As COVID-19 lockdowns spread across the world earlier this year, GE’s Learning and Talent Development (L&D) team for South Asia, Middle East, Africa and Turkey screamed – figuratively – “Who moved my work?”
Prior to the start of the pandemic, this 11-person team spent their time preparing and delivering in-person leadership workshops to GE employees, customers and other partners. The 4 faculty members spent much of their time flying across the region presenting 3-4 days sessions as part of the global core Crotonville curriculum.
When the lockdown began, they suddenly found themselves home-bound, looking at their screens thousands of real and virtual kilometers away from their course participants.
And yet, the needs of GE employees across the region were compounding by the day. Many were asking, ‘How do I work remotely?’ ‘How do I work best at home?’ Leaders wondered what the most effective ways were to be a remote manager and leader. ‘How should I lead through uncertainty and change?’ they asked.
What’s more, the stresses imposed on businesses by the crisis meant employees needed to up their game even further, whether to shorten turnaround times, enhance quality, or reduce costs – basically, to achieve more with less. But getting to that next level required learning how to do things differently.
That was the catch for the L&D team. Just as their potential students needed them most, they were, in many ways, cut off from those students and unable to deliver these urgently needed courses as they used to – in person.
“The situation called for quick experimentation with solutions outside the usual compass. We had to challenge ourselves and reimagine not only the scope of our role, but what content we should deliver and how we could deliver it,” said Sibel Bostanci Celebi, Head of Learning and Talent Development for GE in South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey.
This was no easy task. Before COVID, they primarily functioned as the execution arm of GE’s world-famous Crotonville leadership institute, which for more than 65 years has developed experiential/transformational leadership development and functional learning opportunities for GE employees, customers and other partners.
“Now, we are running needs analysis, we are designing content, and we are running all our programs virtually. And virtual is totally different, and more difficult in some ways, than in-person,” Celebi says. Due to this, she continued, “We are building new muscles and are busier than ever.”
In the early days, the team designed online workshops to address immediate needs through a weekly webinar series on topics such as remote working, working from home, stress management, and resilience. Webinars are still being run on a bi-weekly basis.
The team also recognized they needed to reach employees with other learning opportunities, but in smaller, easier-to-digest “bites.” So they created a series of short, on-demand content focused on a single topic or skill, such as remote working tips or tools to promote mindfulness. They continue to expand the library of this microlearning content.
As lockdowns were lifted and then in some place, reimposed, GE businesses and employees faced a changed world, with new realities, new operating structures, and customers with new needs.
The L&D team responded by developing customized programs for different GE businesses in various countries. This has included multi-day programs for senior and mid-level leaders that pull out specific course content from Crotonville’s massive library of workshops and trainings. These targeted sessions have included courses on resilience, communication, stress management, working across cultures, change management, influencing skills, emotional intelligence and many more.
Other times, however, entirely new content needs to be developed. For that, the team conducts research and builds the new curriculum. Additionally, they bring in speakers, including GE leaders with relevant experience, and outside field or sector experts. They also make use of 3rd-party partner’s content, such as personal profile assessment tools, emotional intelligence self-assessment and healthy teams assessment. .
While many of these workshops and programs are focused on building individual skills and competencies, others are structured more like consulting sessions that enhance capabilities across an entire leadership team or organization. Such was the case for a recent workshop designed for a GE business that was consolidating previously separate entities. The workshop helped the new unit to identify their purpose and their working structure.
For one group of GE customers in Africa, the team designed and led an 8-week online program. These were a select group of 30 C-level customer executives and their GE counterparts. The program focused on leadership in challenging times. “The program helped GE show these customers that even in difficult times, we can be a strong partner, and we can help each other. It was a powerful way for them to connect with their customers and for their customers to build networks with each other,” Celebi said.