Talent Transformation is Really the Hardest Part of Cloud Adoption
Becoming a Cloud Fluent Enterprise
Operating in the cloud is a paradigm shift for most organizations. The transition is difficult, requiring a different mindset and a new set of skills. Likewise, the effort and investment required to transform talent is significant.
One key to cloud adoption on the enterprise level is a talent transformation program that enables cloud fluency across your entire organization. Establishing a common language amongst a critical mass is foundational to cloud adoption success.
For once a critical mass of individuals acquires the new skills and learns how to operate under them, the enterprise can begin to take full advantage of the reliability, security, performance, and cost benefits provided in the cloud.
Talent Transformation is a Shared Responsibility
In this post, the first section is geared toward the foundational responsibilities of the enterprise, the second section is targeted toward the Cloud Center of Excellence (CCoE), and the final lesson is focused on individual accountability.
To accelerate your organization’s journey in the cloud, consider incorporating these elements into a formal talent transformation program.
Foundational Elements of Enterprise Transformation
Clear intent will drive purposeful action resulting in desired outcomes. This means:
#1 Where’s Your Destination & Why Are You Going?
Migrating to the cloud is often referred to as a “journey”. I’ve done so already in this post. While it may seem obvious, many enterprises struggle to articulate exactly “where” they are going and “why” they are taking the trip.
The result is a meandering caravan of companies spending a lot of time and energy following each other to nowhere.
Before embarking on the journey, communicate a set of clear and compelling cloud imperatives that provide a roadmap for your enterprise.
Are you reducing costs through the elimination of physical data centers? Streamlining your delivery pipeline? Improving your site reliability? Building market differentiating products that exploit the elasticity of the cloud?
Know your “where and why”, then clearly communicate that vision throughout the organization.
Once the destination is set, the organization can then work to define outcome-based execution plans with clear intent and measures.
#2 What Do You Need for The Journey & How Are You Getting There?
As you embark on the cloud journey, you’ll also want to clearly define the “what” and “how” of operating in the cloud. This way the organization clearly understands your specific operational and security controls. I refer to these company-specific rules of the road as “isms”, often driven by internal policies or external regulatory requirements.
Similar to traffic laws that govern a road trip, there are usually a few layers of abstraction that simplify the consumption of your cloud controls. While a detailed set of guidelines for operating in the cloud is necessary, handing individuals a large volume of policies will end-up in the glovebox alongside the driving manual provided by the department of motor vehicles.
Consider making the most critical controls visible and easily understood, similar to speed limit signs and traffic lights. Start with a simple set of “must” controls, and focus on mastering the basics to build confidence and competence throughout the organization.
#3 Who is Driving?
With the destination set and the rules of the road understood, your results will be driven by your people. Empowering individuals with the right skills and situational awareness will put your organization on the right road to achieving your desired outcomes.
Establish clear expectations within the organization using refreshed job descriptions, collaborate with impacted teams to define the new roles, and the identify the skill sets required to operate in the cloud.
This exercise will offer transparency, alleviate FUD, and provide clear purpose when building outcome-based training plans.
The Transformational Role of the Cloud Center of Excellence
A well-structured programmatic approach drives individual engagement. This means:
#4 Establish a Common Learning Cadence for the Enterprise
For larger organizations, consider grouping individuals into training cohorts that experience the program together. Synchronize the delivery of their training material over an extended period of time by using a common learning cadence.
For example, establish a 3-month cloud education program that is broken into 2-week sprints. Each sprint contains training stories that relate to a particular feature or topic, such as compute or storage. The sprint stories might include segments of courseware to watch, a targeted hands-on lab, or supplemental reading material.
At the end of each sprint, conduct a training retrospective or facilitate an ‘explain and explore’ session. This is a perfect opportunity to discuss how your company “isms” relate to the training material. Rotate the facilitator every session to provide participants an opportunity to contribute equally to the learning community.
#5 Offer Meaningful 1:1 Help
Amazon Web Services has a great concept call the “AWS Pop-up Loft”. It’s similar to the Apple Genius Bar with lofts staffed by AWS certified professionals that are deeply knowledgeable about their products and services. The loft is designed to support individuals and small business that are getting started with AWS.
Consider establishing something similar at strategic locations within in your company, or co-opt existing facilitates. The goal is to create a space where individuals can stop by, talk to cloud experts, ask questions, and whiteboard solutions.
Bonus points if you install Simple Beer Service.
#6 The Gamification of Learning — it’s a Team Sport
Positive peer pressure is a strong influence on behavior and motivation. Many gym memberships go unused if there isn’t a friend to pull the holder away from work to hit the gym. Establishing learning teams provide individuals a sense of accountability, camaraderie, and support.
Look for opportunities to introduce the gamification of the learning process. Explore ways to provides learning teams an opportunity to compete, while improving their own game play in the process. For instance, post a cloud question of the day, award points, create a visible scoreboard, and recognize each month’s winning team with a coveted “Czar of the Cloud” trophy.
Active personal ownership of continuous learning is essential. This means:
#7 Jump in, the Water’s Fine
Do you know how to swim? If so, I’m assuming you learned how to swim using a similar training method delivered by most swim organizations … the swim instructor met you in the clubhouse, spent a few hours reviewing slides on the finer points of each stroke, administered a test, and then awarded you a certification that allowed you to jump in the deep end?
To learn how to swim, you just have to get in the water and go for it. Ideally, starting in the shallow end under the watchful eye of lifeguards. To learn how to operate in the cloud, well … you need to operate in the cloud.
There are some great self-directed training options I’ve outlined in prior posts. Each of the options offer hands-on labs and walks you through common use-case scenarios. So get a personal free-tier cloud account, publish a website using S3, build an Alexa skill using Lambda … get wet.
How To Train Like A Cloud Guru
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#8 What’s in it for Me?
For many individuals, there is a significant amount of personal investment required to pivot towards cloud computing. I’ve heard of some companies take a forceful tone to “motivate” their employees to acquire these new skills … something like, “get on the bus or get run over.”
While running from fear might work in the short-term, I’d prefer an organization that is running toward something.
The AWS certification program provides a great opportunity for a win-win. For the individual, it’s one of the highest paying certifications offered in the marketplace. For organizations, it established a very solid baseline and measure of cloud-fluency.
The exam is hard and there is no magic pill for bypassing the work required to pass, so the certification is meaningful.
#9 Paying it Forward
To enable talent transformation at the scale of an enterprise, everyone in the organization must share accountability. As individuals acquire new cloud skills through training programs and experience, it’s imperative they pay the learning forward and mentor others.
Some thoughts of how to ‘pay it forward’ include:
- Facilitating weekly hands-on workshops for internal learning teams
- Offer weekly study sessions for those preparing for their certification
- Establish weekly ‘cloud hours’ at internal pop-up lofts
- Host a beginner-level cloud-based hackathon
Creating a Common Cloud Culture
Enterprises must achieve a critical mass of cloud fluency. This means:
#10 Reaching Critical Mass
To ensure that your cloud adoption is sustainable, organizations must achieve critical mass of cloud fluency. At the very least, everyone should be able to order french fries in the cloud.
First and foremost, it’s necessary to achieve critical mass in order to retain top talent. As enterprises initiate their cloud adoption and migration programs, most early adoption will be driven by your ‘pioneers’.
These initial efforts will be accomplished by a small percentage of engineers doing the majority of the heavy-lifting. If enterprises wait too long to implement a large scale talent transformation program, your ‘pioneers’ will fatigue and become flight risks.
Secondly, achieving critical mass is necessary for attracting new talent. In any organization, culture is the defining force. The foundation of culture is based upon a common language that enables the free flow of ideas. Inherently, people want to work where they are understood. If everyone in your organization speaks Russian, then you’ll most likely attract Russians — and retain them.
It’s much more interesting and fun to sit at a lunch table or in a conference room where everyone speaks your language. Same goes for cloud fluency.
You have to be a digital native company if you want to attract digital natives. — Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon
About the Author
Drew Firment is a Director of Cloud Engineering at Capital One with a passion for driving the enterprise adoption, migration, and cultural transformation of Cloud Computing. Follow on Twitter @drewfirment.
Standard Disclaimer: This blog expresses my personal views, which implies I am responsible for them, not my employer or another agency. Any posts reflect my opinion and not an endorsement.
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