TJ interviews: Nordea’s Steven Smith

Written by Conor Gilligan on 6 February 2020 in Interviews
Interviews

Conor Gilligan gets the low-down on corporate learning from Steven Smith, CLO at Nordea.

Reading time: 3 minutes.

Let’s start with your background in corporate learning; tell me a little more.

I’ve had 25 years in corporate learning. As a result, I have seen many transitions, both in the market and in various companies. But I really got to know more about this profession during my time at Capgemini, a large IT consulting business with approximately 225,000 employees globally.

I helped them pin down their strategy in terms of how corporate learning supported the business direction, the skills and capabilities.

I worked with them to develop and implement their strategy in terms of how corporate learning supported building the skills and capabilities needed to achieve their business ambitions.

Much of this we decided to either build or borrow at the time – a strategy which enabled us to leverage our internal talents, but also outside the organisation.

I like the way you decided to not only look internally for capability, but also externally – gaining expertise where you had gaps. I know you started your mission with Nordea. What was this like in the beginning?

At the start, Nordea was a very decentralised organisation when it came to corporate learning. While this was good from a responsiveness standpoint, it created challenges in efficiency, quality and scalability.

Our team needed to understand what the stakeholders required, as opposed to simply responding to what they asked for or assuming what they wanted

Given I had the experience with Capgemini in this area, Nordea recognised this, and brought me across to help them.

When it comes to working with a decentralised organisation, I need to really understand the several business areas and create a bridge between the executives and employees.

I recall one executive in the business saying to me: “If you can’t help me understand what learning is taking place, don’t come and talk to me about new tools and ways of working” – in other words, don’t send me a poet when I need a plumber.

This was especially compelling to me at the time as our team needed to understand what the stakeholders required, as opposed to simply responding to what they asked for or assuming what they wanted.

I know it’s critical for organisations to become more agile and understand the financial aspect of corporate learning. How did you achieve this at Nordea?

This was a challenge initially as we didn’t know the spend on learning across a complex, decentralised organisation. We needed to work closely with the finance department to find out the actual budget that was being spent on learning. This also supported the organisation’s thinking about corporate learning, and it created more efficiency.

This alliance between the HR/learning function and the finance department is critical today. As we move to more agile ways of working, we must track costs.



For example, Nordea is going through a digital transformation. As a result, our people rely on learning more than ever as they upskill and reskill in new areas. In order to win in the future, it’s a must-win to be agile and close the skills gap.

When it comes to corporate learning, you have taught me about how capabilities in other areas of the business are critical to your success. Would you like to share more about this?

There are numerous areas you have to consider when transforming a corporate learning function, like in Nordea’s case.

For example, you need to think about the capabilities of the team around you to support this from a change management perspective. You may also have legacy technology systems you need to consider, either that you decommission or you leverage.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned is meeting the organisation where they are; this comes through deep understanding and engagement.

Back to the point I made about the poet and the plumber. You really have to understand your stakeholders to ensure a successful project.

 

About the author

Conor Gilligan is director of enterprise growth at Degreed.

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