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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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Don’t let the calendar determine who gets what training, when!

Author: Robert Brinkerhoff
Published: January 21, 2021

When we conduct training impact evaluation studies, we interview samples of participants who got great results from applying their learning, and also samples of those who got little or no value. 

We know that training success depends on a lot more than the quality of the training content and methods themselves. So, we always try to identify the contextual factors that helped support success, and those factors that impeded success.

We learn a lot about when training works, why it works, and when it does not work, what gets in the way. And one lesson is just so simple and blatantly obvious that it is easy to overlook.

What is that lesson?  Read these two interview excerpts and figure it out.

Background: The program we were evaluating was team building and leadership training for high-potential leaders in a Fortune 50 globally diverse company. 

Participant A: Used the training frequently over past six months and put together a team that opened a new market in the Far East that is out-selling competitors and ranks in the top 15% for new sales company-wide. 

Interviewer: “You have no doubt gotten training in your career that just did not seem to score for you, but this one, according to you, was hugely helpful. What do you think was the difference? Why did this prove so helpful to you?”

Participant A: “You’re right about that. I’ve spent time in training in the past that frankly was a waste of my time. But this one hit me at exactly the right time. It was not like this content was brand new to me; I have an MBA and had heard most of this stuff before. But, I had just been assigned a new leadership role of a struggling business unit. The tools, the exercises, and the feedback I got from this program were just what I needed to recall and do, at just the right time for me to put it to use. This training was my “crutch” that got me through the first three months putting together a new team and re-motivating the older team members. Without this training, I cringe to think what may have happened. It could have been bad”

Participant B:  Got the same training in the same cohort as Participant A, but made no use of it.

Interviewer: “We wanted to talk to you as you, like some others in this program,, just seemed to get no value from it? What do you think went wrong?”

Participant B: “Well, it was certainly no fault of the training leaders or the program. That was all pretty darn good in my view. I’ve certainly seen worse in my career. But at the time I was on leave for six weeks to try to straighten out some family issues. To be honest, my mind was barely on my work at all, and I just had no mental space for making any kind of change. Fortunately, my work was running OK on its own. We were holding relatively steady in sales and margins, and my team were fine at keeping the status quo. In retrospect, I never should have signed up for the program. But, I thought, hey, I have some time free, why not do at least something. So I enrolled.”

There you have it. Over our several decades of doing these impact studies, Participant A and Participant B have become familiar acquaintances!  We could not count the times, when we ask “So, how did you get into this program?” that we hear something like “Well, it fit my calendar pretty well – I had some time and opportunity open, so I went for it.”

Our advice? Find some Participant A and Participant B examples in your own organization. Tell their story, and advise your L&D clients and customers that if they want to leverage their training investments into results, let Need & Opportunity-to-Apply Learning drive enrollment, not Calendars!

Create clear effect with the right methodology

Time and timing are important aspects in the HPLJ-methodology created by professor Robert Brinkerhoff. Do you want to learn how to design training that creates results and effect?

Read more about HPLJ in the link.

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.


Creating a Sustainable Learning & Development Ecosystem?

Author: Alex Brittain-Catlin
Published: October 29th, 2020

Having made the decision to create a blended solution, what is required is a multi-tiered approach to make this successful. An approach that incorporates the elements of a digital support platform, a virtual method of delivery, as well as more traditional face-to-face event-based training, it’s not always such a smooth journey to actually bring it to fruition. On top of this is a change mentality to make it work together. In our experience, there are some elements that need to be in place to really make it sustainable.

We have seen a number of changes over the past few years in terms of companies incorporating a more blended approach when it comes to their Learning and Development Initiatives. This has only been accelerated in the last few months because of the need to deliver virtual training as standard. There seem to be two main camps when it comes to what will happen next, will things return to the more traditional approach of instructor lead, face-to-face, classroom-based training or will it become necessary to apply a more blended approach, where we incorporate digital support and virtual delivery as standard. We believe that it will be the latter, mostly because we can achieve better performance and results with this approach, not solely as a reaction to the pandemic.

Learning and Development Ecosystem

What we see is that creating an effective Learning and Development Ecosystem has not been without its challenges and that there are a few key elements to making this a successful and sustainable approach. For us, a Learning Ecosystem is a system where people, technology, content, culture, and strategy work in harmony to produce L&D initiatives that impact on that organization. The challenge arises that organisations may have some of the elements but without all they do not achieve an effective system that produces the results they require.

The basics are fourfold.

  1. Having a blended approach mindset, which enables the design and build of effective programmes.
  2. Having an effective digital support platform, which can support the learning journey over time but also focus on application of the lessons learned.
  3. Using a virtual tool that incorporates the right classroom functionality to create engagement in our participants.
  4. The ability to create and apply meaningful digital content.

A Blended Approach Mindset

A change in Mindset is perhaps the greatest challenge of all, and it directly impacts on the other three factors. Learning has been so dominated by the face-to-face, classroom approach that even suggesting a move to digital learning can meet very strong resistance. In perhaps its strongest form this comes from facilitators themselves, who have built up the knowledge and skills to deliver in the physical classroom. A blended approach requires not only a different mindset but also a different set of skills. Less time will be spent being the star on stage but instead will be directed to really guiding participants towards application and assisting them in this.

There is also some resistance from within organisations, just as facilitators have been used to delivering in the classroom, so have participants been used to receiving knowledge there too. Going with a new approach may be seen as being risky and there are also concerns as to how this will affect their participants, with the principle question being “how long will they be away from work?”.

It takes time for a blended approach to filter it’s way throughout an organisation. We have experienced trying to create a “big bang”, where we’ve tried to launch the idea quickly. This has mostly been unsuccessful. What we have found to be successful is a more gradual, step-by-step process. Where one programme is introduced at a time and the successes from that spread throughout the organisation. Providing support in how to build and facilitate in the digital platform, how to facilitate in a virtual classroom, and creating a core of people who can apply the blended mindset really helps too. This has had more success in bringing over both facilitators and participants and demonstrating what can be achieved by really taking advantage of digital elements. Though, a key point has also been to create support for them, someone who is able to “troubleshoot”, guide, and be there when things happen in way other than expected.

Digital Support Platforms

A digital platform may well have been a nice-to-have. A bonus to an existing LMS that could support the structure and interaction of a programme, whilst efficiently delivering pre-learning and support post-event action. However, it’s now becoming increasingly apparent that if we really want to create participant interaction, between themselves, with the managers, and with the facilitators, that LMSs just don’t provide what we need. In addition, if we would like to gain qualitative evidence that the learning is actually being applied in the right situations, we need to do more than test participants levels of knowledge but actually, focus on what they are doing. A digital platform can supply this necessity and it more of a must-have.

A drawback of digital platforms is that they often represent an additional cost to an existing investment made in an LMS. However, if we support that we can increase application by using such a digital platform, then the question remains what is the cost of having an LMS that doesn’t quite deliver what we need, particularly in a more digital learning environment. What this means is that we need two systems, one to run the administrative side and one to deliver the programme if we are to move our approach forward.

Virtual Classrooms

The use of digital meeting tools has skyrocketed over the last few months with the requirements to work remotely. Many of these have been adopted by Learning and Development to deliver virtual programmes. Though a very common trait is that they have primarily been used to transport the face-to-face classroom approach to a digital environment. This was a reasonable approach when it looked like face-to-face classroom events would only be impacted in the short-term. These tools have provided us with a way to communicate with our participants virtually but there has been a cost too. Too many times have I witnessed a group of participants who are completely exhausted after a day’s virtual training – the facilitator too. This when they have one or more days still to go. Going forward, we need to adjust our virtual classroom approach, to have more but shorter sessions, whilst using different functionality to support engagement. Suddenly, the number of tools currently available to us is reduced considerably.

There are options out there that can replicate more of the interaction that was found in the classroom. Though there is also a learning curve in how to use and facilitate through these. To really succeed, we have had to take organisations through such tools and how to use them in order to be successful.

Digital Content

With the adoption of digital approaches, suddenly there is a need for digital content that can be used within these programmes. Material that was designed for the classroom doesn’t necessarily fit the bill and there has also been a heavy reliance on the facilitator to deliver the theory and approaches that we want to get across. If we want to start delivering this digitally, we need to incorporate videos and other digital content.

To go a step further, if we are looking at really providing programmes that deliver performance, focusing the valuable face-to-face time on application rather than on learning, then we need to deliver the theory in advance. Films can do this but these have to be created. An alternative can be to go to one of the many video libraries and buy content, though this may mean misalignment between your specific message and what is on the video, along with additional and often repeat costs.

Creating video content is an area where the company’s experiences and ability to do so differ. Some have been offering digital content for a while but many others still haven’t gotten off the ground. The option of buying in that skill can be expensive and still doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of “on-screen” talent. The process doesn’t need to be so complicated or expensive, but it does require some careful planning and understanding to do this with a level of professionalism that is now expected by contemporary participants.

The uptake of a blended approach that incorporates not only the digital tools but also the flexible mindset of facilitators has grown in momentum. To create an effective Learning and Development Ecosystem is a change, and with change comes challenges. These challenges are not insurmountable but it requires time, effort, knowledge, and investment to successfully introduce them. The rewards for doing so are recognizable too. We are able to offer scalability, reduced costs, increased performance, and Learning and Development programmes that go further to meeting business demands.

Learn more in our webinar

Watch our webinar “Creating a Sustainable L&D Ecosystem“!

Moving L&D programs on-line? Launch fast, improve later!

Author: Professor Robert Brinkerhoff
Published: October 20th, 2020

Like everyone else in the new Covid L&D world, you are no doubt being pressed to get new initiatives out fast. But virtual design should not be a matter of “converting” everything in your F2F programs and pushing it online, it is about creating new designs to achieve the same goals your F2F programs were intended to achieve.

Truly excellent virtual program designs take time to build – probably more time than you can afford to allocate right now. The good news is, workable designs that are “good enough” can be put together much more quickly and improved as you go.

“Over time” is key

Remember that you are creating learning journeys. Journeys start with the first steps and continue from there over time. Over time is the key word here. You can start the journey without having to have all of the latter parts of the journey elements in place.  Learning journey design does not have to be an all-or-nothing deal.

In all of the new virtual programs we have investigated these past few months, we have seen none that did not prove helpful – all had impact. On the flip side, none of them were as good out of the gate as the second-generation program that followed – all of them abounded with clear opportunities to be improved.

Efficient changes online

One of the beauties of online programming is that design changes can be made very efficiently without negative consequence. Not like old F2F world where notebooks and other hard-copy materials were used; changes implied often, implied large expenses and were frankly, a pain in the backside.

So how can you move forward and get started? Our best advice from what we are seeing is:

  • Prioritize: identify the few programs that are the most important to keeping the wheels on the business bus turning and that will be of the most help to performers struggling to adjust to the new Covid world. Start with these.
  • View your design work through the lens of performance improvement – what few things will most help people get important things done better.
  • Performance improvement is an iterative process. Until your learners start, you cannot help them adjust with more advanced practice and feedback over time. They will not become virtuoso performers overnight.
  • Apply this same performance improvement principle to your own work. You are not going to become a virtual design virtuoso overnight. You too can learn as you go and make your designs iteratively better. But you too have to start.
  • An iterative performance improvement process is impossible to nurture without evaluative feedback. Build feedback loops into your designs and pay attention to what your learners’ experience is teaching you.
  • Help your learners become aware of what is helping them and what is getting in their way. Build learning assignments into your design that get learners to report the systemic obstacles (work design, incentives, etc.) as they encounter them. Peers who have figured out a way to overcome these obstacles can help others. You as program leaders can aggregate obstacle information and get it to the people who can do something about it.
  • Where you are able, take advantage of digital learning experience tools. When you are trying to grow learning programs to scale, it is extremely difficult to mount, execute, and especially track progress without the data these learning platforms provide. The iterative design approach we promote can be greatly accelerated with such a journey platform.

Good luck – and remember the best thing you can do is start!

Have to design a virtual L&D initiative that needs to drive behavior change? Think performance, not learning.

Author: Professor Robert Brinkerhoff
Published: October 8, 2020

My evaluation colleagues and I recently conducted an impact evaluation of a large-cohort (500+ participants), mission-critical global leadership development program for a very large company.  The program, 100% on-line, was intended to help leaders change their behaviours to be more innovative: supportive of experimentation and risk-taking, creative with trying new ideas, innovating with new market initiatives, and so forth. 

With more than 500 leaders across the globe, the impact rate (percentage of participants that applied their program experience) was greater than 90%. Leadership actions we documented in this impact study were shown to have driven multiple and valuable results: new market initiatives, new revenues, increased profits, leaner organization changes, and so forth. In short, a booming success that thrilled stakeholders. But get this: fewer than 10% of participants believed that the program helped them learn any new skill that was helpful to them.


So what made the difference?

Here are the top elements of the program that participants said helped them take action:

  • Examples of practical application actions that could be taken
  • Convincing evidence and messaging about the high priority of a need to change
  • Examples of valuable results that changed actions could achieve
  • Senior leader presence and engagement that sent the message “This is important!”
  • Dialogue between participants and their managers in which commitments to act were discussed
  • Peer interactions that raised a sense of accountability and shared determination

In my view, there are lessons here for all of us L&D folks who are struggling to leverage online modalities for impact and results.


Performance vs. learning

Kudos to the L&D program designers who viewed their challenge through a ‘performance-change’ lens, versus a ‘learning lens’.  They recognized the truth that when it comes to doing new things, most people already have the fundamental skills to do them, but there is something else that is keeping them from changing: lack of motivation, fear of failure, lack of trust that the new actions can make a worthwhile difference, lack of encouragement, and so forth.

Any of you facing similar design challenges would do well to think about this example. And make sure your design is chock full of the task assignments and other program parts that would address the elements in the bulleted list above.


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