Nordcloud is one of the fastest growing companies in the IT industry. After our acquisition by IBM, we supercharged our growth with the expectation that we would expand our business fast. One of the biggest challenges was to ensure that the organization grew and developed in the same speed and manner. A lot of things changed during this time but one of the biggest questions was how to upskill new hires and help them understand and keep our key processes alive, enabling them to deliver value to our customers.
In August 2021, Nordcloud’s COO Jan explained our current situation and challenges to me. It was quite clear that we had to build something on our own to ensure business continuity as well as scalability with our new people. That was when we founded the Nordcloud Academy.
The idea was to create an unique upskilling experience and programme for employees. We identified three main domains: Sales and Solutioning, Project Delivery and Managed Service Delivery. This was back when our main business domains had defined separate processes.
The scale was also quite clear from the beginning. The Academy needed to upskill around 1000 employees. The more the merrier.
MVA - Minimum Valuable Academy
We had six weeks from the initial idea to first deployment to test if our Academy concept was working. We wanted to make the learning applicable to the real world - to actual processes and tools. It wasn’t going to be helpful to invent scenarios for the academy that weren't compatible with the day-to-day challenges our teams face, nor would it keep us competitive as a business. We wanted to integrate real and current customer cases into Nordcloud Academy.
In October 2021, I got support from my colleague Terhi, who had joined Nordcloud as a Transformation Consultant. Jan, Terhi and myself became the "MVA" Team. We had 6 weeks to set up a 2-day workshop, invite all relevant stakeholders, promote across the organization and invite the first batch of participants - not to mention the administration required for a 2 day offsite. We decided to focus our case scenarios around three of our biggest industries: Banking, Aviation and Automotive. We then added exercises about our Lead to Order process. Due to the short time frame, we focused on the most relevant elements of our process.
With that approach, we ran the very early MVP and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. We also identified a number of process improvements, due to helpful findings by the audience in the workshops.
“The academy allowed me to rethink my past decisions and how I could improve myself to improve the communication between the different roles in a company.”
- Frabizio Gattuso - Cloud Solution Architect | AWS Team Lead
“Academy is about doing, not just listening. It brings Nordcloud content and people together to create living practice.”
- Jan Kritz - COO
“And the best of all was the networking opportunity with the colleagues I have never met.”
- Basharat Rehman - Integrated Platforms Practice Lead
Beside all the content relevant topics, after the COVID lockdown it was also crucial to meet our colleagues in person again. That was one of the reasons why we decided to run this Academy format mainly onsite and in person with a group size optimized for interaction. Magic can only happen when you meet people.
Automation from day one
After the pilot was completed successfully, we needed to start planning ahead to understand the demand for the first actual season. For Sales, Pre-Sales and Solutioning roles alone the demand quickly rose to over 150 people. With 25-ish participants in every episode, we needed about 6 episodes in different cities to meet the demand. That was quite ambitious.
Luckily, Nordcloud is a company that embraces the modern. Throughout the course we took advantage of the Tools Suite and started creating our content collaboratively. But there was more.
We also had to manage hundreds of registrations for our sessions, waitlists, calendar invites, Slack Channels and many more. How to manage all of this in our small team?
We harnessed the power of Google Forms, Sheets, Calendar and Mail combined. We used Forms as a registration platform with Apps Script automation to handle all the registrations. With the automation we were able to send out customized mails and calendar invites, as well as create dashboards for tracking and managing everyone. So far, nothing extraordinary, right? The automation was necessary to keep the manual work to a minimum to be able to focus on the content and the Academy itself.
In a time where everything is online, what would happen to another online offering? Not that much probably. So how should we share the idea of the Academy and create awareness of it? We needed participants for our Academy Seasons in order to run them, right?
Our first idea was to present the Academy in our monthly Townhall. We also used the feedback from the first run to show credibility. In a company like Nordcloud, a global approach is always the best and easiest way to reach out to people. But the power of local entities should not be neglected either. So we decided to go to the local meetups and monthlies as well.
Training and upskilling always needs to work in two ways.
- Top-down: Why is a company running an upskilling program and what needs to be addressed?
- Bottom-up: What's in it for the employees and why will they want to attend?
The top-down goal was in the very founding of the Academy. We crystalised the bottom-up goal along the way as we gathered participants’ feedback.
So, everything was set up. The Academy pilot was successful, the planning and scheduling were created and people in different roles across various Nordcloud Units knew about the Academy and what they could expect from it. It was time to open enrolments and start deployments.
We started our first actual Season in March 2022. Our idea was to go to the cities where our main offices were situated. That increased their awareness of the Academy and reduced the travel required for locals. It was not easy during COVID to set up such a roadshow, but we believed in the power of being onsite together with the participants (instead of having it online) and did agile replanning as required. The two days were structured like this:
In day one, we went through the key steps of our Lead-to-Order process based on a real customer case. This was followed by a small networking event in the evening. The focus on day 2 was on how to create a proper solution design and construct a winning deal.
At the same time, in Spring 2022 we started with our colleague Csaba, the first pilot of the Project Delivery Academy. It followed the same format as the Sales and Solution Academy, but focused on project delivery related processes and content: How to handover from sales to delivery, how to complete the relevant team transitions, project governance, change and risk management. Finally, we debuted our Managed Cloud Academy focusing on our managed services offering. We were then running three different offerings at the same time.
Time flies when you’re having fun. A full year has passed since the first Academy pilot and now we’re looking back on a crazy time and development.
From the pilot to the finished concept we had more than 25 deployments and 600 satisfied participants. We look back with great satisfaction on each episode of the different Academies, each one was unique and successful in its own way.
The different teams and diverse group of participants made every single deployment a different experience.
For Nordcloud, the Academy was and is the means to bring and communicate the internal sales and delivery processes to employees in an interactive and team-based way.
We noticed already after 6 months how the Academies made an impact on the employees. The quality and awareness of the processes discussed increased significantly and our network effect worked. Employees talked about it much more often and also encouraged each other to work in a much more process-compliant way.
We learned a lot as individuals and as a company during this time. Keep reading to hear our top lessons from Nordcloud Academy.
People to mention: Jan Kritz, Csaba Mézes, Terhi Leppiniemi-Williamson, Jaana Salmela, Magdalena Weremko, Heli Kemppe, Oskari Tuure, Carolyn Hill, Tapio Koskinen.
What we have learned from our journey
Developing things from scratch is part of my and Nordcloud’s DNA. We are quite often in completely new situations. Same goes for the Academy. We had never had a programme at this size and scale. Looking back, these are the most important things which helped us to create such an experience:
Build an enthusiastic team, which stands completely behind your vision
The right team is your key to success. Make sure you have the right people with the right skills and attitudes you need. Skills were less important in my case; we looked for the right attitude.
Create hype around your project and make it easy to understand why we/ you are doing what you’re doing
People are eager to learn, but they have to understand why an upskilling programme makes sense for them. So spread as much information about the programme as you can. Be annoying, repeat yourself if you have to at the beginning. I knew it was working when someone came up to me at the coffee machine and asked if I had already heard about the Academy ;)
Use the right tools for collaboration and communication
We had to develop a complete new workshop from scratch. Our cloud-based tools helped a lot. The tools helped us to do our job better and not limit ourselves. Slack and Google Workspace with their API´s were a big help to get all this done.
Don’t for one second be boring
It was our goal to create something exciting. Never boring. People should have fun when they come to the Academy. From a learning and networking perspective.
Keep the audience busy and change the mode continuously
One key success factor was the fact that the participants have to switch from listening to hands-on work within the first hour of the Academy. People need to understand that they have to provide the content and if they relax too much, I will bother them ;)
Another fact was the right mix of listening, group work and reviewing. We changed this basically every 30 minutes to keep them focused.
Never stop learning and gathering feedback
We asked after every session for feedback. In general but also from a content perspective. We forwarded the content feedback to the content owner to improve it. We tried to implement our feedback directly in the next Academy, the next MVA.
Just do the first step (yourself)
We tend to lose ourselves often in discussions about “coulda shoulda woulda”. We decided quite early in the Academy journey that we wanted to give good ideas a stage. When we got feedback, or someone from the team had a good idea to improve a step, if we stuck or there was a blocker, sometimes I just took the opportunity and pushed it through to deployment. This created momentum for good ideas.
Thanks for reading this article. My name is Markus, I am the Nordcloud Academy Lead and together with my wonderful team, we created this fantastic program for our company. I hope it helped to understand our journey a little better and you could also find some insights which are helpful for you.
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