Upskilling and 'human digitisation' at Henkel

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Staff at Henkel identified what skills were needed to take jobs forward on the organisation’s journey to digitisation, and paths were created for managers and blue-collar workers

The organisation

Düsseldorf-headquartered international chemical and consumer goods company Henkel is a multi-billion-euro behemoth, founded in 1876 by scientist Fritz Henkel.

Its first product was the Universalwaschmittel – a universal detergent based on silicate – and since then the business has divided into three distinct units (laundry and home care, beauty care, and adhesive technologies).

Henkel is the maker of familiar household brands including Persil, Schwarzkopf, Sellotape, Pritt, Right Guard and Loctite. Its more than 53,000 employees work in 120 countries worldwide, and although the business has been publicly listed since 1985 Henkel remains a majority (60%) family-owned business.

The challenge

Manufacturing and heavily R&D-based organisations live and die through innovation. So to stay ahead of its rivals – the likes of Unilever, P&G and Johnson & Johnson – it’s vital Henkel employees continually upskill and develop, says Lucas Kohlmann, Henkel’s global head of strategy, leadership, talent management and diversity and inclusion.

Since 2017 Henkel has been on a business digitisation journey, but this has only magnified its skills needs further, as Kohlmann explains: “HR’s own digitisation process created a clear need for developing what we call ‘human digitisation’ – how we upskill our own hugely diverse employees – everyone from blue collar, to senior managers and board executives.”

The strategy

Recognising the differences in its employee population, Kohlmann decided to divide skills development into two tiers – a ‘digital base-fit’ for blue-collar staff and an ‘expert-fit’ for managers and above.

The former comprises gamified and quiz-based learning modules in a whole raft of new areas – from AI to robotics and even bitcoin. “The aim was to increase people’s basic digital knowledge in a fun way,” he says.

For its expert-fit learning (aimed at a population of 10,000 managers globally) Henkel partnered with Accenture to create more bespoke learning, across 10 different job families including HR and IT.

Working groups were created, asking managers from each family to identify exactly what skills they felt were needed to take the organisation forward (some seven to eight key capabilities needing developing were identified for HR alone).

“What was quite brave of people,” says Kohlmann “was that managers then assessed themselves against the skills they felt their function needed, to identify their own personal skill gaps.”

Assessments were piloted first among marketers in 2018, but the success of it paved the way for the rest of the job families to undertake their own assessments during 2019.

Skills paths are now being created that provide an average of 20 hours’ worth of learning over three months across the job families. So far five of the 10 job families (marketing, IT, purchasing, HR and corporate communications) have had training fully rolled out – with 1,800 people in marketing alone undergoing learning.

While basic learning is voluntary and expert-level learning is not exactly mandatory, Kohlmann says people are “expected” to take it.

He explains: “Creating the working groups was probably the most intense part of the process,” he recalls, “because some needed convincing of the need to do this – especially if it revealed gaps in their own learning – but over time scepticism dwindled.”

The result

Early results have been impressive – with more than 100,000 hours of digital learning having been completed already (YTD November 2019), and participation in expert-level training extremely high (92% among the marketing job family).

Henkel staff are now in control of their own development and careers, and digital learning has been given heightened importance.

The intention of the basic-fit learning was to create a base level of knowledge defined as being ‘essential’, but now the intention is to take this to ‘intermediate’ level. Meanwhile, expert-fit learning will move from being ‘advanced’ to ‘industry-leading’ in the coming year.

“The aim as well is to introduce train-the-trainer, for those already at industry-leading level to cascade their knowledge down to others,” says Kohlmann.

An interesting aspect of the programme is that learning has been introduced specifically not to identify which people might be high potentials, or have a skill (based on their assessment) that they are not making the most of.

“Managers don’t see the assessment scores that those reporting to them get,” Kohlmann explains. “The aim is for individuals to use their information themselves as a spur to their own self-development.

“We want to create a culture of continuous learning and development that comes from within, rather than tell staff what to learn or how to develop. We want people to see the value in upskilling for themselves.”

This year assessments will be repeated so people can see if the earlier skills gaps they identified have been closed.

This piece appeared in the February 2020 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk

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