A new learning paradigm

Cornerstone OnDemand is a global leader in cloud-based learning and human capital management software and is at the forefront of innovation in this space. Jonathan Jackson speaks with Frank Ricciardi, SVP and General Manager of Asia-Pacific, about creating modern content for self-directed learning.

Think Netflix for learning and you get Cornerstone OnDemand’s latest technological breakthrough: a personalised digital learning experience that supports various types of content curation.

Curated content is of course no longer the way of the future.

What we read and watch have been curated for us for a few years now. Learning, however, is a further step forward on people’s personalised journeys and in the workplace this can have a powerful impact.

The production and dissemination of curated content is Cornerstone OnDemand’s latest innovation, but the company’s approach to learning in the workplace is much more holistic.

In its own words, “Cornerstone is designed to enable a lifetime of learning and development that is fundamental to the growth of employees and organisations. From recruitment, onboarding, training and collaboration, to performance management, compensation, succession planning, people administration and analytics, Cornerstone is there at every phase of the employee lifecycle.”

Such has been the success of this international company’s learning solutions, they are used by nearly 3,000 clients worldwide, spanning more than 31 million users across 191 countries and 43 languages.

Cornerstone was founded in the United States of America in 1999 like many entrepreneurial companies with limited resources. Its goal was to improve access to education on a global basis through online learning.

Seventeen years later and the goal is still the same, however the drivers and technology behind the learning solutions are vastly different.

Part of the changing technology and forward momentum can be attributed to Frank Ricciardi the Senior Vice President and General Manager, Asia-Pacific.

Ricciardi has been with Cornerstone since 2005, first as Vice President of Global Account Services building Cornerstone’s Account Management function in order to grow and retain customers. He then pioneered Cornerstone’s market-leading Client Success Program including the innovative Client Success Framework which ensures that both Cornerstone and its customers achieve unparalleled success in the Software as a Service (SaaS) delivery model.

He is now leading Cornerstone’s global growth strategy in the Asia Pacific region and has built sales, service delivery and operational teams in Greater China, Southeast Asia, Australasia, India and Japan to help clients realise the potential of a modern workforce.

“I started my career in consulting with Anderson Consulting, now Accenture and I was very focused on pharma and biotech, effectively bringing products to market,” Ricciardi says of his lead in to joining Cornerstone.

“Working on those biotech projects was where I truly began to love technology. It was the start of the Internet era and information was now starting to be disseminated in an online capacity.”

It would seem then that Cornerstone entered the online learning management space at just the right time and since then has naturally progressed its business and technology solutions from a basic e-learning platform, to offer further solutions that enable people to be very effective at their jobs, to now, as alluded to earlier, offering bespoke learning solutions.

When Ricciardi joined Cornerstone, the company was just five years old and at the time had just 26 customers and 26 employees. Growth was impaired by its inability to manage relationships.

“So we had to build that capability,” Ricciardi says.

“We didn’t have upsell capabilities or ways to leverage our solutions or set meaningful targets to retain or grow the existing client base.”

According to Ricciardi, the evolution of this capability around CRM was quite a journey.

“As I mentioned we only had 26 clients. Now we have over 3000, but the question was how do you make sure you have the capability to scale up?”

The market was crying out for workplace-based learning and development products and solutions, Cornerstone just needed to get its infrastructure right. Once that was in place, the company was able to develop new products to meet new target markets.

“By the time we went public on the NASDAQ, we had eight modules to sell. We had people with the right skills and knowledge to be good advisors to our clients. We didn’t want to just build a machine that sells stuff, we wanted to build a capability to really engage with the client and therefore increase our retention rate.”

Interestingly, since 1999 Cornerstone has enjoyed a 95% subscription revenue retention rate. In part, this is due to the company’s ability to see and adopt technological trends. One of its most significant recognitions was its ability to see what was happening in the SaaS space.

“In 2009-10 most customers were switching to cloud base software for the first time. They were outsourcing technology to us and we needed to provide a good way for them to be successful in a cloud based environment.”

“As we looked at different people, from administrators to the executive, we saw that success was different for each one. The question was how to define that success.

At the time we had a very distinct customer lifecycle: sell, implement, support. Now, in SaaS, we needed to align the business needs to our solution. We needed to implement solutions and make sure that what we implemented was adopted and optimised. By doing this, over time, we could ensure that we had the ability to be with our clients for the length of the journey.”

Cornerstone’s curated content offering is another case in point of how the company has picked a forward trend to meet its clients’ future needs and therefore take the journey with them. With this new innovation customers can manually curate content courses by learning administrators, and its system will automatically identify and recommend courses based on a user’s interests, preferences and aspirations. All of this is powered by Cornerstone’s proprietary machine learning algorithm. The system also will automatically identify the best learning paths by role or career trajectory to help employees pursue their ambitions.

It is similar to the way you would go about curating your Spotify listening experience, except with this you are actually learning something.

Adding to Cornerstone’s existing collaborative learning capabilities, new functionality will include cloud sharing, enabling co-browsing and allowing people to visually collaborate and broadcast live training in real-time. Users will also be able to easily schedule live training sessions, identify subject matter experts and connect with peers who share similar learning interests.

With this innovation through the years, Cornerstone has undertaken a true cultural revolution based on two words: client success. This philosophy has become part of Cornerstone’s DNA.

“We hire people with certain core values. We organise around the values of client success. Every one of our functions has a success framework that is aligned to how to make the client successful,” Ricciardi says.

It’s a philosophy that Ricciardi says has become “unstoppable.”

For Cornerstone, success really boils down to talent management. Hire to retire.

“It is not a system of administration. It is a system of engagement. We ensure that an employee has an incredible experience from hiring through to onboarding, to how they are connected to others, to knowledge assets and communities. We help to train and develop new skills, manage an employee’s performance and create a pathway to success through goal assessment.”

How do you succeed? How do you go up the ladder? Which successors are right for a role? How do you engage with an employee to ensure that the employee realises his full potential?

These are all questions that Cornerstone’s learning solutions asks and ultimately answers and enables the company to help its employees develop life skills within the workplace.

Importantly for Cornerstone, its solutions are one-size-fits-all and clients can pick and choose what they want or need.

Of the 3,000 plus clients, the solutions can service organisations of any size from 50 employees to more than 700,000 globally. “Clients can make recommendations as to what they would like the tech to do in the future. Everyone then votes on that. So we are constantly engaging in meaningful conversations with clients about their businesses.”

The client Cornerstone relationship is further buoyed by the fact that the company’s client success managers are former clients themselves.

Ricciardi says this ensures best practice as they can have meaningful conversations to meet client needs. A client advisory board has also been set up who gives Cornerstone feedback on direction and the way its platform and new products are designed.

As it continues to add new products, Cornerstone is also looking at further expansion and is investing heavily into the Southeast Asian market. The opportunities across this region are immense.

Yet, while it is a commercial operation, what drives the company and what is at the centre of everything Cornerstone does is learning; driving human capital management in a way that develops successful people and therefore successful organisations.

Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

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