How global SAAS market leader, Sage, improved learning for the Sales team

Author: Adam Holcher
Published: September 24, 2021

Sage is a global SaaS market leader providing small and medium businesses with the visibility, flexibility, and efficiency to manage finances, operations, and people all in Sage Business Cloud. With over 11,000 employees, Sage provides products and solutions to over two million customers in 20+ countries.


Sales Enablement at Sage – “setting up sales colleagues for future success”

The global Sales Enablement function supports the product and skill learning and development of nearly 1,200 sales colleagues throughout Sage.

Sage has been going through a strategic transformation in recent years, moving towards a native cloud-based solution. Leaders in the Sales Enablement function identified this as an opportunity to continue to improve the way they supported sales teams as well, “providing a much better learning experience for our sales colleagues and providing them that long-term benefit,” explains Steve Hamilton, Director of Sales Enablement in North America.

A few colleagues had already graduated from Promote’s Brinkerhoff Certification for High Performance Learning Journeys (HPLJs) and recommended it to Steve.

After doing his due-diligence, Steve quickly realized that since Sage is a global company, the HPLJ certification could have a more profound impact if additional colleagues from Sales Enablement’s numerous regions were certified together.

“Were all trying to improve the knowledge and experience of our sales colleagues. What a great way to learn together and scale our value to Sage.”

So, Steve reached out to sales enablement colleagues in other regions to see if they would be interested, and noticed that a few key points resonated:

  • A strong focus on setting up sales colleagues for future success
  • Creating learning journeys, rather than learning events
  • Building something that’s sustainable

People quickly responded, saying “sign me up.”

Internal HPLJ Certification

Sixteen colleagues participated in Promote’s Internal HPLJ certification for Sage, and during the program, the colleagues were able to apply their learning immediately, transforming Sage’s event-based programs into High Performance Learning Journeys.

We had already begun to think about things differently. However, with more of the sales enablement team going through the certification, we’ve been able to accelerate our efforts. It has made a transformational move in our logic, our approach, and our thought process.” As a result, they expect to see more learning absorption and application by the sales teams, and sustainable utilization of that knowledge so that they can perform better in their jobs.”

Since the sixteen colleagues were going through the HPLJ certification program together, they were able to split into four groups, mixing colleagues from different regions. This approach had some immediate benefits: it allowed them to not only get to know each other better (some had never met before), but also lead to a lot of cross-pollination between the regions. And they’ve already seen other benefits:

  • “Going through it together really strengthened the Sales Enablement team in terms of our approach…We use the same language. We talk about HPLJs when we have a new initiative or project.”
  • “By having 16 sales enablement colleagues go through the certification process together, we have raised the talent level within the global sales enablement team, as well as improved the value that we provide to Sage overall.”

As the group of colleagues continues to transform existing programs and build new programs in the HPLJ format, Steve sees more positive results on the horizon. “Taking these programs and building them out into HPLJs has become our standard. Our sales colleagues should expect that when we introduce a new product or skill learning, it will be built in the format of an HPLJ.”


Tips on Overcoming Resistance in the Organization

As with all change processes, Steve and his colleagues expect some resistance along the way. However, they are laying the groundwork to overcome this. Steve shares some tips:

  • Most important is to show the Sales colleagues what they will gain from this new approach in terms of increasing their performance and enhancing their customer interactions.
  • The same thing goes for the Sales Leaders and Executives. Make sure they understand what an HPLJ is and its benefits—WHY it’s important to make this change, how it will improve performance and help achieve desired business outcomes.
  • Upon completion of the Internal HPLJ Certification, send a message to your Sales Leaders to let them know that your team has just completed their certification and what it means for the leaders, and most importantly, their team.

Business Impact

As they enter the new fiscal year, Sage expects to see even better business results due to the foundation that Sales Enablement is providing them on the learning side. “If youre a sales colleague and youre really invested in becoming better in your job, I think this really resonates with you, because you know theres a team that’s investing more into your success as a sales colleague. Not that we didnt before, but now its just at a higher level,” Steve explains.

Sales Enablement continues to evolve, playing a bigger role in the success of many organizations (not only at Sage). “We continue to build our portfolio of what we provide and how we serve our sales colleagues, and thats not going to change, and its certainly not going to slow down. Thats where the HPLJ comes in.”


What is the Brinkerhoff Certification for High Performance Learning Journeys?

The Brinkerhoff Certification for High Performance Learning Journeys is an instructional design program built on four decades of research. The certification program equips L&D professionals with a model and complete toolbox to design training initiatives that deliver performance improvement and business impact.

About Sage

Sage is the market leader for integrated accounting, payroll, and payment systems, supporting the ambition of the world’s entrepreneurs.

Steve Hamilton, Director of Sales Enablement in North America.

Key findings and observation from our latest survey on the use of High Performance Learning Journeys

Author: Alex Brittain-Catlin
Published: June 16, 2021

We recently conducted a survey that was sent out to our certified High Performance Learning Journey community to find out more about the use, design and implementation of High performance learning journeys after completing the Champion certificate level.  19% of the community answered our survey and we’ve now summarized our conclusion and observations.

The survey results confirmed a number of our beliefs when it comes to the implementation of High-Performance Learning Journeys, the trends in the market, and where challenges lie when implementing such approaches.

Following the HPLJ certification, the great majority (91.5%) have applied their learning when designing and implementing their L&D initiatives. This supports the utility of this approach in the contemporary L&D environment. We have also found that over half (53%) of respondents have used the HPLJ approach on several occasions.

A relevant and applicable methodology

There has been a wide application of the approach when it comes to the types of programs designed by the respondents. The majority of the programs related to the area of leadership, but the HPLJ methodology was also adopted in programs that address: Executive Development, Management and Supervisory Skills, Sales, Project Management, Technical Training, and On-boarding. This supports HPLJ’s relevance for a wide range of L&D initiatives, rather than being useful for just a single type of training. Furthermore, the survey responses showed that there is a limited need for compromise when it comes to the implementation of the HPLJ approach, and, as such, that the methodology is relevant and applicable in its entirety.

Trends of more virtual sessions

Two of the trends that we have noticed—a decrease in face-to-face training requests and an increase in the number of virtual instructor-led sessions—were supported in this survey. Both internal L&D and external providers noted the decrease in the number of face-to-face sessions (internal L&D 87% & external 74%) and the increase of virtual sessions (internal L&D 89% & external 84%). This points to these trends continuing beyond the recent Pandemic, and as more of an ongoing future trend.

Barriers and obstacles to overcome when implementing the HPLJ methodology

The HPLJ certification addresses a number of the barriers experienced in the course of implementing a Learning Journey and respondents were ask to share their own experiences having carried out their own journeys. On a positive note, social learning and completion rates were not seen as much of a barrier as might have been expected. However, the survey results also supported the long-held view that proactive action needs to be taken in order to address other expected barriers. Manager engagement is still regarded as one of the greatest hurdles to successfully implementing such journeys. Secondary to this was the challenge of being able to stretch the learning journeys as far as would have been liked. Manager engagement is key because the manager plays a central role in supporting on-the-job application of learning in the workplace, as well as enabling the learner to spend sufficient time on—and demonstrate the positive impact of—what has been learned. Being able to stretch learning journeys over time becomes a challenge due to a lack of understanding by managers and other key stakeholders. Instead of longer journeys, in which skills and approaches are really trained and supported, managers and key stakeholders prefer short, hard-hitting initiatives. Many respondents commented that this is more of a hoped for, rather than a guided application model, which rarely delivers the required outcomes.

There still does not seem to be a greater awareness of Learning Journeys outside of the L&D community, meaning that key stakeholders more often ask for what they know: events. This means that the ability to sell and educate key stakeholders as to the value of such an approach is still required. Part of the challenge here is that L&D is not particularly seen as a decisive factor when it comes to bringing about business results. There is still a view, or hope, that change can be brought about simply and cheaply with fast training initiatives. This was further supported by the view that creating Learning Journey resources was seen by the business as being too extensive, and that the required results takes too long.

In conclusion, the results of this survey point to the HPLJ methodology as being a widely applicable approach with a growing base of practitioners. Furthermore, the trends in the market support the increased relevance of this approach as we move beyond the current pandemic. More work is still required in convincing organisations of the relevance of the HPLJ approach and the value that it can provide.

What’s next?

A deep dive webinar on how to overcome barriers and other obstacles associated with selling, designing and implementing High-Performance Learning Journeys

Watch the webinar here!

Cracking the Learning Journey Code

Author: Alex Brittain-Catlin
Published: May 21, 2021

The Covid Pandemic has challenged the way that many Learning and Development departments and training providers deliver training. There has been a necessity to move away from face-to-face classroom training and instead deliver virtually. This has spurred on the adoption of both Learning Journey methodology and the adoption of a Blended Approach to learning – where both digital and live training are utilised. Both of these have been aided by organizations’ rapid and widespread adoption of digital as a means to deliver training, which was a barrier for many to really embrace these approaches prior to the pandemic.

Both the Learning Journey methodology and the Blended Approach to learning were areas that Promote has championed for the last few years. However, there has been limited demand for such programmes, largely because it’s been easier to apply traditional learning approaches and organizations have been wary of trying something new. This changed with Covid 19 and its extended impact on how organization’s deliver training. Companies now realise that they need to adopt new approaches and move ahead with the new reality of Learning and Development, rather than waiting to see when Covid will end and “normality” will return.

The new normal enables new opportunities

This “new normal” enables us at Promote to apply both the Learning Journey and Blended approaches to a wider degree, which has included the creation of a four-month leadership learning journey in partnership with a couple of our customers. Putting the theory into practice has led to some interesting lessons when it comes to implementing such approaches. What it has shown is that this is not just an adequate alternative, but is actually a better alternative for such training initiatives. We can produce better results, create more impact and performance, and at a lower cost to the customer organization. Some lessons have also become evident, that whilst these approaches may be similar to many which have gone before, changes are required to really realise the results that organizations are looking for.

Engagement is key

Engagement is a key factor for any programme. Without it results are negligible and the application of the learning can be very limited in the majority of cases. There are different elements when it comes to Engagement, whether it’s Participant Engagement, Manager Engagement, and even Facilitator Engagement and changes in approach need to be adopted with all of them.

The content of the programme needs to contain a balance between Group Learning and an Individual Focus to be relevant and applicable by participants. This furthers the idea that Learning and Development initiatives need to have an increased Focus on Application of the learning delivered in trainings rather than on the accumulation of the knowledge itself. We only see impact when participants apply their learning in key situations which actually deliver the performance outcomes that we are after.

Our Learning Journey also incorporated programme dynamics such as spreading learning over Time, ensuring that the Duration of the programme itself, and its constituent parts, were of the right length. We also had to ensure the right level of Content, to provide learners with the key understanding and ability to apply the learning in their everyday working scenarios.

The result: we’ve cracked the learning journey code

The challenge has been similar to completing a multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, where different elements come into play at different times and in different ways over the course of the journey. In doing so, we have learned a number of lessons when it comes to Cracking the Learning Journey Code.

In our guide below we’ve concluded our learnings and put together a guide for you who also would like to learn more about cracking the Learning Journey Code.

Download the guide: Cracking the Learning Journey Code

Want the full scope? Download our complete guide on all of our do’s and don’t that we have learned during our work when creating a fully virtual leadership learning journey during the pandemic.

Five Impact-busting myths about Learning & Development

Author: Professor Robert Brinkerhoff
Published: April 30, 2021

Back in 1994,  I wrote a book with colleague Steve Gill titled The Learning Alliance: Systems Thinking in Human Resource Development. The premise of this book is “…that learning adds value and improves human performance only when it is viewed and managed as an integral process within a larger system…”

In that book, we identified Five Myths about which we said “… the more that these myths are believed and practiced, the less likely it is that L&D will be producing value.” (p. 40).

Here are the myths and what we said about them back then. Fast forward now nearly 30 years. To what extent have we busted these myths? Are they still shaping practice in ways that they impede value? Or have we moved beyond them?

What do you think?

  1. Training makes a difference
    In our impact evaluation studies of training programs (leadership development, manager skills, etc., etc)  we always – always! – find that in the same program, some people used their training to produce worthwhile results, and some did not. But the training was nominally the same for all of them. What makes for the difference?  What makes the difference is almost always in the “before” and after” environment how were they prepared for and introduced to the training; what were expectations for their using it, or not; what kind of support did they get to apply their learning, and so forth.
  1. The purpose of training is to achieve learning objectives
    Nearly all the books and articles you can find about training design talk at great length about the need to express learning objectives in clear, concrete, and especially measurable terms. Good advice, as far as it goes; but too many practitioners let the story end there. New learning only provides the capability. What turns capability into value is behaviors – application of the learning in new or improved performance. A focus only or even mostly on learning frustrates value.
  1. The L&D professional’s job is to manage successful training programs
    The fallacy in this myth lies not in the word successful, but in the word programs. The training business is flooded to the gills with training programs and content – with more vendors selling more programs and content every day.  The myth extends to the habitual belief that processing people though these programs with efficiency is the L&D department’s job. Wrong, if it ends there. The job is to help the client organization use learning (the stuff that is presumably in these programs) to accelerate the execution of important change and strategic initiatives.
  1. Training is L&D’s job
    Most larger companies in the world have a training department. This fact attests to the emergence of training as a profession and the importance of the role in today’s organization. (Note: back then there was no such thing as a CLO). The implication of the name on the door is that the function therein is responsible for producing the performance improvement and results that are the reason for training’s existence. But turning learning into performance requires an alliance wherein trainees supervisors, their managers, and senior leadership all have a role to play in making sure that there is alignment, focus, intentionality, and accountability for the performance focus and support that must be embedded within the training initiative. In short, it takes a village to get results from training.  Delegating learning and performance accountability to the L&D function is a fool’s errand.
  1. Trainees should enjoy the training they receive.
    No quarrel with the premise that training is often (though not always) more effective when it is enjoyable, and we certainly do not promote learning designs that are on a par with root canals. But focusing on satisfaction (think the ubiquitous “level one” survey) is the value-buster.. At the root of this myth is confusion about who are the rightful customers of training. If training is meant to help the business perform, then the legitimate customer for training is senior leadership and the managers of trainees – those who are accountable for the goals that trainee performance should be helping to drive, that the training is presumably meant to impact.

Busted myths?

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Increase ROI of Soft Skills training – and make it more measurable to boot

Author: Professor Robert Brinkerhoff
Published: February 24, 2021

The beauty of soft skills – E.g., active listening, conflict management, giving and receiving feedback, etc. – is that they can be used in in so many ways and places. The problem with soft skills is that they can be used in so many ways and places.  And this paradoxical conundrum lies at the heart of why we L&D folks struggle with evaluating soft skills training, and why so much soft skills training has earned a bad – but based in truth – rap that it doesn’t work very well.

Soft skills like those mentioned above can really pay off when they are used at the right time and place, or they can be nearly worthless if they are not used at all, or not at the right time. This is why those of us who subscribe to the High-Performance Learning Journey (HPLJ) principles always build an extra high-yield element into our learning journeys.


Deploying your new skills

Imagine for a moment that you have taken some training in listening skills – one of the softest of these co-called soft skills. So now that you have mastered some listening skills, what are you going to listen to better? A podcast? The conversation taking place in the cubicle next to yours? The football game you’re watching on TV while your domestic partner would like to have a word about your continuing predilection to leave your socks on the bedroom floor? Exactly when, and where, and especially why, are you going to deploy your new skills?

Or imagine this more concrete scenario: Your teen-aged child wants some advice from you about how to help a depressed school classmate, and at the same time your phone rings and it is a cold-call insurance sales representative who asks some questions about your financial security.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and bet that you will decide that talking with your teenager is a higher priority moment to deploy your new listening skills.


Moments that matter

So what makes this the better choice? It is all about the importance of the moment, and the extent to which it enables you to accomplish a goal that is worthwhile to you. This request of your teenager is what we call in our HPLJ lexicon a “moment-that-matters” (MTM).  And your ability to identify and prioritize what those moments-that-matter are in your life are the key to using soft skills to improve your performance.

Here are some likely MTMs in some different job roles where a listening skill might really payoff:

  • A HR member assigned to conduct exit interviews with disgruntled employees in an organization that is facing a talent drain and doesn’t understand why people are departing.
  • A large-account sales rep has been asked by a key sales prospect to meet to discuss a possible application of their high-margin product in a new venture.
  • A manager of a business unit with dropping performance is meeting with a group of employees who have some ideas on how to increase production.
  • A trusted colleague offers to give you some advice on how to motivate your new team member, a person with whom she has worked in the past.

A moment-that-matters is a scenario in a person’s job where, if that MTM is executed effectively, will help achieve a worthwhile goal, and afford an opportunity to use a newly learned skill.  These MTMs will vary, of course: among job roles, within daily variations in job circumstances, and according to different people’s natural skill strengths and weaknesses.


Soft skills need impact-assuring elements

For sure, the success of any soft-skill training program depends on whether your program is efficacious enough to build the soft skills it aims at. But in most programs worth their salt that efficacy is a given; it is the easy part.  The make-or-break part for payoff comes when participants are back into their jobs – using, or not using, their new skills. And given the poor track record of typical soft-skill training transfer, this means we need impact-assuring elements in our soft-skills initiatives.

This is the key to make sure you milk your soft-skill programs for every ounce of ROI it can produce. Build in plenty of tools and exercises that will help participants analyze their own job performance needs and circumstances and then identify their unique and key MTMs where their new soft-skill expertise can be deployed fruitfully. Structure practice opportunities so they can try them out; first in safer MTM-like circumstances, and later in increasingly more challenging actual MTMs. This makes soft skills “hard” – easy for participants to apply in ways that will pay off, and easy to measure and evaluate.

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Leveraging Learning and Development Investments into Worthwhile Business Value

Author: Robert Brinkerhoff
Published: December 4, 2020

A wise man is purported to have said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The challenge that training leaders face today is both the same and it is also changing. What remains the same is that training leaders must produce worthwhile business results. The change is that they must produce them faster than ever, with greater impact from decreasing resources. Shifting global markets, emerging new technologies and uncertain economic conditions require organizations to develop new strategic priorities ever more frequently.  The even greater challenge is to get employees to execute these new initiatives that are introduced ever more frequently.

But training as an organizational function remains stuck with the fundamental weakness it has had for decades. Research, and our own dozens of evaluation studies, show that less than 20 percent or so of trainees take what they learned in training back to the job and use it in ways that are aligned with strategic goals and likely to achieve worthwhile results for their businesses.

If we look at training as only a sort of staff benefit, then maybe these results are tolerable. To be sure, learning and development have staff-benefit value. It is impossible to recruit, develop and retain employees without it. But conceiving of training as only a staff benefit is a fatal error, for it will always be just a cost and a vulnerable overhead expense.

Inevitable new business scenarios – a merger, a new product launch, a new strategic direction – require training that works to achieve 80% and better impact rates. Too many companies may be betting the business on defective training. Training has to drive performance change and improvement. If it does not, strategic initiatives die from failure to execute. At a 20% impact rate, by the time training produces a sufficient mass of employees actually executing a new strategy, the strategy is obsolete and it is time to launch a new one.


Good News and Bad News

In the past few years, we have dug deep into the causes of poor training and development.

We almost always find that some percentage of trainees apply critical elements of their new learning in improved job performance making substantial contributions to important business goals and strategies. The good news is that training works. The bad news is that it doesn’t work this well enough of the time with enough trainees, and so the typical training initiative leaves a lot of impact—and thereby a lot of money—on the table.

There is more good news. The reasons why this larger percentage of trainees does not effectively apply their training is NOT that the training itself is a failure; we already know it works for some people very well. The majority of the participants that did not apply their learning (i.e., did not execute the strategic behaviours) did not fail because they did not learn the right stuff. Instead, they failed to apply what they learned because they too often encountered one or more negative performance system factors. When we do a better job of managing these key performance system factors, we see dramatically improved results: more people using their training as well as the few best ones did.

Here are some of the most important factors we consistently find that cause training to fail:

  • Senior leadership did not understand or believe in the business need for the training and thus failed to support it rigorously and thoroughly
  • Trainees were sent to training without adequate preparation; they did not have a clear line of sight as to why the training was important, exactly what they most needed to learn, and how they could use it to drive their (and their business unit’s) performance
  • Trainees got trained at the wrong time, when they were not positioned to make the most of it in their work. The calendar, not their needs, drove their involvement.
  • Managers did not support or reinforce or hold employees accountable for applying their new learning in their jobs
  • The managers of trainees’ managers failed to hold their direct reports accountable for coaching and supporting their employees’ efforts to apply their training
  • Incentives and other performance factors were misaligned with applying the learning in new job behaviours

Note that none of these failure causes are centered in the training events and materials; they are failures of the “operating system”. And, they can be relatively easily mitigated and managed positively, as our High Impact Learning converts have demonstrated, time and again.


Getting Out of the Morass

There are two fronts on which we must fight the battle to turn training results around. First, we have to expand our thinking beyond simply delivering a powerful learning event, and manage the larger process of getting senior leaders involved, getting managers to prepare and support trainees, and so forth. This helps us improve results, for a while.

This takes us to the second battlefront. We must begin a long term strategy to educate the larger organization and change the way that training is perceived and managed. Getting impact from training is the responsibility of the whole organization since the critical failure factors lie outside the bureaucratic purview of the L&D function.  Accountability for training impact cannot be delegated to a training department. Teaching this lesson and beginning the cultural transformation, however, lies squarely in our accountability laps. Evaluation and measurement are the tools that can best help us begin and complete the journey.

We have to be relentless in measuring and evaluating the results we get; not only measuring the business impact of the training, but assessing who did what to help (or hinder) impact. And we have to provide the feedback to all of the stakeholders in the learning-to-performance process. We do not evaluate training; instead, we evaluate how well the organization is using training to get results, what’s working, and what is not. If some managers really did their jobs in preparing trainees, for example, then our evaluation should dig these facts out, and document the good work they did and the results it brought them, their employees, and the business. And we must also show what was lost when the performance support chain was broken, so that senior leaders can see that there is a true business case for holding their managers accountable for supporting training and development.

The Prescription is Simple:

  • Stop just “delivering” training; start building methods and tools for the organization to use to be sure training sticks and gets results
  • Educate senior leaders and managers about their role in making training work. Show them what’s at stake when it works, and what’s at risk when it doesn’t
  • Relentlessly measure the results you get, and show how the performance system factors were the make-or-break factors in success
  • Tell the truth about training results. When it does not work, say so clearly. Be sure everyone understands what the reasons for failure were, and what costs were incurred by failure and what benefits were not realized.
  • Provide feedback to all the stakeholders in the value chain so they can clearly see how their support (or lack of it) makes a difference
  • Tell the story loud and clear. When you make a strong business case for managing training as a process—and only then—will you build the organization that gets consistently great results.

How to involve senior managers in creating program content – Part 2

Author: Adam Holcher
Published: November 24th, 2020

“What are you most proud of? What challenges are you currently having?”

As mentioned in my previous post on this topic (Part 1), senior managers and members of their management teams can contribute a lot of fantastic content to a High Performance Learning Journey (HPLJ). I want to reiterate that the more they understand the valuable role the program plays in contributing to strategic business results, the more invested they will be in making the program a success. 

First, let’s take a step back and quickly list a few of the ways senior managers can contribute:

  • Giving input about which performance outcomes the program should lead to
  • Sharing information that will make the program content relevant to the business (e.g. real life situations as inspiration for case studies)
  • Actively participating in the program themselves. This can range from video presentations with Q&A to coaching to participating in a simulation.


The question now is how do you get them to contribute?

This post will focus on senior managers sharing information (and getting members of their teams to share). Once this important step is accomplished, it is then MUCH easier to then get them to actively participate in the program themselves.

The information that senior managers provide could be strategic targets and initiatives, information about organizational history, structure, or processes, as well as concrete challenges that get in the way of business success.

Let me be clear that getting information from someone is often an iterative process, often taking place through multiple conversations over time. So you need to plan accordingly. My recommendation is to be transparent about the process, without scaring people away with nightmares about countless meetings that drag on forever. There’s no need to tell them that you will need hours upon hours of their time because, you don’t know exactly how much of someone’s time you will need until you know what information they have and in what way they can contribute. In addition, they may not need to give so much time themselves if there are other people in the organization who have more concrete information. It’s better for the more senior person to give you the big-picture information and then direct you to others who have the details.


So what do you do?

In my experiences, it’s best to ask for a 45-minute phone call to start with and then assess the situation at the end of the call.

I won’t go into all of the details about scheduling the call and how to conduct the call—that is an art in and of itself—but there are two key points that truly make a difference in my experience.

Be Professional: For me, professionalism is a hygiene factor, and has three core elements.

  • Be structured in your communication – explain the purpose of the call (both when requesting the call, and at the beginning of the call itself), agree on the duration of the call, and stick to the agreed time.
  • Show gratitude – a manager’s time is valuable and therefore, it is important to show appreciation for the time he/she gives you. I always thank the person for his/her time both at the beginning and end of the call (as well as on other occasions, if you have more interaction)
  • Deliver results – this might be in the form of a case study for him/her to read and give feedback on. At at the very least, you should send a short e-mail giving the person an update on the program.

Be Curious: it is common knowledge that showing genuine interest in a person and what he or she does builds trust. Let’s explore this second point further.


Be curious – get the most out of your call

After reminding the person about the purpose of the call—but before leaping into my questions—I always ask if it’s okay that we take a few minutes introducing ourselves to each other. I do this out of genuine interest, but also because it puts the person at ease: talking about his/her background requires absolutely no effort, and he/she can decide what exactly to focus on (education, career, family, etc.)

Next, I tell the person more about the program itself: it’s objectives, it’s structure and any other information that might be relevant to the purpose of the conversation.

In general, your call should have two counter-balancing purposes, to get important information and to build goodwill with the senior manager. When done well, these two purposes reciprocate each other.


Getting to your questions

Now I start asking questions. If it’s a senior manager, then I generally start with high-level questions about the structure of his/her particular organization, its history, and any recent changes. Throughout this stage, I will ask multiple follow-up questions in order to get a better lay of the land. In addition, showing genuine curiosity about the organization with these kinds of questions builds a fair amount of credibility with the senior manager, thus making him/her willing to share even more information. If the person refers to any concrete structure or process, I always ask if he/she can send material.


Two must-have questions to ask

So far, we have started to get to know each other a bit and my questions require minimal effort from the other person. Now is when I raise the stakes. Two questions that I always ask are “What are you most proud of in terms of your organization’s achievements?” and “What challenges are you currently having?” (And in this order) The first question is to get the person to be a bit more reflective and give concrete examples of what is happening in his/her organization. It also makes him/her more willing to answer the second question about challenges. Asking a senior manager about the challenges in his/her organization is very much a dance—you need to “read” the person. I always start by explaining that the conversation is confidential and that any details used in the case will be tweaked to avoid identification.

Once I’ve understood the overall challenges, and identified a good subject for the case study, I generally don’t go into the details of the case study with the senior manger. Instead, I ask if there are people in his/her team who I could speak with in order to work out the details of the case.


Getting the blessing

I do so for several reasons: it shows the senior manager that I respect his/her time, it broadens the web of people involved, and lower-level managers are MUCH more comfortable talking about the nitty-gritty challenges that will make the case relevant. I always ask the senior manager if he/she could contact the member of his/her team first in order to explain the situation and then put us into contact with each other. This makes the contact with the lower-level manager much easier because it has the “blessing” of the senior manager.

Even if we haven’t used up the full 45 minutes, I will end the call early. Again, this shows professionalism and earns goodwill. After thanking the senior manager for his/her time and help, I ask if it’s okay that I reach out with follow-up questions or to give an update on the situation. They always say “yes.”

Getting a senior management team to not only approve a development program but actively contribute is a big step towards an HPLJ. So, schedule the calls and pull out your pen and paper.

How to involve managers in creating program content - Part 1

Author: Adam Holcher
Published: November 12th, 2020

“What WE need to do is…” When a manager uses these words in reference to a development program, it should sound like music to your ears. No matter what words complete the sentence above, the fact that the sentence includes the word “we” is a major victory.

Here’s why: Most managers believe in helping employees develop new skills. However, some L&D managers might have experienced resistance from managers towards getting involved in development programs. For example, when talking to a manager about such a program, the manager generally focuses on the challenge of their employees being “away from work”; and they definitely see the task of preparing content for the program as someone else’s responsibility. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s just that development has historically been outsourced to L&D and external providers.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are a lot of best practices, not just for getting managers involved, but for getting them actively engaged in providing content.

Content is the challenge

As you well know, the best development programs focus on improving business performance and therefore need to include content (material, activities, assignments, etc.) that applies to real-life business situations. Naturally, certain managers can be quite valuable in providing this content, as they know what behavioural changes participants need to make, in what business situations, and what challenges the participants face. In addition, the more that managers get involved, the more likely it is that the program will lead to successful business outcomes (see our blog What are key types of supervisor support That impact training transfer?).

So how do we get managers involved? 

Let’s start with the obvious. First and foremost, you need to think carefully about how you communicate the business value of the program: how it will help the company reach its strategic business goals. A common mistake that people make is that they spend most of the time talking about what the participants will learn. Instead, when you speak with the manager about the aims of the program, talk about what the participants will do differently in their roles, and how this will help the manager achieve his/her business goals.

Management support is key

Second, we can’t ignore politics. In my entire career, I have never been part of a successful development program that didn’t have the full-hearted support of top management, especially the CEO. If the CEO and all members of the senior management team genuinely see the business value of the program and communicate this to other managers, then you will see much more openness. The keyword is “communicate.” It’s not enough for senior managers to value the program themselves; they need to clearly broadcast this to the rest of management.

Internal partnership and pilots

So, how do you get senior managers to see the value of the program? It is essential that you have a respected champion in the senior management team (e.g. the EVP of HR). You should work in partnership with this person to prepare presentation material for the management team that clearly communicates the Program Performance Path (PPP), as well as a draft structure of the program. Ideally, your champion should have a good relationship with the CEO and should arrange for you to speak with the CEO as early as possible.

Next, you and your champion should arrange for a pilot program, in which senior managers “test drive” the program (or a portion of the program) in order to experience it first hand. If the CEO endorses the pilot program, then the rest of the management team will follow suit. It’s preferable to involve the CEO in as much of the pilot program as possible.

Purpose for pilot program

The pilot program serves three very important purposes:

  1. To get the senior managers to experience the program first hand (they might need it themselves). Once they’ve “gone through it” themselves, they tend to become great ambassadors, speaking about the experience with confidence and energy.
  2. To get feedback from the senior managers about the experience (what they liked, what needs improvement etc.), as well as to get spontaneous input from them for future content (topics, assignments, business cases, etc.). You should set aside at least a few hours of the pilot for this purpose. Even if they have criticisms about certain aspects of the pilot program, showing them that you appreciate this feedback goes a LONG way in getting them engaged. It also creates accountability on their part to help improve the program.
  3. To get senior managers (and their direct reports) to contribute more content to the program themselves. If you have succeeded in numbers one and two, then number three will happen easily. Suddenly they will start talking about “what WE need to do to make this program truly successful.”

Once senior managers are committed to and invested in the success of the program, you can request that they ask members of their management teams to contribute the detailed content. There are great strategies for navigating this process successfully, so stay tuned for a follow-up blog post on this topic.