A New Way Of Working And Learning: Adidas Style

A New Way Of Working And Learning: Adidas Style


By Jeanne Meister – forbes.com

At the Germany-based Adidas Group, management believes that learning should be “light, desirable, and fun.” That’s according to Matthias Malessa, the company’s Chief Human Resources Officer and one of the pioneers of a brand new, innovative learning and development platform that debuts today.

The Adidas Group has more than 51,000 employees globally, with an average age of just 30 years, half of them in retail. Workforce development and skills training have always been priorities for Adidas, which for years spent its learning-specific budget and resources on designing interesting, varied curricula to engage employees. The curricula focused on a classroom-based format, where employees enrolled in a range of programs focused on behavioural and job-related training.

But within the last two years, Malessa and his learning team evolved their approach to blending learning with work, recognizing that very little learning takes place in a formal classroom, with most on the contrary occurring on the job or when a new employee works with a mentor or a coach. Christian Kuhna, who developed the strategy of the  “adidas Group Learning Campus”, says,” This new approach, acknowledges our belief that at least 80% of learning happens informally.”

The Adidas Group set out to create a corporate university but in the process decided the term and vision of a  “corporate university” was too narrow and instead  evolved their thinking to ensure learning was fun, engaging and sustainable. Adidas Group Learning Campus replaced classroom-only training programmes with social and interactive online-learning offerings, which are open to everybody and accessible 24/7.

Under Adidas’ new program, the digital learning platform generates suggested learning modules for each training topic an employee decides to tackle. These modules take the form of videos, PDFs, quizzes, and include external sources, like TED or YouTube videos, blogs etc. following the model of MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses), and the platform highlights those which are either “most popular” or expert “recommended.”

As employees develop their skills, they rank and rate the training content as easily as they would a video on YouTube or a book on Amazon.

This new vision, which Adidas calls its “New Way of Learning,” requires leaders to become actively involved in learning and even to embed learning, teaching and sharing into all of their interactions with team members.  The vision is best summarized by Kuhna, as part of a philosophy where, commitment drives engagement, and engagement drives performance.

Adidas is convinced that its new learning philosophy will enhance the skills and the engagement of its current employees, metrics it evaluates in part through a company-wide satisfaction and engagement survey administered every three years.

So, what can your organization learn from how Adidas re-imagined learning? Here are five principles I think all organizations should consider adopting in order to modernize their human resources and learning approach:

1. Be Bold.
When Adidas decided to re-imagine its approach to learning, the company thought big. As Kuhna says, “The Adidas Learning Campus is focuses not on designing learning for our employees, but on creating a consistent and compelling learning experience worldwide.”

2. Communicate the vision.
It’s easier to get employees on board for a major change if they understand its greater purpose. Adidas helped convey its goals by emphasizing five easy-to-remember principles in its promotion of the new way of working and learning.

Those five principles were:

  1. Working is learning and learning is working
  2. Shift to an open and collaborative, connected, “social” learning environment
  3. Leadership means sharing, teaching, and learning
  4. Innovation is part of everybody’s daily work
  5. Create a new culture of self-driven life-long learning

3. Use innovative marketing that appeals to Millennials.
Since over 50% of the Adidas workforce is only 30 years old in average, Malessa, Kuhna and their whole team acknowledge the importance of creating marketing for a “New Way of Learning” that is visual, fun and engaging. Millennials have been raised on YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram, so marketing to them must involve a heavy focus on video and infographics, two forms of media that help create the experience of high velocity and high engagement.

Adidas’ “New Way of Learning” challenges Adidas employees with the  thought-provoking messages like “If You Think You’re So Smart, Why Don’t You Share Your Knowledge?” The promotion reads less like a traditional marketing copy for a corporate learning initiative and more like a headline that could have been created by the likes of Vice Media, the hip online news site full of viral content.

4. Think broadly about how to bring a new way of learning and working to life.
Adidas demonstrates its commitment to the concept of “open, innovative and collaborative learning” in many unusual (and thus effective) ways: for example by building  learning furniture prototypes and other physical products which reflect these principles.

Adidas’ “physical learning spaces” are more workshops that the company has transformed into open spaces similar to the theater stage. Its “flexible furniture,” is designed to facilitate idea-sharing and open communication and collaboration.

5. Use the retail “Pop-Up” metaphor to deliver learning.
Malessa and his team took a page from the retail trend of Pop-Up stores and created “Learning Pop-Up Kits,” to be the physical embodiment of the New Way of Learning. These kits, include a range of learning assets, links to courses and fun items like juggling balls, representing the adidas employee’s need to “juggle” various priorities in order include learning in their day.

Adidas’ approach to learning and development underscores the importance of building a holistic consumer learning experience, one that incorporates learning into a new way of working.

This approach is a fresh perspective from the traditional “silo” view of learning, which exists without regard for the realm of working. As Thomas Friedman, the American journalist has so astutely noted, “big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately needed.”

In the case of Adidas, the decision to re-imagine learning took advantage of several mega trends in the workplace. Those included, the move toward using social media inside the organization, as well as the recognition that learning must be fun, engaging and hip. Most importantly, they included the move toward envisioning learning blended seamlessly with working.

Readers, how are you challenging your human resource and corporate learning professionals to re-think and re-imagine the integration of learning and working? Share here with us and the adidas team!

jeanne_meisterJeanne Meister is a Partner at Future Workplace and co-author of The 2020 Workplace book. You can follow Jeanne on Twitter, connect with her on Linkedin, and sign up to receive the latest Future Workplace newsletter here.

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