How Marriott is re-inventing social learning, SAP Jam style

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed November 17, 2015
It's rare to have 90 minutes to dig into a customer use case. But at SAP Jam's first-ever analyst day, we had that chance. Marriott International's Lisa O'Donnell shared a story of collaborative learning that shows how corporate training is (finally) changing.

Lisa O'Donnell, Marriott

Last week in Boston, I attended the first-ever SAP Jam "analyst day." The event was somewhat of a milestone for SAP's collaboration product - the first-ever dedicated day where divas "influencers" could pepper the SAP Jam team with questions.

There were a couple of notable updates from Sameer Patel and his Jam team, in particular the new SAP Jam for Communities product. This new solution, first announced on October 20, is currently offered as the "Edition for SAP hybris Commerce,". This got me thinking about the future of Jive in SAP shops - drama ahead? But for my part, the day's highlight was a ninety-minute customer deep dive with Marriott (who also hosted the event).

During that session, presenter Lisa O'Donnell, VP of Learning Services at Marriott International, delivered a session I found fascinating. Her story points to a massive re-invention in corporate learning that is finally - after years of admittedly wishful thinking on my part - taking hold.

Supporting Marriott's 4,100 global properties is a sizeable SAP user base. As of today, Marriott's SAP Jam system has more than 200 groups, and 58,000 users. The active Jam users include 85 percent of Marriott's management team. Social learning is the biggest of three distinct Jam use cases; the other two are project planning/documentation, and connecting remote teams (a function that Marriott's globally distributed sales for relies upon).

The roots of social learning: a better approach to training was needed

The roots of this social learning use case go back to the last day of 2007, O'Donnell's first day at Marriott. As an instructional designer, O'Donnell's mission was to rewrite a training program used by a number of Marriott employees. She began investigating Marriott's existing learning platform, and found some issues:

I started looking at the learning management system we had then and I was like, "Holy mackerel, there's no color in this at all. It's gray and white."

So in 2010, O'Donnell's team posted an RFP to evaluate new learning management systems. She drove that process to the selection of SuccessFactors in 2012.

One of the biggest factors behind the change? Relying too heavily on classroom-based training was becoming untenable. O'Donnell:

We had a learning program that brought in general managers from our select service and Extended Stay hotels. To do the training, they were away from their families and their hotels for two full weeks. They were in a training hotel. Believe it or not, we had a training hotel in Fargo, North Dakota. All of our training hotels are wonderful, but it's very challenging to be a new general manager of a hotel, leave your entire staff behind, and be gone for two weeks.

The selection of SuccessFactors was a big step towards revamping the training process. The goal? Created a "blending learning" environment so that trainees wouldn't have to leave their hotels, but could still engage with their classmates during the training. After moving to SuccessFactors, O'Donnell's team realized Jam had potential to fill these learning collaboration needs. By 2013, the new program had proven itself; Marriott rolled out SuccessFactors Learning with Jam globally.

From isolated classrooms to online learning groups

Lisa O'Donnell, Marriott

O'Donnell's team has learned to how to use collaboration to best advantage during a training course. Prior to the online course kickoff, they connect the class ahead of time. Sometimes, a pre-assignment is given to students through their Jam group. The Jam group sparks collaboration amongst the students, building connections that last beyond the class itself.

Given my networked learning agenda, I was struck by this anecdote from O'Donnell:

Our advanced engineering team was the first group ever to go live with Jam. These engineers have an e-learning program that takes about nine months for them to complete; they use Jam for the majority of their classroom activity.

What we found was: not only were they using Jam for their class-related activity and to connect virtually, but once they finished their class, they stayed in their Jam group - and they came back when they had challenges. Some engineers who graduated from their class were asked to stay on as part of this group, to be a mentor to other students who were coming into the next class.

O'Donnell told us about twenty percent of Marriott's Jam classes ultimately continue as an ongoing collaboration. The networks these groups foster have long-term benefits:

When the classes do get together. or if they're participating in a general managers' conference, they'll look at each other and say, "Hey, wait, you are in my EOP class. I know who you are." They've already met through their utilization of Jam.

Better learning through video

Toss in photo and video documentation, and you're in business. O'Donnell:

When our engineers go to a property and they find a problem, say there was an air-conditioning unit not working, they'd try to figure it out. Let's say they couldn't. Now, instead of spending time looking it up or making phone calls. we found they were posting pictures and requests of their class peers, asking, "Has anyone else run into this?"

Now, they can quickly solve problems way faster than they've done in the past. It really evolved into much more than just a social learning group.

Video screen capture has proven valuable. Marriott's 1,100 learning administrators across the globe use the screen capture to share system enhancements with users on a quarterly basis. O'Donnell said that user questions "dramatically decreased" as a result. Marriott's executives are also deriving benefits:

Some of our groups have executive sponsors. One of the activities was getting to know the senior executive leadership within your continent. Those senior executive leaders sat down at their desks or wherever. and they recorded a video - anywhere from one to two minutes. In recording that video, they communicated about their organization, their goals and their vision.

The videos evoked a reaction:

The response of the students - whether it was through likes or through comments - was astounding.

This surprised some executives:

We had senior executives who thought, "I don't know. It's not scripted. There's not lighting. I'm not 100% sure this is going to go over really well." In reality, it was so authentic to the participants, and it was so cool because they could quickly comment on the videos. The students felt like, "Wow, this CFO has stopped what he's doing to share with us," but it was also really impactful from an executive leadership perspective.

Getting a handle on metrics - and results

Collaboration projects are notorious for being hard to nail down with measurable results. The examples I've cited above are nice wins, but aren't necessarily easy to measure. This led to an interesting discussion with O'Donnell on metrics to measure Jam results.

O'Donnell told us her business leadership doesn't pressure her to provide data-based metrics. They are more impressed by the feedback they get from employees and regional managers. She cited the example of Marriott's eight global call centers, with 5,600 associates using Jam. Turns out, those call center employees use Jam not just to share tips and ideas; they also use it as a "recognition platform":

They use it to celebrate one another. They use it as a platform to be able to recognize someone's birthday or someone's anniversary. They use it to celebrate top performers for that month or that quarter.

O'Donnell's team was asked to meet with call center division leaders in Bethesda, Maryland to help them to understand what was happening:

They requested the meeting of us because they were hearing from their associates how impactful the ability to be able to communicate and connect with one another utilizing this platform, and how important that was to all of their centers.

That leads to a different kind of metric than counting resolved tickets:

For that group, it wasn't about "Can you tell me how many people are on it, how many people are actively participating, how many likes do we get." It wasn't any of that. It was more like: "Hey, we're hearing from everybody down here how important this is to connect virtually. I want to make sure I understand it, and I'm going to support it."

During our session, O'Donnell did point to other benefits, such as a reduction in email for some groups. Or, if not a reduction, then a reliance on Jam as a decision-making tool over the horribly imperfect email "reply to all."

O'Donnell said her team's biggest metric is adoption levels. Other collaborative solutions haven't gotten traction, so measuring active use is important. The first year saw a minor increase in usage. The second year saw adoption levels grow by about 257 percent, thanks in part to an aggressive internal campaign. This year's growth goal of 20 percent increase in Jam adoption should be exceeded.

What matters most is the function of each Jam group; O'Donnell's team evaluates that based on surveys specific to that groups' purpose. She said Jam typically gets a 4.4 or 4.5 rating as a communications platform (out of 5), which compares favorably to prior solutions.

But for O'Donnell, the best thing is how the platform continues to evolve. That bodes well for future Jam endeavors:

We rebuilt this program in 2012 and launched it to this audience with great success. It looked very different in 2012 for our students than it does today. We're very active in the community with SAP, Through our employees and training managers using the system, getting feedback from them, and relaying that to SAP, we've seen a lot of evolution within the platform. We're very excited with how it's come and where it's going.

Image credit: On-site photos of Lisa O'Donnell at the Boston Copley Marriott by Jon Reed.

Disclosure: SAP paid the bulk of my hotel expenses to attend the Jam analyst event, which I drove to. In 2011, before Patel joined SAP, he, Den Howlett and myself performed a one day paid consultation/evaluation with the Jam team. That was my last paid consult with SAP Jam. SAP is a diginomica premier partner.

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