Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Think about someone learning more about their hobby, like gardening, cooking or bicycle repair.
That person is not simply flipping through a manual. They are sponging up the knowledge they need, applying it immediately, and retaining it for life. They become more passionate about the topic as their comprehension grows. Over time, they discover new ways apply the learning, and their performance improves.
We want students to become better, faster. Short-term results (success or failure) lead to increased satisfaction, and higher satisfaction leads to a demand, or a pull, for additional learning. Our objective is not to push more content at them (check-in-a-box-training), but to help them achieve results quickly.
Find someone who is passionate about a topic or task and you will find a person who is or will soon become, successful at performing it.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
The IBM Global Human Capital study surveyed over 400 companies in 40 countries across North America, Asia and Europe. The findings? A lack of focus on leadership development means companies are increasingly unable to plan for the skills needed to remain competitive.
As the baby boom leadership retires, many companies will discover a generation’s worth of experience and talent has walked out the door, and remaining emerging leaders ill-equipped to fill the void.
In the study, the transfer of experience and information from one generation to the next is still relatively isolated by department and geography. Within traditional organizations, there is also a reluctance to advertise individuals as expert talent or allow them to act as internal experts. This occurs despite the fact that organizations first recruit a person based upon their unique talents, abilities and experiences.
However, once inside the organization, many traditional leaders tend to ignore or downplay a person’s experiences – the very reasons they were hired!
Collaboration between leaders, departments and employees is critical for future organizational success. Despite the prevalence of technology that can easily enable this type of sharing, functional silos, misaligned performance measures and work constraints inhibit the practice.
Without effective collaboration, an organization’s ability to identify rising stars, track and reward service champions and chances for improving operational effectiveness are severely limited.
Our solution? Structure leadership development programs to clearly define the challenges emerging leaders are meant to solve (in partnership with customers and employees), let them work on these challenges soon after being hired, and measure that employee’s ability to perform and make decisions, all while providing significant incentives that reward the right behavior.
Did you see the movie? I double-dog dare you to tell everyone you did not get a lump in your throat as Andy prepared to leave home, or when the toys faced an uncertain future near the end. Those moments are examples of great storytelling.
Creative writing is a major part of great storytelling, like peas and carrots, hands and gloves. Think about the last training material you created.
Do you enjoy reading it? Did it tell a good story? Does it move you, or change the way you feel about a particular topic? Would you want to sit through it again – just for fun?
People respond to challenges with a combination of emotion, physical responses, and intellectual capacity. Yet most courses often only appeal to our cognitive, rational side. That’s a big mistake many corporations make. (shhh… “emotional” sounds so…“unprofessional"!)
Wrong! If you truly want to create more meaningful learning, you need to appeal to your audience’s fundamental humanity: their emotions.
By creating characters, challenges and cliff-hangers that spark a true emotional response, you keep them focused on opportunities coming from within the learning, and not the sports updates on their Blackberry.
Advertisers, movie producers, and great sales people learned years ago that the best way to engage the brain is through the heart. Ditto learning and employee development.
Monday, June 28, 2010
1. Get Married!
You've spent a lot of time courting each other, get married already! The faster new-hires connect knowledge to performance, the faster they learn how to do things the “right” way. Give them a real assignment and let them spend their orientation (honeymoon) phase asking intelligent questions that will really help them. Place them in charge of a new project (with oversight) and let them apply that talent you so coveted on their resume. A daily process of offering content along with application helps employees understand why, when and how their performance is meaningful to you, the organization and customers.
2. Turn Off The Firehose
A highly linear delivery of topics, with a progressive order of learning objectives, is not always the most effective method for creating a compelling learning experience. A more situation-based, organic (but still logical) delivery of content, tools, and challenges can make the experience much more engaging.
3. Challenge Their Creativity
These new hires want to shine. Eager and engaged, they are waiting to tackle a meaningful challenge. Warning students in advance of every potential problem or tough section eliminates a more powerful learning experience. If done correctly, challenging learning moments can make learning more engaging and much more memorable.
4. Let Customers Teach
Use social media to introduce user-generated scenarios. Offer challenges (solving puzzles is inherently pleasurable for the brain) and let students determine the best resources available to solve them.
5. Fill The Gaps (not time)
Your learners must face challenges that are continually just beyond their skill and knowledge level, but which they believe they have the tools (their own ability, combined with the resources and tools) needed to keep acquiring new levels of skill and knowledge. Good, dynamic assessments (like coaching) can offer “just-in-time” support for any person, at any skill level.
6. Learning Happens Everywhere
You can find learning spaces at any number of customer touch points. You control some private spaces, like your office, the training center, the phone system, the lobby or your website. You are not in control of public spaces, such as parking lots, grocery stores, bars, Facebook, customer blogs, Twitter, and other social venues that don’t ask for your permission. Learning can occur in a parking lot or a website, yet he objective is the same: connect the learner to the learning to the performance that creates a better experience. You job is to learn how to use public spaces to help your employees learn.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Flyers: Leading by Proxy
Riders: Leading by Observation
This type of leadership is mixed, at best. Yes, they see some community challenges firsthand, but they are still passengers: they come close to the community experience but they never fully engage in it. It's the average leadership experience. However, I think truly great leaders choose to walk instead…
Walkers: Leading by Experience
"Often I walked without any staff or supporters. As a result, I was able to see firsthand Florida's natural beauty, as well as its people and their challenges."
Friday, June 25, 2010
Remember the traditional notion of a career ladder? Traditionally, a person began their career in an entry-level job, then moved into team or local management, then on to regional management, and ended their career in C-Level or executive leadership.
This required an employer-employee agreement. Two-way loyalty that, at most organizations, is outmoded or gone. Very few organizations promise lifetime employment or tenure. Some exceptions include government agencies or very large institutions with multiple layers of management.
So what is the new "normal" career?
* flatter organizations, and a "do more with fewer" reality
* new-hires that expect to work as creative agents for multiple employers within their lifetimes
* outsourcing and contracting as a business norm, not some radical experiment
* working from home or remote locations as part of the experience
* workers that leave if they do not enjoy the experience
The 21st Century career is a series of engagements (jobs) and life experiences that ultimately form a person's specialty or focus, that in turn enable them to move up, over or into any number of life experiences. In short, your emerging leaders want a rewarding experience, not a timecard to punch or a cubicle to occupy every day.
One of our clients asks new hires how they can best engage and get the most from them in a 21st Century work arrangement. They listen, modify, then follow up by letting the employees challenge themselves. And, it works!
10 Questions to Ask Emerging Leaders
Gather your high-potential employees together–those employees you have identified as future and emerging leaders–and ask them what they need in order to succeed. Do it now, before they leave.
Here are some questions I might ask your emerging leaders:
1. How do you define success (visualize it five years from now...)?
2. What are the biggest challenges facing employees today?
3. What changes are occurring within your department, and what is needed to address them?
4. How are you improving employee performance and the customer experience?
5. Do you see your personal philosophy and the organization's as different or 100% aligned?
6. In five words or less, how would you describe this organization's leadership experience?
7. If you could work anywhere in the world (doing anything you want) would it be here?
8. What should an emerging leader be required to do, above and beyond any job description?
9. What do emerging leaders like you need from this organization?
10. Anything else...?
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Engage your Customers Through Learning Moments
Very few customers walk into a grocery store prepared for class when they shop for cheese. Not many people look up “pest control” companies online expecting to learn about mice, when they need an exterminator. (Get it: mice, cheese?). But both of those scenarios is an opportunity for your team to engage customers in learning moments.
Delivered the right way, customer education won’t feel like education. It will feel more like a great interaction with a concerned, compassionate and committed team member. Learning can happen anytime–as part of an online information search or an in-store personal visit. Let’s see how you can add learning moments as part of your customer service philosophy. These opportunities motivate team members (they can make work feel a lot less like…work) and provide a great experience for customers.
1. Define Your Audience Needs
Cover the “how, when where, what and why” of learning. What do they want to know or need to know? (not: what do you want to tell!). Our best advice? Observe them, ask them.
Design your learning through questions like: “How much information do your customers already have?” “Is what they know usually correct or “urban myth?” Next, determine if they want an informal experience (your team just happens to engage them at the store…) or something more instructional, like a illustration explaining the habits of field mice and how to keep them out of the house? Answering these questions will determine whether you design team member prompts, a very basic class, or technical or in-depth instruction for budding experts.
2. Define Some Learning Objectives
What do customers need to know? What will customers be able to do (differently) after they engage in the learning moment? Example: buying cheese. A good learning objective might be: We want guests to be able to recognize, through sight and smell, the differences between hand-crafted cheese and factory-produced cheeses. This helps you create a more informed consumer, and allows your team to offer their expertise on a topic.
Two very important objectives for every customer learning moment: 1) Keep it light. You want these moments to be engaging and fun, not a return to calculus class. 2) Keep it real. You want customers to see how your team, and the value they offer through this interaction, is far superior to the competitor's.
3. Tell A Great Story
This is a great way to check your research and any assumptions. Jot down images or thoughts as to how the learning might occur. Invite your team members to design the story with you. You can envision this story being told: 1) by an associate in your store, 2) through an illustration on your website, 3) via an online learning module, 4) as part of an in-store video... there are many, many options. Worry about the story now, the delivery method in Step 4.
Draw the process on a napkin or tablet. Keep those learning objectives in mind as you or your team sketch the story. If the story you create doesn't address the learning objectives, that’s an indicator that you included some “nice to have” information versus the “need to know” content. You should probably leave any unrelated content on the napkin, or create a second course that focuses on another topic.
4. Engage Your Customer
Different people learn in different ways, so include actions and prompts that target the visual, auditory and kinesthetic (activity) learners. In an aisle or showroom, your team members can explain the differences between two cheeses (auditory), provide a handout (visual) and quickly let the customer compare the two by tasting (kinesthetic).
Need to squelch an urban myth by providing consistent, clear communication? You may find that an online interaction is the best way to get the right information out to customers quickly. Want more ways to engage customers in your store? You can help employees by providing them some quick coaching and prompts that help them tell the story, as they engage their customers through conversation.
5. Establish a Relationship
Don’t hit them over the head with a sale–that feels too much like a setup. Most customers don't respect that kind of entrapment. Remember, this type of learning moment–where your associate is positioning themselves as a trusted advisor–is a customer's first step toward a long-term relationship with your organization, not a quick-close sale.
The more you think about customer service as an education process, the more likely your team will begin to find meaning in their interactions, while uncovering previously hidden opportunities for additional sales and service. And don't forget, those materials you develop to educate customers can be repurposed as training tools for new staff, and vice versa.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
It’s easy to forget that education is part of every sale. From planning a dream vacation to selecting a cardiologist, every consumer learns about your products or services before, during and after the sale.
Some companies sell items that require education on the spot, such as a one-day only discount, or certain ingredient or a unique process that makes the service experience unique. These are all learning moments, and the best companies never forget that fact.
The most successful organizations weave learning moments into every product or service. Disney takes an ordinary roller coaster and, with excellent design, signage, staging and sensory cues, elevates the ride into an exceptional experience. You learn to expect that level of entertainment from the Disney brand. Apple turns ordinary components (a hard drive, a LCD screen, a microprocessor, etc.) and elevates the final product from a mere commodity into a lifestyle statement. You learn to expect well-designed products that work intuitively. Experiencing their brand of service is a learning moment for every visitor or customer.
Success depends upon the customer’s ability to understand and recognize elements that differentiate companies and make their services better than the competition's. Every point of contact is simultaneously an opportunity to educate the consumer, while the consumer educates your organization.
We measure service “performance” for all of our clients. This relatively simple audit tells us how well a client has defined the service experience, observes customer interactions, and learns from customer interaction and employee experiences.
We also "eat our own dogfood" by reviewing our services. Our website has been tested extensively and...our users have challenges with the home page. It's too busy, too many touchpoints, too confusing and not enough differentiation. Although our intention was to create a highly interactive landing page, the final result is to muddy.
Perhaps when you read this, the website will be cleaned up. Hopefully you will see a home page that is warm, engaging, yet easy to understand - that is our service goal. Our customer interactions are a continuous learning moment for us too.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Your boss’ boss wants you to succeed.
Your boss’ boss wants you to succeed. Maybe your boss’ boss’ boss. Regardless, there is someone lurking in your organization who is hell-bent on your success. You just have to find him or her.
Come to this person–your ultimate champion–with a pronouncement that you have just created additional revenue and you will most likely get a giant pat on the back. Tell this same person you have creatively rearranged pallets of inventory and they will nod politely and check their Blackberry. However, if this new design also saves or generates those millions, your shoulders will get dusted off at the next team gathering.
That creative discovery won’t happen by doing the same thing, the same way every day. It will signal a shift in thinking, a new type of performance, created by a new type of learning. Not just a new course, but a new type of learning. That type of learning is different, challenging and often scary to implement. It requires a tolerance for change and ambiguity. It may also mean trying this approach on little or no funding.
I once worked along side a colleague who one day showed me an example of the work his team had just produced in Marketing. It was a beautiful, four-color magazine, with enough dye cuts to embarrass an origami artist. I was suitably impressed. The campaign later failed and was ultimately scrapped due to poor customer response. More specifically, customers hated it.
To the uninitiated or misguided leader, it’s the show that matters, not the rehearsal. It’s the victory that counts, not the practice. Those of us in education understand things clearly; mastery at one leads to the other.
The result is that many of us learn how to be creative. We innovate to survive, at times surrounded by departments funded like lottery winners. Scarcity of time and resources forces us to be nimble, adaptive and supremely creative. The best designers I know are not the ones with unlimited budgets, but the people who can, as a creative designer at an entertainment giant colorfully put it, turn “farts into fairy dust”.
Adversity is a great teacher and organizations that truly value creative talent and innovation will emerge from any down economy stronger and more competitive as a result.
American businesses are crying out for innovation and better solutions, while China and India, with hungry, creative talent, eats our proverbial lunch. With that kind of competition, the challenge is clear, extreme and unremitting. I see two emerging trends that, taken together, may systemically and permanently a better way to approach and value adult education while addressing the needs of corporate America.
First, the Internet–more accurately, its audience–has spawned a generation of social communities bound together solely by technological applications. We are observing learners who rapidly engage disparate content from multiple sources, and then synthesize it into meaningful applications. Educators are still grappling with best practices that can work in this new world, but the momentum requires us to apply lessons as they are learned, rather than ignore these trends and wait for the answers.
Second, and most important to me, is the growing zeitgeist within the business community that the old B-School mentality needs a swift kick in the right brain. A complex world requires people schooled in design thinking: holistic approaches that address challenges from a more creative perspective.
As a former MBA student, I can attest that my education was focused on two lessons: quantitative analysis and learning how to handle excessive workloads without suffering a mental meltdown. In fact, a professor of mine once confirmed that part of the curriculum was sheer volume, an exercise to simulate multiple, simultaneous real-world stressors. Personally, I would have preferred a day or two learning those lessons in a jet fighter plane rather than two semesters of cash flow valuation.
Yet I can’t fault him or the school. Semantically parsing the term “business administration” we most logically conclude the goal of an MBA program is to create administrators or managers, not leaders. The post World War 2 work environment, the era when most of these programs were designed, required a great deal of human administration: input, control and quantitative analysis. Hence, our schools have carried forward a scholastic tradition that rewards excellence in accounting, analysis and control.
If we want leaders in a world of technological change and complexity, we need to design curricula that reward multi-disciplinary problem solving and higher-level design skills. Someone who gets lost in the numbers won’t see potential, only chaos.
Leaders like Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, is a champion of design-based thinking and "the opposable mind”, the ability to use both sides of the brain to lead. The school now seeks to create individuals who can assess and balance conflicting ideas, business models, or strategies and come up with an new way of doing things.
Likewise, design schools are also seeking to bridge the talent gap from their perspective. In Sarasota, Florida the Ringling College of Art and Design hosts an annual Design Summit for business executives, and is now offering “Business by Design” a course that seeks to explore the role of artistic thinking in a competitive business environment.
Your boss, or boss’ boss, perhaps MBA-educated, feel the pressure to be more creative, more “design-like” in their approaches. Enter you. I see gold in your training department and your experience as an educator. Not in the tools or dry erase pens (if there was gold in there, educators would be the last to let their employers know). Let’s break it down.
If your organization has a great talent development team, then it most likely has employees who already know how to creatively solve problems within extremely limited budgets. They are addressing emerging technologies, not through command and control, but by watching how customers and other employees leverage them. They have spent a lifetime innovating and designing solutions that enhance human potential and performance. I believe educators are our best, underutilized resource for success in an emerging era of design-based thinking.
Your boss may be reading this. Perhaps he or she knows the world of business needs people like you. They want–desperately need–employees who can look over the horizon to anticipate the impact tomorrow of decisions implemented today. It’s an education you have gained by leading the learning process. I bet you have those critical skills.
Your next challenge is making sure your boss, or your boss’ boss, discovers this fact.
Friday, June 18, 2010
The Learning Moment
Who hasn't taken a few hundred of classes, workshops, or training courses throughout their life? Comeon... make sure you include kindergarten!
Besides knowing that the wheels on the bus do indeed go 'round and 'round, you probably remember a thimble full of what your teachers actually taught in class. I feel lucky if I get through a day remembering the basics (the alphabet, up versus down, addition & subtraction…).
What do you remember from your four years in high school? Tick tock, tick tock… Hurts, doesn't it? Now try it again, this time thinking about the things you learned outside the curriculum… Meetings in the parking lots, dances, sports...the soul-bending sport of navigating teen angst. Makes a difference, right?
Unfortunately, many of us don't retain much more in the industry workshops or corporate courses we attend as adults. Sometimes, attendees don’t even remember what the course was about! So there is a big gap between what we learn in our seats and what we practice on the streets.
Think about your last corporate workshop or class. How much do you remember? Did you even want to take it? Would you take it again, just for fun? Did it change your life?
Life's short. Training is boring, learning is fun. With a creative approach we can make learning part of every job - removing the boredom and inserting opportunities for challenging, yet engaging learning moments. Let's take this whole education thing up a notch. I'd like to start by recommending three basic ideas:
The Voice of the Customer in every course.
Why not? Social media has opened the door. Learning that includes the customer allows employees to measure their success at innovation and delivery. And, by visibly including the customer you create an open space that encourages more effective dialog and actions...
Experiential Learning over Firehose Learning
I bet flying a space shuttle is a heck of a lot more exciting than reading about it. Ditto healthcare, pest control, auto sales... Make sure your courses include student application–opportunities to practice, fail and succeed–even if learning is delivered over the web.
Moment-based Learning Design should include emotional content
Users make major purchase decisions based on their gut instinct. Your learning needs to generate a range of emotional responses like: nervous, anxious, concerned, happy, delighted, ecstatic and more. "Real" learning means allowing employees to feel the same emotional reactions a customer might experience during the very same interaction.
I think these are three good steps to make sure you content is memorable, meaningful and measurable when it comes to improving individual performance.
"A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed.
It may also possess you completely.
Whatever; eventually it will call you out. It makes its claim."
The Soul's Code
Many years ago, I moved to Tallahassee, Florida with every intention of becoming a lawyer. After two years working for a law firm and passing the LSAT, I had every desire not to be a lawyer. I went to school anyway and pursued an advanced degree in business, not quite certain how I would apply it.
Thankfully, my personal life was rocking with creativity during those five years.
I met incredibly talented people with vastly diverse backgrounds. I sucked down fresh bay oysters with politicians, movie stars and assorted locals. We dove into inky green-blue sink holes the size of a city block – and infinitely deeper. Friends and I bought a camper van and traveled the Rockies (surviving an up close inspection by an odiferous grizzly), we traveled across the globe to work and study, we held hands with dying friends, sang ballads loudly and poorly around campfires on St. George Island, learned public speaking tips from one of the best professional speakers in America, observed the culinary skills of a world-famous television chef, took walks with one of our nation’s leading thinkers and painters, and…so much more.
I experienced a veritable odyssey of wonderful, meaningful and soul-changing experiences that continue to reverberate inside me. They made me the person I am today. The Universe slapped a giant “YES!” on my forehead, in the form of people who cared enough to put up with me, long enough to deliver their message.
Then, I entered corporate America. I dutifully shoved all those great learning moments into a memory box so secure it would make Steelcase proud.
In 1998, a client asked me to create a series of educational programs to be delivered in twelve modules over a period of two years. That’s a long time to spend with a few hundred people – it was more than a gig, it was a relationship!
Miraculously, we (they and I) pulled it off. Nobody died. We struggled through the basics: we explored core skills and generally discussed how to be good worker bees. Then, I wrote one course specifically for them. I called it: Make the Moment.
The module I wrote was not directly related to any core job skills or traditional topics like communication, teamwork, or time management. MTM was a course that explored life as a series of moments – the way seemingly insignificant events have the power to change our lives forever, and how we have the opportunity to create and/or participate in these moments on a daily basis. That class became a touchstone for the group. It’s power and honestly surprised me as much as it surely surprised them.
At the end of our time together, we celebrated with an emotion-filled dinner, where many of my new friends shared (unrehearsed) their stories of change and personal growth with peers, administrators and elected officials.
It was a humbling experience. What had started out as a routine transaction (deliver core skills training to a group) had turned into a life-altering event for many of us. It was also my first step toward a more meaningful life.
A year later, a pair of researchers, Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore published their first book, The Experience Economy. It quantified and validated everything I had been teaching. Life is more than a series of impersonal transactions, and the organizations that stage their services through mass customization are creating experiences. These experiences are what drive us to repeat purchases, tell others and generally fell more fulfilled about our lives.
Up to that point I had safely disconnected my professional career from all those wonderful personal experiences. I firmly held tight to the belief that business people should keep those two aspects of their lives very separate.
Since then, I have enjoyed several side-trips, dead-ends, fast-forward breakneck developments, self-inflicted wounds, healing conversations, organizations that did not leverage my talent (and where I did not deliver my best possible work) and work that felt like second nature, as if I was born for that particular challenge or project.
Finally–slowly–I realized that every single one of my experiences – whether personal or professional, good, bad, boring, awesome or something in between – are the kind of events that make all of us uniquely qualified for life on this planet. It is the sum of my existence that makes me better.
Fast-forward about ten years. We–myself included–seem to be obsessed by the tools and applications that supplement our lives. As Marshall Mcluhan once stated:
We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.
The Internet is only a tool, yet one that is shaping us. Still what does this all mean for our flesh and blood existence?
At our core, we are all hard-wired for a fully engaged life with five amazing senses that allow us to learn through experience and reflection. I find the most engaging moments are created by interesting people, not their tools alone. The organizations with the most creative people are where I want to spend my spare time and dollars.
I sense a quiet evolution underway, led by a generation raised within this experience economy. They want a return to authenticity, free from manipulation and stagecraft. Those experiences have a profound impact on our work, business, and lives, whether online or face-to-face. Let's see what happens.
This is a loud cheer for anyone whose calling in life exceeds the technology and tools, those people who turn merely forgettable transactions into nearly magical moments simply by expressing their talent, purpose and ability. Thank you for showing the rest of us how to live more fully.
This is also an invitation of sorts, a time to say “yes” to our inner potential, to shut off the tools now and then (even if we use them well), and create great moments for our families, our co-workers, our clients, members, or customers…and of course, ourselves.
Monday, June 14, 2010
5 Quick Ways to Ruin
the Learning Experience
I confess. I'm feeling a little snarky today.
I was reading an article about one organization's challenges and thought I would lay them out as "what not to do" guide. Evidently, this company had not analyzed its behavior to see what you and I might clearly see, patterns of behavior that belong on the "don't" list...
- Close Your Eyes! Facts can be ugly things. Hide from the research and unvarnished truth by taking comfort in the kind of pseudo-truthiness found in internal research and staged interviews.
- Fudge a Little! Transparency is for losers. Let your marketing team ignore the facts as they create materials. Why not invite your legal team to lead the organization?
- Obfuscate! Confuse your customers by creating a social media forum that has no relationship to the real service experience. Better yet, invite feedback and then hide any unpleasant opinions. Don’t forget to kill the messenger with a dull user survey.
- Waffle! Why take a stand? Commit minimal resources to any new service, process or loyalty program, only to drop it months later as you accuse some manager of random incompetence.
- Duck and Cover! Pull a “turtle” when challenges seem too difficult. Simply go back to doing things the way they have always been done. It feels so much safer to hide behind statistics.