Enterprise Learning Initiatives.
Tough Times Need a Tough TeamFaced with unprecedented challenges, your leadership team needs to get aligned and then sound aligned.
Imagine this: your senior managers are hosting virtual meetings. In each one of them, someone asks a question. “What are we doing in response to the pandemic?”
- Manager 1: “We are doing everything we can to keep all of us safe.”
- Manager 2: “I know we all hate these Zoom meetings, but we will be back in the office as soon as possible.”
- Manager 3: “You were sent an email on June 14, outlining our response to the pandemic. I suggest you read that.”
- Manager 4: “What are you concerned about? Let’s talk about what I can do to help.”
Which is the right answer? All of them, and none of them.
None of the answers is wrong. But they are all wrong because they are so different.
People have a fundamental need to feel safe in order to function. Control and predictability create feelings of safety. Four different vague or evasive answers create just the opposite. The costs of this kind of uncertainty: resistance, lost productivity, and an organization even less focused on its business goals.
Faced with unprecedented challenges, your leadership team needs to get aligned and then sound aligned. That’s a tight team.
We have tightened up many executive teams. We don’t tell them what their goals and message should be; we facilitate. Here is the essence of our process:
- Gather your team and ask them four questions.
- What’s the challenge we’re faced with?
- What’s the solution to the challenge?
- What’s the approach we’ll take to execute the solution?
- What’s the result we want?
- For each question, brainstorm a one-word hint: start broad, then narrow down to the top two to three words, and then down to the final one.
- Once the four words are selected, generate facts and examples to use when you deliver the message. Each of the four words needs its own supporting details. Now you have a message frame.
- Bring it all together in a 30-second story – the four words, buttressed by facts or examples.
- Practice telling the story. As you practice, customize it for who you are and whomever you’re addressing. That is, use different examples for a Marketing employee vs. an IT employee. Each executive’s story will be slightly different, based on their communication style, area of expertise, position, and audience.
- Practice it a few more times, imagining different scenarios.
- Use the message frame as the foundation of all communications on this subject.
Let’s try our scenario again. Four Zoom meetings. Four employees with questions. Four responses from leaders.
“What are we doing in response to the pandemic?”
Feel that? It’s peace of mind.
Guiding Your Organization Through Coronavirus FearsThe vast majority of the world will not be affected by coronavirus, but we all feel its presence. The people in your organization are no exception.
The coronavirus is not only infecting people’s bodies, it’s in their heads. The vast majority of the world will not be affected by the virus, now named COVID19, but we all feel its presence. The people in your organization are no exception. The global health threat affects them emotionally, and that means it affects your business.
So what can you possibly do in the face of something so much bigger than your organization? You can make the experience feel familiar, controlled, and successful.
We use the science of the brain to help our clients navigate big challenges. These three principles are key.
- Creating connections between the current experience and other experiences makes people feel it’s familiar. This dampens the brain’s fear responses so people can hear you and engage.
- No one wants to step forward in the dark. Feelings of control disrupt that paralysis and help people use their higher brain functions to solve problems and take positive action.
- Winning and sharing success release “feel good” and “connection” chemicals, which reinforce those positive actions and create the engagement you want.
But seriously, the coronavirus? Yes, you can use these principles to help your people get through this very uncertain time.
How do you make an unprecedented event feel familiar? Well, you tap into past positive experiences.
Was there a big threat to your organization that you handled well? Compare this experience to that by reminding people how you got through it together. “Ten years ago, the H1N1 presented us with similar risks. Here’s how we handled that.” “Remember 2017, when we faced that disruption to our supply chain?” Talk about how dire the situation was, and the progress milestones you hit along the way.
Are there people or processes they are used to? Use those. If employees have a place they go for reliable information, make sure information on the health threat is there. If there’s a leader who delivers consistent and reliable information, make sure that’s the voice they hear. Familiarity turns off the fear response so employees can turn their focus to business as usual.
What? Isn’t an epidemic the very opposite of “controlled?” It is, but there are ways to encourage feelings of control.
One way is to create predictability. Tell employees what will happen, and when. And then deliver. When will you give them updates? Who will deliver them? What preventive measures will they experience? Make sure you speak in plain terms, not medical jargon, so all listeners feel sure they understand your message.
Another way to create control is to give people agency – in other words, let people take some action to help themselves and others. Feeling helpless is the enemy, so give them something to do. Give employees a channel for asking questions — then make sure you answer them! Introduce safety processes, no matter how simple, that employees can act on. For example, you might make it easier for employees to wash their hands properly. You could allow employees to put themselves on a “no fly” list temporarily, opting out of non-essential international travel. You could ask employees to post company updates on progress against the threat in common spaces. You might publish simple safety practices for employees’ families, as well. Meaningful actions, no matter how small, make people feel they are doing something to protect themselves.
What are you, the CDC? How can you successfully fight the coronavirus? You can’t, of course. But you can make the people feel successful at what they want – to be safe from it. Share positive updates, like safety measure implemented. “100% of employees now have access to our weekly update.” “All business travel to Asia has been suspended for the time being.”
And share successes for the world outside your organization. If infection rates drop in a particular country, let them know. If scientists have a target date for a vaccine, make sure it’s out there. Visible successes create a sense that the organization is moving through the crisis and will emerge healthy on the other side.
We’re all in uncharted territory, and we look to our leaders for guidance. You can do more than that – you can make a significant positive difference for your employees and your business by using the science of the brain.
Good Learning Design is Good Experience DesignIncorporate these design elements to create a lasting learning experience.
I wrote an unusual learning objective for an onboarding course I created a few years ago:
After completing this course, learners will FEEL GOOD.
I designed the course to be one of the first experiences a new employee completed when hired. It had one simple learning objective. Or was it simple?
Typically, learning objectives measure what learners will be able to do, but I wanted learners to feel something specific after taking this course. I wanted them to feel good about their decision to join our company. To feel proud of our company’s mission and purpose. To feel optimistic about this new path in their professional career. How would I build a course that achieved this learning objective?
I started by creating a storyboard, and it was like weaving a tapestry – every thread contributed to the overall design. Every image symbolized our values. Every word sent a message about how we speak to one another. In essence, this course would reflect our company culture.
Here are some learning design elements and the messages they convey:
As a learning architect, every learning experience we create leaves an impression. Learners gain new information and skills by participating in training and they also leave with a feeling. And while this is especially true with onboarding (you know what they say about first impressions), it’s also true with any type of training.
What I learned
Be intentional about the feeling you want your learners to have when they finish the training. For example, do you want them to feel motivated, moved, powerful, or proud? Be sure this aligns with the learning objectives, training content, and company culture. Then be deliberate about how you construct and weave each element into the learning experience.
Use Compelling Stories to Influence ChangeGive learners a reason to change by organizing your content with stories.
Stories are a series of interconnected events that tell how and why life changed. They generally follow a common structure of setting up the situation, providing some complicating sets of circumstances, and resolving the complications with a lesson about what has changed and why it’s important to you. Stories are powerful learning tools and motivators. We use them in change and learning settings to make a strong case for why people need to behave in a new way.
Follow me as I tell a personal story about why taking a risk can have enormous payoffs.
I was adopted as a child. At the end of last year, I decided to take a DNA test to see if I had any genetic anomalies that might cause health concerns. I used 23 and Me because it is their specialty. The good news: I don’t have any known indicators. The more interesting news was finding people I am related to, but really distant relations. I never really wanted to know the identity of my biological family since I already have a loving, supportive family. But seeing all of these people inspired me to try Ancestry DNA since they specialize in family relationships.
I sent my sample off and about a month later my results came back. It matched me to my biological father! My life had changed from that day forward. I WAS SHOCKED! I immediately researched him. Once I learned all I could and asked for advice from friends about how to make a smooth connection, I reached out to him through Ancestry. I shared some of the details of my life and made an invitation to continue the conversation. He responded almost immediately saying, “you’ve got the right guy.” He gave details about his life and asked if I wanted to talk live.
Later that week we talked on the phone. I had a plan for what I wanted to say and how I wanted to come across, but all of that flew out the window the second I heard his voice. We talked about our lives up to that point, our interests, and health. I learned about my extended family, half-brother, nieces and nephew, uncles, and grandparents. And he told me what he knew about my biological mother. We agreed that we wanted to meet each other and made tentative plans to connect in early 2019.
I met him face-to-face in January. It was all I could have hoped for and more! Suddenly, I have a large, crazy family that I never knew about. And my journey continues as I learn more about my increasingly growing family.
Stories are powerful learning tools. They inspire action and show people how things can be different. My story may inspire other adopted children to change the way they think about finding their biological parents. Instructional designers can use stories to help learners make sense of what they’re learning and to provide context. A good story can set the tone for the information to come. How do you use stories when communicating with your employees?
Three Ways to Add Humor to TrainingHow can you help learners stay engaged, focused, and happy? Use laughter.
Q: Why was six scared of seven?
A: Because seven “ate” nine.
Did you smile or laugh? Laughter “appears to cause all the reciprocal, or opposite, effects of stress,” says Dr. Lee Berk, who studies laughter’s impact on the brain. It improves blood flow, memory and can be used in the training room to help make the message stick. When we laugh, we trigger a chemical reaction in our brains that makes us feel good. The more we laugh, the better we feel. Naturally, we associate the people who make us laugh with those good feelings. Using humor during training sessions helps learners stay engaged, focused and happy. Though humor and laughter are frequently used in ice-breaker sessions, they can also be applied to serious subjects. A big group laugh can break a tense moment or add energy just when we need it.
Are you funny? Some of us have a natural gift for humor, while others may want to develop their funny side. If you are looking to add some humor to your training, here are some options:
Option 1: Find a good joke
If you are new to this, sharing your first joke with learners may be daunting. However, trying the same or different joke in diverse settings and scenarios will build your confidence. Present a joke and watch everyone’s reaction. Try to pick jokes that are relevant to your training session. For instance, if you are training bank employees on how to help customers check their account balance, try something like this:
“I was waiting in line at the bank. An old lady asked me to check her balance, so I pushed her.”
Option 2: Seize the Opportunity
If the opportunity for laughter pops up during your session, seize it.
Don’t be silly, opportunity doesn’t knock twice!
This takes a bit of practice and the ability to understand your audience. Some of my best training sessions have been the ones where I was light-hearted and spontaneous. What really triggers genuine laughter in a group is timely remarks aligned with the specific humor pattern of that group. It helps if you are constantly interacting with the audience instead of playing videos/reading text from a PowerPoint slide.
Option 3: Find your funny
Everyone has a funny side to them. Often this means relaxing and sharing some of your imperfections and vulnerabilities with others. Don’t try to be funny. Just try to have fun. Acquaint yourself with your natural sense of play and allow other to enjoy that with you.
Using laughter in your training sessions can help the message stick for your learners. The easiest way to add laughter is by letting others enjoy your imperfections, seizing opportunities and by just being yourself.
If you want more learning and development advice, read some of our other insight into training.
Park, A. (March 2019). Curing What Ails You, The Science of Laughter, Special Time Edition.
Three Ways to Prioritize Learning BehaviorsFocus on the Three C's: the Common, the Critical, and the Catastrophic.
Several years ago, I worked with a major national drugstore to develop a multimedia eLearning program for the implementation of a new pharmacy system. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my career. This large, complex system had robust functionality. We didn’t have the time or budget to train every pharmacy employee on every possible thing the system could do. As a project leader, my biggest challenge was focusing my team on the target learning behaviors to drive the program benefits.
Fortunately, I had learned a handy approach to this dilemma – hone in on the Three C’s. I had my team prioritize the Common, the Critical, and the Catastrophic.
- The Common – as you can imagine, a number of activities happen all day, every day in a pharmacy: capturing data on new prescriptions, calling prescribers to authorize refills, measuring dosages, checking insurance coverage, and collecting payments. Pharmacy employees must be proficient on all these activities, so most of our training scenarios gave plenty of practice with these common tasks.
- The Critical – pharmacy employees deal with confidential health information, which is protected by law. Revealing sensitive information could embarrass a patient and lead to financial liability from fines or lawsuits, so we included learning scenarios that reinforced the importance of maintaining patient confidentiality and carefully protecting privileged information about the patient’s medical conditions and treatment plans.
- The Catastrophic – in the classic movie It’s A Wonderful Life, the town pharmacist, Mr. Gower, suffers tremendous emotional and social distress when George Bailey is not around to prevent him from dispensing the wrong medication and fatally poisoning a patient. This is a very real concern for pharmacists today. They could lose their license and livelihood if a patient is harmed. Because of these potentially catastrophic consequences, our training included showing pharmacists how to check for patient allergies, therapeutic duplications, and adverse interactions between medications. And in all our scenarios, we made sure that all pharmacy employees could validate that they had accurately identified the patient before dispensing medication.
By prioritizing the learning behaviors, we avoided a fire-hose approach and created a cost-effective learning program. Our solution delivered tremendous value to the organization by focusing learners on the essential behaviors. Upon completion of the training, our learners felt confident in handling common situations, protecting critical information, and keeping patients safe.
Good Reads for Learning and Development ProfessionalsStart your new year thinking a little differently about our industry.
As the saying goes, sharing is caring! We’d like to share some great ideas with you. We’ve curated a list of articles to get learning and development professionals thinking about the industry. It includes thoughts on hot topics like learning in the digital transformation age and way to evolve as an L&D professional.
What trends are you noticing in learning and development? In her interview with the Association for Talent Development Cindy Huggett notes, “we are moving to shorter and shorter chunks of learning … [and] the second big trend is mobile.” In addition to her state-of-the-industry observations, this expert on virtual learning shares important skills for virtual learning designers. She also discusses pitfalls facing virtual learning instructors.
We’re professionals. You don’t have to remind us that learning should never stop, but we’re glad the Harvard Business Review is advocating it, too. Most organizations demand that employees focus their energies on achieving results rather than broadening skillsets. This culture of efficiency and performance can stunt professional learning. HBR has four tips to maintain your intellectual curiosity and continue to learn – even if an organization doesn’t officially promote it.
This LinkedIn think post features insights from four experts — their predictions for skills that will become more important to L&D professionals over the next five years. “We are currently in a business environment that is seeing more transformation and volatility than at any time in the recent history,” said Dan Rice, a West Point graduate and president of the Thayer Leadership Development Group. “L&D leaders need to be able to empower a culture of learning by creating leaders of character capable, of cascading lessons, providing feedback loops to evolve quickly and allow businesses to adapt, react and thrive in this type of environment.” Consider these four skills. Do they meet with your predictions for the field?
At Emerson, we are no strangers to the complexities of technology change. That’s why we found this particular piece valuable. This post from EdTech focuses on integrating new tech for professional learning. It’s intended for teachers, but we think the advice works for corporate learning professionals as well. Consider these tips the next time your organization wants to use technology in the classroom.
Stay tuned for more of our favorite content from around the Internet. We’ll find the thoughtful content so you don’t have to.
How to Prepare Learners for Day OneUse these tips to prepare learners for the big change
My husband and I experienced the joy of teaching our 16-year-old daughter how to drive. I thought she would feel scared when she got behind the wheel for the first time. She was actually more relaxed than my husband and I expected. Impressed by her confidence, I asked her how she felt so comfortable on Day One. She said it was because we had prepared her well for what to expect. We had spent time coaching her on what it’s like to be on the road, what to do and what not to do, long before she sat in the driver’s seat. She had been keenly observing us as drivers for some time, and she knew we’d be there to help when she actually hit the road. So, when the big day came, she felt ready.
That experience got me thinking about my work on teams that roll out a new system and process to work teams. A new system might seem scary at first, but the more you prepare end users, the easier it is for them to use it effectively and confidently.
There are three phases of good preparation:
It’s essential to communicate about a big system and process change, well in advance. People need to understand exactly what is changing and how the change will affect them. Any advance exposure is also helpful. Previews educate and relieve anxiety about the new business processes and tools.
Training is also critical, of course. It’s important to offer blended learning solutions, like e-learning, job aids, and instructor-led training. For some, learning doesn’t “click” in a formal training setting. The more learning “touches” you can offer, the more likely learners will perform well on Day One.
Learning really begins when training ends, at the job site. No matter how great the training is, some learners don’t fully grasp new skills until they are on the job and have to use a new process and system to do real work. That’s when they can apply what they recall from training to real data and real customers. To reinforce this last phase of learning, provide on-the-job support, like super users, job aids, or online help.
To improve your chances of a smooth transition, ask these questions as you plan and build communication, training and support:
- What message is the boss sending? If he or she does not support the change, the team will not buy in. Ensure executive leadership visibly and vocally supports the change.
- Is the old way faster? People might revert to doing what they know to get the job done. Think of ways to ensure workers do their work in the new way, with the new tools.
- What’s the consequence for not working the new way? If there are no consequences, expect noncompliance. Prepare to demonstrate the business impact of not doing it the new way.
- How “real” is the training? Without realistic scenarios and simulations, you can’t expect good performance on the job.
- Are you training roles or tools? The tool is simply the means for executing job functions. Effective training is role-based and teaches to day-to-day business processes.
- Will they learn to handle mistakes? If you only teach the “happy path,” when everything works perfectly, that is not realistic. Train people on what to do when things go wrong.
- Where do people turn when they need help on the job? Do they turn to peers, their boss, procedure manuals, or online help? Create a post-training support system that makes sense for these users.
Let’s say you’ve built and implemented communication, training and support that address all those questions. What else can you do to put your learners on a path for success, on Day One and beyond?
- Prepare for business delays. If the business allows it, set expectations about how significant the change is and how it may affect service. If possible, staff up to bridge the gap between the old and new way of doing things.
- Test knowledge and performance. Do this multiple times if possible: at the end of training, before Day One, and when the new processes are up and running.
- Provide help on demand. Even if you have other kinds of performance support, make sure experts are available. People feel comfortable when they have someone close by to answer questions. A super user on site eases anxiety.
- Hold on-the-job learning sessions. For example, schedule “lunch and learn” sessions, where users share tips and tricks to improve efficiency and performance. People might also talk about “A-Ha Moments” – bursts of understanding or insight on working with the new tools and processes.
The bottom line: prepare your learners to “take the wheel” before and after formal training so that when Day One comes, they can “drive” in the new system with confidence.
Meet The Learning and Development BookGet to know The Learning and Development Book.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about our series of books. They capture our favorite principles, tips and lessons learned gathered from our collective decades (centuries?) of experience in change management, learning and development, and technology change. First I described The Change Book. Next up: The Learning and Development Book.
Like many of you, our learning consultants earned degrees in instructional design or learning technology. But real life training has taught us so much more. We wrote this book to capture our tips, tricks, and lessons learned – a lot of the things we wish we knew when we started building a learning program for clients.
Just like The Change Book, you don’t have to read the whole thing. Each chapter stands alone. Flip it open to any page and start reading from there. You’ll find powerful, concise and easy advice from our battle-tested practitioners.
The Learning and Development Book covers things like choosing a medium, using stories and games, and how to get the best from your subject matter experts.
We’re very proud of this book, but we’re biased. Listen to some of our fans:
“I guarantee if you read this book you’ll find at least a dozen hard-hitting, valuable, practical, and actionable ideas on how to enhance your learning and development efforts right away.” — Andy Boynton, Dean, Carroll School of Management
“Finally, a pragmatic resource for everyone involved in corporate learning – even sponsors and subject matter experts. Not only a good read but also a good investment in how to create impactful learning.” — Susan Steele, Chief Human Resources Officer, Millward Brown/WPP pic
Get to know our book – and let us know what you think! We’d love to read your review.
Use Real-Life Problems in Training“Houston, we have a problem.” Let’s hoped you trained for it.
“Houston, we have a problem.” – Apollo 13
That single line, paraphrased and popularized in the 1995 blockbuster Apollo 13, revealed much more than the harrowing events of a near-fatal NASA mission. It demonstrated the power of action learning.
Without a realistic simulated environment on the ground, and the life-or-death incentive to resolve threats, the entire crew would have been lost. It is powerful proof that real problems, recreated in training, drive real results.
On the surface, designing effective learning experiences can seem simple. New system? Teach users to reference the system documentation. New reporting structure? Teach employees to use the org charts. But those tools and training are only a sliver off the tip of the learning iceberg.
Learning experiences must address real-world situations. We must teach the critical, the common, and the catastrophic. Why? Participants will buy in only to training that is meaningful and models their on-the-job reality. And organizations will benefit only from employees that teach the right behaviors for each situation.
Designers can’t just cover the expected daily responsibilities and tasks. We can’t stay on the “happy path.” We must alter that smoothly paved highway to include the bumps, potholes, and road closings that can (and do) occur along the way. In short, when training includes opportunities to identify and solve real business issues, participants learn and organizations benefit.
Here’s how to deliver realistic problem-solving experiences:
Branch out from common tasks to common problems. The straight and narrow is a great starting point, but it’s not enough. Let’s say you’re designing training for department store employees. You include scenarios on accepting purchase returns. In the common scenario, it’s relatively simple: (1) Scan receipt. (2) Enter return reason code when prompted. (3) Press the Return button. Great! You can give them several scenarios using different reason codes. But don’t stop there. Ask, “What if…?” What if the customer doesn’t have a receipt? What if it’s past the time window to accept the return? What if this makes the customer mad? (Or really mad?) What if there’s a technical issue like an error message or a system outage? You can see that the answers to these questions are ripe with possibility. So take the time to follow that not-so-happy path, to arrive at learning gold.
Build in time to debrief the problem-solving experience. Create opportunities for learners to discuss how they solved the realistic problem – how they behaved, what process they followed, and the results they achieved. Whether you use individual reflection or group discussion, make learners responsible for identifying outcomes. This debrief reinforces the value of following procedures and processes, especially if they are a significant change to the way things were done before.
Connect to the bigger picture. Help learners identify and describe the effects of their new behaviors on coworkers, the team, the organization, and customers. This drives home how their actions influence others and the business. It also teaches the importance of replicating their performance in the training environment when they’re back on the job.
Keep learning fresh. “Use it or lose it” may be a cliché, but not all clichés are created equal; this one hits the mark. Don’t let those hard-earned learning wins go stale. When possible, train only what is needed or will be used immediately on the job. And extend the learning experience through check-ins, on-the-job challenges, or learning networks. Give employees as many opportunities as possible to apply new skills after their formal training.
No matter the industry – from actuaries to astronauts — the most powerful learning experiences are realistic and relevant. Make them your design priority, and you’ll help learners perform and succeed … no problem.