result, they don’t give people a focused purpose related to learning. According to Tsedal Neeley — associate professor in Organisational Behaviour at Harvard Business School:

“Our work shows that internal social tools provide a space for employees to acquire knowledge by watching their colleagues. But when we asked more than 400 people across various companies to tell us what they had learned on these tools, we got blank stares. The most common response was “Nothing.” That’s because learning on social tools happens at a remove, while others go about their work, so people don’t think of it as learning.”

The lesson here is to make sure that your tools give people purpose. And according to research from Korn Ferry, companies that focused their employees on the organisation’s purpose boasted annual growth rates that were nearly triple the annual rate for their whole sector.

Multi-faceted ‘Mega Hub’ style tools are often ineffective at giving people structure or purpose. Tools like Slack are successful in the specific context of helping teams communicate because they do. Focused, purpose-built learning platforms can also successfully deliver learning by focusing on engaging people with learning content. But in today’s multi-app world, you don’t need to pick one or the other.

Instead, design an ecosystem of tools that each deliver a focused experience aligned with the key business outcomes you need to affect. As long as you integrate your experiences and your data, your ecosystem will work.

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