Welcome to the Speexx Exchange podcast with your host Donald Taylor. As a renowned learning and development industry expert, as well as Chairman of the Learning and Performance Institute, Donald sits down with experts from around the globe to talk business communication, learning technology, language, digital transformation, and engaging upskilling and rescaling your organization. This podcast is brought to you by Speexx, the first intelligent language learning platform for the digital workplace. Listen in, and you might learn a thing or two!
Donald Taylor 0:35
Welcome to this episode of The Speexx Exchange podcast with me, your host, Donald Taylor. And today, I have with me Elisabetta Gali, who’s Group Executive Vice President of Banco Santander responsible for knowledge development, and talent management, across the group. Really excited to have you with us. It is about sharing your thoughts about setting yourself up for success in digital transformation. Great to have you with us!
Elisabetta Galli 1:00
Thank you so much for inviting me. Yeah, I would be very happy to share some ideas and some lessons learned; my journey through digital transformation is something they’re a very, very intense journey. So to set ourselves up for success, the most important thing is to have a clear purpose and a clear vision for the future. So you have to be behind your senior leaders, convinced that this transformation is what is needed for the organization because a transformation is something intense. So really bring the issue outside your comfort zone, you have to suffer a lot, you know, to discuss to put yourself and your staff in the discussion. So strong sponsorship, strong purpose, vision for the future. And this vision must be communicated very well in order to be clear.
Donald Taylor 2:00
Now let’s talk about that vision for a moment. So you mentioned the importance of a vision in digital transformation that doesn’t just come into your head from nowhere, does it? Where should it come from? And how do you make sure then that you communicate it properly?
Elisabetta Galli 2:13
Yeah, absolutely. The vision, the purpose for the future, should come from the top of the house, and it must be in this way. And this is what happened in Santander, because it was July 2018, when the President declared publicly in a big town hall, and then it was published outside, there’s something there in the newspaper, etc., that the new purpose for the company vision was to become an open financial services platform. And this was a big jump. And because of that, there used to be a very important global commercial back.
Donald Taylor 2:48
It still is an important commercial bank. But of course, the world of finances changes.
Elisabetta Galli 2:50
It is absolutely one of the first in the ranking in the worldwide ranking. But you know, becoming an open financial services platform implied really something big, a big change, a big transformation in all the aspects of the organization. So the organizational design, skills, roles, business paradigms, etc., services. And together with this announcement, the President also triggered six initiatives. She called them strategic initiatives for the future, for the transformation. And one of the six initiatives was focused on people, especially on upskilling reskilling; basically, she said, we know already that we have to make a massive effort on upscaling, reskilling of our workforce, the skills that we need to enable the transformation are totally new skills. And we need to nurture these skills insight and also attract people from outside. And she got to the point that she declared officially, I want to have in Santander the best ever upskilling, reskilling platform, the state of the art of this kind of platform. And so this was, let’s say, the trigger point for us to start working very intensively on the project, even though, to tell you the truth, this was already on paper, because when I was called in Santander, the year before, I was called to transform the function and to start digitalizing knowledge and development for Santander. So let’s say this announcement has been a kind of moment of truth, a big push from the top of the house to go in that direction.
Donald Taylor 4:37
That’s great. You have a vision, which is right from the top. That’s fantastic. So everyone is bought into it, and you know that it’s going where do you think it should be going so you understand that it’s, it’s right, and you’ve already been doing some work along these lines anyway; what’s then going to make the transformation for getting people to come on board and follow this movement from everything being physical or largely physical to being digital in the future, some people would say, well, it’s the technology that’s crucial here. What, from your point of view, is the most important part of making that transformation?
Elisabetta Galli 5:09
I think that the most important part is having in place a robust change management plan and a communication plan. You have to communicate and to communicate a lot, touching different parts of the organization, tailoring the communication to the different audiences in the organization. And this is what we did. So basically, we spent several months talking to people listening to people doing research, and understanding what people wanted in terms of having an upskilling rescaling platform in place, what they expected from something like that. And in the meantime, you wanted to be sure that people, in general, the workforce, could connect the vision declare vision of our President to the need of the transformation? Because sometimes this is not so evident, you know, you have to be very specific and to create the link. And this is what we did: communication plan, change management plan.
Donald Taylor 6:16
I’m so glad you said that. Because, of course, although I’m deeply involved with learning technology, any implementation survives or fails based on exactly those two things change management plan and the communication plan; let’s just be clear about communication. A communication plan doesn’t mean you’re sending an email to everybody in the organization once a month for you; what does a communication plan involve?
Elisabetta Galli 6:40
I think the first thing is to segment the population and to identify the groups of the portion of the organization you have to communicate, making very clear why and what and because depending on the audience, you might touch different points and be coherent. So the jury must be coherent to the storytelling must be coherent, because it must be true. And it must be authentic.
Donald Taylor 7:06
You can’t say one thing to one person, something else to something somebody else. No.
Elisabetta Galli 7:10
Yeah, exactly. And start really restlessly talking to these people explaining and being available to listen and to answer their questions.
Donald Taylor 7:21
That listening bit is really important, isn’t it? Because without that, you will with it, you get the opportunity to change the messaging and to understand how your message is going across to people. If you’re not listening, then you’re on broadcast all the time, and you may be missing the targets, right?
Elisabetta Galli 7:35
Absolutely. And I think that what helped us a lot was the research part, because when we decided to go for the new ecosystem and the new platform, we started a research with a big sample of our population, inside Santander, but also with that also a population outside Santander, some target groups for us. And basically, we wanted to understand, especially from our employees, what they expected. So talking about an upskilling, reskilling platform, and a new learning and development ecosystem, what are your thoughts? What would you expect? What would be super important for you? What would you be looking for? So we gathered a lot of good information and data, helping us to design the roadmap to get to the minimum viral problems; this has been very important. And I think that’s the space that must be part of any transformation process.
Donald Taylor 8:40
It’s what’s usually called the understanding part or the discovery part of a change. But it comes right upfront. Without it, you’re solving the wrong problem in the wrong way. Because you know, what your, what your prep is, what your presuppositions are about it, you’ve got great change management in place, you have great communications in place, you go out there, you start doing it, how do you know because it’s, you’re going to hit bumps in the road when you hit a bump in the road, what gets you over that what helps you get to the next stage?
Elisabetta Galli 9:08
If I think about the difficulties we had to manage and to go through so, a little bit of lesson learned, I think that one of the most important pieces is to identify very clearly the interdependencies. So, what are the processes that can impact or affect the transformation process? Because in the beginning, you are so enthusiastic now with the vision, with the plan, and you are already envisioning the fantastic products you might deliver, but there are aspects that must be considered at the beginning. So identifying the processes, for instance, purchasing, budgeting technology, so integration with pre-existing platforms, you know, all these aspects must be considered, mapped and you have to add Identify the key stakeholders and start working with them at the very early stage.
Donald Taylor 10:05
We start with the grand vision, we have our communication plan, we have our change management plan, but when it comes to doing things, you got to get practical, work out how the process has affected the interdependencies, and the stakeholders involved in each one. We know that your sponsors, your stakeholders, understanding them are essential, is essential, it’s essential to understand them, how do you know who’s going to affect the transformation program? How do you go out and understand your organization to know that in this department, it’s these people over there, it’s somebody else? What how do you do that? Because most people, regardless of where they work, don’t have that breadth of view of the organization, you have to go in and fight it out.
Elisabetta Galli 10:43
Yeah, it is a very good point. Because as you know, in any organization, especially in the big organization, there is a former org chart and an informal org chart. So you might read or go through the former org chart, you can identify the head of, the head of, etc. But this is not enough; you have to use your network, you have to develop a relationship inside the company in order to identify who are the real drivers for the different processes. And this is something we did. Probably we should have done it a little bit earlier in the process. But you know, it has been a kind of learning curve also for us. And when you have identified the real drivers of change, you have to spend time, quality time with them. It’s a job in the job. So you have to sit down to listen to organize a lunch or a coffee together and really spend and invest real quality time to create a strong relationship based on trust. Because these people will be functional will be really, really incredibly critical for the success of the initiative.
Donald Taylor 12:07
And down the road, you will want to share information with them. Tell them how things are developing. You want to get their feedback from them. At some point, you may have a problem that you want to help with. You don’t want the first conversation you have with them to be Oh, Hello, Mr. Smith, I need you to help me, and there’s no trust, there’s no relationship. So you build the relationship first. In most organizations, L&D is seen as a training department that does courses. If you want to go and have lunch, or even a cup of coffee with the person who runs it, is that always easy? How do you persuade them just to give you the time?
Elisabetta Galli 12:38
This is another important point, Don, and we did it, and we did it through a kind of awareness test I carry out with my team. So they got aware they had to evolve. And they have to develop new skills. And that’s why I invited all of them to go through the performance consulting course and to get certified together with our other courses. Because when you sit with your stakeholder, with the IT guys, for instance, you have to demonstrate you are competent and you can talk about data, you can talk about all the elements, numbers, facts, figures, reserve to projections, you have to speak the same language, and you have to convince them that you are not the lady serving coffee or organizing an event and delivering courses, you are somebody who is competent, and can talk about serious stuff and technical stuff with them and understands the business. This is true for all the stakeholders. So you have to learn how to talk to the different stakeholders to use their language and to be really prepared to do that.
Donald Taylor 13:52
Which are the important stakeholders in an organization, the departments, or the areas that you should really focus on, the most important one?
Elisabetta Galli 13:59
The leadership team, because they need to support you, they have to support you, and you need them, and I want to talk about that in a moment. And then you have also to the employees. So you have to be sure the employees are on board, and you have to create a kind of expectation for them, a kind of teaser campaign that can really trigger the appetite for them to get to the final product and to have them as testimonials evangelists, working with them on a regular basis in order to keep them informed like a kind of, you know, testimonials or pressure group, public opinion group in the company. And then you have to talk with the people who can really help you or put barriers like the purchasing guys. So every time you go through a transformation, you have to talk with new vendors, technology vendors, content vendors. And depending on the process you have in the company, this journey can be smooth and flawless or can be a nightmare.
So don’t wait for it to develop hiccups and become a nightmare; build the relationship first, because who knows what might happen? You mentioned there that with your group of stakeholders, some will be enthusiastic, and others potentially are blockers? How do you get blockers on your side? Or is it enough just to keep them neutral? Or to try to avoid them? What’s the best approach?
The best approach for me is to carry out a serious stakeholder mapping. And when I say serious is because it shouldn’t be treated like you know, some kind of homework tick the box, I have done it. No, no, this is serious. You have to sit down with your team and with your people you trust to identify all the players and to define a strategy in order to take them on board. My personal experience is that you can, once you have identified the people who are not supportive or are against, you cannot be a dreamer and think that you can take everyone on board. But adding them neutral could be enough sometimes, and again, you have to understand what are the drivers for the for these people, because the driver can be that simply they don’t know about the topic. They don’t want to admit they don’t know. And so they are not open to learning something new, or in the worst cases, you might understand that it’s simply a power game, and they don’t want to drop it, to let the power go. And this, very often, is a misperception. So they don’t really understand that they are not losing power. On the contrary, the power would be bigger for the company and for all the elements of the company, all the employees, the leadership team, etc. You have to understand the drivers and define a real strategy for each of them.
Donald Taylor 17:19
Absolutely! And that’s back to the performance consulting ideas, the ability to go and really to listen to people really understanding, not necessarily taking their first answer but asking another question, dwelling on their response, listening and hearing what they’re not saying as well as what they’re saying so that you can really understand what’s making them tick. You also mentioned, Elisabetta, the idea of being in touch with the users, the people, the regular employees out there to make sure that you understand what’s driving them and how they’re reacting to the change piece as well. How’d you do that in an organization as large as Santander?
Elisabetta Galli 17:56
We identified different segments of the organization. The first segment we involve them consider was the segment of the top of the house, the top managers more or less 250 people and we started making an experiment for them for the first time ever, they were invited not to a workshop, a physical workshop in our headquarter as it was before, but to enter a digital platform, and to start a kind of self-service base training and a development itinerary. And it was kind of bet, I was quite positive, and actually, after the first moment in which they were a little bit unsure and not very relaxed, they started using this platform, this test platform. And they were comfortable doing that. They continued, and the results were good. So what I could see is that so many people who are not digital natives at all, and probably they were considered, as I don’t know, supercritical with everything that was digital, in the end, they managed to understand, to use the digital media, and to take advantage of that, they found value in this proposal. And so this was the part of the top of the house. The other segment we interview them, and we took to was the segment of the potential early users, early adopters, so people who could have the characteristics for being digitally interested in the new media, etc. And actually, they were very, very useful to us because they gave us a lot of input and information. And then you have to consider people in the middle. So people who are not digital natives but they are not, let’s say, at the top of the house, they are in the middle of the organization, and they have to understand what is the value for them of having a new ecosystem of learning and development. And the critical element for them was to understand that they could pull out information whenever they want it. And also with different media and the concept of democratization of learning. So moving from a situation in which they were invited to make, I don’t know, to have some courses very often, in mandatory training, ao topics they were compulsory by law, to be in the driving seat, and to decide, what they wanted to learn, and when, and calling from a notion of knowledge, that was totally, totally new for them. And they really liked that. And they were looking forward to that.
Donald Taylor 20:57
So there are a number of things that are going on there. One of which is obviously that you’re continuing the research almost that you did right at the beginning of the program, the discovery piece, you’re keeping in touch with people finding out what works and what doesn’t work. So that’s valuable. But in addition, you’re growing an army of people who are enthusiastic users, who will go out and persuade other people and will be seen by the people to be using a system that is helping them, so they become part of your sales force, almost, in the organization, part of your communications plan.
Elisabetta Galli 21:27
Indeed, I want to give you an example. So you know that we launched the Young Leaders Program, and so the Emerging Leaders for Santander – digital natives with the clear attitude to use, to consume digital learning, etc. I organized a workshop, a virtual workshop with all of them, about 280 people, in which I explained to them the new concept, what we wanted to achieve, and the technology part and the subject matter experts, the role of these people in this new ecosystem, they understood immediately, they immediately got the value of what we were preparing, and they got excited. And I received a lot of emails, personal emails, simply asking me, what can I do to help you? I want to be part of that.
Donald Taylor 22:23
You can’t buy that sort of support. That’s fantastic.
Elisabetta Galli 22:26
And I was almost sure that they would have been interested. But I was surprised by the enthusiasm.
Donald Taylor 22:33
And pleasantly surprised. What about the people? Well, there’ll be some times when you’ve got people in one department who are not enthusiastic or are enthusiastic, but something changes in that group. So let’s say it’s the IT department, this is not a reference to your IT department. But very often, organizations I’ve known there’s a problem, when you have a relationship with one person in IT, let’s say they leave, suddenly the relationship is gone. And you have to go back to square one almost with that department. How do you prevent that risk from occurring? What do you do early on to make sure that if somebody leaves, you still have a relationship with the department?
Elisabetta Galli 23:11
Yeah, this is another critical point. And this happened actually, along the journey. And so we started having not only one single point of contact for each department, but to have at least two people. And so we created micro-teams in all the key departments. And this adds a double advantage: first of all, that we could add a kind of replacement, just in case, but also we manage to take on board more people and to engage these people really, in the process in the nitty-gritty of the process of transformation. And this created a lot of enthusiasm and a sense of being part of something bigger, that was that got viral. So is what I have learned from this experience is that the acceptance, the enthusiasm of the people in the middle of the organization, so the middle matrix people was really very high, very encouraging. And they have been the real engine of this transformation, much more than the top of the house or the critical people, you know, the very powerful people. Push from the middle.
Donald Taylor 24:36
And it’s very often, too often, the middle is overlooked because it is neither the people who are using a system nor are the people who are the key people at the top. But also it’s a bit difficult getting hold of them, but you made an effort. You did the work, you got a hold of them, you found out what they were doing, and that made it possible then to drive forward the program. By the way, we’re talking without referencing the program that you actually implemented at Santander. Do you want to quickly tell us, I know it’s a massive program, to quickly say something about it just put flesh on the bones of the theory?
Elisabetta Galli 25:11
Yeah. And, you know, I think that’s the very important thing – to start and be very consistent and coherent in a kind of education process. So continuous education and you have to touch all the different segments, and you have to give them the elements for them to develop critical thinking, to understand very well, in a very deep way, what is the value of the product, of the ecosystem you want to produce? What is in it for them? And this can be very different, depending on the segment of the groups, and continue to educate these people and being always very, very available and open to accept questions and to answer questions as soon as possible. So every time we organized meetings, virtual, face to face meetings, so with our different stakeholders, and this was on a weekly basis, so every day, basically, we had one of these meetings, we presented something coming from the previous meeting in order to give answers, and we received another 100 answers, you know, so it was a kind of limitless curiosity that was, on the one hand, a very good symptom of high interest for the topic, and you have to be very punctual to answer to be if you don’t know something you have to admit, guys, this is new for me, let me investigate. I don’t have an answer. So for me, what is important is to be really sincere, open, candid in order to create this partnership based on trust. And I think we managed to do that because we have always been judged trustworthy. People, probably sometimes pain in the neck. Yes, for sure. But equally sure that we were considered competent people very, very transparent, very open and candid. And so no tricks, and no, no stories.
Donald Taylor 27:26
And if you try at the beginning of the process to say, oh, you come up with an answer to a question. Rather than saying, “I don’t know, I’ll come back to you; I’ll find out,” that will undermine the trust right at the start. And my phrase on this is always that trust arrives on a tortoise and leaves on a horse, it takes a long time to build up, but it can go in a moment. So you just have to absolutely build it with each encounter; you earn it each time you speak to somebody. Elisabetta, this is a real eye-opener. It will be a real eye-opener for a lot of people listening to this podcast because they will be imagining that digital transformation starts with technology – you’re saying it starts with change management, it starts with a good communications plan, it starts with understanding the people in your organization. Technology will always be there to make things happen. To sum up your experience of doing this in more than one large organization, what would you say to people is the first thing they should do if they need to start moving their organization towards a digital basis for learning? What is the first thing they should do?
Elisabetta Galli 28:29
I think that a clear and strong mandate. So there is a clear need to understand that the change and the transformation are not an option. In our case, it was a kind of burning platform. So we had the real case of a burning platform and made sure that this is shared, and everyone is aligned around that, especially the key people. And as I said, talking, communicating change management. And it’s true that technology is not the most important ingredient. But you have to invest time also to choose the right technology. Because, I give you an example, in parallel, because we launched several workstreams, as you can imagine, Don, I had some people working on deciding what kind of technology we needed, according to the requirements we had. And so we started meeting with vendors, excellent vendors, global vendors of technology of platforms. But we learned that in the end, on the only platform that could give us the right link with the key requirements we had. For instance, being a connector, so we didn’t want to replace any kind of leader platform that we already had. We just wanted to create a connector in order to plug the local ecosystem. We wanted to preserve the good stuff we had already on board and simply to work, to curate, or to upgrade what we have, and of course, to buy what we didn’t have. And also, an important element for us was the multi-language. So for Santander, it was super important to have an offer that was in multiple languages, not only in English or in Spanish, you know. So we have three requirements, and we spent a good time, quality time selecting the right vendor. This is also another important aspect to consider.
Donald Taylor 30:33
I always say the technology will make it happen. That’s true. But of course, you have to get the right technology. That’s also true. So thank you for raising that. Elisabetta, it’s been absolutely wonderful listening to this insight, a hard one, from experience about how to get your digital transformation of learning underway. To close, I’ll ask you a couple of final questions that we ask all guests on the Speexx Exchange podcast. Firstly, what do you wish you’d known when you started working in learning and development?
Elisabetta Galli 31:00
If you refer to this transformation process, I wish I would have known in the very first days, what was the real situation? So to identify the couple of people that I really underestimated, or simply didn’t realize they could impact, and start working with them with a lot of love and a lot of engagement, but from the very, very early days.
Donald Taylor 31:07
Wow, that’s a really strong endorsement for the idea of understanding the power and the makeup of your organization. Okay. The other question, which we always ask is, what are you curious about right now in, let’s say, in professional workplace learning, because you may be curious about a lot of things, cuisine, photography, I don’t know, but in workplace learning what’s really exciting you at the moment?
Elisabetta Galli 31:50
At this moment, I am very curious about what is going to happen in the next future. So the COVID pandemic taught us a lot. So everyone has become a digital expert because it has been a kind of need, another burning platform. So I have learned that there is no limit for people if you want; if you have to, you can progress, you can learn. I would like to understand, and I’m curious to continue to look at the future in terms of is this something we will keep in the future? Or shall we get back one day when the COVID pandemic would be over? I think this new way of learning will stay with us, even after the COVID pandemic when we have the cure and whatever because it is clear that it’s efficient, it’s effective. And it’s really solving a lot of issues that are not related to the pandemic at all, that are related to, I don’t know, being more efficient with your budget or traveling less, because traveling is a waste of time.
Donald Taylor 33:01
Being more inclusive, it can’t move easily if you’re looking after kids or your parents.
Elisabetta Galli 33:08
Exactly being much more easy-going, and organizing, I don’t know, moments like this or webinars, or workshops, in a very easy way, inviting people from all over the world in a snap, you know, this is something I think will stay with us. And I would like, I am really curious to see what will happen and what the future has ready for us.
Donald Taylor 33:35
Well, I’ll tell you what, Elisabetta, let’s get you back on the podcast in a year’s time. We’ll look back, and we’ll say we were wondering how far we would move back and how far we would move forward after COVID-19. Let’s come back, and let’s do an assessment of the change that happened. That’s been wonderful. Listen, it’s been wonderful to chat, to listen, to really get these insights from you, based on that hard-won experience. Thank you so much! Elisabetta Gali – Group Executive Vice President Global Head of Knowledge, Development and Talent Management at Banco Santander.
Elisabetta Galli 34:07
Thank you so much. It has been a pleasure!