Building Bridges

A Bird’s Eye View from the Belfry

We recently took an amazing vacation, which included a couple of days in Bruges. Bruges is a UNESCO world heritage site because of its original medieval architecture throughout the city. During our first day in the center of Bruges, we were a bit overwhelmed. There was so much activity — horses with their carriages and their passengers, tons of people walking about, all kinds of buildings linked by cobblestone pathways, cafes along the entire perimeter, and so many stores including multiple chocolate shops — how can one select? There were pathways leading out of the square to museums, lakes, the famous swans of Bruges, pubs, and more chocolate shops.

We were overwhelmed trying to figure out what to do first, until we decided to climb the Belfry of Bruges. If you’ve ever been there, or seen the movie In Bruges, you know what I am talking about. We climbed the 366 steps, which became progressively narrower, winding, and more treacherous. Finally, we reached the very top where we could take in the central market square of Bruges. We could see from up above all the horses with their carriages and their passengers; we could see, with help from our map, where that one most special chocolate shop was that we just had to visit. We could see the layout of all the cafes and choose the one we wished to sit at, near the building with the architecture we most wanted to explore after sipping a local beer.

What we really needed was this bird’s eye view, the big picture, to help us figure out the detailed picture. Of course from the belfry we couldn’t see the intricacies, we couldn’t experience the tastes and sounds and smells of the square, but we could determine the context so that when we sat down at our cafe we knew what we were looking at across the way.

Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Brügge (B), Belfort von Brügge -- 2018 -- 8611” / CC BY-SA4.0

The experiences that we immersed ourselves in were fabulous but overwhelming without a big picture first. In our case the belfry helped us do that. We also supplemented our overview with a walking tour. And then we spent the rest of the time diving into the experiences we had selected, with a better understanding of how each part fit into the greater whole of a bustling, beautiful city center.

Similarly, at the start of a training program we provide the big picture to help set context, so learners know where they are before beginning the learning experience itself.

Think about this for a minute. Say you’ve gone into a library you’ve never been in before and you are looking for a book. Do you go directly to it? Probably not, if you’re not familiar with this library. But you might look at a library directory to see how the books are organized, you might check the online card catalog, or you might ask for assistance. Once you have a basic idea of where your book is located, you can go find it.

Now think about a training program you’ve been in. Do you dive right into the details of the experience: how to do a quality check, how to hold a performance review conversation, how to administer an IV? Wouldn’t you rather have the stage set for you, so you can figure out how you see yourself in that situation? When we work with subject matter experts we often begin with questions such as: What is the goal? How will the target audience use this information? What gets in the way?

So, next time you are developing a presentation, course, or curriculum, take a trip up to the belfry. It may take extra effort to climb all those stairs, but that effort will pay off.

Growing Your Knowledge Garden

Back in the spring, you buried your seeds in the soil. With the spring rain falling and the sunshine warming the earth, small seedlings began to poke their heads out of the ground. You intend to care for these small plants so they will flourish. But what would happen if you planted the seeds and watered them once, then simply left them alone?

If you’ve ever planted anything, you know the answer. In the absence of water, sunshine, and weeding, the plant won’t grow. Or, if one month happens to be excessively rainy, the plant may spiral out of control, taking over everything in its path and dominating your garden.

So, how can you avoid these two scenarios? You cultivate the plant — you water it, fertilize it, stake it for support if needed, and trim off dying leaves so the healthy part will sprout. For best results, you’ll check on your plant a couple of times each week, watering it and seeing if anything else can be done to best support its growth. You might even say encouraging words to your plant (while no one is looking.)

The same phenomenon exists in the training world. Too often, we “plant” a training program, then expect the learners to “grow;” that is, retain and act on all they’ve learned. We expect learners to apply their new knowledge effectively in their jobs day-to-day.

Unfortunately, this belief isn’t supported by studies from brain science, which have shown memory slippage following single training sessions. How quickly do we really forget what we learn?

You may have heard of Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist. Back in 1885, he conducted experiments in which he attempted to memorize random combinations of three-letter syllables. Ebbinghaus’s testing showed that right after a learning session, recall of the letter combinations was 100 percent. However, memory loss increased sharply over the next few days and finally leveled out 30 days after the learning experience. This discovery by Ebbinghaus became known as the forgetting curve.

Thus, instructional designers must actively work to combat this memory loss. Luckily for us, Ebbinghaus stepped up to offer a strategy known as the spacing effect. Just as with plants, we need to space out the “watering” (instruction).

Ebbinghaus wrote, “It makes the assumption probable that with any considerable number of repetitions a suitable distribution of them over a space of time is decidedly more advantageous than the massing of them at a single time.” (Ebbinghaus, Hermann. Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology. University of Berlin 1885, English translation Martino Publishing 2011.) What does that mean? “If we space learning over a span of time, with spaces in between, the learner has time to process and internalize the information and is more likely to remember it over the long term,” according to a TD.org article (Meacham, Margie. “Don’t Forget the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve.” Insights, 17 January 2016. Accessed 12 August 2019.)

In what other ways can we “cultivate” knowledge to interrupt the forgetting curve? Here are a few ideas:

Problem-solving activities. Encouraging learners to brainstorm solutions to a problem is one way to cement learning by contextualizing it. In a recent project completed by EnVision for manufacturing operations leaders, learners took a specific manufacturing practice and considered the question, “how can I mistake-proof it?” This enabled them to directly apply what they just learned in a creative way.

Push reminders. Text, images, audio, video or a combination can be sent to learners in a planned approach, providing reminders to learners who are working on their knowledge accumulation and retention. This spacing effect approach has the additional advantage of enabling learners to “remember” or to build on their knowledge whether they are at their desks or on the go.

Management support. By checking in periodically and providing ongoing feedback, managers discuss the new material with their employees. The managers’ involvement guides employees in using their knowledge appropriately and effectively. Think about those “nurturing words” we give to growing plants. As instructional designers, we can provide guidance to the managers to best support their employees.

So, when you plant your seeds, don’t leave them to the elements and expect that they will grow robustly and healthfully; cultivate them. Do the same with your learners as you plan your learning programs, and throughout the season, you’ll find that your learners continue to bloom and grow.

Plant and Cultivate Your Garden (and Your Learning Solutions!) this Spring

I’m willing to bet at least some of my readers love gardening, especially this time of year when the emergence of warm sunshine, sweet-smelling blossoms, and busy bees fill hopes for our gardens! Or, if you don’t garden, perhaps you have someone to help you with the yardwork and maintenance. But what happens when you are ready for a larger project to make over your entire yard?

Do you hire a renowned landscape architect to create a plan? Perhaps she completely reseeds the grass then plants flowers, strategically chosen to bloom throughout the season, adding rich, green bushes and artfully putting down cedar chips. Constructing a rock wall and adding a koi pond complete the vision.

Perhaps, though, that design includes more than what is truly needed or what is within your means. You may not have enough money for a landscape architect, never mind a koi pond, or the time or patience to construct a rock wall, or enough space for a lavish garden. Instead of hiring a landscape architect, you could buy a book written by a knowledgeable author to inspire a do-it-yourself project. You may be able to achieve a great look for your property simply by cutting the lawn, treating existing flowers, and adding some bulbs to sprout next spring.

Or, you could try something in-between. You could ask a knowledgeable friend to review your garden and recommend changes that you can make yourself. He might suggest a particular blend of grass seeds, share a resource to purchase an easy-to-install small koi pond, and give you a list of flowers that bloom throughout the season. This still requires your time and some yard space, yet it is more budget-friendly than hiring a professional. Sometimes, advice to take you from vision to reality is really all you need.

So, why not apply that same concept to your learning & development program? Sometimes you want, and need, a full-service solution provider who can give you the garden — I mean, learning solution — to meet your exact needs and wants. You may need someone who can analyze the audience needs, the organizational culture, and current learning offerings, then develop and implement a suite of learning experiences to enhance employee performance.

Sometimes you just need a little help and you can do the rest yourself. You might ask an expert in the field to review what you have and recommend enhancements to a learning experience that you can make yourself, perhaps with a little guidance. This is why we added our suite of services to build self-reliance to our full-service offerings.

Or, for a new learning experience, where your subject matter expert is tasked with developing the training, you might need someone to guide him through the process while checking in with him periodically. We call this our BRIDGE (Build Rapid Instructional Design Guided by EnVision’s experts) Solution®. With this service offering, EnVision’s consultants guide the skills of your subject matter expert, potentially shortening the project’s timeframe and minimizing its budget.

Perhaps someone has already developed training and you’d like to have it reviewed to receive recommended changes that you can make yourself. This is where our Course Audit service fits in.

So, don’t just toss seeds into the ground and expect them to flourish, or content into your organization and expect employees to learn and grow! Get help with planning and resources (or with trimming or cultivating) so that you can create a stronger, even more vibrant garden of learning.

The Client/Vendor Relationship: Getting the Best Out of It!

4. What do you want out of the relationship?

In our previous posts we shared client and vendor insights about scoping out a project, defining success, and choosing a vendor. Today, we examine what we each want out of the relationship – being aligned on this is an important factor in a fruitful project and an ongoing relationship.

Veronica Clements, Client perspective

Trust is important for any good working relationship. As the client, I start to gauge trust during the vendor selection process – I listen carefully to their responses for things such as:

  • Examples they provide that demonstrate instructional soundness and alignment with best practices
  • Confidence describing their successes and issues they had to address – every project has a problem/challenge requiring clarification

I like to have another internal resource in the meeting when possible, either an SME or another L&D professional, to provide another perspective. And I also listen to my gut.

If I’ve already worked with a vendor, I also consider our past working relationship. Did it include good communication disciplines and consistency delivering quality products? I look for reliability, too—that they did what they said they would do. The biggest benefit of working with a previous vendor is a quicker start up time.

If I am working with a new vendor, I spend a little more time upfront to orient them to our communication process. While I hope for smooth sailing, check-in conversations are an opportunity for feedback and seeing where I could be of help. I want to remove internal roadblocks for the vendor if needed. I request status updates regularly and expect to receive reasonable and knowledgeable responses.

I don’t expect perfection; we are all human. I value dependability and keeping commitments, which build mutual respect. The vendor should be able to expect the same from me.

 

Irene Stern Frielich, Vendor perspective

As the vendor, I want a lot of the same things out of this relationship. Trust and open communications are important because they provide the basis for all our work together. If there are difficult issues that arise, trust and open communications help both the client and I to manage the issues most effectively. I usually ask a lot of questions before and at the beginning of a project to clarify that we are on the same page. A process is also important to me and I am sometimes concerned when my client doesn’t seek a discipline around communications and project management. In those cases, I try to set up a plan they can work with. It’s important for me as a vendor to be willing and able to flex with the client’s needs.

Every client relationship is different. I want my team to be able to positively impact the client and not just do busy work for them. A recent example comes to mind in which we were invited to bid on a large, interesting and complex project for a government agency. In the agency’s question-and-answer period, they often responded to questions vaguely and with very little context. Without knowing the client, their needs, and how they operate, we didn’t feel we could reliably address their needs. There was no opportunity to sit down and have a real conversation with them. And, honestly, it made us question the challenges that could arise during the project, should we be awarded the bid. We decided not to proceed further in the bidding process.

In the end, I believe that building trust is a mutual endeavor and one in which I will take the lead. As David Maister, et. al., write in The Trusted Advisor, “…trust must be earned and deserved. You must do something to give the other people the evidence on which they can base their decision on whether to trust you. You must be willing to give in order to get.”

Keys to success

CLIENT: Start gauging trust during the interview process, spend time at the start of a project agreeing with the vendor on a communications approach, and keep an open line of communication throughout the project.

VENDOR: I mirror Veronica’s summary of the client’s keys to success: Start building and assessing trust during the interview process, take time to agree on a communications approach from the start, and keep an open line of communication throughout the project.

 

Veronica Clements, formerly a Learning and Development leader, with 25 years’ experience engaging vendors.

Irene Stern Frielich, President of EnVision Performance Solutions, with 20 years as a vendor providing solutions to clients.

The Client/Vendor Relationship: Selecting the Right Vendor for Your Project

3. How do you identify and select the best vendor for your project?

In our last two posts we shared client and vendor insights about scoping out a project. In this month’s installment, we offer suggestions for selecting the best vendor for a project.

Veronica Clements, Client perspective

I begin my search for a vendor by checking with peers and colleagues, both in my company and with professional organizations to which I belong. I might also check our corporate-approved vendor list. Vendors referred to me by my peers and colleagues are usually my first choice.

Usually I identify three of the highest recommended vendors and contact them to set up a time to discuss availability for the project, pricing, and the services they offer.

If possible, I like to meet with the prospective vendors in person. If that’s not possible, a video conference is the next best thing. During the meeting, I share with them the project scope, measures for success, and our timeline. Some typical things I request are:

  • A demonstration of a course or walkthrough of sample training materials (for example, a leader’s guide or an elearning storyboard/prototype).
  • Work samples and CVs from the consultants who would be assigned to the project.
  • Confirmation that those consultants are available to work within the project deadlines.
  • References I can call.

Here are some interview questions I like to ask:

  • Tell me about a project that went well. What do you attribute that to?
  • What project did you learn the most from and why?
  • Tell me about a project that was behind due to a client’s issue. What happened?
  • Do you have concrete examples of effective communication strategies with clients in a challenging situation?

I listen for specific responses that illustrate how they execute their processes, work with clients, and manage conflict. I take notes to refer back to and also ask probing questions for more details as needed. Based on their responses, I hope to confirm their know-how along with the value they can bring to my project.

 

Irene Stern Frielich, Vendor perspective

As a vendor, it is important to have relationships with a large number of individuals, companies, and organizations so that you are “on the list” as a potential vendor. The most effective way I’ve done that is through networking and staying in touch with prospects as well as past and current clients, reminding them about the scope of services we offer and updating them about our newer, innovative services. Other potential avenues are through procurement databases, leveraging our certified woman-owned business status, and through speaking and writing opportunities. I also ask clients to share with their colleagues how they like working with EnVision. We uncover many opportunities through word of mouth.

For clients newer to the world of engaging vendors, I’ll also offer guidance for selecting a vendor. For example, I’ll suggest they check references, with specific questions about ease of working relationship, scope of capability, and other things that are important to this client. And, I suggest keeping in mind that just because one vendor was great for a particular type of project, it doesn’t mean they’ll be great for this particular project. So, interviewing the vendor and talking to people who worked with them is really important.

I prepare well for the interview. I have work samples ready to show that are related to the type of work the client is seeking. And, based on previous conversations with the client, I anticipate the types of questions they might ask and prepare stories about our recent successes as well as challenges, and how we handled them.

Keys to success

CLIENT: Ask behavioral questions and review work samples and examples the vendor provides to support their proven success with similar projects. Find out about the communication methods they use for projects.

VENDOR: Network, offer guidance to clients navigating the vendor engagement process, and be prepared for whatever might come up during an interview.

Next time: Considering what else you want out of the client/vendor relationship.

Veronica Clements, formerly a Learning and Development leader, with 25 years’ experience engaging vendors.

Irene Stern Frielich, President of EnVision Performance Solutions, with 20 years as a vendor providing solutions to clients.

The Client/Vendor Relationship: Defining Success

2. Define success: How do you define what success will look like? 

In our last post we discussed problem definition. As part of that we delve into defining success.

Veronica Clements, Client perspective

As the client, an important part of preparing a request for proposal or discussing my needs with a prospective vendor is to determine results I want to see at the project’s conclusion. In other words, what will success look like for the client and the vendor?

In the example from part 1 in this series, a new process is introduced and the employees need to be ready to use the new procedure starting in three months. Based on the project goals and discussions with the stakeholders, I would prepare target outcomes for the learners and the managers, such as:

  1. 95% of participants pass the final learning assessment with a score of 80% or better.
  2. Managers spot check key steps while employees are working and provide reinforcement a few weeks following the course.
  3. Employees are following the new process, improving accuracy to 99%.

In this example, our result for passing the final learning assessment measures learning outcome. The quality check by managers supports application of new skills on the job. There is an existing department process in place to measure the improvement to accuracy, specifically to improve accuracy to 99%.

Sometimes, as an internal resource, I don’t always see all elements of the big picture. Therefore, I frequently benefit from hearing the vendor’s additional suggestions as well as confirmation of our success measures.

Irene Stern Frielich, Vendor perspective

I, the vendor, really like it when a client has defined success. But that isn’t always the case and, in those instances, I ask more questions! For example, I often ask something as open-ended as: What will success look like? Or: At the end of this project, how will we both know if my team was able to provide what you are looking for?

Once we have some success metrics, my next step is to ensure the metrics are something we’d be able to influence. For example, if the client expects us to ensure their managers spot check key steps as a measure of success, we need to be engaged in creating a solution to support managers in doing that. But, often, there are “environmental” – or non-training-related influencers – on the success of training. So, we’ll need to agree on our role as vendor in this engagement. However, if we are simply being asked to create a training program on a process for employees performing that procedure, I would let the client know that only the first measure (95% of participants pass the final learning assessment with a score of 80% or better) is fully applicable to our work.

Keys to success

CLIENT: Define measures of success for the project, obtain input from prospective vendors, and clarify responsibilities for each success measure.

VENDOR: Define the client’s “success” expectations and be clear about which of these the vendor can address.

Next time: Selecting a vendor.

Veronica Clements, formerly a Learning and Development leader, with 25 years’ experience engaging vendors.

Irene Stern Frielich, President of EnVision Performance Solutions, with 20 years as a vendor providing solutions to clients.

The Client/Vendor Relationship: Getting Off to a Great Start!

What happens when you are asked to take on more work than you can handle– either due to capacity or capability? Let’s say your manager just laid a huge project on you – to develop a new training curriculum for a group that has been having some challenges. Because you don’t have the resources you’ll need to get the work done by the date it is expected, you consider hiring a vendor.

In a series of posts, we propose five guidelines to help you, as the program manager, select a vendor and lay the groundwork for a successful relationship. At the same time, we share tips for the vendor about positioning yourself to become a strong partner with the client. We have been in your role, we gladly share our experience in this series, and would be happy to talk with you about our ideas and hear yours.

The first step for the client is to define the problem.

1. How do you define the problem and related supports and challenges?

Veronica Clements, Client perspective

Who has ever had a short-term project thrust on them seemingly out of nowhere? Or maybe I should ask who hasn’t?! I get those requests more often than I would like to admit! Imagine yourself with a new project you are quickly trying to scope, knowing you need to find an L&D vendor to work with. Where do you start?

As the client, I begin by defining my problem. Here’s an example of a project definition: A new process is being introduced. If the employees don’t follow the new process, errors and rework would result, causing frustration to internal customers. I determine that I need a course developed about the new process and I expect 200 employees to be trained in the next three months. In preparation, I identify related supports for the project, such as available subject matter experts (SMEs) and pertinent existing content and documentation. Next, I identify any potential challenges, such as the process that is still being updated or the target training launch date just 3 months away.

After review, I determine I don’t have adequate internal resources to work on this project, so I ask vendors to prepare a proposal to address my problem and the challenges I’ve listed. It is important for me to gather basic needs assessment information from the stakeholders before finalizing a request for proposal. This helps me to clarify course goals, project resources, and high-level timelines.

The next thing I do is define success, which we will discuss in the next blog post.

 

Irene Stern Frielich, Vendor perspective

When I, as the vendor , receive a request for proposal or am discussing a new project with a client, I ask a lot of questions. I recognize that my client might be deeply immersed in her challenge and may find value from the objectivity I bring. Based on the project outlined, I’ll ask more about context. For example, why was the process changed? What problem was that intended to solve? If it sounds like the client conducted a high-level needs assessment, I might add: What were the results of your needs assessment? What were the surprises? What challenges were identified? When I as the vendor ask these types of probing questions, I gain some insights and get more clarity about results the client is expecting. Sometimes the conversation raises additional questions the client may need to research further.

I’ll also ask about existing related documentation, such as procedures, presentations, and process flows, as well as a list of SMEs available to work on this project. If there is little existing documentation, we’ll need the expert to spend time “brain dumping” for us and we’ll make that expectation clear from the start. I’ll also ask more questions about the audience – why are they not following the new process? What, besides training, might help them? What has already been tried and how/why did it help or not? Basically, I want to ensure that if we do prepare a proposal and ultimately engage in the work, we are able to have a positive impact.

I will also ask questions about the client’s internal capabilities and capacity. For example, if this will be an instructor-led classroom course, are there skilled trainers to deliver the training? What level of detail is needed in the instructor guide we create? Or, if it is an online course: What authoring tool does the client’s organization use? Is there an internal resource who will make post-launch course updates? This will help me determine the tools we will use and our approach in documenting the production notes and programmer explanations.

Keys to success

CLIENT: Complete basic information gathering to define and document your problem with related supports and challenges.

VENDOR: Ask questions to clarify the issue, gain context, and uncover additional challenges and supports in order to write a proposal with clear project scope.

Next time: Defining success.

Veronica Clements, formerly a Learning and Development leader, with 25 years’ experience engaging vendors.

Irene Stern Frielich, President of EnVision Performance Solutions, with 20 years as a vendor providing solutions to clients.

2019, Here We Come!

After a wonderful few days spent with family and friends, I feel reenergized and ready to meet 2019 head on! How about you?

For many of us, the new year brings challenges, like reprioritizing our time so we’re focused on the right things or learning the next great tool or process or figuring out how to do more with less at work. And if we manage others, we may also need to help them prioritize, learn, and grow themselves.

Here are a few ideas to help you gear up for 2019.

  1. Find or be a mentor. If you’re in the earlier part of your career or exploring a new area and don’t have a mentor, find one. By having a mentor, you’ll be able to learn and be connected to others in a way you wouldn’t be able to on your own. Plus, if there comes a time when you need professional advice, a mentor is a great person to turn to.

      If you’re a seasoned professional, then consider mentoring someone else. As a mentor, you can positively impact someone else by passing on your own insights, and you might even get some gratification out of being a mentor!

    • Take a class. Whether you want to learn about QuickBooks or quality control or tai kwon do, there’s a class out there for you. See what your company or professional associations or community education groups offer. Locate online learning opportunities such as lynda.com or free MOOCs (massive open online course) offered by HarvardX. I actually learned how to calibrate my oven by melting sugar in it when I took HarvardX’s online food and chemistry course a couple years back. You may even decide to branch out and audit an academic class at a university, perhaps your alma mater.
    • Network! Find a professional association to join and commit to attending 3 events in the next 6 months, or reach out to individuals you’d like to get to know better and invite them to coffee (with a focus in mind, of course). While many of us promise ourselves we’ll network, too often this pledge gets tossed aside in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Job opportunities, new projects, and great ideas or connections can come from networking, and it’s also fulfilling to help someone else out. Networking creates new relationships and helps deepen established relationships to create a fabric of professional support — one that is invaluable for everyone.
    • Set goals. Goals aren’t just for an annual performance review at work. Set your annual career learning goals and also set some personal targets. My personal goal for 2019 is to complete a first draft of a book I am writing. It’s easier to stay on track if you break down the goals into manageable tasks and evaluate them each week or two. Establishing goals that are clear and specific is best. For my book writing, I have a goal of completing three half-day writing sessions per month.
    • Keep an open mind. Sometimes new opportunities arise when you least expect them and sometimes things just don’t go as easily as you expected, so goals need to be flexible. I’m not sure how realistic my 2019 book-writing goal is, so I plan to reassess my progress every two or three months and adjust my goals or focus as needed. Maybe I’ll need to write more frequently or give myself another few months to complete my draft, or perhaps I’ll need to spend less time watching the Great British Baking Show to fit in more writing!

    Hope you have a great start to 2019!

    The Manager’s Role in the Training Story

    Imagine that you work as a manager, heading up a department of six people, and tomorrow Alex, one of your reports, plans to attend training all day. He let you know that he’d be attending this class on project management, and that he needs someone to cover for him while he’s away. Knee-deep in work yourself, you ask one of Alex’s colleagues to cover his crucial items.

    But do you know what this training is really about? And do you know what you should expect Alex to be able to do differently as a result of attending this class? You get frustrated when Alex completes projects quickly, but misses key steps he probably shouldn’t at this point in his career. Will this performance need get addressed at this training session? You’re now wondering if you should have paid greater attention to managing his performance and determining his training needs.

    Instructional designers and subject matter experts can put all of their expertise and effort into creating an effective course for learners. However, if the employee’s manager doesn’t involve herself or support the effort, the knowledge and skills learned may not “stick.”

    Mary L. Broad, in Beyond Transfer of Training, describes managers as stakeholders in the performance improvement process. “There are many stakeholders in complex organizations who have strong interests in effective performance and who can provide necessary support for the performance. For all interventions to develop or improve performance, primary stakeholders include: supervisors and team leaders, and—for strategically important interventions—top executives and managers…” ¹

    How should the manager get involved in training for his reports? Let’s consider how a training program resembles a successful sale—both offer important solutions to the end user. As a salesperson pursues closing a sale, the manager aims to improve her team’s performance. This doesn’t happen instantly, however, just like a major sale doesn’t. There are several actions managers can, and should, perform before, during and after to support learning and help ensure it is successful.

    Introduction: Prime the Learner

    A salesperson begins his job by getting to know the prospect—uncovering their needs, introducing services to meet those needs, and establishing a good relationship in the pre-sale stage. Managers should similarly take advantage of the pre-training time, referred to as “priming,” to set the stage for the employee to learn.

    Before training can occur, what items does the manager tackle? In the priming stage, she “helps to identify the performance need” that the training will address, according to Broad. It’s important that manager familiarize herself with the training program, including its learning objectives. Beyond that, a lot of the “introduction” tasks include logistics, such as giving the employee time to attend the class and complete any pre-work ahead of time.

    It is the manager’s role to talk with the employee before training with three goals in mind: to share the value of learning, hear what the employee hopes to gain from the training, and talk about performance expectations once the training is complete. Understandably, a big part of what the manager does is support and encourage the employee, which will help the training go smoothly.

    Priming often involves a partnership between the manager and training function. Before training begins, the person responsible for delivering the training may share a checklist of questions with the manager, so she can discuss the course material with the employee.

    The Sale: Close and Provide Support

    A sale is made! When the sale closes, the customer learns how to use the product or service, often with the aid of customer service. The salesperson may contribute in ways that enhance the customer’s experience, such as offering specific suggestions related to the customer’s situation. Similarly, the manager contributes in ways that make it easier for the employee to learn. The manager ensures that a colleague covers the employee’s work in his absence. The manager should also provide any needed materials, like lab equipment for technical training, for the employee to use and practice on.

    Post-Sale: Follow Up and Cement the Learning

    After the product or service has been purchased, a salesperson follows up with the customer to make sure the solution worked as promised and to see if any other tools or support are needed. Similarly, the manager sits down with the employee after training for a follow-up meeting. In this conversation, the manager aims to find out what the employee learned, which items he may have struggled with, and the top two or three things he may want to do differently.

    The manager should observe the employee’s behavior and work habits to see what successful changes he has made, and provide both positive and constructive feedback. These post-training activities can both strengthen the manager-employee relationship and help the employee apply what he’s learned.

    Need help with keeping track of what activities managers can do to support their employees attending training, and what sample questions managers can ask before and after the training? Click here for EnVision’s checklist.

    ¹Broad, Mary L. (2005) Beyond Transfer of Training: Engaging Systems to Improve Performance. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer, An Imprint of Wiley, page 31.

    Go From Zero to 60! Accelerate the Productivity of Your Novice Instructional Designer

    Have you been in a situation where you’ve engaged a Subject Matter Expert (SME) from your organization to develop a training program? It can make a lot of sense to do that – she will have the content knowledge and experience to pass along to others, and she will be thrilled to share it—it’s her work, and she finds it meaningful.

    There’s a downside, though. Courses designed by experts with little ID experience often won’t make the grade. They can be too long, include too much irrelevant or “nice to know” content (because, after all, doesn’t the SME want to share all the information she loves so much?), or don’t engage the learner. The result? You’ll have courses that aren’t as effective as you might need them to be.

    Other times, you may hire a novice learning professional into an ID position. You assign him to develop a course from scratch, hoping his lack of knowledge of learning science and current best practices won’t be an issue.

    I have encountered both of these situations many times, and I’ve seen L&D managers struggle with educating their novice IDers, usually due to a time crunch.

    So, how can you get your novice IDer up and running? One approach our clients have used is targeted mentoring. With mentoring, you can engage an experienced instructional designer mentor – your very own coach – who will work one-on-one with the individual to address specific learning gaps and help her develop self-reliance.

    How Can ID Mentoring Work?

    Let’s use an example to illustrate how you might use mentoring to develop a team member.

    My client, a new IDer whom we’ll call Alex, had worked as an admin in his company’s learning and organizational development group. Alex was promoted to instructional designer and started out updating existing courses. Then he needed to create a course from the ground up. However, his manager, stretched thin, didn’t have the time needed to support his development and had no other ID professionals to help. So, she engaged me to help Alex get up to speed. Our goal was to help him design the course and to work more independently in the future.

    At our initial meeting, Alex and I identified the primary goal of our mentoring engagement: to develop and launch a Good Documentation Practices course. Next, we discussed the business need for this course, the problems it should solve, before considering the foundational skills Alex would need. Since this course was being developed from the ground up, the list included:

    • conducting needs assessments
    • building successful partnerships with subject matter experts
    • writing learning objectives
    • determining the evaluation strategy
    • identifying learning modalities
    • incorporating techniques to engage learners and create effective learning.

    We planned a series of meetings, about twice a month for six or more months.

    In the follow-up meetings, we focused on one skill at a time. I would share some (but not too much!) of the theory associated with a skill, a method or approach for applying it, and the importance of using the method or approach. For example, when we covered writing learning objectives, we studied Robert Mager’s approach and Bloom’s taxonomy. We discussed the ways those methods could help Alex and where they might be challenging to use. Then, we created a couple of learning objectives for his course and analyzed how each one aligned with the two systems.

    Then, the rubber met the road. I assigned Alex to write the rest of the learning objectives for his course.

    Before our next meeting, I asked Alex to send me the learning objectives he created, along with any questions he had. I responded to the questions with guidance and encouraged him to continue working (most important!)

    The next time we met, we reviewed Alex’s final learning objectives, made tweaks, and revisited Mager and Bloom. Then, we moved onto the next skill and wash, rinse, repeat. After every one or two meetings, I updated Alex’s manager with highlights of the sessions and a list of Alex’s next steps. When appropriate, I also suggested ways the manager could provide support.

    Why Choose Targeted Mentoring over ID Classes?

    1. You can develop a timeline to fit the mentee’s schedule. If a mentee needs to be away from work, she won’t miss a class and you don’t need to worry about what she didn’t get to learn. Instead, you have the flexibility to create a schedule around the learner’s calendar or make last minute changes when necessary.
    2. Your involvement promotes accountability. As the learner’s manager, you should attend the initial meeting between her and her mentor, and then consider joining periodically, which sends a message that you take the program seriously. Also, if you request regular updates about the learner’s progress, you can monitor and support it. This also enables you share your input and shape the mentorship to fit your team’s goals.
    3. The individualized action learning approach focuses on the mentee’s specific needs. The process of studying a topic, immediately applying it to a real project, and then receiving targeted feedback and assistance allows a new IDer to fill specific competency gaps.

    So, returning to our example, what is Alex up to, a few months after completing his mentorship? He has successfully launched the course he was working on, and it has received a positive reception from the business unit it supports. Meanwhile, he and his manager feel that his skillset and professional potential have grown. So, Alex’s manager has assigned him more courses to develop, which are launching according to plan. It’s a win-win!