Get Out of Your Silo — The Impact of Mentorship on Underrepresented Populations
Thank you to Samantha Easter for providing April's Spotlight!
While I was in my MBA, my boss off-handedly mentioned she was cleaning out her closet and offered to give me some of her old clothes if I was interested. I jumped at the opportunity to replace my threadbare office-garb snatched from an Arizona thrift store (which did not translate to the snowy climate of Utah as well as hoped). The bag was filled with winter gear, trendy office-wear, a pair of desperately needed snow boots, and crumpled in the bottom of one of the bags — a receipt from the day before. I realized my boss had purchased clothes to replace my ill-suited wardrobe in the most tactful way possible.
Another boss a few years back spent an extraordinary amount of time teaching me how to give a proper handshake:
Another mentor taught me that asking how much others make is inappropriate office conversation, but it is super important to ask discreetly.
These were isolated incidents, but each was a precious source of informal mentorship.
One of the lies we tell ourselves, as a nation, is that there are no real class boundaries here — or, at least, none that can’t be overcome by determination and hard work.
People scoff at the idea of a secret handshake or a club that guarantees success. However, those same people likely have had the social capital from a young age to learn small talk, what business-casual means, and have trained themselves not to show anger in the office.
For others, particularly those from under-represented groups, these are learned behaviors. And for learning to start, the issue must first be identified.
This is where mentorship comes in.
Mentorship has many benefits: it provides access to support and insights into particular industries and roles. Whether in a structured program or informally, the goal of mentoring is to help a person in their careers and professional lives. It’s often incredibly effective.
A study found in the Journal of Applied Psychology reported people with mentors are more likely to receive promotions. Mid- and senior-level employees can boost people who may not otherwise have those opportunities and help level the playing field. You can find a tactical example of this in the understanding of career paths. While 54% of men had a career discussion with a mentor or sponsor in the past 24 months, only 39% of women did (source).
Why do men get mentored more? Because leaders, the majority of whom are male and white, don’t typically mentor people who don’t look like them. Recent research from the Center for Talent Innovation reported that nearly three-quarters of executives mentor those whose gender and race match their own — meaning women and minorities don’t benefit like their male colleagues.
Organizations lose out by not gaining the full potential of diverse talent.
Whether these companies intend this to be accurate, some normative approaches to mentorship can lead to deeply inequitable outcomes.
“Even those who believe that diversity improves creativity, problem-solving, and decision making naturally invest in and advocate for the development of the subordinates who are most like them,” writes Richard Farnell in the Harvard Business Review. “They see less-experienced versions of themselves in these folks, and so they’re inclined to believe in their potential — they want to nurture it.”
This also means growth and advancement opportunities go disproportionately to those who belong to the same demographic or social group.
It doesn’t matter how much lip-service an organization gives to the benefits of diversity or how much (typically useless) diversity training we force leaders to sit through. A leader or an organization must demonstrate a commitment to changing the status quo by deliberately mentoring people who aren’t like themselves.
And this crossing over social and demographic lines isn’t just valuable for the mentee; it’s beneficial for the leader. By teaching and learning from others who aren’t like yourself, you increase your emotional and cultural intelligence. You increase your ability to spot opportunities and potential, and you gain perspective.
Businesses are increasingly waking up to the reality that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives aren’t just a good PR move; its good for business.
Few interventions support DEI and the dismantling of systemic inequalities as well as mentorship, and there are many ways to rethink one’s approach to making sure it is inclusive and equitable.
When done well, mentoring can satisfy these needs while allowing an organization to demonstrate DEI and encourage access, belonging, and allyship. With accountability and structure, mentoring can be a powerful tool for your DEI strategy today and in the future.
Tips for Mentee
Finding a mentor is not easy, and it can be scary to put yourself out there and ask.
Tips for the Mentor
· If you are a mentor or want to become one, consider your personal biases. Work to understand where you are coming from and how to work against your defaults actively. It’s natural to want to support your alma mater, the neighborhood kid, the son of your bishop, or your best friend’s daughter. However, these seemingly innocent decisions may filter out candidates who could not access such an education, which may correlate to socioeconomic status, race, immigration status, and more. Instead, consider reaching out to someone far more junior in your organization or working with an organization that connects people from disparate backgrounds.
· Don’t be afraid to state the potentially obvious or even bring up uncomfortable topics. As much as we are loathed to admit it, business culture often operates on a rigid set of social norms and behaviors that may be invisible or foreign to someone inexperienced. Take the personal example shared above — as awkward as my boss may have found it to tell me that my blazer with the ripped lining wasn’t up to standard, it saved me much embarrassment and helped me win at later interviews.
· Work to listen as much as you talk. While your role is to provide learning opportunities and open doors, understand where your mentee is coming from. This will build your efficacy as a mentor by better relating to their perspective and increasing your skills.
Tips for the Organization
Thank you to Samantha Easter for providing our March Spotlight:
Mental health awareness is at a turning point, and few organizations are talking about it—even fewer are doing something about it.
"Although over 200 million workdays are lost due to mental health conditions each year ($16.8 billion in employee productivity), mental health remains a taboo subject, "research from the Harvard Business Review found.
A mental health condition isn't the result of one event. Research suggests multiple linking causes. Genetics, environment, and lifestyle influence whether someone develops a mental health condition, as do stress and trauma.
"Less than half of our respondents felt that their organization prioritized mental health at their company, and even fewer viewed their company leaders as advocate their organization prioritized mental healthcare," found the Harvard Business Review.
· In January 2021, 41% of Utah adults reported anxiety and or depressive disorder, a share that has been mostly stable since spring 2020. Source
· Suicide is one of the top ten causes of death in the U.S. and has increased in almost every state over time, making it a severe public health concern. Source
· Risk factors can include isolation, relationship struggles, financial or housing insecurity, or physical health problems. Source
· Nearly 60% of respondents experienced symptoms in the past year — while only 20% report managing their condition. Source
· Close to 60% also never talked about their needs at work. Source
· When conversations about mental health did occur, less than half were described as positive. Source
As shocking as these stats are, the situation is not likely to get better any time soon. Research from previous disasters shows the mental health impact outlasts the physical implications. This research suggests that the need for mental health support will continue well beyond the pandemic itself.
Organizations seeking to respond to the crisis need to adjust their strategies to support their younger workforce, who have been more adversely impacted and are generally more open about their needs. Mental health support should not be relegated to HR; it's also a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issue and it’s slowly becoming its own category within DEI, given its prevalence across all populations.
Research shows that supporting mental health in the workplace is not a matter of throwing money and resources at people. Instead, the most desired workplace resources for mental health are a more open and accepting culture, training, and more explicit information about where to go or whom to ask for support.
So, how do you start to grow this at your workplace?
Start with Leadership
Cultural change needs to start at the top, with leaders sharing their own experiences. Showing the value of openness and vulnerability helps to reduce stigma around mental illness and encourages others to be transparent.
Provide Education for All
Employees – especially leaders – need a baseline of knowledge about how to have conversations about mental health and how to reduce the stigma. Moreover, they must better understand the impact of mental illness, like its expression within the workplace, as well as ways to recognize and respond to employees who may be struggling.
Companies must have some level of mental health benefits and clear communication about those benefits and their confidential nature. Many employees are either unaware of their organizations' mental health resources or are afraid to use them.
When a peer dares to talk with you about their mental health condition, how you respond is critical. You want the person to know you appreciate them sharing while also reassuring them that their job and your perception of them are not at risk.
Talking about mental health conditions – either your own, from others that you have permission to share, or from even articles you've read on the subject – helps others see you as someone others can trust.
Telling anyone about a mental health condition is a vulnerable act. Start the conversation by thanking the person for the trust they have shown in you. Don't make the conversation a big deal, and instead seek to normalize it as much as you can. If you typically have a professional and formal tone, don't suddenly try and be their best friend. Inversely, if you usually have close and friendly conversations, don't get distant and stiff. Treat the person and this conversation the same way you have in the past.
Understand that any conversation about mental illness is potentially emotionally meaningful. So, be sure to give your employee the time to express their needs. Actively listen without judgment. Be aware of your non-verbal gestures to help the person feel comfortable.
Some organizations have mental health resource groups. Through health insurance, therapy is often inexpensive and readily available. Many companies also have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) or apps available for employees to use. Understand the tools and resources you have available at your company to point employees to will help these conversations be more useful and smoother for all parties.
The events of 2020 and beyond have brought mental health into greater prominence than ever before. At the very least, the ability to have open and productive conversations without stigma goes a long way to supporting all employees. The good news is that change is possible. Any employee can make a difference in the lives of their peers, direct reports, and leaders by being a support and an ally.
This was originally published on Forbes
By Ron Zamir
Are you suffering from Zoom fatigue? Maybe it’s even gotten to the point that you dread the next Microsoft Teams meeting popping up on your schedule. For many of us, it will come as no surprise that the rapid and enthusiastic transition to virtual work — with seemingly endless rounds of videoconferences, virtual chats, presentations and instant messages — has overloaded our attention span for digital learning.
The move from the classroom to the virtual meeting space has become the norm within corporate training. There’s also been an increase in available technology that enables videoconferencing and mobile interactions. As a result, many organizations are taking another look at the way they do things. However, at AllenComm, a corporate training solutions company, we’re seeing that the danger in this rapid transition is that organizations are forgetting the reason they’re training and degrading the learning experience in the process.
The Power Of Instructor-Led Training (ILT)
In-person training is still one of the most common training modalities across topic areas. Besides the tradition of instructor-led lecture formats in higher education, there are several unique components of ILT that make it successful as a training modality. The most notable of those include the collaborative nature of social learning, immediate personalized feedback and experiential learning. Unfortunately, all these can be difficult to reproduce in a virtual environment.
Transforming Your Training Content
There are several approaches to transforming your training into a new digital learning modality. On one end of the spectrum, there is the conversion of ILT into a virtual lecture format: virtual instructor-led training. On the other hand, a training consultant can redesign the learning experience, assets and modalities to reflect the challenges of performance gaps and the new virtual environment. It’s in the latter of these two cases in which you can maintain the benefits of ILT activities and assets.
Challenges For Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT)
Though it may be the easier learning solution to implement, VILT can be the wrong choice for your training. Transforming ILT content into a virtual lecture causes many of the benefits of ILT to be lost because of the limitations of technology.
Research into digital learning has found that students have better recall when reading on paper compared to reading on a screen. Essentially, using technology for learning can affect learning outcomes. In the case of VILT, many of the challenges are based on the loss of social engagement. Learners can’t easily interact with peers in social cohorts, which has been shown to improve learning outcomes through mirroring and modeling. Moreover, many platforms can’t easily replicate real-time feedback or experiential learning.
Learners may also suffer from fatigue as training delivery efforts mesh into the noise of day-to-day work interactions. Research by Robert Half found that 38% of workers have experienced video call fatigue in 2020. Consequentially, many organizations I’m familiar with have seen a decrease in motivation for learners to attend VILT and video training, and that’s a problem we can’t ignore.
A Better Approach To ILT Redesign
The better approach to transforming your ILT content into digital learning activities is usually a redesign that addresses the employees’ new environment. As your training environment changes, so do the respective benefits and challenges of a specific modality. Your redesign should be a learning solution with the optimal blend of VILT, web-based training and experiential learning targeted at the unique needs of your learners.
Although it may be tempting, don’t skip steps in the process because of an urgency to deliver training. Start with an analysis to determine the performance gaps and challenges that need to be addressed through remote learning. As with any training initiative, an ILT redesign should be a strategic effort that drives employees closer to an underlying business goal. It is best to construct the training design methods around these objectives and your available training technology to create the best remote learning experience.
Learning and development consultants have more power in their hands than ever before. For that reason, digital learning assets should go well beyond the limited experience that is VILT. For example, it is possible to make use of engaging digital assets for activities before and after training to avoid overuse of VILT and cut through the noise of day-to-day virtual meetings.
The Training Delivery Experience
To take a lesson from marketing theory, it’s evident that organizations need to create a complete learning experience with finesse, rather than zero in on the production of a single event or class. Training must engage the employee throughout the experience for the learning to stand out. Many of our customers are investing in learning experience platforms or employee learning portals to share and recommend training content. However, for the material to be interactive, we need to encourage the use of technology platforms that promote collaboration and sharing across the organization.
Many of the skills learned in ILT modalities can be developed with a bit of training technology. For example, simulations made with interactive videos or 3D models can promote the same mirroring, modeling and repetition that enable social learning. PDF documents can be made interactive, and other company communication systems such as chat and email can be used to promote collaboration and learning engagement.
Though it might seem simple to transform your ILT content into a VILT modality, taking that approach would be detrimental to your employees' learning outcomes. The apparent ease of VILT content conversion is outweighed by the challenges associated with VILT platforms, employee motivation and employee engagement. Instead, it is important to differentiate the learning experience from the overall virtual communication mediums.
Successful outcomes from a content conversion are most often generated when you approach your training with a strategic redesign in mind. By first assessing the unique needs of the remote learner and then building a learning experience around specific performance goals, you can ensure your employees are better equipped to be successful.
While the last decade has seen progress with mental health awareness, the impact of common disorders still has a far-reaching impact. The World Health Organization reports that between 76% and 85% of people in low/middle income countries receive no treatment for their disorder(s)1. Moreover, research by Penn State found poor mental health to be one of the costliest forms of sickness for US workers. The global economic cost of mental illness is expected to be more than $16 Trillion over the next 20 years2. What these figures don’t account for, however, is the toll that mental health challenges have on individuals. While it is important to consider mental health on a global scale, we must also consider our friends, families, businesses, communities, and how precisely to care for those impacted.
A report by the World Health Organization outlines the common consequences of mental health challenges, and many of them center around the workplace. For instance, absenteeism, workplace performance, attitudes, and relationships all suffer. There is also a higher rate of unemployment among those with mental illness. Though it may come as a surprise, reemployment has been shown to be one of the most effective ways of promoting mental health within this population. So, governing bodies will need to address the role employment, or an employer can play in promoting mental health.
Most organizations have some form of employee wellness program in place, though they can be quite varied in their scope. Many programs focus on physical health, offering incentives to achieving clinical benchmarks around blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol, and smoking cessation. Understanding the impact mental health has on workplace performance, these physical health models are missing a vital component. Psychological wellness initiatives, on the other hand, are less common. Corporate mental health advocacy tends to be limited to extended mental health benefits.
Unfortunately, people often choose not to seek treatment even when they have access to mental health services. Several studies have linked these infrequent treatment-seeking behaviors to a stigma associated with mental illness, which leads to negative attitudes about treatment, and deters individuals who need mental health services3. It certainly doesn’t help that operational changes among mental health practices – a result of COVID-19 – have limited the ability of many to continue their usual services. In that sense, mental health services have been navigating a challenge well-known to those of us in the corporate training space: how to provide products/services in a virtual environment and/or following frequently changing guidelines.
There is an important, though often overlooked, role organizational leaders can play in promoting the psychological wellbeing of employees. First, they need to be equipped with the skills, knowledge, and resources needed to be advocates and facilitators. For instance, leaders must be able to recognize the signs of anxiety and depression in the workplace. Well-developed interpersonal skills (e.g., active listening, empathy, providing feedback, etc.,) are also critical for leaders when approaching their employees as advocates. Most importantly, leaders must have the knowledge about relevant services their employees can pursue – whether through internal employee wellness programs, company health benefits, or community resources.
Of course, organizational leaders can’t offer much direct support for their employees’ mental health challenges. Instructional designers certainly can’t do much either. That would be well outside of their scope of practice, but corporate training teams can be advocates in a different way. For instance, projects like converting the wealth of online educational resources to digital learning formats for the company, designing training videos to reshape stigma around mental illness, or creating custom eLearning activities around stress mitigation would go a long way in most cases. However, it is best to start with a company-wide survey to determine the biggest challenges for employees, and prioritize a few key risk areas (e.g., stress reduction, negative thinking, burnout, etc.) Equipped with best practices in instructional design, performance consulting, and training technology, employee development teams can target motivational factors, build knowledge, and shape behaviors around mental health awareness, advocacy, and treatment seeking.
Mental illness isn’t a challenge that we can overcome with training alone. There will certainly be limitations to the impact corporations and their leaders can have on their employees; however, each seemingly small step taken can make bounds of difference in the lives of individual. Even in the case that organizations can’t reshape treatment seeking behaviors or provide more mental health services through company benefits, the effort shown in communicating awareness and advocacy does matter. Research suggests that simply showing care can help to buffer people against stress, increase positive emotions, and promote resilience.
So, as we close out the year by celebrating our cherished holidays, consider what you can do – as an individual or organization – to support and care for your friends, family, businesses, and community.
Thank you to Abby Christensen for submitting our December Spotlight Blog post!
How Learning Bursts Support Attention and Memory
Decades of research into cognitive and educational psychology have taught us quite a bit about the mechanisms driving employee training and development. It gives learning and development teams valuable insights into the types of microlearning activities that drive employee performance. Research shows that in the past two decades, the average human attention span has decreased by over four seconds. Our limited attention span leads to distraction and forgetfulness. Moreover, the amount of information the brain can encode or store from a single sitting is also reduced. Besides the convenience of condensed training content and shortened course time, this fact has certainly contributed to the increase in the use of learning bursts. Still, you have to use microlearning activities strategically to reap the benefits of this training modality to improve attention and memory.
MICROLEARNING IN MODERN MEDIA
Though far from a corporate training company, the TED organization (host of TED Talks) offers educational materials in a virtual instructor-led training modality. Their content library features presentations from professionals that span nearly every topic, but each presentation is strictly limited to 18-minutes. But, why 18 minutes? Curator Chris Anderson says this amount of time is “short enough to hold people’s attention…and precise enough to be taken seriously. But it’s also long enough to say something that matters.” This should sound quite familiar to the content development strategies behind creating different types of microlearning activities. With too much information delivered in a single training, the risk of the learner encoding peripheral or irrelevant information increases.
WHAT ARE LEARNING BURSTS?
To combat the limitations of attention and memory, learning bursts are an invaluable training method. By focusing on delivering training content in a short amount of time, learning bursts meet the training content consumption needs of the average learner. But what is a learning burst exactly?
Generally, any training content tailored to meet a learning objective in a short amount of time can be considered a learning burst. However, best practices in microlearning avoid merely chopping lengthy content, but rather emphasizes creating concise learning activities that focus in critical knowledge and behaviors. The final product should be a collection of intuitive and interactive bite-sized learning activities. Condensing training content to its most vital components enables employees to learn more quickly and apply that information immediately.
Determining how much training content is “too much” can be a challenge, but insights from educational psychology offer a few hints. For instance, the mechanism in our brains that allows us to manipulate information in the moment, working memory, has some general limits. Only three to four pieces of information can be processed at one time, and it’s extremely susceptible to overload. That’s part of why learning bursts manage to have such an impact on learning outcomes. They reduce the cognitive overload by limiting the amount of novel information given to the learner at one time – focusing on primary learning objectives.
Learning bursts can be very diverse in their delivery. Microlearning strategies typical utilize several training modalities. For example, gamification, video training, and motion graphics are all effective training modalities for delivering bite-sized learning. Whatever type of microlearning activity you’re designing, there are a few best practices to keep in mind.
Learning bursts can be delivered in a variety of mediums and should not be limited to just short videos. Different modalities can be used to convey different learning objectives, so learning bursts should be tailored to the objective and the learner. Infographics, reading summaries, short podcasts, games, and interactive quizzes are all great ways to help the learner work towards gaining new knowledge.
Having more condensed content can certainly help with engagement, but that will still depend heavily on the training activity design. Rather than passively receiving information, microlearning activities should prompt the learning to actively participate in the learning experience. Short interactive videos are a common low-tech training solution that many employee development teams are already implementing.
Especially when custom microlearning activities are integrated into the flow of work, learning bursts enable more flexibility for the learner. The condensed format means employees take less time away from day-to-day business operations. Moreover, if you make your training content available as mobile learning or offline, then that gives employees the ability to access the material more easily and more often.
November's Spotlight is provided by Michelle Bodkin!
We have heard it before; not everyone learns the same way. This can be a challenge when it comes to designing and developing corporate eLearning training, but incorporating multimodal training methods can solve that problem while also improving knowledge retention.
Multi-modal learning takes into consideration the different ways people learn to stimulate better memory encoding and knowledge retention. This method has been used in traditional academic settings to stimulate visual, auditory, and kinesthetic senses in different combinations that work for each individual. However, it's also been applied in the corporate training sector through blended and hybrid learning modalities. The underlying theory is that more complex memories are easier to remember later. If an individual is presented with custom learning activities that target different memory types (semantic, procedural, emotional, etc.), then they become more engaged learners.
Virtual Training Modalities
Though recent changes in common employee training and development modalities have been accelerated, the shift in training methods has been shifting toward digital learning for the last several years. This presents an opportunity to expand upon the use of digital training modalities, but the sudden transition also presents some challenges for employee development teams that have been relying upon instructor-led training modalities.
Creating Complex Learning Experiences
Digital learning ecosystems present an opportunity for employee development teams to create more robust learning experiences with diverse training modalities. Most modern learning management systems can accommodate more than traditional text-based eLearning courses. For instance, the use of 3D models or AR/VR to recreate objects or environments has become increasingly common as a supplement to instructor-led training activities.
Best practices in training design strategy recommend the careful combination of training assets to shape behaviors and form knowledge, but without being repetitive. Your training materials should be complementary in that each asset targets a different memory type or learning style in various combinations. For instance, you might use a 3D model of a medical device to introduce a learner to the process of using a new product, an infographic to emphasize technical specifications, and interactive video training simulations with branching scenarios to promote critical thinking around how to use the device in novel situations. While each activity centers around the subject, they approach it from different angles, contributing to a more in-depth understanding.
Gamification as a Training Method
One of the most effective ways to create a multi-modal learning experience is through serious games or gamification with custom eLearning activities. The complex nature of eLearning simulations can easily combine procedural, semantic, and episodic memories with motivating factors and emotional memories. Our gamification work with Lego, wherein learners navigate the operations of retail management and earn points based on their performance, offers a great example of using simulations to target procedural memory using visuospatial-based learning activities.
There is enough variety in individual learning styles that a one-size-fits-all approach to corporate training programs simply doesn't make sense. Moreover, memory is a complex process. Using one training modality simply isn't as effective as a multi-modal training strategy. So, when you're designing (or redesigning) your next corporate training program, consider how different asset types can fit together within your digital learning ecosystem.
October's Spotlight is provided by Jonathan Thomas, at AllenComm!
When we think of education and learning, often what comes to mind is a classroom with a teacher and a very structured syllabus. However, a lot of learning takes place in more informal settings. An enlightening conversation with a new hire, a quick Google search on business methodologies and best practices, or even navigating an assignment at work that is a little above your ability are all situations in which employee development happens naturally. Informal training is an organic way we all learn, and it often happens without a second thought.
The question is: how do you go about bottling the serendipitous learning magic that happens every day into a more structured form of learning? Moreover, how do you enable and expand upon informal learning activities? Corporate training can be brutal at times, but by using informal training methods you can help to ease the rigid beatdown of information overload and drive employee engagement.
Informal Training Methods
Stretch Assignments - This is where you assign your employees tasks that are a bit beyond their current knowledge, so they must expand their skill set and grow into a role. For instance, a new hire may be charged with managing an intern, or a manager can be moved into a failing department with the goal of turning it around. However, stretch assignments can also be integrated into the new hire training experience. For example, align stretch assignments with a structured eLearning course to supplement capstone activities. This way you can determine whether your new hire can apply their skills to a novel challenge outside of a digital learning environment.
Mentoring - When supporting stretch assignments, the role of mentors can be critical, but generally their role is to pass on tribal knowledge. Often, mentors teach by example or through the sharing of experiences. But educational theories have suggested that the act of teaching another also reinforces knowledge for the mentor. So, adding structure to mentors' interactions can help to maintain the skills they've already acquired.
Measuring & Tracking Informal Learning
Taking different types of learning that happen so organically and implanting it into a structured education system is tricky but can be done with some careful learning design strategy. It all comes down to identifying skills and supporting knowledge along a learning path. Then, you have to determine which content would be better suited to informal learning activities. One approach is to keep the critical knowledge embedded within formal eLearning or instructor-led training formats and expand upon those skills using informal methods. However, it is also important to designate blocks of time to ensure employees can complete these informal activities. can track it and incorporate it into the lessons.
Learning Portals and Technology
Take advantage of training technology, like learning portals, to push supporting assets and track progress as your learners navigate their learning path. For instance, create logs of mentoring sessions with highlights and lessons learned. You can also use a social sharing feature to enable learners to discuss assets they found helpful or insightful conversations. Beyond that, with the data you gather, you may find trends (i.e., preferred mediums and asset types) that help you design a better formal curriculum.
Though formal learning tends to dominate the corporate training landscape, informal learning experiences account for much of the employee development that happens after new hire onboarding. By adding structure to these learning experiences, your employees will surely benefit. It just takes a bit of planning and some tech support.
Technology is present everywhere we go and in almost everything we do. The sales process is no different. Both consumers and corporations have adapted processes to new technology. Arguably, technology shapes industry. So, employee development teams must adapt sales enablement training to better equip employees with the knowledge and skills to grow into new sales environments. Generally, sales training addresses selling skills. But as the sales process relies more heavily on technology, everything from onboarding, to performance support and mentoring should also have an increased focus on sales technology.
As time goes on, the ability to continue training and reinforcing sales enablement content becomes important for the overall success of a company. However, increases in sales technology make the job of performance consultants more challenging, particularly as employees continue to move toward remote work environments. This is where custom eLearning that aligns with your unique sales operations can be a worthwhile investment.
The “one size fits all” approach that worked for many years is now antiquated and no longer works for today’s potential buyer. In order to pique interest in a product in today’s market, it is important for you to note that potential customers are now used to being treated as individuals and they expect it. Gone are the days of sending out faceless email blasts that are a generalization of a group rather than a celebration of your target audience. Need a little more proof? One Forbes article on the importance of customer service noted 96% of customers  surveyed say customer service is important in their decision to stick with a brand. Learning to research your target and being mindful to personalize a pitch is more important than ever to land a sale or grow an account.
Because of this change, the philosophy of content marketing has become much more prevalent in sales. One of the biggest benefits of content marketing is that it informs the decisions of potential buyers. The more helpful and tailored your message, the more likely you are to land the sale. But how do we enable our salespeople to make this change?
With technology rapidly changing how sales transactions are conducted, along with a society that values individualized efforts both in a sales pitch and company branding, old systems are having a hard time keeping up with skills gaps.
Thankfully, emerging training technology has made customized sales enablement training that focuses more on an individual’s strengths and weaknesses easier to develop than ever before. For instance, several Learning Experience Platforms create personalized content paths based on real-time analysis performance data. Similarly, complex decision trees in scenario-based training, when paired with AI, offer personalized learning experiences.
At this point, most custom eLearning is designed with mobile access in mind—even if the design isn't mobile-first. Having access to training content on a phone or tablet also increases the amount of time that employees may have to engage with content. For instance, commuting to/from the office is the perfect time to listen to a selling skills podcast. Mobile learning enables salespeople more freedom to learn when it’s convenient for them. And this is especially beneficial for salespeople that travel for their role or retail employees.
For both retail employees and corporate salespeople, sales processes are often built upon complex systems. For example, many organizations manage complex sales cycles through platforms like Salesforce. As for retail sales, most storefronts use mobile point-of-sale systems for inventory management and purchases. In either case, proficiency with those systems impacts employee performance and Customer Experience. So, systems training should be a key component of any sales enablement training initiative.
Generally, platforms like Salesforce offer product training and onboarding for clients. But as an organization's business processes and operations become more unique, one-size-fits-all systems training becomes less effective. In that case, the best solution would likely consist of custom eLearning activities that provide a sandbox for salespeople to explore the system's features.
With all the technology at our disposal, sales can certainly become more complicated. But, as with any performance challenges, it falls upon employee development teams and performance consultants to design corporate training solutions that drive organizational success. As technology continues to augment sales processes, also consider how training technology can improve your sales enablement training.
 State of Global Customer Service Report
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This month, our blog post by Leslie Kawai provides an in-depth look at best practices we can all implement as we continue building our teams in a COVID-19 world. This informative article can also be found on the RBL Group blog. To check out the on-line article, click here.
Building Teams In A COVID-19 World: What Can We Learn From Highly Agile Organizations?
Valued at over $10 billion dollars only six years after its founding, Supercell (the Finnish mobile-gaming company) understands teamwork. Its very name speaks to how it achieves success: Supercell is made of “super cells” or highly effective, agile teams that are able to quickly pivot to respond to marketplace trends, leverage shared organizational resources, and create innovative products that successfully meet customer expectations.
As organizations worldwide adapt to the changes required by COVID-19 and the proliferation of virtual teams in the “new normal” work environment, what can leaders learn from the success of highly agile teams at Supercell and other innovative organizations like Amazon, Google, and Alibaba?
Based on more than three decades of research, The RBL Group has identified four characteristics and eight critical attributes of highly effective teams that drive business results:
Effective teams have a shared purpose. Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas Smith researched hundreds of leaders across more than 30 organizations, from Hewlett-Packard to Operation Desert Storm, and more. They found that clear purpose distinguishes “work groups” that come together to share results and information from high-performance “teams” where individuals come together to collectively achieve more together than they can alone. Having a shared purpose—that team members agree on and commit to that connects their individual strengths, efforts, and skills beyond the general organizational charter—transforms “work groups” into “teams.”
High-performance teams understand that to win in the marketplace they must have a shared understanding of the business outcomes they are trying to achieve. Agile teams are particularly characterized by a shared purpose that is clearly and specifically related to customer needs. They seek a strong understanding of their customers’ expectations and tie their outcome goals to customer-centric data metrics. Google, for example, frequently utilizes small, project teams to work on specific, customer-driven feature improvements. A clear, shared purpose enables organizations to efficiently resource experts in coming together with faster, better, customer-centric outcomes.
With the impact of COVID-19 still evolving across markets, workforces, geographies, and industries, leaders must be more deliberate and focused on ensuring teams have clear purpose. This clear purpose must be defined not only by a shared understanding of the outcomes, but more explicitly by a shared understanding of the customer-driven needs that the team delivers or supports. The link to how the team’s outcomes will help the organization meet customer expectations and win in the marketplace should also be made explicit in how the team’s performance goals will be measured.
Governance is especially important as team leadership, role alignment, task competencies, and processes help agile teams drive business results. In one research study of more than 120 senior teams worldwide, fewer than 10 percent of the team members felt confident they understood who was on the teams and what their roles were. Role confusion further compounds ineffective decision-making protocols. Information sharing, accountability, feedback, and collaboration—all critical governance mechanisms for agile teams—can be achieved only when teams clarify and align roles, tasks, and processes to clear and specific outcomes.
In a June 2020 survey of more than 300 of the US’s largest companies, justCapital reported that 70 percent of all companies it surveyed are adjusting work schedules and remote-work processes. Such unprecedented level of change to work processes and customer needs requires a reinvention of most teams. To best adapt to adjusted and remote work teams, team governance practices should include the following:
Experts agree that highly agile teams must be small (a good rule is no double digits). Amazon uses a “two-pizza” team rule (teams can’t have more members than two pizzas can feed). Small teams can build trust, rapport, and communication more quickly—all characteristics important for innovation and the necessity to pivot quickly to rapidly changing external trends.
Just as organizations should cut costs based on a logic that differentiates competitive capabilities from non-essential capabilities, teams should be created with a focus on what is needed to deliver on customer and stakeholder expectations. Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s CEO of consumer business, describes its collaboration philosophy as “separable single-threaded teams.” Each team focuses on optimizing the critical capabilities for its success. Market-oriented collaboration between teams or business units fosters more efficiently shared resources.
Teams aligned to critical work processes can be optimized to ensure the health of decision-making and other team processes. Tools like RACI, WorkOut, team coaching, and team-development programs empower teams to speed up effective decision making, clarify accountability, and reduce inefficiencies. Individual cognitive and psychometric self-analysis surveys like MENTOR are powerful team-dynamic aides that help leaders assess optimal team design and predict critical team performance capability.
Leading teams is challenging, and many leaders struggle even under normal circumstances. Innovative leaders like Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Jack Ma (Alibaba), and Ren Zhengfei (Huawei) implement practices to successfully “walk the talk.” All three publicly articulate their personal leadership virtues and operationalize them into behavioral expectations. Likewise, critical leadership competencies must be operationalized for virtual management.
Agile teams require trust and communication. One critical key to team success and agile organizations is trust – both within and between teams. In May 2020, Ilkka Paananen, CEO of Supercell, offered 10 lessons to celebrate the company’s first highly successful decade and advises that trust must replace control. He warns against a “reporting culture” where teams spend excessive time writing too many reports and leaders spend too much time reading them. Developing social relationships, creating a sense of community, and building relationships effectively facilitate trust.
Successful teams also invest in strengthening communication skills to improve understanding, get better inputs, and coach and give feedback from an outside-in perspective. Agile leaders intentionally build conflict-resolution skills with the understanding that team success will correlate with how effectively the team can debrief setbacks, failures, and challenges. Amazon’s idea-generation model encourages creative conflict through its PR&FAQ tool where new ideas are presented in the form of a hypothetical press release and customer FAQ. These are intensely and intentionally debated to help determine which ideas will undergo further development. Establishing protocols for productive feedback and idea deconstruction increases the speed with which teams innovate.
Workplace relationships have changed but research in team collaboration holds true for virtual and geographically dispersed teams:
Face-to-face interactions influence team success. In a study of teams using sociometric data, researchers correlated the duration and frequency of face-to-face interactions with key performance metrics to show that face-to-face is the most valuable form of communication. Although the research took place with in-person interactions, making time for one-on-one conversations even in a virtual environment can help build stronger team relationships.
Whether in person or virtually, team members need opportunities to create a sense of community and build informal relationships. Team “Zoom” lunch breaks, virtual “happy hours,” and team celebrations are being used to build a sense of community and foster collaboration and trust. In a recent RBL Group quarterly meeting, one company owner shared funny memes and family pictures submitted by employees to create a sense of unity. Several of our client companies have reported that connecting virtually has opened a wider network of company connections and in some cases fostered even stronger rapport because technology and virtual meetings simplify geographical and resource boundaries. In manager-team relationships, virtual-development conversations are often more focused and promote stronger active listening.
Effective teams share information upward, downward, and sideways for transparency. Google holds weekly “TGIF” sharing meetings. Alibaba involves customers in co-creation of new products and services. Huawei’s CEO frequently internally shares key issues and challenges. Technology solutions, meeting cadences, and team processes should facilitate information sharing.
Agile teams foster a culture of individual and team learning. Teams progress as they learn and develop—both as individuals and as a team. Just like a sports team often experiences more success after identifying and improving both individual and team skills gaps (through watching past games to understand past failures and successes, scouting upcoming opponents, etc.), agile teams progress faster and improve their ability to innovate by identifying and improving skills gaps, evaluating and learning from outcomes, and processing feedback.
Individual learning and strategic agility improve through individual and organizational (a) self-awareness; (b) cultivating a growth mindset; and (c) strengthening the ability to navigate paradox. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, challenges her teams to build a mindset of “We learn it all” (rather than “We know it all.”). This mindset has helped Microsoft outperform Google and triple its share price in the last four years.
Perhaps never before has a growth-mindset culture been as important. With stressors and challenges stretching every organization, leaders have the opportunity to facilitate a mindset that encourages optimism towards leveraging the challenges brought on by COVID-19 and offers a context for failures. Organizations can encourage a growth-mindset culture by:
Agile high-performance teams must be the new normal. In many industries, remote work, steep cost-cutting, changed work structures, new products, altered supply chains, reduced travel, and heightened technological dependencies (among the many additional upsets of 2020) have created a new economy. This new economy demands agile teams that:
In today’s unique environment, team leaders must successfully build these domains to create teams that can successfully pivot to respond to marketplace trends, leverage shared organizational resources, and most importantly innovate to successfully meet customer expectations in the new normal COVID-19 world.
RBL offers virtual and in-person development for “Leading Virtual Teams,” as well as “Remote Leadership Online Simulations.” Learn more here about RBL tools and services that can help you optimize and support your teams for success, or please contact us for more info.
About the Author:
Leslie is a principal with The RBL Group, a global consultancy focused on strategic HR, leadership development, and organizational design that builds capabilities that create sustainable advantage. Leslie combines cognitive-behavior research and leadership development to help leaders and organizations worldwide drive business results through high performance. Her past client list includes Walgreens-Boots-Alliance, Hyatt, American Express, Alcon, DOMO, Silicon Valley Bank, SaltStack, Global Education Allies, Silicon Slopes, Charter Manufacturing, NuSkin, and Inside Sales. Leslie has also worked extensively coaching high-level entrepreneurs and executives in developing and delivering high-stakes presentations. Before joining the RBL Group, Leslie co-founded Leverage Communications and was an adjunct faculty member and associate director for the management communications program in the department of Organizational Leadership and Strategy at Brigham Young University’s (BYU) Marriott School of Business.
The new technology transforming the world today can make businesses more streamlined and simplified. In the corporate world, the concept of automation is picking up speed; 58% of executives indicated they were working toward more automation, more than doubling the number of executives making the shift to automation from the previous year. Marketing departments, in particular, are pioneering the growing use of automation. Marketing automation technology is expected to grow at a 14% compounded annual growth rate over the next five years.
Disruptive Technology For Learning
In the age of AI and automation, learning departments need to examine the ways employees are already learning on their own. For example, they might use Google or YouTube to learn something. Creating multiple touch points where employees can go for training is a great way to scale and offer on-the-job learning. To start using technology more, learning departments need to measure the data from their current training to determine the usage and effectiveness of the different touch points their learners have access to. Engagement and throughput data from current training can help them create persona-based approaches for onboarding: the first interaction any company has with the incoming new hires.
Three Strategies For Embracing Digital Transformation Through Onboarding
The technologies available to most learning organizations can be harnessed in onboarding new employees to adopt digital transformation. Using available tech in three specific, strategic ways can make an impact and close the gap between marketing and organizational learning.
1. Utilize different channels to connect and scale. Connect learning to the vision and values of the organization. Social or video platforms that are commonly used in many age groups for connecting in daily life, for instance, can help you connect employees’ values with that of the company. Increasing your connection to employees will also make it easier to increase the reach of your training.
2. Create systems to build confidence. Create ways for new hires to practice their new skills. When employees know they can perform a task or complete a vital process for the company, their confidence will grow, and so will their satisfaction.
3. Provide ways for new employees to contribute. Creating opportunities for employees to contribute early in the onboarding process is a great way to integrate them into the company culture and make them feel inspired and appreciated.
Learning That Supports Business Transformation
Many organizations have been disrupted by new technologies and their inability to keep up with all the changes. According to a study by Gartner, there are three capabilities that executives within fit organizations focus on to make this possible. First, they focus on the alignment of the employee vision and values with those of the business. They also train leaders to be more adaptable to changes for when, not if, they come. Lastly, they anticipate change by looking at trends in the data they are already measuring and by starting early in the onboarding process to create brand champions. The combination of these three capabilities helps fit companies close the technology gap between the marketing and organizational learning departments.
The work of today’s learning organizations to stay adaptable is a little like trying to walk through raindrops. It’s necessary to find the time between the reactive needs to make a strategic and preemptive plan. Start early, either during or before onboarding, to stir the desire of new employees to be the best corporate citizens they can be.
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