AmEx Bank CLO talks learning technology, emerging trends

Posted: 08/05/2013
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Sam Hammock, chief learning officer and vice president of global regulatory learning and communications at American Express Bank, will speak at this year's Corporate Learning Week, November 12-15 at Disney's Yacht Club Resort. Before Sam leads a session about compliance training and joins a group of peers for the CLO panel at this year's conference, she sat down with us to talk about the learning and development operations she's put into place in the last year. To learn more about Sam and what sessions she'll be involved with at this year's Corporate Learning Week, check out her speaker page here. Check out the video above or take a look at the transcript of the interview below. This video cast includes discussion on:

  • How to expand and leverage a learning management system
  • Processes to engage a large global workforce
  • The impact of government regulations and compliance on a learning and training program
  • The piloting of new technologies, like mobile learning

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So just getting started, can you explain to us what you’ll be speaking about at this year’s conference?

I’ll be on the CLO panel, and we’ll be talking about emerging trends, things that we’re experiencing in our own industries and our workplace, around learning, development, and a lot of the things that we’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis.

In terms of learning and development, what have you focused on in the last year?

Our biggest focus has been around the regulatory and compliance space in regards to training. How are we meeting our requirements that we’re required to meet, by both the government and as a financial institution, our internal review and control processes as well. We’ve been really focused on the documentation around training, the, "Why are you doing what you’re doing?" and "Is it all documented?"

We also have a very large curriculum. We’re talking upwards of 50 different curriculums with 280 different activities, and 120,000 people. So we’ve really been focusing on, "How do we do that and make the training still effective?" We’ve really been focused on leveraging technologies as well as our internal systems and solutions to be able to get the right training to the right people, and still make our regulators happy.

Speaking of technology, what kind of technologies have you implemented or been using for the past few years?

We’ve been leveraging an LMS. We’re using a standard learning management system, and that’s been pretty static with us. We invested in some upgrades with the vendor that we use, and tapped into some additional features that can make some of the stuff I just talked about easier for us. The other thing that’s been really exciting these past 18 months is American Express Bank has made the decision to invest in some additional technologies and capabilities that make our job even easier. One of the things that we are in the process of doing is an LCMS. So we’re getting a content management system, which is going to be phenomenal. When you work in a matrix environment in a large company, you know you need to be able to leverage and share some of those best practices, the content.

We also invested in a really fabulous recording and analytics tool, that’s been phenomenal. I tease a lot that leaders across the company care more about the reporting status then they do about the training. It’s not true, but it is very valuable. If you’re going to hold people’s feet to the fire, that their employees need to do this training, we need to be able to give them accurate and timely reporting to tell them what their status is. And so that’s definitely been an investment, and it’s been a phenomenal tool that we’ve been using. It’s dynamic; it’s web-based; it’s real-time.

And then the last thing that we’ve invested in is a tool that actually sits on both of our learning management system and our HR people system. It allows us to determine what type of work do you do every day. This is the type of information that’s not in an employee system, that you want to know what they’re doing, to figure out, "What’s the right training?" We want to make sure the training we’re giving people is relevant to their job. This tool actually allows us to gather that information from employees, and then it automatically assigns the appropriate activities.

It sounds like there’s a lot of different technology that you’re leveraging right now, but how do you avoid falling into the trap of just using that technology just for technology’s sake?

The million dollar question, right? You see some of these demos and these vendors and it looks all flashy and sexy and you want to jump on. At American Express Bank, we’re pretty conservative in that fashion anyway. We sit back and see, but also I really do believe it’s important not to jump on to that. And certainly I believe the 80/20 rule, so while I’m really excited about mobile learning, for us it’s not quite the time yet because the majority of our employee base doesn’t have the devices to be able to do that.

Investing in a technology solution has a hard dollar value, and it should have a valid investment and benefit behind it. We’ve been able to do a lot of tests in terms of, do we really need it or don’t we? And we’ve been able to make that call somewhat easily.

Talking about challenges you face in the space, what do you see as the biggest challenges to learning and training at American Express Bank, and what are you doing to address those challenges?

One of the big challenges continues to be global. How do you address things on market-to-market basis without losing the overall foundation strategy of your program? We operate in over 60 countries, so we can’t be running 60 different training programs right. Technology is always a challenge because you’re limited to what your capabilities can do, and you’re also limited to your data. A lot of times, I find that the technology is working okay but your internal data, whether it be your people systems or anything else, you’re limited to that capability as well. Sometimes that’s like pushing a rock uphill.

And then, you know I think the last thing for us, just being in a very highly regulated industry, is, you know one of our biggest challenges, continuing to meet the external regulators and the government’s expectations. And to be honest, the environment that we’ve been living in for the past couple years is, those expectations keep changing. So to meet the requirements of the regulators and the regulations has been a little bit of a revolving door. So for us to keep up on that and make sure that we’re meeting the needs as well, but at the same time, the hardest part is, you want to meet the employees’ needs, too.

You mentioned that for mobile learning, it’s not exactly the right time to implement it. From your perspective, what are the emerging trends in the learning and development space that you’re looking to put into play at American Express Bank?

I say it’s not the right time, but we’re still piloting and testing and moving along. Like I said, we have the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of our people are at their desk every day. We’re looking into it and we’re piloting it this fall with select groups. Our LMS vendor has applications that are supporting mobile learning right now, so I think that it will be a really good immersion for us.

Some of the other things that I’m excited about are some of the new interactive ways of designing and developing learning programs. Gaming continues to be very exciting, and we have a large segment of our employee audience that it would be a perfect fit for.

What are you most excited about at this year’s conference?

It almost ties right back into your last question: You always hear about ways that people are doing things differently. Sometimes it’s cutting edge and sometimes it’s just a simple way to think about execution and implementation that you hadn’t thought about before. A lot of us are using the same tools, right. Most of us are using an LMS; it usually has the same type of capabilities, and a lot of us deal with the same issues. It’s really exciting to get all these learning professionals with such amazing experience in the same room and hear about what they’re doing. How are they addressing some of these problems? I get very excited about the networking opportunities and the ability to share some of these ideas with each other.

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