How the Pandemic Has Made Digital Transformation a Must for Learning Organizations

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If we travel back in time to mid-March 2020 when most of the U.S. was under a shelter in place order, two corporate giants were among the many grappling with the sudden shock. For H&R Block, it was the middle of tax season, and the company had to enable its 70,000 field associates and tax professionals to get nearly instantaneous updates on fast-moving federal, state, and local tax information that was tied to the stimulus package. The immediate challenge was that most of these field workers were not set up to work from home—and guidelines from government agencies kept changing.

Meanwhile, McDonald’s was deemed an essential business and was allowed to function for take-out and drive-thru service only. In a short timeframe, the company had to figure out how to ensure that its workers in 38,000 restaurants worldwide were kept safe while serving customers. As the world’s second-largest employer, the major challenge for McDonald’s was to quickly inform and train workers on new safety procedures, a reduced menu, and keep everyone up-to-date as the situation changed.

One thing was certain in this dynamic environment – the policies and procedures that had worked for H&R Block and McDonald’s prior to the lock-down were no longer viable.

Keys to Leadership and Learning Agility During a Crisis

Executive leadership at both companies agree that transparent and frequent employee communication was hands-down the most important action they took immediately following the shelter in place orders. They stress that it’s not only critical for leaders to communicate what the organization knows and doesn’t know, but it’s just as important to make employees feel like they’re important and that they’re being heard.

H&R Block conducted virtual calls and open forums, as well as quickly publishing a website with COVID-19 information. McDonald’s communicated in much the same way with its employees as it continued to emphasize employee well-being.

The next area of focus for McDonald’s was developing, implementing, and communicating new safety procedures across the globe. After these were in place, all efforts turned to establishing a new infrastructure for making things happen faster than ever before. McDonald’s developed over 50 new procedures for things such as wearing masks, how crews would work in the kitchen, how to safely serve customers, how to put plexiglass in place, and many others in less than three weeks.

Digital Transformation Makes Agility Possible

“Our biggest pivot was enabling our field associates to work from home since we weren’t prepared for that. Luckily for us, we had begun making significant investments in digital transformation and we were pretty far along the journey of adopting cloud technologies,” said a senior IT executive at H&R Block. “Otherwise, there is no way we could have envisioned, designed, and rolled out a new learning and employee communication solution in less than two weeks.”

Another senior executive from McDonald’s agrees that technology investments in digital transformation made it possible for the company to leverage a single source of critical operational training content that everyone could instantly access from any device.

“Communicating those 50 new procedures to the crews as quickly as we did, and having confidence that everyone was getting accurate and up-to-date information as things changed—especially in the first sixty days when there was quite a bit of disruption—was huge. We absolutely needed that digital go-to resource,” said a prominent learning executive at McDonald’s.

Moving Forward with a New Learning Experience

“I don’t think there will be a ‘return to normal.’ I think this is the ‘next normal’ and we will have to continue to iterate,” explained one senior HR leader at H&R Block. “Right now the world is absolutely a volatile real-time environment, and in the future, that means you have to be digital so you can be flexible and agile. This allows us to understand what content people are truly engaging with. In the past, we spent a lot of time creating training content and tools that we thought were important, but we did not get the click rates and adoption we expected.”

In moving forward, leaders at H&R Block and McDonald’s said they are planning to focus on delivering a great learner experience. Specifically, they’ll put the majority of their effort on keeping learning content organized, relevant, engaging, easily searchable, and retrievable. This will enable them to deliver a more impactful digital learning experience—no matter how fast the environment changes.