Building Bridges

Keeping Your Seat at the Table

As a Learning & Development partner, do you have a “seat at the table”? This is a question we were asking and struggling with [ahem, ahem] decades ago, when I was coming up as an L&D manager. It’s as pertinent a question as ever. After all, if we don’t have that proverbial seat, how can we provide our services in a meaningful way?

There are so many things L&D managers can do to build relationships with the business leaders and stakeholders whom we support. Here are three that are top of mind for me this month.

1.  Educate yourself about the business.
Are you crystal clear about your organization’s business goals and the challenges they face in achieving those goals? Can you get your hands on related metrics? From there, you can arm yourself with questions for your business leader. As you demonstrate your ability to talk their language and engage in meaningful dialogue, you can start addressing their needs. Before my initial meetings with business leaders or clients, I did, and still do, research the organization (whether the company, function, or department). And I’m not afraid to ask questions when I don’t understand something I’ve uncovered in my research.

2.  Educate your stakeholder on whether or not training is the right solution.
Are you able to respond to a business leader’s request for generic team building or customer service training? Having the skills to ask probing, diagnostic questions to get to the root cause of their concerns will not only demonstrate your consultative ability, but also will ensure that any solution you arrive at will have an impact. Even as an external consultant, I ask these questions. Sometimes I don’t land a project that I’m hoping for, because I’ve helped my would-be client see that there are other, more appropriate, non-training approaches to addressing the situation.

3.  Keep up the relationship.
Meeting with your business stakeholder is not a once per year activity. Sure, identifying budget needs annually is critical. However, keeping up the relationship throughout the year helps the L&D manager to be more agile. Sometimes business goals change. Do you want to wait a year before finding that out? During ongoing conversations, we can also provide value-add, for example, by asking about metrics (which, by the way, we can leverage later for measuring the impact of our solutions); suggesting less expensive off-the-shelf learning options for foundational skills; or educating them on the science of learning.

In my conversations, I might make an easy-to-implement suggestion for solving a learning problem that the leader can implement herself, including a story of how I’ve seen this successfully done before. I can provide a pertinent demo or an example of a solution I’ve recently developed and how it helped the target group. I can also offer resources to aid the leader with something that isn’t within my wheelhouse or expertise.


Whether you are an internal or external practitioner, I hope these tips will help you build up your stakeholder relationships!

Read more tips in my 2020 post: Getting Invited to the Table: 3 Tips to Make it Happen

How My New Coffee Maker Came with a Moment of Need Learning Approach

Coffee maker

I recently purchased a new coffee maker. I’d be embarrassed to describe my old one, so I’ll not go there. The new one isn’t high-end, but it does have a lot of features that work well for my husband’s and my varied preferences: it brews different strength coffees and various size cups and pots, and even heats water for tea and froths my milk! When it arrived, I eagerly read the directions to set it up. I couldn’t help but look for the good, and not-so-good, instruction in the accompanying documentation. I identified two examples of both instruction types, items I find helpful to keep in mind in my work life doing instructional design.

Something I was excited about: There were two sets of instructions, one of which was the “quick start” guide, which would enable me to use my coffee maker almost immediately, a great benefit for this under-caffeinated learner. Fantastic. Just what I needed. I read that right away. It told me how to prepare the coffee maker for first use. I did what it said to do and was quickly ready to brew my first cup.

But I decided to read the fuller instructions, you know, just in case I needed to avoid making costly mistakes before adding my ground beans and water. Wouldn’t you know it? The instructions for first use were slightly different. For one, it omitted the part about cleaning all the parts first. Okay, so perhaps that’s obvious to some, but it could have been succinctly included in the quick start guide.

A frustration I had with the fuller instructions was the repetition of some of the steps based on the coffee strength and cup size. I had to reread a few times to discern the differences. It would have been so much easier to absorb if it were set up in a table format, with the differences highlighted and avoiding repetition. I know, it’s just coffee. I could toss a cup of palm-hair-growing strength if I messed up.

But things don’t always go smoothly, at work or making coffee. My work often deals with more serious impacts if the learner cannot quickly and easily understand the instructions for what to do on the job, so this bothered me. And hey, no one wants weak coffee on a Monday morning.

Another thing I was excited about: After reading the complete instructions (and washing the pertinent parts) I needed to locate the right place for the grounds, the correct settings for my preferred style of coffee, and the frothing situation. Each of the functions on the coffee maker had small stick-on notes about what to do. “Close this lid to brew grounds,” “Flip this switch for hot water,” “Twist to remove (frother).” I suppose these prompts were based on common questions users might have (based on this user).

That last point is a second great example of providing learning in the moment of need (see How to Use The 5 “Moments of Need” Model In Corporate eLearning – eLearning Industry)! I can leave those stickers on until I remember all the details without prompts. Then I can remove them. Or leave them on for house guests who wish to brew their own. This is one area of instructional design we sometimes neglect, instead expecting our learners to read the complete instructions and hoping they’ll remember what to do. By including “Moments of Need” tactics such as quick reference guides and on-the-job prompts, including tips for the unexpected, we can ensure that learners perform their work more immediately and more accurately.

My coffee making has gone to new heights. Cappuccino, anyone?

Picking the Choicest Apples in Instructional Design

If you have ever gone apple picking, have you had the following experience, as I have? You start to fill your basket with beautiful red apples, then suddenly, too suddenly, your basket is overflowing?

When working with a subject matter expert (SME), instructional designers are often handed an overflowing basket of “apples,” the core content, along with lots of other material. Sometimes, it can be “too much of a good thing.” As a result, we need to guide SMEs in culling and organizing the content.

This is an important service that instructional designers perform. By culling the content, the instructional designer helps keep the client focused on the learning objectives, the most crucial information for the learner to absorb. But what are some effective ways to prioritize and arrange the learning material?

To manage the overflow of content, instructional designers can use these approaches:

A) At the very start of the project, ask the questions that lead to writing strong learning objectives. Questions might include: What is the business goal and vision? What do you want learners to be able to do as a result of completing this learning solution? Where do learners get tripped up most frequently or make the most errors in performing their jobs, as it relates to the topic at hand?

B) After formulating the learning objectives, keep returning to them as you develop the course. Ask your client questions like: How does that content support one of the learning objectives? Is that critical, need-to-know information? (If it is, but it’s not in a learning objective, it’s time to revisit the objectives).

As instructional designers create the learning materials to fulfill the learning objectives, we typically remove the extra content (or sometimes create a job reference tool that learners can access just-in-time). For example, in a course on how to correctly use lab equipment for sample analyses, we would not include detailed information about blood types. Similarly, it is crucial that nurses know when and how to administer a lifesaving intervention in an emergency, but they do not need to memorize every requirement of their jobs.

To aid the learners in their skill development, we arrange the content in a logical way, with each instruction building on the one preceding it. This process is sometimes referred to as scaffolding. Returning to our lab example, the learner might need to know what a specific lab item’s purpose is, or which lab item to select for a given task before they learn how to use it.

While clients appreciate instructional designers for their knowledge of learning science and their creativity, instructional designers also bring prioritization and organizational skills to projects. These skills help us to build learning solutions that provide learners with focused instruction on what they need to know to do their jobs better.

Getting Unstuck: Generate Velocity to Achieve your Goals

By Kris Normandin, guest blogger

Have you ever felt stuck? At some point in our lives, we all have. The larger question is, how do you get “unstuck?” This is what we set out to answer at Velocity Quest for Women. We provide a series of virtual, real-time programs for women who want to increase inspiration, motivation, and momentum to get more from their day-to-day activities and ultimately, their lives.

Velocity is defined as “speed in a given direction.” Where are you headed and what is the right pace to get there?

Our framework centers on four components: Values, Vision, Viewpoint, and Venture. As a leadership coach, I have used these components as a structure for people to explore what they want and how they can get there.

  • Values start you off with the question: What matters to you?
  • Vision is all about how you see yourself in the future: What is the destination? What do you aspire to be?
  • Viewpoint gets you to take a closer look at the thoughts and feelings that influence your actions and helps to reframe those thoughts that are not serving you.
  • Venture, the action plan, comes together when you have identified steps that align with your core values and vision. It is also the step in which you choose the pace that will ensure the most success.

As an instructional designer, I find this framework can also be applied to organizational projects. So, the next time you are feeling stuck, check in with the components:

  • The organization’s need or goal (vision)
  • The core principles of the organization (values)
  • Operating assumptions for success (viewpoint)
  • A solid action plan for execution (venture)

As you carefully consider each step in the process, you may discover the alignment and momentum that will propel you forward.

We are better practitioners when we feel refreshed and inspired. If you are looking for more alignment and momentum in your own life, come visit our website and join us for a Sneak Peek into our programs.

Adopting Improv to Ace Instructional Design

Last month, Sheree Galpert, an Applied Improv practitioner and trainer, shared fundamentals of improvisation in EnVision’s blog. Sheree introduced three principles of improvisation:

  • Be in the moment
  • Use “Yes, and”
  • Make your partner look good

Sheree illustrated how instructional designers can leverage these techniques to be more effective in their work.

After reading Sheree’s post, I was pleased to realize that a recent project of EnVision’s incorporated each of the improvisation principles she shared with us last month. The project was a needs assessment and design of a management development course for a financial services client.

In our interactions with this client and others, I recognized that we do a lot of “being in the moment.” Our instructional designers listen carefully to what clients say, so they can understand their needs. Only then can we make appropriate recommendations and be responsive in our work.

“Yes, and?” For the needs assessment, we initially agreed to conduct one focus group with selected client employees. The client’s key stakeholder requested we run a second focus group with a different employee cohort to gain a broader sense of the organization’s needs. While we agreed this was a beneficial plan we essentially added a “yes, and” to our reply. “Yes,” we said, (after all, agility is one of EnVision’s values.) “And this changes the scope of work for the needs assessment, so the project will take a bit longer and cost x dollars more. Does that timeline work for you?” The client was fine with it, so something tells me this improv approach is useful!

Certainly, it is part of the trainer’s job to make the learner “look good,” as Sheree described. In the needs assessment and design phase of this project, EnVision’s instructional designers also helped the client’s stakeholders to look good.

We acknowledge that the SME and other stakeholders are the content experts. EnVision’s consulting expertise and the client stakeholders’ content expertise complement each other. We ask targeted questions of the SME and other stakeholders and guide the instructional design process, which ultimately results in a more effective learning solution for our client’s organization. Content expertise partnered with solid instructional design skills help to make our client stakeholders “look good.”

As instructional designers, we think on our feet, similarly to how an improvisational artist would. These improv techniques help us to be more responsive to and collaborative with the project’s stakeholders. And this furthers our relationships with our clients, which we value the most in our work.

Want to learn more about how to use Applied Improv?  The Improv Lab, run by Sheree Galpert, is open to trainers/facilitators in the Boston area on the second Saturday of every month from 2-3:30 ET. In person (outside) through summer; starting in the fall, it will be online and open to people who are anywhere! Private message Sheree via LinkedIn.

“Begin with the end in mind”?

By Sheree Galpert, guest blogger

“Begin with the end in mind.” That’s one of the key habits laid out by Stephen R. Covey in his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. For instructional designers and trainers, that’s kind of a no-brainer: You have to know what you want your learners to get from your lessons before you can plan or deliver your curriculum. I’m an Applied Improv (AI) practitioner and trainer, which means that I use improvisation-based activities with my clients to develop skills, deliver content, and enhance work processes.

You might think that improvisation, which is so much about being in the moment and letting things unfold in completely unpredictable ways, wouldn’t be a particularly effective methodology for a trainer. Yes, and* sometimes you’d be exactly right: If you’re designing or delivering specific content that is highly technical, or if there’s no room in the curriculum for individuals to engage with the content in a way that is particularly meaningful and memorable for them, then, yeah, I’d probably advise not using AI to deliver your content.
(*See what I did there? “Yes, and” is one of improv’s core principles, and it means accept what has been offered and build on it.)

You’d still be well-advised, however, to use AI on yourself.

Say what?

Yes—on yourself! Stay with me on this. In addition to “yes, and,” two other fundamentals of improv are “be in the moment” and “make your partner look good.” In Learning and Development, your “partner” is the learner.

Think about the best trainers you’ve encountered. They are people who can:

  • meet their learners where they’re at, continuously identifying what participants need (“be in the moment”),
  • build effectively on their questions or suggestions, resistance or confusion (“yes, and”), and
  • help the participants meet their learning goals (“make your partner look good”).

The same goes for curriculum designers. You need to be able to:

  • assess how much your intended audiences know (“be in the moment”),
  • arrange your “building blocks” to sequence the content you’re designing (“yes, and”), and
  • stack the deck for success—develop a curriculum that will enhance your audiences’ skills, awareness, or knowledge (“make your partner look good”).

So, yeah, like I said—improv.

Now back to paragraph one. As for “beginning with the end in mind” when I do AI-based training with clients, first I identify what “takeaways” I want them to have. Am I focusing on deep listening, or creating mutually supportive environments, or giving effective feedback, or dealing with ambiguity and the unknown (we’ve all gotten a lot of practice with that since Covid hit, right?), or something else? I also need to have a solid understanding of what kinds of learnings the different activities in my inventory can yield—what interpersonal dynamics do they tend to evoke? How might perspectives shift? What do people typically become aware of in terms of their roles on a team?

So, yeah, I absolutely begin with the end in mind: I need to know what learning I want, and choose the activities that I think will best support their experience. And then I work (more like play, actually) with my participants to ground us all in “yes, and,” being in the moment, and making each other look good.

I’d like to thank Irene Stern Frielich for inviting me to be a guest blogger. Talk about amazing instructional design! She makes all her partners—and clients—look good!

Want to learn more about how to use Applied Improv?  The Improv Lab, run by Sheree Galpert, is open to trainers/facilitators in the Boston area on the second Saturday of every month from 2-3:30 ET. In person (outside) through summer; starting in the fall, it will be online and open to people who are anywhere! Private message Sheree via LinkedIn.

Networking in 2022: Making the Most of the Experience

I scan the room, looking for people I know and for people I can meet for the first time. I walk up to the coffee urn, where someone I don’t know just filled her cup. After extending a hand, I introduce myself and ask her what brought her here today. Soon, I excuse myself to respond to a longtime colleague who just tapped my shoulder. We exchange hugs and “how-are-you?” responses. I introduce him to my new acquaintance and share a little about each person to help build their connection.

Do you remember those pre-pandemic days of networking and connecting in person? They seemed so straightforward, events that flowed with ease.

I loved those in-person meetings, often in bustling rooms with folks packed in, unencumbered by six feet of distancing or masks covering faces or a computer screen and cyberspace in between us. Because this close-up and often tactile contact has vanished from the working world, networking has changed. While there are still many opportunities today to meet people and help each other with work needs, we can’t escape the differences from the pre-pandemic world. How can we acknowledge these distinctions and make the most of them?

For me, two main differences emerged in my networking over the past two years.

First, most of our networking now occurs through our computer screens. This medium presents challenges. In a large group virtual meeting, it isn’t possible to grab someone for a quick introductory chat—at the coffee urn or after the main meeting concludes. That sense of spontaneity, crucial to connecting, has vanished with handshakes.

Second, many professionals still work exclusively from home. With the elimination of “water-cooler,” hallway, or coffee room chat, it is too easy to seclude ourselves in our home offices, collective noses to the computer screens, in-person connection a much less accessible experience.

Networking just feels harder to me, and I’ve been putting a lot of thought to my approach in this new year. Here are some things I resolve to work on.

Spreading my wings. I will continue to seek out opportunities to join virtual events in the L&D and consulting worlds. There are so many fabulous professional groups in the Boston area, and some meetings that used to be difficult for my schedule now fit in more easily since I don’t need to travel to the meeting. Notably, since everything is virtual, we all can participate in events around the country or even the globe. I’m not saying I’ll join every group there is—I will still select from those that provide me the most benefit—but there are more options now.

Reaching out. When in a virtual meeting with a group, if I notice someone with whom I’d like to have a longer discussion, I will message or email them to get the ball rolling, then set up a time for a separate, one-to-one conversation if it seems appropriate. It doesn’t really take more time to do that than it did in person, but it does take a different way of thinking, which might feel like it requires more effort at first.

Carving out the time. It is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day flow of work without leaving time for connection. This challenge hasn’t changed all that much. To address it, I schedule a little time in my calendar each week for networking activities such as selecting, registering for, and attending events; following up with people post-event; and meeting one-to-one. I keep in mind something I learned a long time ago: Networking is one of those things to do before you need to do it. The network is invaluable when seeking information about a professional question or a job or gig lead.

As I resolve this year to make more new acquaintances and reconnect with longtime colleagues, I will continue to offer support, resources, and connection to those I meet. As I learned early in my career, networking isn’t just accessing information, it is also being a reliable and trusted source for the rest of my network. A professional network can develop into a circle of advice and support, and I aim to contribute to my place in the circle.

I look forward to connecting with you in 2022. If you don’t hear from me soon, I welcome your reaching out to set up a time to chat.

Crisp Air, Mexican Hot Chocolate, and an Adirondack Chair

Leaves are on the verge of turning beautiful colors here in the Northeast. The evening air is crispening, and I can smell logs burning in firepits as my neighbors try to squeeze in some more cool-night outdoor time.

You know what that means…2022 is around the corner, and, for many of us, it is also time to start our strategic planning for next year. (Sorry to pull you away from the comfort of your Adirondack chair and Mexican hot cocoa, but please bear with me for a moment or two.)

You may be experienced in working with your internal clients to identify their business goals for the coming year and determining how you can support those goals. In case it is new to you, here are three phases to help you, an instructional design professional, get there:

1. Assess
Prepare questions for each of your stakeholders, starting with: What are your business goals for next year? What do you believe are your greatest challenges in achieving those goals? Why? What is needed to help remove those challenges? What if the goals are not met?

I recommend following the Performance Consulting model described in Dana Gaines Robinson’s (et. al.) book of the same name. This process will help you identify performance gaps, capability needs, and appropriate solutions. Hint: not all solutions will be training! Sometimes our internal clients don’t realize that, and this book can help you explain.

Another consideration during the Assess phase is the capacity of your internal instructional design group. As you move into Plan/Design, it helps to prioritize needs with your stakeholders.

2. Plan/Design
Once you have a clear understanding of the business goals and employee performance gaps, you can design, at a high level, a learning solution. That might include listing clusters of learning assets such as courses, readings, activities, performance support, or posters, each with related learning objectives and instructions on where and how learners would access them.

Ideally, you’ll be Designing for Modern Learning as Crystal Kadakia and Lisa M.D. Owens describe in their book of the same name. Your internal client would approve of your recommendations and prioritization before you begin development. This book, with a “modernized” five-step learning model, can help as you make your case for what might feel like a different way of designing learning.

As part of your prioritization process, identify to your internal client where you might fall short of capacity (or even capability) to Develop and Launch according to the plans. If the need is a high enough priority, the internal client may need to budget for external support, which could include consultants, technology, or even content expertise.

3. Develop and Launch
Finally, the real fun begins! Now you can develop the learning assets themselves. While this might take most of your time during the year, it cannot be done effectively without well executed Assess and Plan/Design phases.

Hopefully, during those earlier phases of Assess and Plan/Design—the ones you started after a cool evening by your firepit sipping that Mexican hot cocoa—you will define your goals and plans so developing and launching your 2022 learning programs hits the mark with your internal client. We are happy to support you—while sipping our respective Mexican hot cocoas—as you Assess; provide creative ideas and approaches as you Plan/Design, and offer partnership solutions as you prepare to Develop.

A, B, C, or All of the Above?

Have you ever taken a learning assessment—aka test—that was frustratingly difficult or fabulously easy? Did you get distracted taking the test, wondering, “What were they thinking?” as you tried to regurgitate trite facts or parse out a complex question and series of responses?

Early in my consulting career, I was asked to review a learning assessment written by a content expert. It was on a topic I knew very little about. I ended up passing the assessment by selecting those answers that seemed correct —without even reading the questions!

That experience set me on a path to understand what it was about so many learning assessments that made them so easy to pass. My analysis and research resulted in the creation of our Writing Effective Learning (WELTM) Assessments workshop.

In the workshop, we discuss the WHY of creating learning assessments (focusing on a learner orientation rather than simply a goal to “check the box” that a course was completed) and WHEN to create them (hint: NOT as an afterthought once the course is ready to launch).

The real not-so-secret key to success in writing learning assessments is correlating learning objectives to questions, and we spend some time on this in the workshop. A guideline we discuss is to create 2-3 test questions (items) for each learning objective. In addition, each item should support at least one learning objective. That eliminates many of the unnecessary questions that require simple regurgitation of facts to which the learner can easily look up the answer. It also makes it a little more challenging to write substantive questions.

We spend most of the workshop identifying common issues and rewriting questions. Common issues include using “all of the above” too frequently, writing responses that are more or less equal in length and level of detail, and avoiding two-option questions (think “true/false”) as they promote guessing.

Once the questions are prepared, how do we know they are clear, not overly complex, and not too easy? There are many ways to “test” the test questions, including having target learners, “naïve” learners (those who are unfamiliar with the material), and content experts complete the test and provide feedback to the test designers.

Once the course is launched with its learning assessment, do we simply provide the learner with a pass or fail score—and if it is a fail, require retake until the learner passes? Or, do we conduct an item analysis to identify any items that are commonly answered incorrectly, then correct the item or the training?

I’d like to propose that, over the next few weeks, you review your learning assessment strategy, prepare a plan to create more robust tests that are aligned with the learning objectives, and find various ways to “test the test.” I’d be happy to weigh in if you’d like to brainstorm some ideas together.

Supporting SMEs—with Pizza: Professional Development Offering

Final Activity
In our final activity, groups shared one action they will try for each of the pie slices.

In April, I enjoyed facilitating a virtual event for the Hawkeye (Iowa) Chapter of ATD. The topic was titled “Supporting SMEs—with Pizza” and trust me, pizza always gets folks’ attention! We started out voting on our favorite-looking pie from among four images. The losing choices were either too rich (appeared too difficult to digest), too visually unappealing and with unappealing ingredients (hard to stay engaged), or not enough meat (why bother?!). I carried the metaphor through the session as I shared six slices of the pie, or six practices for partnering effectively with your SME.

Here are the six practices we discussed, with a short description of each:

  1. Set Expectations early and often: Communicate the time, content, and other resources needed and on what schedule. Review and agree on learning objectives, the target audience, and definition of success for the learning solution.
  2. Set Context: Together with your SME, strive for clarity around how the topic correlates with the target audience’s job and what challenges the audience faces, as well as the knowledge and skills they need before learning about the given topic.
  3. Guide your SME in how to Curate Content: Keep the learning objectives front and center and keep asking the question, “Is that ‘must have’ or ‘nice to have?’ If it is not ‘must have’ but is still important, can it be provided as a reference?
  4. Scaffold content in a logical manner: Discuss missing steps, content “holes,” and how each topic is related to the next.
  5. Determine delivery time: Instructional designers are the experts in identifying the best learning modality for a given situation and estimating the necessary learning time. Provide the SME with realistic time estimates and explanations about why 2 hours-worth of course content cannot be learned in 15 minutes. Or why an 8-hour elearning course may not have the desired effect.
  6. Evaluate effectiveness of the learning experience. Of course, you’ll create the evaluation plans in partnership with the SME from the start of the project with questions such as “What does success look like?” and “What are the problems you are seeing and how do you know?” and “What measures are already in place?”

The group came away with many useful tips – and having regular and clear communication was the primary one! Asking a lot of questions was another, including questions about why the SME wants certain content included, questions about the best order of a process, and questions about what success looks like. One useful pointer was remembering that it’s sometimes ok and appropriate to say “no” and re-negotiate.

If you are interested in a professional development mini-workshop on this topic or others for your organization, please contact Irene Stern Frielich.