11 Things to Consider When Educating Your Staff on Cloud

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. – Benjamin Franklin

My last post discussed how you already have the necessary resources to leverage cloud technologies, provided you enable your staff with the appropriate education.

So how do you, the Chief Change Management Officer, educate your staff so that they can accelerate your Journey? Every organization’s Journey will be unique, but there are some commonalities that I’ve seen in organizations that do this well. Here are 11 considerations that speak to these commonalities:

1. Start with something meaningful, but basic. Your teams will quickly see the practical benefits of cloud technologies when they accomplish something important to the business. I’ve seen a few companies progress slower than they’d like by focusing on projects that don’t move the needle. Of course, you don’t want to bet the farm with your first few projects, but you will want to start with projects that are meaningful enough to illustrate business benefit. There are a number of good ones to start with — a simple website, a mobile application, an API to easily access data, or a file backup/disaster recovery improvement. Your teams will be able to apply what it learns to more projects faster if their education is rooted in a practical application.

2. Leverage AWS Training. My previous post noted the great training programs AWS offers. These programs have helped hundreds of companies hone their cloud skills. AWS uses every training engagement as an opportunity to improve, and has developed a diverse curriculum and a variety of delivery mechanisms that allow organizations to customize training that meets their specific needs. When I was at Dow Jones, we trained nearly every technical person on our team with what became the AWS Technical Fundamentals course. In addition to equipping our staff with new skills, the training also removed some of the fear of the unknown commonly found when the Journey is just beginning.

3. Give your teams time to experiment. Creating a culture of experimentation is the next best practice on the Journey, and it is particularly relevant when motivating your staff to learn. Innovation comes from experimentation, and because the cloud takes away the need for large upfront investments to try new things, there is nothing holding your team back from creating the next disruptive product in your industry. Give your team some freedom to implement existing projects in new ways.

4. Set goals that encourage learning and experimentation. Most companies set goals and/or KPIs for their staff and tie these goals to performance. Using these existing mechanisms is a great way to reinforce your strategy and produce the behavior you’re after. You can create goals around the completion of relevant training courses, how much budget is freed up, or how your operational excellence has improved by leveraging the appropriate cloud architectures. Doing this shows that leadership is serious about giving everyone the opportunity to experiment and learn.

5. Set time constraints, and pace yourselves. This is especially important as you move toward a culture of experimentation. At the end of the day, results are what matters. You can help your team members balance experimentation with using what they already know by setting deadlines on each project. Sometimes your teams will make compromises as a result of these constraints, and as you progress, you’ll need to define a mechanism for how to deal with these compromises. But your team will always be learning and improving its skills for the next project.

6. Spot and deal with change resistance. All of these considerations are aimed at curbing your staff’s resistance to change by giving people the tools they need to succeed. But even with all of these opportunities, there will likely be individuals in your organization who will continue to resist. My post about providing clarity of purpose speaks to this challenge. Look to understand the apprehension that comes from your team, be open-minded about what’s working and what’s not, and swiftly deal with unnecessary friction. Which leads me to my next point . . .

7. Don’t be afraid to give people new roles. Moving to the cloud in a meaningful way is as much a cultural shift as it is a technology shift. I’ve found that giving people an opportunity to take on new roles can help them overcome their resistance to change. My preference has always been to look inside the company first, as institutional knowledge is an expensive and typically unnecessary loss. I held six very different roles during my 11 year tenure at Bloomberg. This abundance of opportunity is one of the key reasons I stayed as long as I did. Finding ways to give your staff new opportunities will keep them engaged and can help with employee retention.

8. Show your staff how they fit into the bigger picture. It’s much easier to get excited about your job when you know how it fits into the organization’s big picture. Make sure you consider each role and communicate how and why it matters to your team. Again, I’d look to how your organization aligns its objectives with departmental and/or individual goals, and find a way to tailor that to each role.

9. Go to industry events and see what others are doing. Most people learn a lot from the successes and failures of others. I’ve been developing cloud-enabled technology strategies for large companies for more than five years now, and I’m still amazed at what I learn from attending AWS re:Invent, AWS summits, and other technology events. Give your staff time to network and bring new ideas back home. Considering many ideas, even some that you’re confident you won’t pursue, is a great way to create teachable moments and reinforce your strategy.

10. Learn from your partners. There are tens of thousands of organizations in the AWS Partner Network. Many of them are probably already in your existing stable of partners, but there are likely some new ones you can learn from, too. I’ve been amazed by how many large enterprises are turning to the smaller, younger, “born-in-the-cloud,” system integrators like Cloudreach, 2nd Watch, and Minjar to accelerate their cloud strategies and change their IT culture.

And this one goes to 11….

11. Institutionalize your own flavor of training in your organization. As you progress on your Journey, you will hopefully find that a few teams or individuals in your organization will want to share what they learn with others. This will ideally come from your cloud center of excellence, which I’ll later cover as another best practice in your Journey. While I was with Dow Jones our DevOps team periodically hosted “DevOps Days,” where they shared the cloud best practices, frameworks, and governance models they developed with others in the organization. I’ve spoken to several other Fortune 500 companies who have built similar programs that are specific to their organizations.

What else have you considered? I’d love to hear about it.

Keep building,
-Stephen
orbans@amazon.com
@stephenorban
Read My Book: Ahead in the Cloud: Best Practices for Navigating the Future of Enterprise IT

Note: Educating your staff is the second of seven best practices I’m writing about in my Enterprise Cloud Journey series. The other six are: executive support, create a culture of experimentation, engage partners, create a center of excellence, implement a hybrid architecture, and implement a cloud-first policy. Stay tuned for more on each of these.

These best practices, and a number of others, are now available in my book Ahead in the Cloud: Best Practices for Navigating the Future of Enterprise IT).