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It’s time agencies made hard skills training meaningful

Veli Aghdiran, Global Vice President, Professional Development at Essence, shares his strategies on how agencies can build scalable and relevant hard skills learning programmes that are valued by employees, organisations and clients alike.

The challenge of creating and delivering meaningful hard skills learning experiences in agencies is a tough nut to crack, and it's a highly visible and business-critical component of any learning and development offering. From an organisational perspective, three things are often true: firstly, people tend to have a lot of opinions on how hard skills training should work; secondly, people tend to notice when hard skills training is absent or insufficient; thirdly, and slightly paradoxically, people tend not to notice when it’s present.

From an employee perspective, it’s all too easy to generalise hard skills training as either a compliance hoop that you have to jump through or as a slightly pointless undertaking that managers send their new starters on in their first weeks of joining. Is that how it's shaking down in your organisation? If those sentiments ring true, it’s likely that your employees aren’t valuing an important investment made in them. It’s also likely that your broader organisation and your clients aren’t seeing the development and growth that drive people to do their best work. So how do we change this familiar story? How do we build scalable, relevant hard skills learning programmes that are valued by your employees, your organisation and your client?

Here are five useful strategies to remain conscious of as you develop the right solutions for your organisation:

Spend time upfront engaging the key stakeholders

Think about your key customers, collaborators and partners. Who are they? How would they like to be engaged? Make sure you have the shape of your strategy and approach in mind already; give them a stimulus, and clearly state the outcomes and parameters of the discussion you want to have with them so that you receive constructive thoughts and feedback in response.

Have a client service mindset

Remember who your solutions need to serve. Broadly, they’ll need to serve the organisation, the people and the client. A powerful way to hold yourself accountable throughout the planning, design and implementation phases is to keep asking yourself and your team: does our solution meet the needs of these three groups or priority subsets of them? If yes, great. If not, is that ok, or do we need to reconsider?

Embrace collaboration

When you’re designing solutions for large organisations, you can’t do it alone. You need a rich set of perspectives, skill sets, mindsets and attitudes to deliver something that speaks to audiences across teams and geographies. Keep reminding yourself of that at times when it’s tempting to fly solo to just get something out there. The success of your project hinges on collaboration. Don’t tolerate it. Embrace it.

Build a measurement plan and report on what you measure

Too often, learning and development teams hide behind the inherent ambiguity of learning impact measurement; it’s a safe space where hypotheses and statements can’t be easily proven, and where anecdotal evidence can drive the conversation in unhelpful directions. When done well, hard skills training offers the most tangible learning measurement opportunities in an organisation. Once you know what skills and knowledge you’re enabling your people to learn, you can then come up with ways to demonstrate learning has happened. When you can do that, you can develop truly meaningful learning measurement plans and learning reports. This gives organisations opportunities to iterate training based on data rather than a hunch, enabling insightful and valuable conversations on the ROI of hard skills initiatives.

Be creative

If you want to change perceptions away from tired generalisations about what hard skills training usually looks and feels like, challenge yourself to do something different. If you’re not excited by it, your audience won’t be either. Strive to create experiences that people love and want to come back to. Surprise your audience. Interrupt the patterns they expect to see with solutions that are elegant and powerful and communications that inspire them to embrace the experience that you’ve created.

Veli Aghdiran is global vice president, professional development at Essence, a global data and measurement-driven media agency which is part of GroupM.

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