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Q&A: The importance behind any change is the 'why', says Cornerstone's Chief International Officer
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Q&A: The importance behind any change is the 'why', says Cornerstone's Chief International Officer

The leader delves into the reasons for his robust growth outlook for Southeast Asia, the drivers propelling upskilling & reskilling, and the need for HR to embrace change.

This article is brought to you by Cornerstone OnDemand.

Meet Vincent Belliveau, Chief International Officer at Cornerstone OnDemand (pictured above). In his current role which he took on in March 2021, he has been at the forefront of the company's international operations, including sales and marketing, implementation, services, and support, continuously growing both its EMEA and APJ business. Belliveau has also been credited with building Cornerstone's EMEA business from scratch, since assuming his prior role as Chief Executive for the region in 2007.

Having started out his career in entrepreneurship, and moving to focus wholly on strategic consultancy and business growth portfolios, the leader, no doubt, has values that have stayed close to him throughout. In conversation with HRO's Priya Sunil, he shares: "One of my main values has been, building to last — or, always thinking long-term."

This mantra has perhaps guided his 16-year journey with Cornerstone, where he adds: " I have found that each time I've invested in making the right decision – not in the short term, but for the long term – it has paid off in opening up new territories and markets, and committing into geographies where we return to even years later.

"Being true to always thinking long term really pays off —with the employees, the customers, and the partners."

Based in France, Belliveau is laser-focused on growing the EMEA and APJ business for Cornerstone OnDemand, which prides itself on adaptive HR software designed to unite people, teams, technology, and business.

Belliveau was in Singapore in March 2023 as a pitstop ahead of Cornerstone's Connect Live series in Sydney, and HRO had the pleasure of catching up with him for an exclusive interview, on his regional outlook, priorities that are keeping C-suite leaders up at night, and the latest developments in learning.

Read the interview insights below or scroll to the end to listen to the audio interview:

Q Marking your 16-year anniversary with Cornerstone this year, you’ve been credited with building the EMEA business essentially from scratch, as well as overseeing APJ operations. Could you share your most memorable milestones from the journey?

My journey with Cornerstone has gone by very fast, and there have been phases in this journey. There has been the startup phase — preparing for an IPO on NASDAQ in New York and going through that euphoria. There has also been a phase of consolidating growth and expanding into more markets. We've recently celebrated the 15-year anniversary of Cornerstone in Europe, as well as our 10-year anniversary in APJ. These have all been very important milestones.

Q What are some lessons you've learned through these milestones that you perhaps impart to incoming leaders or your current leadership team?

An important dimension of running an international business is the concept of ‘glocal’. Glocal — as common as possible, as different as needed. Or, global and local.

For instance, I recently had dinner with our fantastic team here in Singapore, many of whom are locally based and truly understand the culture here. They’ve either grown up here, or have come in and established themselves here, and are uniquely positioned to serve local customers. Yet, they interact with our web of resources across APJ and the rest of the world to deliver full strength to customers.

This delivers the best of both worlds: the global power of a global organisation, with the local relationship and understanding for customers.

Q Today’s talent leaders are experiencing a wave of overwhelming workplace challenges, such as navigating hybrid workplaces and talent shortages. Could you deep-dive into trends keeping those in Asia up at night?

We are in a world where change is the new constant. The concept of VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity –appears to be more real than ever for employees. Though this applies both in society and in their professional lives, it is particularly so in the latter.

One of the reasons why this is so, while simultaneously ending up as a consequence of that as well, is that roles now evolve very quickly. In turn, the skills needed for those roles also evolve quickly. They have to learn to work in different ways, driving new efficiency and expectations on them.

This is a very real change for every single profession. In this regard, employees need to be supported in skilling themselves. On the flip side, companies need to think about the reskilling and upskilling of all of their people. Otherwise, it's a question of survival: will companies have the skills needed to perform in tomorrow's world?

We did a global survey – published in our 2022 Global Skills Report – where the data suggests the upskilling and reskilling imperative is heightened in Asia compared to the rest of the APJ region.

The survey also picked up another fascinating finding among the best-performing companies in Southeast Asia. Using a specific score based on revenue growth, profitability, people retention, and other factors, we identified the high-performing organisations. For these organisations, 90% of employees feel well supported by their company to have the skills they need. However, in a poorly-performing organisation, only 10% of employees feel that their company supports them in acquiring the skills needed to work today.

Concluding from this, it's imperative for companies to really invest in tools and capabilities to drive the upskilling and reskilling of employees.

This is exactly what Cornerstone does. We are in the space to help customers put in place the infrastructure needed to push out company knowledge to upskill employees based on the critical skills they expect. We also create that curiosity and drive for employees via a great learning experience anchored around skills that are specific for them, in a way managing the development requirement of each person in a hyper-personalised way.

Q You mentioned that in Asia, the focus on upskilling is more than what you see globally. Could you analyse this trend deeper for us?

This is a region that was hard hit by COVID-19. As such, a large portion of the region saw a slight pause in investments during the period. Even so, it's a region that has the opportunity to leapfrog in many ways. In many parts of the Western world, modern technology allows companies to do a step change, and adopt AI and the new digital & cloud capabilities faster.

The fact that Asia, in general, has seen less adoption of those technologies, or their prior versions, now allows us to move at a faster pace and jump to the latest technologies available. And that is what requires a lot of upskilling and reskilling, and resources.

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Q How do markets such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, fare against the rest of the region?

A study by IMF (International Monetary Fund) projects core growth in various markets across Southeast Asia in general. It found that the more mature markets are expected to have slightly slower growth compared to less mature markets.

For instance, in terms of GDP growth, Singapore is expected to have between 1.5 and 2% between 2023 and 2024 — which is already great compared to some Western parts of the world where we're fearing a recession. However, Malaysia’s growth, for instance, is projected at 4.4 and 4.9%; and Cambodia’s is projected at 6.2% and 6.6%. So, when you end up with much faster growth in those markets, this reflects the leapfrog trend I mentioned earlier.

This makes it such that for a company like Cornerstone, when we think about where to invest and expect growth, Southeast Asia is one of the regions that can protect us against some of this slowness in growth that you may face in more continental Europe and the US.

Q Keeping all these in mind, what are some considerations you believe that C-suite leaders should be keeping an eye on in the coming one to two years?

Companies in Southeast Asia have been investing in a lot of processes that are company-mandated. For instance, having proper learning management, performance management, and recruitment processes is critical for HR. Companies that don't have world-class capabilities there will need to continue to invest in that.

However, we are finding out that company-mandated capabilities and processes are not enough. The world is changing too fast. There is no way that one department in HR will be able to think about all the skills needed to perform the jobs needed today, let alone tomorrow.

Therefore, you need to also equip your employees with an experiential layer, which is empowering them with the recommended career paths, development capabilities, and development experiences.

This can be in the form of mentorships, gigs, learning interventions, or even e-learning content — all the things that might appeal to them as an individual.

This requires investing not only in the management layers, but also in the learning experience and what we call the 'Opportunity Marketplace' or talent marketplace — the people growth layer. Focusing on every individual in giving them the tools to grow.

Q HR teams are typically focused on upskilling and reskilling employees to keep up with all these changes. But when it comes to HR, where do you see any opportunities or threats for HR themselves to upskill?

That is a really good question and one thing I'm very passionate about.

Change is everywhere. You face change in every job, and HR is one such job that faces massive change.

One way is to learn to let go. On the one hand, you want to have your own set of processes — not only is it mandatory to push learning for your organisation, but your CEO has a strategy and you want to make sure that it's deployed, so you have to support that.

This is the same with performance management processes. Of course, you want to manage the performance of your business, but you also have to trust the employees and put in place the tools to enable them to be successful. Focusing on the employee experience is a core requirement. Think about the moments that matter in the journey of an employee, and equip them with what they will need to succeed through that journey. This is what I was referring to earlier around the learning experience platform as well as our Opportunity Marketplace. It enables HR stakeholders to let go of their control and making sure that they empower the employees to find their way. This is a paradigm shift in how the HR department needs to think.

Another piece is that HR departments need not be afraid of analytics, data-driven analyses, and AI. On the contrary, HR departments need to embrace them. HR will need to be data-driven and comfortable with analysing data. They will need to leverage the power of AI to drive that unique experience we have just talked about.

Linked to all that is understanding the tech in HR. Every HR department needs to embrace technology as a lever. But let's be clear — technology is only an enabler. We still need to work on the culture and do all the things that we have always done in HR, but together with the points I just highlighted.

Q Keeping in mind that HR needs to embrace change, we still do see HR teams that may be resistant to it. What is your advice for such leaders and their teams?

The importance behind any change is the 'why'.

For instance, spending time to explain why it is absolutely impossible today to map out all the competencies an employee needs to perform in all the jobs in your organisation — to map out all the necessary training and potential career paths they could have. It's impossible. So, once you agree that it is impossible, it is obviously not the right answer. What is important, however, is to map out what is important to the CEO's and company's strategy.

Additionally, we need to explain how the expectations of employees have changed and how employees are the customers of HR. A lot of education is critical, especially around the state of tech now. For instance, at Cornerstone, we have the 'Skills Graph' which, using AI, auto-detects the skills of employees. Based on that, it makes recommendations on the development that they need. It auto-tags which content, training, mentorship, gigs, and careers tie in with which skills. The power of AI is such now that it opens up a capability that was not available to HR before. Explaining all that very well to teams will drive them toward that change.

Q 2022 has been a monumental year for Cornerstone, with the acquisitions of LXP EdCast, and learning and HCM provider SumTotal. What new features, opportunities, and enhancements can your HR leadership customers in Asia look forward to, as a result, in the learning and talent space?

That is a very good question and one that allows me to explain our strategy at a broader level.

We introduced, in 2022, something that I think revolutionises the industry. It's very ambitious — the 'Talent Experience Platform'. We've positioned Cornerstone as a single organisation that is able to meet the requirements of our customers where they are.

We want to provide the very best learning and talent management offerings in the market, and that includes the Cornerstone suite, the Saba suite, and the SumTotal suite. Those are capabilities we’ll keep investing in continuously for the size of those customer bases and revenue basis, while ensuring we have the local support for customers.

Here in Singapore, a number of our team members represent TalentLink, Cornerstone, Saba, and SumTotal. Together, we have this concept that we call ‘Better Together’, whereby we're able to offer much stronger capabilities to our customers.

In 2022, we acquired EdCast, which fulfils the role of the people growth experience layer that we offer to our customers. The learning experience platform, as well as our Opportunity Marketplace. These are the capabilities that provide employees with the tools to be self-directed and empowered to take control of their careers and development.

We’re now connecting our learning experience platform and learning management system with what we call an intelligent ‘tech fabric’ based on an AI-powered skills studio as well as a context-aware content studio. All these tie in with people intelligence, based on 100mn records from users around the world representing 7,000 customers. We anonymise that data with their consent, and this allows for powerful recommendations. A talent experience platform, anchored in a human-centered design.

Our platform is also completely open. We have an interoperable hub that allows for integration with any solution that our customers have. They perhaps may just want to use the learning experience from Cornerstone, or the performance management system — that's okay. If they use all, they may have a lot more power, but we will still always share the road.

That's the strategy behind Cornerstone: offering world-class learning and talent management capabilities, together with a world-class experience, and anchored around a strong skills as well as a content studio.

Q You’ve recently observed growth in the e-learning content market, as well as a surge in internal corporate academies. Could you identify some best practices that have emerged in these L&D fields?

What we've learned over the years is that our customers are telling us: 'Cornerstone, you know us uniquely. It's really hard for us to find content to develop employees from multiple sources.' As such, many customers are creating academies now - a sustainability academy, a DEI academy, a sales academy - and they're saying, 'equip me, not only with the technology, but also with the content.'

So, we started a few years ago with the acquisition of Grovo. We then established a number of partnerships with leading vendors here in Southeast Asia and across the world to create libraries of content for our customers. This is now one of the fastest-growing areas in our business.

In terms of best practices that we’ve tried to mirror from our customers and industry analysts, one, is to offer multiple modalities. You may learn by reading, perhaps, while I learn by listening. Another person may want short videos, possibly because they have a shorter attention span or lesser time. Meanwhile, someone else may prefer full-fledged e-learning courses because they're more academic and want to go into depth. We need to be able to cater to every learner. Again, this is part of hyper-personalisation.

We found that diversity of modality and content is super important, together with great personalisation of the recommendations. This is what we have invested in, and we have found that it drives a lot of success.

Now, the customers I speak to tell me they’re putting this notion of diversity of modality and quality of recommendations as a best-practice criterion for them in their content selection.

Q As we face different situations today, how do you personally cope with the pressures on executive mental wellbeing, and what is your advice to your peers?

I try to be positive. I think having a positive nature really helps deal with all the ups and downs, twists and turns of an executive role.

Always trying to see the glass half-full instead of half-empty is a starting point. There will always be challenges and obstacles, and one needs to embrace a culture of seeing this as an opportunity and as a challenge that's positive.

Secondly, in a world where we're always mingling work life with personal life, it's important to carve out space for core personal priorities. My children will always be the core priority of everything I do and that helps me centre things.

Finally, everyone has their personal passions. For some, it might be art, while for others, it might be dancing. In my case, it's sports. I make sure that I carve out and protect my time for sports in order to stay healthy. I find that that helps with the balance. 

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Head over here or click on the link below to listen to the audio interview.

If you would like to know more about what Cornerstone OnDemand can offer to your organisation, reach out to the team here.

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