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15 minutes with: Tom Holz, senior director at Blackboard

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Tom Holz, senior director at Blackboard, leads the Blackboard for Business team. He helps multinational corporate clients achieve their business goals through technology-driven learning and development (L&D) programmes.

In this exclusive with Human Resources, Holz shares his views on mobile HR, technology-driven L&D, and staff competencies.

After a prior 13-year tenure, you re-joined Blackboard in 2015. What are some of the highlights of your journey with the company so far?

It has been an interesting journey. I had been part of a great leadership team for 10 years helping build our Blackboard business and government team in the U.S. and Canada, and in 2015 I was asked to come back to create a similar business unit for the markets outside North America.

In the past two years, I have had the opportunity to meet with some great clients and build a talented team with members in Latin America, Australia, Singapore, Germany and the UK. I have also traveled extensively around the world, speaking at conferences and meeting with clients and prospects. It’s always an exciting yet challenging time growing a new business.

With that said, you’ve partnered with more than 300 organisations during these years of experience. On that note, what would you say is one of your proudest projects?

There have been many deployments, all exciting and challenging as you note. The ones that get me excited are when we are helping an organisation make a change from a solution that doesn’t meet its learning and training needs anymore. I also love working with our clients to ensure they are successful.

For example, we have recently completed a phase one deployment with the Cancer Council in Australia, and I had the opportunity to sit with them in August to strategise the next steps. For us, the go live/ launch date is just the first finish line and it is important to provide not only great technology solutions but also a team that can help deliver a project on time and on budget, and support our clients for the long term.

You’re based in the United States, but work extensively with the APAC market. How are the demands of clients different across geographies when it comes to edutech?

I don’t see significant differences between clients from let’s say APAC or Southern Europe. Of course they have their specific requirements but, in general, they are all interested in implementing solutions that help them meet their business challenges and answer the needs of their employees. They also want to feel like they are unique and important and we work hard to make sure this happens all the time.

Moving on to the topic of mobile HR, what in your view are some of the challenges companies are facing in this space, and how do you propose these are resolved?

More and more, one of the challenges I see is the need for companies to provide a rewarding and engaging mobile learning experience to their employees, as they are often on the go. Blackboard has responsive applications as well as a mobile app strategy to ensure that our users can access our solutions anytime and anywhere. It is crucial that organisations think “mobile first” when developing new fully online and hybrid programmes.

Companies need to be more responsible for the formal and informal learning programmes.

With Blackboard leading the technology-driven L&D sphere, what are the top three trends you’ve observed in this landscape?

There are many trends, but for me, the most important are: mobile access, predictive analytics and video-based learning. We use our mobile devices to manage different aspects of our lives, and we expect L&D programmes to be accessible the same way. That’s why, as I mentioned before, a rewarding mobile experience is now paramount.

However, attending a course online on your smartphone is only one part of the story. Companies need not only to deliver training programs, but also to make sure these programs are successful, and learners are not left behind. Predictive analytics can help detect trends, uncover issues, identify learners who might be at-risk, and trigger appropriate notifications so that leadership can intervene in a timely way.

Companies also need to make an effort to deliver L&D programmes that are engaging and help people learn, or they will risk losing their best employees. An engaging L&D can be achieved with video learning and through blended or facilitated online learning. Today net promoter scores for L&D are at an all-time low; we have to get beyond “check the box” self-paced learning.

Any advice on how companies can leverage online technology to achieve L&D goals, as well as showcase return on their investment?

According to Deloitte’s 2017 Human Capital Trends report, 83% of executives identified learning as a top priority. More companies need to take a more thorough and consistent approach to L&D. At the end of the day, it is an investment in human capital, one of the most important assets a company has. That’s why L&D can’t just be a collection of boring self-paced content uploaded in a system that is hard to use.

Companies need to be more responsible for the formal and informal learning programmes they create and understand that training is truly a great opportunity to create interactions with employees and show that the company cares about their growth and, ultimately, their success. In turn, this will benefit the company’s business objectives as well.

L&D can’t just be a collection of boring self-paced content uploaded in a system that is hard to use.

What would you say is the greatest mistake companies make when it comes to measuring staff competencies?

I think the big mistake is for companies to not consider competency measurements as integral parts of their L&D programmes. Attending a course is certainly an important indicator but there are many others and technology has made it easier to monitor data in real time. On top of this, it’s important to collect employees’ feedback on the programs delivered and make sure that content is perceived as engaging and relevant.

On a personal level, how would you describe your leadership style?

As a leader, my goal is to be authentic, consistent and helpful to my team. I believe in transparency, and I like to keep the team informed of what is happening at all times, maintaining a positive and optimistic attitude even when things become challenging. I like to collaborate with my team on both strategic and tactical goals while helping them grow and learn more as they go.

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