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As part of Learnovate’s Meet the Patrons series, we speak to Greta Stahl, the Senior Director of Organisational Learning and Development at Workday, a leading provider of enterprise cloud applications, leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning for financial management, human resources, planning, spend management tools.
Workday was founded in Pleasanton, California, in 2005 and now employs over 17,800 people worldwide. Workday products are used by more than 10,000 companies and organisations around the world, from SMEs to more than half of all Fortune500 companies.
Greta Stahl earned her undergraduate degree in International Relations from Michigan State University in 2004 before going on to study for her Master’s in the same subject at Oxford University in the UK.
A member of the debate team that won the 2004 National Championships with Michigan State, Greta began her professional career by returning to her alma mater to become director of the debate programme in 2006. She would later coach the team back to the top of the competitive debating pyramid with another National Championships success in 2010.
In 2011, Greta joined communications and presentation skills training company Duarte as a content developer, remaining there for almost six years before joining Workday as a Senior Program Manager. Over six-and-a-half years, she has progressed from that role to Director of Leadership and Organisational Effectiveness, Design and Delivery, and then again to her current role as Senior Director of Organisational Learning and Development.
She is currently on an 18-month assignment in Dublin where Workday is building its new European headquarters and technology innovation hub on the campus of the Technological University Dublin (TUD) in Grangegorman.
“I’m here to better understand how things operate outside North America and to work with local business leaders to serve the needs of our population and our global markets,” she says.
What are the biggest lessons you learned in your career?
In your career, you never end up where you started. When you’re 18 or 19 years old, you have a preconceived idea of how your career might pan out, but then you go into your first job and find you like something you never expected. I learned: follow your passion and your skills and be open to wherever new pathways take you. My career has consisted of three chunks, all of which look different from one another. I was Director of Debate at Michigan State, a Content Developer at Duarte and now I’ve been at Workday for six-and-a-half years. You might think they’re completely unrelated but, for me, they’re connected by a passion for communication and education. Skills are portable. As your life evolves and your dreams evolve, the opportunity to follow your passion and apply your skills in different places is something that serves you well.
What was the best advice you ever received?
I’m not sure about the best piece of advice – but I have a favourite quote: ‘It’s not what the world holds for you, it’s what you bring to it.’ It’s from ‘Anne of Green Gables’, my favourite book as a child. My Swedish grandparents sent it to me as a gift and I just consumed it. I loved the magic and optimism the character, Anne, brought to the world, and the sense that people are good and ultimately want the best for each other. We could all do with a little more of that.
How would you define your work style and how has this changed over your career?
I like to think that I’m good at knowing what I don’t know. In practice that means asking a lot of questions and trusting the expertise of others. That’s been an evolution or me. When I was younger, I needed control. On any project I was always thinking, ‘How would I do this? What would this look like if I did it?’ That was the standard to which I held myself and others. That’s changed. I understand now that there are different ways to approach things and different ideas that people bring to the table. Assuming I know the answer, or that the way I would do things is the right way, is not the right way. Now, I trust that other people are bringing diverse ideas to the table. That’s a skill that I’ve grown. And I’m proud of myself for evolving over time.
What have you learned about managing teams and individuals?
In a leadership position, you’re never going to be the one doing all the work. The higher you get in an organisation the more things happen that you don’t know about. There are also more tasks that you won’t know how to do. Leadership is about hiring good and capable people, trusting them to do the work the right way, and providing the right supports so they can succeed. That’s an evolution you have to make as a leader. It’s one of the toughest things for first-time managers to learn.
How has AI impacted your organisation/industry?
We’re a technology company so AI is not something that’s happening to us, it’s an important part of what we do. Our company believes in the power of AI and machine learning to unlock human potential and business value and enable our customers to do more strategic and fulfilling work. AI and machine learning is embedded into our platform. We have more than 40 machine learning use cases that are already in production and available to our customers, and more than 3,000 of our customers have opted into sharing their data with our machine learning models. It’s interesting for us to be in this position where everyone wants to talk about AI and machine learning because we have been implementing this technology for nearly a decade.
What are the opportunities and/or risks from AI to your business or sector and/or the learning technology industry?
It’s a huge opportunity for us because we’ve been at the forefront of this for a long time and can leverage AI and machine learning in a way that’s different from a lot of other organisations and products. Our differentiator is the sheer amount of quality customer data we have from over 60 million users. We firmly believe that the effectiveness of generative AI hinges upon the quantity and quality of the data it is built on, which has been proven by the many stories highlighting how generative AI chatbots have provided biased or incorrect responses.
People don’t just trust our product, they trust our organisation, its leadership and the people who work for us, and we take that trust seriously. That’s why we’re focused on being transparent and human-centric in how we’re using AI. By following our responsible AI principles, we can help ensure that potential risks are appropriately managed.
Why is R&D important in your industry?
It’s very important. We want to stay ahead of the market and drive the conversation on AI and machine learning and what that should look like, but we’re also big believers that while AI is transforming how we live and work, we also need a mature policy approach involving regulations and safeguards. At Workday, we not only focus on responsible AI within our own business but have also taken a leading role in shaping policy by advocating for responsible AI at various levels of government in the US, EU, and UK.
From your experience, what are the current trends in learning?
All my conversations with leaders in learning from other organisations are about AI and machine learning. One way in which this change is playing out is how are we leveraging the technology in our own work. There has been an explosion of vendors that are leveraging generative AI and large-language models for content creation. For instance, academic directors could ask Chat GPT to create a leadership course covering five basic principles and it would give you, if not the finished product, then a decent start. At Workday, we are currently building product capabilities that leverage generative AI for a variety of tasks. Examples include natural language generation, content search, content summarisation, content augmentation, and document understanding. And we’re looking beyond those use cases at how we can also leverage co-pilots agents and conversational UI.
Another area to look at is that, with so much hunger around AI and machine learning, companies are thinking about how we educate their employees around AI and machine learning – what should they be doing in terms of their work, what should they know, what’s safe and not safe? There were some early stories about Chat GPT being used not so well by people at different companies. Figuring out the right amount of education, to help people use the technology effectively and safely, is top of mind for a lot of people in learning space.
How should we prepare for the future of work? Does AI have a role to play in this?
We know that AI and machine learning is a major factor in driving the future of work. It’s going to change the tasks people are asked to do, what skills are needed in the workforce and how decisions are made. We’re seeing that happen across many industries already. However, the purpose of AI and ML is not to displace humans. We believe that a key principle of responsible AI is ensuring that technology is amplifying human potential – it’s about driving human performance and enabling people to solve problems they didn’t think they could solve before. Our job as educators is to think about how we help people to get ready for the work that needs to be done, showing them how they can use this technology to augment their own work and focus their time on the tasks that matter most.
What are the biggest skills challenges to your business or sector?
One of the things we’ve seen is that skills needs are changing rapidly as tech changes and types of work change. The skills people learn in courses or in school are becoming obsolete fast. Think of AI and machine learning. How to use Chat GPT effectively is a skill, but it’s not a skill anybody had a year ago. How are we identifying the critical skills needed today and later in the future when they’re changing so rapidly? How can we help our employees to stay ahead of that change curve? How do we put in place learning programmes to upskill our people and address skill gaps where we see them? Businesses that will be most effective are ones that can identify skills gaps and help people quickly build those skills internally.
What book would you recommend on learning, technology, business or understanding people?
Think Again by Adam Grant.
This book is excellent at helping you question the way in which you approach things. It offers strategies for seeing the world differently or helping you figure out how to see the world differently. He’s got a good voice and is provocative in the way he shares data and research to help people question why work needs to look a certain way. That ties into his podcast, ‘ReThinking’, in which he talks a lot about work-related situations.
What are your favourite tools and resources in work?
I’m not contractually obliged to say Workday but it is genuinely the tool I use most often in work! Other than that, I would say Google Docs. Living in Dublin, I’m not physically with my team a lot of the time. We can’t get up and work on the whiteboard together. Any tools that enable us to work asynchronously and effectively are important and Google Docs is probably the best example of that right now. That’s probably true for a lot of organisations because employed populations are spreading out, either working from home or from different offices. We must get better at figuring out how to work together across locations and that can’t just mean sitting in meetings for all hours of the day.
Another favourite tool, honestly, is my diary. As much as I live on my computer, I have a physical planner next to me all the time – with a paper and page for each day. That’s a change I made a couple of years ago and that’s really helped me to organise my life and my work.
Why is membership of Learnovate important to your company?
It’s important for us to stay tied into research and conversations on the future of the industry. There’s so much change happening in technology and we’re learning so much that it’s necessary for us to learn from each other. Learning culture is evolving in corporate environments. In the last couple of years we’ve seen a lot of change in employee behaviour as people have shifted locations. We have become a Zoom and digital-based culture, much more so than even a couple of years ago. We’ve had to adjust the ways that we reach and engage people because of that. Conversations with other folks that are really thinking about those problems and researching challenges is important for us to make sure that we are doing the best work we can as effectively as possible.
What does Learnovate do well?
I’ve been very impressed with how Learnovate supports its members. Early on in our time we developed a good relationship and found Learnovate very receptive to our questions and research needs. They have always found a way to pull us into the organisation and connect us to the right people.
Why do you feel companies in Ireland & NI need the support of a centre like Learnovate?
There’s so much great work being done in Ireland. It’s fun being here for the past six months, just to see the amount of interesting work that’s being done while the large company and technology evolution continues right here. I think there’s an opportunity for Dublin and Ireland to be a driver in the industry. Having research companies based here, working with Irish companies, and learning from Irish employees, really gives us an opportunity to be leaders and changemakers in this space. That’s pretty exciting.
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