A Practical Script on How to Transform Training for Technical Talent

Change is rarely easy. We get stuck in ruts. We fall into patterns, and the learning industry is no different than any other. But we can still create the change our learners need. In part one of this two-part series, I discussed the danger of learning becoming irrelevant and we had the following list:

  1. Too much information is floating around at any given time.
  2. There are multiple sources and ways to get information.
  3. There is a difference between facts/data/information and knowledge.
  4. Knowledge needs to be curated and focused on maximum accessibility and usability.
  5. Knowledge needs to be made readily and easily available in multiple ways.
  6. Knowledge and performance must be connected.

Barriers to Training Transformation

In this part two, let’s take a deeper look at each point to understand how one can transform learning and development by adding a skill to the learning leader’s toolkit: curating and providing, or C&P.

    1. Too much information is floating around at any given time. Trying to find out how to do something can feel like trying to drink from a firehose. The next time you do a Google search for best practices for using a JavaScript tool, take a look at the little number in the left corner that shows the amount of info related to your query.
    2. There are multiple sources and ways to get information. These days if I want to know something or learn to do something I can read it in a long or condensed version, watch it, listen to it, call someone to talk about it, take an actual or virtual course alone or with other people, go to a chat, watch a webinar—and more. If I speak a language other than English, I can find it in my native tongue. There are many roads leading to what people need to know.
    3. There is a difference between facts/data/information and knowledge. We live in the Knowledge Era, which is driven by data; yet data by itself is useless. It takes time to transform data into facts, then facts into information and finally information into know-how.
    4. Knowledge needs to be curated and focused on maximum accessibility and usability. We need human intervention and time to transform data into facts, facts into information, and information into usable knowledge. Even then, there’s often too much knowledge to be useful. Curation can refine knowledge to produce what I call Maximum Value-Added Knowledge (MVAK). Focusing it makes knowledge useful and powerful, like when you concentrate a beam of sunlight with a magnifying glass and use it to start a fire.
    5. Knowledge needs to be made readily and easily available in different ways. There are many ways to present knowledge, and some of them work better than others. If I’m going to be responsible for my own learning, I don’t want someone else telling me how to learn; I want to decide. That is common thinking among developers and software engineers who prefer a hands-on learning approach.
    6. Knowledge and performance must be connected. Some kinds of learning really do need a push. There are times when all employees must get the same knowledge at the same time. This is often true regarding legal, regulatory and compliance knowledge, for HR, safety, etc. It’s also useful when a team of developers is learning something new.

Push training can provide a baseline of common language and definitions for conversations, communication, and collaboration. What is often missing is the ability to determine whether everyone understood the information, that everyone is using the same language, and that people can use what they learned.

To provide that missing piece, training will have to change—and quickly. Learning professionals have a lot of work to do to ensure they will be relevant and effective in the Knowledge Era, and they may need a vendor’s help to get what their learners need.

The Focus on Curating and Providing

The role of C&P will be more important to anticipate what employees might need, and ensure that employees can source knowledge at any time. Knowledge should also be available in multiple formats to accommodate different learning styles and preferences.

C&P skills learning professionals may need to develop or acquire include the ability to:

  • Treat developers as knowledge consumers; listen to what they want to learn
  • Help developers find the unknown—answer to skills gaps they didn’t know they had
  • Parse and curate knowledge to provide maximum value-added knowledge
  • Use push training to easily pivot to meet pull learning needs when self-learners are back at work
  • Ensure that knowledge is always available, accessible and useful. This includes choosing formats and languages, etc.
  • Constantly update knowledge to ensure it’s accurate, timely, relevant
  • Monitor employees to ensure they find, understand and apply knowledge on the job
  • Change or improve information as soon as necessary based on new information, learner feedback, or changes in business and employee needs

The new focus for C&P requires customization and accessibility. Learning partners need to keep an ear to the ground to find out what developers want. Invest the time to determine how busy developers need to learn.

Be creative. Stop depending on the LMS to do all the knowledge transfer work. Create a community of learners in every class, and turn those into ongoing communities of practice. Customize learning as much as possible, don’t forget to add labs, and remember different roles require different knowledge. Forget the one-size-fits-all push training model.

When employees are enabled and empowered to learn what they want and need to know, they’re happier, employee turnover drops, and the organization becomes more successful. C&P may be the next important piece in the learning leader’s role, but the mission to help people learn remains the same.

David Grebow is an author, speaker and workshop leader who, with his co-author Stephen J. Gill, wrote the bestselling “Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy.”

Fair warning: I think the learning and development industry needs to go in another direction to make itself relevant to the organizations of the future.

Imagine the following learning scenarios:

  1. Someone in a position of authority tells you to learn a new technology they think you should know and informs you how you need to learn it.
  2. You realize you need to know something about how to use a new technology for an upcoming project, find the information on your own, and learn it yourself.

One of these two scenarios should be familiar. It starts when you’re born, continues through your college-level schooling and on into the workplace where you attend training programs. It’s often called “push” training because what you need to learn is pushed at you. It’s the default for how we learn almost everything.

In the second scenario, “pull” learning, you find the information—in any form and from any person—whenever you can locate, access and use it. You “pull” the specific knowledge and then move on to the next thing you need to do.

L&D Lives in Push Mode, The Rest of Us Are In Pull Mode

Someone else decides what they think employees should know, then designs, develops, and manages a classroom or online course or program delivery. It’s usually a scheduled event with a sage-on-the-stage. The model is traditional one-size-fits-all training, and sometimes, some effort is made to see if training improved performance.

This is Standard Operating Procedure for L&D. What I call the D4M2 model—Define, Design, Develop, Deliver, Manage and Measure—was developed around 100 years ago to help workers and companies meet Industrial Era employees’ needs. The old approach was often “you should pay attention because you may need to know this someday.” Unfortunately, if “someday” arrived more than 2 or 3 days after the training, everyone’s brains had already forgotten the new information.

When D4M2 was developed, the world wasn’t computerized or mobile. Things didn’t change at today’s frenzied pace. No one even imagined your job description. There was time to learn. That’s no longer true. So, we need to retire the model and metaphorically blow out 100 candles on the birthday cake.

In the pull model, you’re in charge of figuring out what you need to know and how to learn it. You’re a “self-learner.” The pull model relies on your personal motivation to learn—and it allows you to quickly respond to Knowledge Era needs. These needs make a critical difference in knowing how to do what needs to be done and doing it before your competitor does. When it comes to learning with the intent to apply on the job, motivation is not a problem for developers and other technical talent who often view learning as a key piece of their role; the pull model works just fine.

The question is: why continue to use the old push model?

It’s Time for a Change

A critical discussion is going on now about the future of learning professionals and providers, especially those course developers and instructional designers who work with SME’s and instructors who are the actual or virtual “sages on the stages.” These professionals are all wondering about their role in this changing dynamic.

The answer is simple. L&D, learning and development, needs to become C&P, curating and providing. Here’s how it works. Instead of all the D4M2 that goes into a training program, C&P understands the following six facts about self-learning:

  1. Too much information is floating around at any given time.
  2. There are multiple sources and ways to get information.
  3. There is a difference between facts/data/information and knowledge.
  4. Knowledge needs to be curated and focused on maximum accessibility and usability. Training programs should keep that in mind. Custom would be best.
  5. Knowledge needs to be made readily and easily available in multiple ways that suit talent needs. For instance, technical talent prefer classroom instruction with a strong lab component.
  6. Knowledge and performance must be connected and measured.

In the next article in this two-part series, I dig into each of the aforementioned barriers much deeper to illustrate what learning leaders must do to transform training.

David Grebow is an author, speaker and workshop leader who, with his co-author Stephen J. Gill, wrote the bestselling “Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy.”

Ping pong tables. Beanbag chairs. Pet health care. You’re well acquainted with all the ideas to keep employees engaged and reduce company turnover. And rightfully so. Some estimates show that more than 20% of employees are disengaged at work. You know employee engagement is critical to the success of your business. And you know productive and engaged employees can give you the competitive edge you need while also reducing your turnover rates. But what tactics and strategies can you use to keep your workforce engaged, and prevent top talent from packing up and going somewhere else?

Engagement continues to take center stage as a top priority for leadership teams. And 2018 will be no different. While there are a variety of options you can use to keep your employees engaged, top trends for 2018 are starting to emerge.

Supportive Leadership Teams

Leadership teams need to provide support for employees throughout every level of the organization. Managers need to provide clear instructions and transparent goals ensuring that each employee understands how their contribution drives company success. However, as simple as this sounds, it’s often overlooked. Each employee should have a corresponding glide path bringing transparency to their expected outcomes. Without proper direction, employees will flounder and disengage.

In addition to clear expectations, coaching and feedback are critical to employee development. Gone are the days where it’s acceptable to review an employee’s performance on an annual basis. Employees want immediate feedback on their job performance. And they want more than just a pat on the back or a high five. They are looking for managers to tell them (specifically) where their performance is good and areas they need to improve. Research suggests that feedback given once a month is significant enough to improve employee performance and enhance engagement.

Opportunities for Meaningful Work

Engaged employees are assigned job roles that match their core skill set. They are motivated and stay engaged by leveraging their knowledge and skills to accomplish job tasks. Ensuring that employee skills are matched to the right job roles is crucial in maintaining engagement. An employee who is unable to use their skill set in their current role will rapidly become disengaged. In addition, each role within your company should have its core competencies and behavioral attributes defined. As you hire new employees, you’re able to check and balance their skills with the needed competencies for the role.

Employees place a high value on the opportunity to work autonomously and as part of a self-empowered team. No one likes to be micromanaged. And when employees can work independently or on small agile teams they are much more engaged. These teams break through barriers, remove bottlenecks, and get results. Employees stay motivated and engaged when they are able to achieve success.

Inspiring Work Environment

All employees are looking for work/life balance. And employers can continue to provide this benefit by offering flexible work schedules. Employees enjoy flexible work opportunities, and the ability to work outside the office as an option. Companies are also starting to limit the amount of time employees are using their cell phone to check email or conduct business outside of normal operational hours.

Wellness programs will continue to be big in 2018. Gym memberships and fitness classes are readily offered to help employees develop lifelong healthy habits. Other wellness options, such as stress management seminars, are provided to support employee wellbeing.

Creative benefits packages are also key to attracting and retaining talent. Many companies are offering student loan repayment plans or tuition reimbursement. Other companies are offering continuing education college credits for those employees who want to earn a degree while working full time. Employers are also offering financial management classes to help employees invest and budget effectively.

Continuous Learning & Growth Opportunities

Employees continue to seek development opportunities within the workplace. Training and on the job support are great ways to enhance employee development. Corporate LMS training curriculum is expanding beyond competency based training and equipping employees with a variety of life skills. Communication, Teamwork, and Leadership training can all be part of an employee’s learning path.

In addition to ad hoc soft skill development, employees are also looking for opportunities to upskill or cross-skill with other departments. This creates the perfect space for collaborative learning and provides employees with an opportunity to share their knowledge and skills with their co-workers. Social learning also has other benefits such as breaking down departmental silos. Cross-functional teams allow employees to engage with other departments and learn new skills.

Employee engagement will continue to be at the forefront in 2018. And some of the key trends to watch for will be creating a positive work environment with outstanding leadership teams, the integration of creative benefits packages, and health and wellness options.

As the year ends, companies will continue to take a more holistic approach to employee engagement. It takes a humanistic management style to retain top talent and keep employees engaged.