June 1, 2020

TecHRseries Interview with Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek, CMO at SkillSoft

“There is no one skill that solves all problems, but there are keystone skills that unlock access to a myriad of others,” says Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek as she shares her thoughts in this TecHRseries interview.

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Hi Michelle! Thanks for joining us today! Can you tell us a little about yourself and we’d love it if you could share some of the biggest moments from your extensive career working in tech so far?

Of course! Currently I serve as the  Chief Marketing Officer of Skillsoft, a digital learning company that helps organizations unlock the potential in their most valuable asset – their people – through engaging content and powerful technology. My career has taken me down so many exciting paths and I truly believe I’ve found my calling in marketing.

Before Skillsoft, I served as CMO at IBM Watson, where I oversaw marketing for the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) products and solutions. I’ve always been focused on the impact technology is having on our daily lives at home and at work and learning has been a common theme throughout my career. I have been fortunate to research and discuss topics I really have passion for, such as the need to close skills gaps, drive stronger adoption of learning initiatives, elevate female voices in leadership, and transform talent across a multi-generational workforce.

One of the biggest moments of my career thus far has to be working on the IBM Women Leaders in AI program. AI is an actual reflection of who we are as people, so we have a responsibility to ensure we develop these and other technologies with a diversity of thoughts and perspectives.

What brought you to Skillsoft? Was there something in particular that made you interested in skills development?

One thing I’ve consistently held is a passion for learning and a desire to gather and hone new skills. When I came to Skillsoft, I saw the opportunity to serve and share the power of learning around the world – but it was also an opportunity to join a company whose culture is centered on learning as a value. I’ve spent many years working with brilliant individuals and the one thing they all have in common is a passion for always asking “why?” or “what’s next?” It’s made me see the value in never settling and never assuming I know enough. There are always opportunities to learn and grow. It doesn’t matter what your position is, your possibilities are limitless if you take the initiative to take on new challenges and better yourself through learning.

Read More: TecHRseries Interview with Steve Auerbach, CEO at Alegeus

On the subject of skills, as Skillsoft’s CMO, what are some of the most critical ones people need to thrive in a marketing career, in your opinion?

In my experience, there is no one skill that solves all problems. There are, however, keystone skills that unlock access to a myriad of others. For example, there is tremendous value in adopting a growth mindset. Seek continuous development, look for new opportunities, and open up to new ways of thinking. From there, the possibilities are endless.

For marketers specifically, I would say some of the best skills to foster are curiosity, listening, and awareness. Ask questions; don’t make assumptions. Really listen to customers; be aware of what they want and what they need. All this is critical to ensure marketing is done side-by-side with them, not pushed towards them.  Especially in times like these, where so much is changing every day, it’s important not to create problems and present your brand as a solution – instead, take the time to uncover their true needs and understand how you can help.

Could you talk about some of the ways your team at Skillsoft is dealing with this “new-normal” particularly in terms of moving events digital or abiding to productive remote work norms?

These are, without a doubt, extraordinary times. I personally have had some things I needed to get used to – as much as I love my family, they aren’t always the best coworkers. It’s been quite a culture shift adjusting to working in a fully remote environment, but our team has risen to the occasion by adopting a few key principles:

  • Communicate frequently and with purpose – it’s important to ensure the entire organization understands the priorities of the business and where they fit in. To affect change, we have to focus on the “why.”
  • Establish a routine – this has been key to providing some sense of normalcy for our teams: –monthly all-hands, weekly check-ins, new hire lunches (even virtual), and our #thankfulthursdays.  To the greatest extent possible, we work hard to maintain the cadence of our organization.
  • Stay positive – while there is uncertainty, it’s important to stay optimistic and supportive in every interaction. This energy transcends even a virtual environment.

By embracing these principles, the team has remained flexible and agile. As of late, we’ve been heads down working on our upcoming annual Perspectives 2020, which has been fully reimagined as a digital-first global experience.

So your company’s event has gone entirely digital – how did you go out making the switch? What were your top considerations?

We realized early on that we needed to act fast. We took the opportunity to shift our thinking entirely and unpack the potential of what a digital experience could be. Going digital had to be about more than just moving an in-person event to an online platform. We had to create something completely new and irresistible that encourages people to participate live. Our team spent 28 hours over two days in a design thinking workshop, including members of our customer communities, to determine what they wanted from a modern digital experience. We also looked at examples of organziations that have held successful live experiences across industries and sought inspiration in some unusual sources – from the infamous product unveilings of Peloton and Apple to the (dare I say phenomenonal?) engagement strategies of television’s The Bachelor, which uses social media to drive tune-in.

Changing our perspective (pun not entirely intended) made us realize that we now had the opportunity to provide world-class keynotes, panels, and engaging sessions to thousands instead of hundreds of leaders and learners across organizations and industries, truly democratizing learning. And it meant that we didn’t need to start here in the US. So, we elected to “follow the sun,” beginning in Brisbane the morning of May 13th and finishing up in San Francisco that afternoon – for a full 24 hours of programming. This experience is also going to be available on-demand, so people who have to miss a session because of a conflict (or sleep!) will be able to get access as soon as possible.

Of course, the key was to provide value. We’ve included sessions specifically about Business Continuity Planning and strategies for more effective remote working that are designed to show that engaging in this way is not just possible – it’s productive. We have intense head-to-heads touching on specific topics relevant to different regions. We have keynotes covering everything from personal development to diversity and inclusion training. By providing a variety of resources in new ways, and entirely on demand, we are ensuring learners – at all levels of an organization – can get exactly what they need, when they need it.

Read More: Converting to Virtual Conferences: An Emergency Guide for Conferences, Tradeshows and Industry events

Do you think this will become a new norm? And can you share any best practices for companies also trying to make this transition?

Digital transformation is here. It was already emerging, but by necessity the process has been accelerated. Increased collaboration is happening across regions and time zones; more information is being shared and housed online. Our digital reality makes everything more accessible. Given the nature of our “not-so-new normal” and what has changed in our world, I’ve been focused on how we can continue to move forward. One thing that’s very clear is that learning is meant to be democratized.

For example, Perspectives 2020, was by nature, originally designed around industry attendees: c-suite executives, HR professionals, and talent leaders. Since reimagining it into a fully digital eexperience, we are able to expand the audience that we’re serving – and we designed the experience to reflect that. We’ve created a breadth of content with learners in mind, from leaders to learners; from CEOs  to college students. This content will be entirely free and available to all,  accessible in real time. A digital experience means that world-class learning isn’t reserved for those who are sent off-site by their company: it’s for everyone.

For those making a similar transition: keep core values at the forefront, and let those values guide each and every decision made during this time. Skillsoft has always been focused on keeping learning at the center of what we do. Think about what is valuable to the people who will be attending your event. Better yet, think about what is valuable to the people you want to attend your event. And keep context in mind. For Skillsoft, it will always be about learning and connecting people across disciplines with resources to better themselves.

Also Read: TecHRseries Interview with Carlo Fidanza, Chief People Officer at Accedian

We’d love to know a little about your future plans!

It’s hard to even know! For now, I’ll be at home on my Peloton, taking care of my daughters and my dogs, and working on making Perspectives 2020 the absolute best it can be until we wrap at 7 p.m. ET on May 13 – I hope to see you all there!

SkillSoft is an e-learning platform that helps companies unlock the potential in their most valuable asset – their people – by delivering engaging content and powerful technology that drives business impact for modern enterprises.

Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek is a thought leader at the intersection of data, technology, and strategy. Michelle leads a global marketing team for SkillSoft/SumTotal Systems.

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Paroma Sen

Paroma serves as the Director of Content and Media at TecHRseries.com. She was a former Senior Features Writer and Editor at MarTech Advisor and HRTechnologist.

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