Tech

How Skillsoft’s CPO is using data and AI to guide employees post-acquisition

Ciara Harrington is focusing on getting the company’s 2,000+ employees “harmonized and aligned” following a series of acquisitions.
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Francis Scialabba

3 min read

Skillsoft, a digital learning company, has undergone a series of changes in the last few years that would pose a challenge for most HR departments. The company filed for bankruptcy in June 2020 following two years of declining earnings and a drop-off in demand for its services during the Covid-19 pandemic. In October 2020, Skillsoft announced a deal to go public via an acquisition by Churchill Capital Corp II, a special-purpose acquisition company.

Since this deal was completed in June 2021, Skillsoft has sold off a business and bought others. Among the companies it has acquired over the past two years are Codecademy, a platform offering coding classes, and Pluma, a personalized coaching platform.

As Skillsoft’s chief people officer, Ciara Harrington has been focused on getting the company’s 2,000+ employees “harmonized and aligned.”

“When we came together, it was quickly. It was a lot of companies bolted together,” said Harrington, who has been serving in the role for about a year. “And we are really, really trying to drive home a set of core values and principles.” She told HR Brew her team has been using analytics and AI to understand the biggest challenges Skillsoft faces in guiding employees through this transition.

Using AI to understand top challenges. Harrington said her team used an internal generative AI tool available across Skillsoft departments to help analyze the results of its most recent culture survey.

“We have been getting a lot of feedback, as any acquisition company would, that there’s friction in the system,” she said. “When you bring three or four companies together that do things a multitude of ways, it’s difficult to get people on the same page.” To help, Harrington’s team used Skillsoft’s generative AI to identify in the culture survey 10 areas of friction.

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From there, they organized focus groups to validate the top employee concerns.

Some of the challenges the survey revealed were typical of acquisition companies coming together, Harrington said. Employees might struggle to find information if they need to raise a requisition, for example, or understand the new process for onboarding. Her team is working on making sure all employees know who to consult for answers to these questions. While generative AI can’t replace the role humans play in addressing such concerns, Harrington said it has helped speed up the process and identify which challenges to tackle first.

Advice for HR pros using data to inform decision-making. Having previously served as the SVP of total rewards for Skillsoft, Harrington is comfortable using data and analytics in her everyday work. Her team is currently analyzing roles and compensation across the company in order to build a job architecture that reflects the roles, levels, pay, and responsibilities of each job title within the company. The ultimate goal of this process is to introduce pay transparency in the next year or so, Harrington said.

HR can add strategic value by using data, so long as executives understand how these insights are helping drive the business forward, Harrington said. If HR pros can tell a story using data and explain why such analytical tools can help their organizations make important strategic decisions, executives will see value investing in such tools.

“The more we can do that, the more we elevate the function of HR to really be that true strategic business partner,” she said.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.