“Learning has never just been about skills, it’s about knowing yourself and your potential.”
That’s the message from Nicolas Pauthier, the Chief Learning Officer of L’Oréal.
Pauthier is evangelical about adapting cohort-based learning to the current reality of hybrid working.
Within L’Oréal, that reality encapsulates a distributed workforce of 90,000 people in areas as disparate as marketing to manufacturing.
And staying ahead of the fierce competition within the beauty world means constant training and research and development.
“We are still learning from COVID-19,” Pauthier tells UNLEASH.
“In the beginning we tried the approach ‘Well, that worked well, let’s put it online’. However, a copy-and-paste approach to online learning did not work as well as we hoped.
“Some teachers are great speakers in-person, but that doesn’t translate to an audience in front of a screen…There’s that boredom challenge with shortened attention spans.”
He adds: “In education you need to make people feel.”
“And that is one of our lessons-learned we can share – if you don’t adapt your curriculum to virtual class realities, it’s a disaster.”
UNLEASH asked how L’Oréal made those adaptations.
Investment is key, says Pauthier.
The company is three years into a cohort-based learning strategy, which is seeing it pivot towards offering more skills and training options online.
More than that, Pauthier and his team are driving upskilling initiatives that make use of current soft skills in employees to enable them to move into new areas.
Later on Pauthier shares how measuring this has helped the board to see measurable return on investment (ROI) to the business.
“Learning at L’Oréal is a big machine. It involves more than €100 million a year.
“It’s an average of 33 hours of learning per employee each year. That’s more than 3.2 million hours a year of learning in our business.”
However, how this is delivered has drastically changed.
In 2019, more than 80% of the company’s learning goals were delivered in a classroom in a “very classical approach”.
Virtual classes only made up 5% of internal learning programs.
To date, that figure has now moved to 30-35% Pauthier tells UNLEASH.
“So, in terms of investment, in terms of hours we have dedicated to adapting to this approach, it has become a massive part of our R&D.”
Using tech to drive change
Like for many HR Practitioners, HR Tech has been at the core of this change in L’Oréal.
Pauthier’s team is working with Emeritus – an EdTech company.
It specialized in small cohort-based learning models includes live teaching and self-paced learning.
It’s a simple principle: that a group of learners taking a course together with the same schedule and activities to make them feel connected.
UNLEASH also spoke to Anand Chopra-McGowan, Emeritus general manager, UK & Europe.
We asked him to share his insights on working with L’Oreal.
Top of mind, was the need of hyper-personalization of courses to real world work requirements.
“What we’ve found in the courses that we’re running, and Nicolas referenced this, is that the metrics on completion change if courses are adapted to both business need and learning reality [with hybrid working employees].”
“With most online learning in a generic form, you may see completion rates in the area of 20 to 30, maybe 40%, if you’re lucky. With cohort-based learning we saw 80% completion rates.”
In Chopra-McGowan’s view, to see these kinds of metrics, you have to design a practical application into the learning experience itself to be connected to each employee’s work.
“It needs to be something that you don’t have to follow up on weeks or months after the learning happens to see a real-world application.
“An example with L’Oreal is participants in a negotiation course gave feedback that they liked that they actually negotiated and did role-playing together in practical exercises.”
European Year of Skills 2023
2023 is the EU’s mandated European Year of Skills – an initiative at the heart of Europe to try and encourage businesses to share best practice on tackling the continent’s growing talent shortage.
Has L’Oréal been inspired by this European initiative?
“For us, it’s central to many things we do,” Pauthier says.
“One thing we have done is we decided to create and to develop our own skills library, because we didn’t find the suitable skills we need in the market.
“We have huge targets. We have 42 factories,120 distribution centers, we have 4,000 people in labs doing biology and chemistry. And we have 20,000 people in the field.
“So for us, developing this skills library, will be critical to have a better sense of the skills that already exist in L’Oréal.”
‘A Eureka moment’: Demonstrating ROI to the board
This is where Pauthier shares how the HR team has been able to show measurable ROI to the business in a) cohort-based learning and b) building an internal skills library.
“I can give you some examples of our digital transformation of our company in this area.
“In 2015, our e-commerce segment was just 3% of the business.
“Last year, e-commerce was 29% of our business. So ecommerce has a massive impact on product development and supply chain consumer service for almost our entire field of value.
“That’s why we organized a master’s program on e-commerce”.
Pauthier adds: “Another example – we are the fourth biggest advertiser in the world in terms of media.
“In 2015, we spent 12% of all our media dollars on digital platforms. Everything else was out in print and broadcast. Last year, we spent 72% of our media budget on digital platforms.
“So again, that means for the marketing teams they had to adapt and learn how to do this.
“Internally this has been a Eureka moment, strategically.
“Under our Executive Committee, they began asking what other skills do we need to make sure that we have the resources to keep train and keep people in the long-term.”
Emeritus’ UK & Europe GM Chopra-Gowan adds: “L’Oréal is a company that takes these kinds of investments in a very long-term view.
“After all, this is a digital transformation journey.
“I think that sometimes in learning and data, and digital changes, sometimes it can feel like this stuff is so fast moving.
“But to drive the transformation you want to see, you need to slow down to see the longer term view.”
So what is Pauthier’s advice for other businesses looking to get started in cohort-based learning?
“You just need to be modest, to start small and be OK to accept that you are going to make failures. But there is no other way.
“You know, learning is like a muscle. The more you learn, the more you want to go on learning. So, that’s the key message.
“Go step-by-step, find a good partner, and focus on helping people to feel while they are learning; this is a big point for us.”
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Nima Sherpa Green is a British/Sherpa journalist and editor. She has a multimedia background in newsrooms around the world. She was the UK & EMEA editor of CRN; commissioning editor at The African Business Magazine; producer and reporter at the World Service London Bureau; and reported for Vice Magazine and the Herald Sun in Australia. She has an MA in Journalism from Monash University, Melbourne and a BA in Political History of Southern Africa from the University of Sheffield.