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What L&D companies can learn from HMV


Emma Webb explores what training companies can learn from the collapse of music giant HMV.

HMV, one of the world’s largest and most well known music retailers, is (in case you didn’t already know) in administration. This seemingly indestructible giant of the music industry has failed to keep ahead of the game and has suffered the consequences.  

Why has this happened? One reason is the recession, which has meant that people just aren’t spending as much on music, preferring to download it illegally for free. But many retailers survive recessions – so what else has HMV done wrong? A spokesperson for HMV said that their collapse is in part due to "...failing to fully anticipate and act on the opportunities that could potentially [have been] developed online". It appears that HMV’s failure to adapt to the rise of the internet and growth of online shopping and downloading, has resulted in them being left behind.

So what can we learn from this? When companies are seeing their training budgets slashed, how can learning and development suppliers ensure that they don’t follow in the footsteps of HMV?

Staying ahead of the game

Arguably the biggest mistake that HMV made was not staying abreast of the developments in technology and what this meant for the way in which people were beginning to shop. If they had taken more of an interest and been more involved in the changes in technology they could today be seen as the pioneers of internet shopping and downloading. Instead they were slow on the uptake and were reactive, not proactive.

"It’s easy to concentrate on what is happening right now, but by investing some time into researching what is around the corner you may avoid some nasty surprises."

This is an important lesson for L&D. Times are changing. New research is constantly being carried out and advances in technology mean that people are learning in new ways. Elearning, m-learning, online social learning – all examples of how learning has changed recently and will continue to change. Unless L&D companies stay on top of this advancement they are likely to lose out. It’s easy to concentrate on what is happening right now, but by investing some time into researching what is around the corner you may avoid some nasty surprises.

Being adaptable

The same spokesman for HMV said at the time when they should have been thinking about how they could make the emergence of the internet work for them:

"There was an amazing generation of people who worked here then - incredibly passionate about music and highly driven, that helped to make HMV a powerhouse of music and entertainment retail, but, ironically, that very same culture arguably blinkered us to some of the changes that were beginning to bubble away around us."

Sometimes our passion for something and our drive to make it a success is the very thing which holds us back. It can blinker us and make us unwilling to change. But change is constant. It’s the only thing that is certain and so in order to be really successful we must be willing to change with it. This isn’t always easy – especially if you are close to your company, if you have helped build it up from the start. It’s therefore important to seek out objective advice – a fresh perspective can uncover things that you would never have even unconsidered.

Seeing opportunities in all areas

HMV stuck to what it knew. It didn’t branch out into the areas it could have done until it was too late. It saw that the internet was emerging years ago but didn’t recognise the opportunities it presented to them. It could have been due to blind faith in the belief that people would always want to buy from the high street but it could also have been due to a fear of branching out into the unknown.

It’s easy to stick to what you know – it’s comfortable and if you do what you know well you can be very successful in that area. However, what if what you know isn’t what is needed? It’s important to make sure you are constantly reviewing the learning and development market. Ask your clients or customers what they are looking for, invest time in research and if the research shows that trends are changing don’t be afraid to branch out into something new. It’s always better to allow the needs of the market to form your products rather than trying to create need for a product you already have.

Surprise and delight

So if HMV wasn’t investing in its online presence it needed to think about what set it apart from all the online companies. But it didn’t. Before HMV was Zavvi – who went bust. HMV decided to do things the same way as Zavvi – sale items at the door usually in a jumbled mess that still didn’t match up to online prices and young and unhelpful staff (in my experience) made for a pretty unpleasant shopping experience. It didn’t do anything to delight its customers or try to set itself apart from the other retailers and so its customers went elsewhere.

And this is a very important lesson to learn for L&D companies. There are hundreds of training companies who provide cheap learning solutions. If your prices cannot compete for similar products why would people buy from you? It needs to be about the value that you can give to your customers. By surprising and delighting them at every stage, before and after the sale, they have the best possible experience with you. This will build trust in your company which is often more important for custumers than saving a couple of pounds.

Hopefully HMV can recover from their current situation – I personally feel it would be a real shame if it were to disappear for good. But as we can see there are things which could have been done differently which could have helped to avoid it altogether. There are lessons here for us all. If we follow them we won’t be echoing the regret of the HMV spokesperson – "If we could go back a decade..."


Emma Webb is operations and marketing administrator at Farscape Development. She blogs at Farscape specialises in delivering results driven learning and development programmes. Their training is experiential and has a foundation in emotional intelligence and behavioural change. You can email Emma at [email protected] or follow Farscape on Twitter at @FarscapeDev

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