Engage your employees with a Totara Talent Experience Platform

19 July 2021 by Sam Taylor

Screenshot of a few of our coursesAs a Platinum Partner of Totara, we at Catalyst provide consultation and training support to our clients on best practices and applications for in-house training and performance management.  Last summer, we decided to practice what we preach and started to fully use the Totara Talent Experience Platform ourselves, which was further enhanced in October 2020 with the release of Totara 13's Learn, Perform and Engage 'flavours'.  

In this post I would like to give you an idea of what we have been using it for which includes:

  • A New Starter Induction programme to welcome new employees
  • Automated monthly check-ins and a place to record outcomes
  • Competency frameworks for all staff to rate proficiency
  • An annual Information Security Certification that requires all our staff to recertify each year
  • Peer to Peer learning opportunities for staff to create and share their own resources and knowledge
  • Private Workspaces for teams to collaborate and record meeting notes

New Starter Induction programme

Working with our Head of Internal Services and the Compliance and Processes Officer,  I've been working on developing an effective onboarding strategy for our new starters using Totara’s Programme feature in Totara Learn.  A Totara Programme is a way of grouping together multiple courses into specific pathways for learners to follow, and we have configured ours so that new starters will be given a due date relative to their first time logging in. 

We then grouped courses into sets based on as and when the courses should be completed (Day 1, Day 3, Day 6 etc), which helps to drip-feed information in a sequence, rather than all at once. Line Managers and HR staff can monitor the new starters' progress via a report, and can intervene and offer support if necessary:

Example of a Program progress report

The courses designed for the programme include those welcoming new staff to Catalyst, information on working from home, an introduction to some of our systems, as well as the Information Security Certification (more on that later) which helps to ensure we maintain our high standard of data protection and management.

Monthly check-ins

As part of our online New Starter Induction programme, we incorporate the new ‘Monthly check-in’ feature that came as part of Totara 13's Perform flavour.  This is a monthly form that is sent out to all new starters (as well as all staff once they have passed their probation) that asks questions based on their well-being and performance, as well as requesting evidence of progress towards goals and competencies. These forms are also filled out by an employees' line manager during an arranged meeting between them, providing a digital record of what was discussed. These monthly meetings ensure that everyone has a chance to get together with their managers and have a structured discussion about their performance, and helps to keep everyone motivated, which is especially important in a new starters' first 6 months in any new workplace.

Example of a users Performance activity area
This is an example of a recent check-in form between myself and my line manager, Richard.​​​​​

Combining a clear and concise online programme of courses, monthly check-ins with line managers, plus the ability for specific roles to view progress, it is clear our approach has improved the new starter experience:

‘Our onboarding induction process makes it easy for managers to see what new employees have achieved. The platform is more engaging than just reading policies, or just being told how things work. It breaks up the learning process of the first induction week into digestible stages of learning. The different types of activity facilitate the absorption of all the information.’

- Ella Tugwell, Head of Internal Services, Catalyst IT Europe

Competency Frameworks

We recently have undergone a competency mapping exercise with team leads and heads of departments to identify which skills and knowledge are required across Catalyst. The aim is that each individual role will have its own set of competencies needed to perform the job effectively, as well company-wide ones that apply to everyone. Everyone can add other competencies to their list if they want to evidence further skills, as could their managers.

‘Feedback on initial rollout has been very positive, both from a personal perspective (completing my own for review by my line manager) and as a line manager reviewing my team. The competencies and frameworks have already led to conversations about personnel continuing professional development, areas of strength and areas individuals want to develop their skills in.’

- Richard Oelmann, Head of Business Development, Catalyst IT Europe.

Using Totara Perform’s new Competency Profile and Achievement pathways, Catalyst staff, managers and HR can get a visual display of an employee's current level of proficiency, which ties in nicely with the monthly check-ins as a point for discussion. Along with the competencies we have created our own internal 'mastery' scale from 'No experience as yet' all the way to 'Champion', where you are issued a digital recognition badge for that competency. All staff are asked to rate themselves against this scale, with their line managers reviewing the results during the monthly check-ins (the manager has the permission to change the rating).

In the Competency profile below you should be able to see a yellow line - this is the scale point you must meet to be deemed competent:

Example of a users current level of proficiency
Part of a staff member's Competency Profile


‘Competencies provide more engagement and focus from the team as it gives them something visual to work towards.’

- Ella Tugwell, Head of Internal Services, Catalyst IT Europe

Information Security Compliance

Totara Learn has a clever feature called Certification where you can create a programme of learning (like the New Starter Induction mentioned previously), but a learners' course completion data will then ‘reset’ after a set amount of time. This means our Data Protection Officer can get an at-a-glance view of the status of all company staff via a report, which in turn helps when completing their audits for compliance tracking. 

In July 2021 all Catalyst staff who had joined prior to March 2021 we asked to undergo this certification, with a due date of August 1st 2021. After 11 months, Totara will send each staff member (and their managers) a notification that their certification is due to expire on August 1st 2022.  This is a wonderful way of automating annual compliance courses and reducing the time that was previously spent on chasing those whose turn it was to re-do the training. All new starters have this Certification built into their induction programme, and so their renewal date is relative to their start date.

Example of a certification progress report

We also have written competencies that link to each of the courses in this Certification, which are signed off as Competent whenever a staff member completes a course. This is a very visual way for each staff member and their line manager to make sure they are up-to-date and acts as a great motivator to get recertified (see the Information Security dial on the Competency Profile image shared previously above).

Peer to peer learning opportunities 

The Totara Engage flavour gives all staff the ability to create their own Resources that can be shared across the company. These resources can be created for any purpose:

  • Event report with links to further reading
  • Link to an interesting article they have read
  • Notes from a recent training course they have attended
  • Team notes for dissemination to a specific audience

These resources are then ‘discovered’ in the course catalogue using the various filters, with the most popular appearing on the learners’ Dashboard in the 'Recommended for you’ block:

Course catalogue

Workspaces for teams

Another Engage feature that some Catalyst teams have started using is called 'Workspaces'. These are online groups that can either be Public (any authenticated user can view), Private (you must join to view), or Hidden (invited by a group admin). Within these groups, you can have discussions, upload documents, but also create resources. One team, in particular, uses a hidden workspace to collate notes on their team progress during weekly 'Retros':

workspace example layout
Screenhot of Mark's team's workspace, with each Retro recorded as a resource
‘In the retro, everyone answers 3 questions regarding the previous week: "What went well", "What didn't", and "What did you learn". We also make a general note of "What improvements can we make" and "Any other discussion" We record the answers in the workspace so we have a historical record of them, enabling us to spot patterns. i.e. if something appears in the "what didn't" answer several times, we need to look into doing something about it.’

- Mark Webster, Senior Developer and Team Lead for N7 Project Delivery Team

So, what's next for Catalyst's Totara?

This is just a hint of what we have been developing internally to support our staff grow and develop. Our next phase is to build courses that cover a range of topics from Leadership and Management, business skills, as well as courses on the various software and computing languages needed to support them.

We have also rolled out our annual appraisals using the Performance Activities feature, similar to our check-ins and are currently investigating how to gather anonymous peer feedback.

We are also developing a 'find an expert' feature, using a  'Badges issued' report so that all those wanting to speak to someone with a specific skill set can be identified, as well as setting up a 'peer recognition' workflow where staff can nominate a colleague and thank them for going 'above and beyond the call of duty'.

If you have a Totara platform and were interested in looking at how you too can set up any of the initiatives presented in this post then get in touch!

Watch our video below from a recent webinar delivered by Sam Taylor and Ella Tugwell: