Organizational Hierarchy and the Training Department


In the corporate world, there is so much focus on where one falls in the grand hierarchy. So often, an employee is defined by his little block of real estate on the organizational chart. And, just like in traditional real estate, the rule is often the same:

Location, location, location.

The higher one falls on the org chart, the more influence that person likely has (or is perceived to have). And teams fall in clusters across that org chart, reporting up the chain in different places. Regardless of the company, industry or job, chances are many of us can relate to this scenario in some way.

So, where should a training department logically fall in the landscape of an organization?

Throughout my career, I have worked for companies where training was centralized and reported to an Operations department. I have also worked for a company where training was a bit more nomadic; our team was shuffled around several times until they eventually found the most logical “home” for us (yes, it was a confusing time…we actually referred to ourselves as Training Gypsies). I have also worked as a one-woman show, providing training support for a specific department, reporting to the director of that department; there was no training “team” at all. An army of trainers existed throughout the company, each supporting a different department, but there was no consistency or solidarity…but it did make us all deep subject matter experts in our respective areas.

In my current role at the day job, our team falls under the Human Resources umbrella. This, of course, has its advantages and disadvantages:

Advantage: We report to the EVP/Chief Human Resources Officer, who reports directly to the CEO, so we are visible to decision makers at the top.

Disadvantage: We report to the EVP/Chief Human Resources Officer, who reports directly to the CEO, so we are visible to decision makers at the top.

(Don’t act like you don’t know what I mean by that)

So, where SHOULD a training team lie in a company’s structure? The answer is, there really isn’t a single answer. Companies are different, so the natural “fit” of a training team will vary. The key, regardless of your team’s “home base,” should be this:

Build strong relationships UP, DOWN and ACROSS your organization.

Seek out your stakeholders and subject matter experts, and seize every opportunity to engage leaders at all levels. At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter where your “org chart real estate” is located…just make the most of your space.

Your turn: Where does your role/team fall on your company’s organizational chart? What are the advantages and disadvantages you have experienced? Be sure to leave a comment – your thoughts are always appreciated!

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A Lesson in Influence…from Ashton Kutcher?


Lately, I’ve been all about breaking the rules. Getting people to think outside the box. Trying new things in the classroom. And this week, I learned something:

If you don’t have influence, none of it really matters.

Over the past few days, in a social feed near you, you may have seen links to a video clip of an actor, Ashton Kutcher. Now, maybe you know of this guy…the guy from Punk’d. The guy from Two and a Half Men.  The guy from That 70’s Show.

Yeah, him.

At first glance, it’s not unusual to see him making headlines. After all, he’s a pretty popular guy. At the time of this writing, he has over 14 million Twitter followers, is getting ready to release a movie about Steve Jobs, and stars in a highly-rated TV show (I’ll spare you any post-Charlie Sheen “Jump the Shark” commentary). And let’s be honest, he’s not bad to look at either.

But what was THIS video clip all about? After seeing a couple dozen posts, I finally caved and watched it. I’m so glad I did. The video was from his acceptance speech after receiving a Teen Choice Awards (the program aired earlier this week). Not exactly a credible source for leadership development, eh? Once Ashton took the stage, and got past the eardrum-piercing screams of thousands of teenage girls, he started talking.

And what he said impressed the heck out of me.

I’m not going to write about it; I encourage you to take a moment and just watch the video yourself at the end, but I will say a few words:

As learning professionals, we talk about being advocates for learning in our organizations. Assessing needs. Sharing recommendations and best practices. Being a trusted advisor to the business. But none of that means a darn thing unless we have influence. Whether your audience is one person, or in Ashton’s case, a room of thousands, we need to recognize and leverage the opportune moments we are given to influence up, down and across our organizations, to bring learning experiences to the workplace.

Watch the video here:

Your turn: How have you used your expertise to influence people and programs in your organization?  What challenges have you faced…and how did you overcome them?

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In Learning, It’s Okay to be a Rule-Breaker


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. When it comes to developing learning programs, I’m a bit of a rule-breaker. There are smarties out there who have developed complex models on how adults learn, where adults learn and why we should follow these rules.  I respect them. And sure, they have merit. But the rigidity is where I’m left shaking my head. Every organization is unique. People, industries and priorities vary. How can we expect this one-size-fits-all approach to be effective?

Today, my mind goes to the humble training session.  Namely, mind-numbing training sessions, where PowerPoint reigns supreme. Tell me, how can a facilitator believe that spewing dozens of wordy slides at participants equates a learning experience?

Not long ago, I was talking to a colleague about this very topic. He told me about some creative things his team was doing, which sent my mind spinning. At the day job, we had been considering some “different” learning events to shake things up in our new leadership development program.  It left me thinking…

Who says we can’t do something different?

That “something different” meant hosting a leadership development discussion. Nothing new, right? Well…

We’re hosting it in a bar. A local brewpub, to be exact. Who says people can’t talk about leadership over some microbrews?

The proprietor of this brewpub will be joining us, and giving a brief talk about the evolution of their brand. Their commitment to their customers, particularly as advocates for their brand. Their involvement in the community. What their brand meant to him in the beginning…and what it means to him now. And then, we’ll draw some comparisons to our organization, and what lessons we can take back to our world.

I could easily gather a roomful of participants in the office, throw a few slides up on the screen, and talk leadership. Brand advocacy. Customer awareness. And we might have a pretty darn good discussion about it. But, a year from now, will those participants necessarily remember it? Maybe. But then, maybe not.

Will they remember the time the L&D team hosted Leadership Happy Hour, where we met at the brewpub and sampled some drinks and talked candidly about our brand? You betcha. Creating memorable, meaningful, relevant learning experiences is our job, friends. It’s okay to think outside the box and try something new.

Your turn: How do you facilitate meaningful learning experiences in your organization? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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3 Little White Lies Your New Employee is Telling You


Have you ever attended a meeting or training session, when the leader or facilitator asked, “Does anybody have any questions?”

And you do, in fact, have questions. But you don’t ask.

I think we’ve all been there. For one reason or another, we don’t always speak up when we are unsure about something. Or maybe we don’t feel comfortable admitting that we don’t already know what we’d like to ask. Call it insecurity, or wanting to look like we’ve got it all together, but we walk out of those meetings and training sessions without clarity, lacking information that would make our jobs easier.

Now, friends, let me ask you. Has this ever happened to you when you were new on the job?

Chances are, at one point or another, it has. Have you misled your boss into thinking you understand something, when really, you’re full of questions? Put yourselves in their shoes, hiring managers. What question is your newest team member NOT asking?

The title of this post might have made you think I was going to write about lying on one’s resume…or a new employee leading you to believe he has “expert proficiency” with Microsoft Excel during the interview process, only to find out he’s a beginner. But that’s not where I’m going. I’m talking about little cues you can pick up on that might indicate your new employee is lacking knowledge, context or clarity. Here are three to consider:

1. “I don’t have any questions.”

Like I said before, sometimes a new employee just doesn’t want to admit weakness. That he isn’t fully understanding what’s going on. As hiring managers, co-workers and trainers of new employees, we need to see beyond the lack of questions and anticipate the questions that they might have…or don’t claim to have.

What’s the solution?

Offer an abundance of easy-to-use resources that will help new employees learn and locate information on their own. Create job aids, post FAQs, encourage dialogue through social platforms. Leverage channels that work for your team and organization. The key is to make it easy. The idea is to provide answers and clarity…not to add to the noise and confusion.

2. “I did the same thing at my last job.”

Even though people know that a new job will be different than their last one, we still compare experiences, tasks, resources, and even people, particularly when the role is similar. While this isn’t necessarily a lie, it does give us an opportunity…

That opportunity?

Provide context. It’s our job as facilitators of learning (that includes you, hiring managers) to help new employees understand the company. Understand the dynamics of the team. Understand the expectations of his role. It’s all about making it real and differentiating this job from the last one. In time, your new employee will put his past behind him. Until that day comes, you need to be there guiding his new path.

3. “I can do this on my own.” Productive autonomy sends a signal of competence. New employees want to hit the ground running. They don’t want to be be micromanaged, and they certainly don’t want to appear like they aren’t able to get the job done. It takes a leader who is tuned in to the needs of his team, to understand the balance of stepping back…and stepping in.

How can you offer support?

As a wise man once said, “Stop, collaborate and listen.” Take a lesson there, friends.  Listen to your employees. Connect them with others for projects, when it makes sense. When it’s more logical to work independently, encourage them to do so, ensuring they have the necessary tools and resources available. But all along the way, through collaborative and autonomous work, you should be communicating regularly with each of your employees, particularly your newest ones. Give context. Set expectations. Ask questions. Provide (and request) feedback. Keeping the channels open from the beginning will only lend itself to stronger relationships for the long haul.

Just like a parent must look beyond the “half-truths” their children dish out (as a mother of two, I know a thing or two about that!), leaders and facilitators need to look beneath the surface of what our newest team members are telling us. It’s not that they are actually “lying” to us. They are in a delicate position of proving themselves and demonstrating proficiency…when they are simply trying to figure it all out. Understand that. Accept that. And then do something about that!

Your turn: How else can leaders create an environment that enables new employees? Share your thoughts in the comments below…

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3 Questions Every New Manager Should Ask

new managers need to build a foundation of trust

When people think of “onboarding”, many people often think of “orientation”.  Even the most seasoned learning professionals are guilty of this!  If you’ve read this earlier post, you’ll remember that we explored this topic, but it bears further exploration…

Orientation is part of onboarding, but not all onboarding is orientation!

So, let’s think beyond the basics…what happens during a new manager’s first few weeks?  After he goes through any standard orientation activities, and he is settling into his role?  While he is trying to make connections and learn about his team and manager?

During the first week, the new manager is being introduced to the company, the team, and the expectations of his new role.  Once the pleasantries are exchanged, it’s time to start doing something about the team structure! With his team, a manager needs to explore these three questions:

1. Where have we been?

There are a number of questions that the team can answer to provide clarity and context to a new manager.  2-3 days prior to a team meeting, the manager can submit questions like these to the team and encourage them to ponder the topics.  They can bring answers or just be prepared to discuss at a team meeting.

  • What words can describe our team’s history?
  • What are some major achievements our team has accomplished?
  • How was our team “born”?
  • What are some challenges the team has faced in the past?
  • How did the team overcome those challenges?

Before a new manager can adequately assess his team, he needs to know the origin of the team and gain understanding to “why we are the way we are”.

2. Where are we today?

Unless the manager is coming in to develop and lead a brand-new team, he needs to gauge where the past has brought the team and consider the current state of the team, individually and collectively, as well as projects and initiatives that are currently in progress.  Some questions the team can discuss include:

  • What are the team’s strengths?
  • What are the team’s weaknesses?
  • How do we bring value to the organization?
  • Who are our customers?
  • How do we bring value to our customers?
  • What are the organization’s top priorities/objectives right now?
  • What are OUR top priorities today?
  • How do our priorities align with organizational objectives?  Or do they?

A new manager needs to know how his team is perceived in the organization.  As he gains context about these perceptions, only then can he craft his strategy to move forward.

3. Where are we going?

Making progress.  In the book, The First 90 Days, the author states the importance of diagnosing the team’s current situation, and determining what immediate challenges should be addressed right away.  It is crucial to deliver results in the first few months on the job!

Once the manager has gathered relevant info from the team, through both team and individual meetings, he can work with his own manager to determine priorities, obstacles and outcomes.  When executed efficiently, these outcomes will build early credibility for the new manager and for the redefined team.  This also sets a precedent for open communication, proactive leadership and trust.

Where are we, and where are we going?  It’s something that every new manager needs (and deserves!) to know when he takes the reins of a team.  Is there a way you can build something into your onboarding program to enable new managers to facilitate these conversations?  Can you provide the tools, resources and encouragement?  I’d love to hear your ideas, and how you have worked with new managers in your organization.

On a personal note…

In the spirit of the holiday season, I hope you have been enjoying a wonderful season with those dearest to you, full of love and laughter.  Thank you for your continued comments, shares, emails and creativity.  Here’s to a successful, prosperous 2013!  Cheers!

– Michelle

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The Lunchbox Evolution

Strawberry Shortcake Lunchbox

This was my lunchbox when I was in the first grade.  Well, not this EXACT lunchbox, but the one I faithfully carried to school each day looked exactly like this one. I used it to my pack my typical PB&J on Wonder Bread (cut into triangles!), carrot sticks and Twinkie (Rest in Peace, Hostess)…sometimes soup in the thermos when it was cold outside.  This was lunch, circa 1980.

I loved that Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox.  Rust spots and all.

My mom probably figured I needed a tetanus shot carrying that rusty thing around, so when it was school shopping time the next year, I got a new lunchbox that looked like this:

care bears lunchbox
Yep, those are Care Bears. Holla!

I loved my Care Bears lunchbox too. But another metal lunchbox yielded the same rusty results.  I’m sure that around this time, the lunch box people were realizing that there had to be a better way. Kids all over America were toting around rusty lunchboxes – expensive to manufacture, and quite frankly, they were disgusting.  So by the third or fourth grade, my lunchbox looked like this:

shirt tales lunchbox
Awww yeah. Shirt Tales, baby.

Enter the plastic lunchbox.  The rust problem was eliminated, as were the squeaky hinges and the awful clanking sound when the thermos would roll around the empty box on the way home from school.  Not to mention, from a business perspective (something that was entirely beyond my 8-year old comprehension) plastic was much more cost-effective to produce than their metal counterparts.

See where we’re going with this?  The lunchbox has evolved over time.  The lunchbox people couldn’t just rest on their laurels with the metal lunchbox.  Did it get the job done?  Sure.  Was it a cooler product than the lame brown bag?  Heck yeah.  But was there a better, more efficient, cost-effective alternative?  Absolutely.

L&D brethren, we need to manage our learning and development programs with the same mindset.

Maybe your training programs are solid.  Maybe your smile sheets are consistently…well, smiley.  That doesn’t mean you should leave well enough alone.  You should regularly audit your programs and take inventory of your materials, resources and even instructors.

If you’re wondering why you should be doing this, here are three things to consider:

1. Business objectives change.

If your business or departmental goals and priorities have evolved throughout the year, then you should be aware of those goals.  Partner with leadership and subject-matter experts to identify learning opportunities for employees. Be involved. If you don’t have a seat at the proverbial table, see that your boss does.

2. Job descriptions, tasks, and systems change.

Whether you are responsible for the learning function over a department or an organization, it is important to be mindful of what skills and knowledge your employees are responsible for knowing.  COPC recommends annual refresher training, as long as duties have not changed; otherwise, training should occur whenever job responsibilities change.  There are other theories and recommendations…but you know your business best. Stay close to processes and systems.

3. People, whether they are your trainers, employees, or SMEs, change.

As the human landscape of your organization evolves, your training program will be impacted as well.  Managing the transition of legacy knowledge when veteran employees leave. Ramping up new employees during a peak-season hiring frenzy.  Even the evolution of your own staff can be a factor…keep your instructors informed, prepared and perpetually developed.

I say this often: Change is inevitable.  It’s going to happen.  Businesses, at least the successful ones, don’t stay in one place.  They are constantly striving to be the best.  The most efficient.  The most profitable.  The most customer-centric.  What is your business striving to become (or remain)?  I’ll betcha my Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox that it isn’t “average” or “mediocre”.  As learning professionals, we need to find our sweet spot in our organizations, where we provide value and contribute to whatever “The Best” means in our worlds.

And the lunchbox people?  Well, look at lunchboxes today.  My 11-year old has a lunchbox that is not metal, nor hard plastic.  It’s a soft, insulated bag that zips.  He can pack his PB&J, carrot sticks, Nutter Butters (his current fave), and a juice box that will stay cold until lunchtime.  It’s lightweight. At the end of the day, he can easily shove it into his backpack. It’s a far superior product than even the coolest Gen X lunchbox from his old momma’s generation.

It’s just a lunchbox.  But it’s still evolving, still changing, still getting better.

And so should we, don’t ya think?.

Your turn:  Just for fun, I’d love to know what kind of lunchbox you carried to school when you were young! Was it Dukes of Hazzard?  The Fonz?  Smurfs?  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? ‘Fess up, kids.

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On Being a Pilgrim


In the spirit of the holiday, a Thanksgiving-themed post…

When it comes to my profession, I am a pilgrim.  A wayfarer.  A wanderer.  And yes, a bit of a rule-breaker.

In the United States, when we think of pilgrims, our thoughts generally go to the early settlers who fled England on the Mayflower to establish the Plymouth colony.  They, too, were rule-breakers.  Wayfarers.  Seeking opportunity and a new way of doing things.  In our technology-rich world nearly 400 years later, we are still seeking opportunity and a new way of doing things.

As I manage onboarding programs, develop learning content, deliver workshops, or even contribute to this little blog, I refuse to box myself into one way of thinking because “that’s how we’ve always done it” or because of an unwritten rule that tells me how something is “supposed” to be done.  Change is inevitable.  Circumstances and fast-paced workplaces (heck, fast-paced lives) constantly challenge us to make our processes better. Faster. More Effective.  It’s a cycle of continuous improvement.  And guess what?  Embracing that is our competitive edge.

So, my advice to you, dear ones…don’t get too comfortable.  Stock up your Mayflower and set sail, come what may.

I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to explore topics that I’m passionate about with each of you.  It’s such a gift to get your feedback, thoughts and ideas.  Thank you!

To those of you who will be celebrating Thanksgiving this week, I wish you a blessed holiday, surrounded with love, warmth and happy memories!

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