Why “Lean In” Made Me Step Back for a Moment

Over the past few years, the Lean In movement has become a highly influential, inspirational voice for professional women around the world. As a professional female, I appreciate the message and encouragement. As the mother of a teenage son (today, at the time of this writing, is actually his 15th birthday!) and a college-aged daughter, I appreciate that these conversations are happening, to hopefully provide an equal, empowering career experience for her, and that my son has an educated perspective as well. I’ve read the book and follow posts on social media. I would say that I’ve been in agreement with most of the points I’ve seen.

Until last week.

If you know me, you know that I am hardly a confrontational person. This blog, while sometimes a source of tough love for hiring managers and those who are responsible for creating learning experiences, is not typically a platform that seeks out debate because, quite frankly, it’s exhausting, it rarely yields change, and it’s just not my style. However, in defense of my passionate stance for the new employee experience, I was unsettled by a post and New York Times article I read the other day on the Lean In Facebook page:

lean-in-facebook-post

Specifically, this line from the post:

Office Housework.PNG

Please hear me: I am not disagreeing with the overall premise of this article. I fully believe that women often do more “office housework” than their male counterparts. I have seen (and experienced) it time and time again during my 20+ years in the workforce.

My issue, and what struck such a nerve with me, is that this post described “training new hires” as OFFICE HOUSEWORK, suggesting that it is an inconvenience. A mindless task. A chore.

Then I thought, “Okay, Michelle. Before getting all worked up over a Facebook post, maybe you should read the article and then form an opinion?” So I did.

And in the first paragraph, I read this:

lean_in_article

 

Right there, among suggestively trivial items like helping improve a presentation and planning a holiday party, I saw it: “trained several new hires…”

Now, I can accept that fact that whoever wrote the Facebook post, and the authors of this article probably did not intend to minimize the importance of onboarding. Of the thousands of people who read the post/article, I am probably the only one who is reacting so passionately to something that wasn’t even the main point (I could argue how sad that is, but I’ll let it slide). But since the Lean In organization has such influence over so many professionals in countless organizations and industries (and kudos to them for it), I am distressed over the notion that such cavalier word choices may cause readers to dismiss an organization’s need for intentional, results-driven onboarding.

If you treat onboarding like an inconvenience or a low-priority task, then don’t be surprised if your new employees aren’t feeling connected to your organization.

A study by Aberdeen has shown that as many as 87% of new employees aren’t fully committed to a new job for the first six months. Eighty-seven percent. Let’s put it this way: out of 100 newly-hired employees, 87 of them are still subscribed to emails from Indeed and Glassdoor and may still be following up about other submitted job applications or calls from assertive recruiters. Those talented employees that you have invested time and money to hire and train are not entirely sure that they want to stick around for the long haul. If your partners in the onboarding process don’t realize how important their job is, then it is your job to communicate it.

Who are your partners?

Regardless of who “owns” the onboarding experience for your organization, there are a number of key stakeholders who should be involved in the new employee experience. Just a few include:

  • HR/Talent Acquisition
  • L&D/Training/Talent Development
  • Hiring Managers
  • Peers and teammates
  • Support staff (IT, administrative roles, etc)
  • Executives and senior leaders
  • Clients and vendors

Everyone involved touches a new employee’s experience in some way. If they treat this responsibility like an inconvenience, an afterthought or a “nice-to-have” during a busy time, then your new employees feel it. It potentially stunts their development, performance, engagement, and connectedness. You must educate your organization on how onboarding impacts the bottom line of your business.

Wait, what? You don’t know how onboarding impacts your business?

Find out.

What story is your company’s data telling about your new employees’ performance, retention and engagement? 

Depending on your organization’s goals and priorities, some essential metrics could include:

  • Sales within the first 30-60-90 days of employment
  • Number of errors or accidents on the job
  • Reasons employees leave within the first year (exit interview data is a gold mine for this!)
  • Number of internal promotions within the first year
  • Productivity – particularly for those in a very metric-driven role (think call center data, customer service, assembly line, etc)

 

Onboarding and new employee training can make a significant impact on business results – during Orientation, in a training environment and through on-the-job experience. People, male or female, who are involved should know how THEY are contributing to the bottom line. Give them a chance to take ownership of their role and recognize onboarding as a need-to-have. To lean in to the privilege of serving and contributing to a new employee’s success (see what I did there?).

Am I going to stop following Lean In because of this? No, of course not. The mission and work of this organization is important; it invites productive conversation and adds immense value to our professional society. In fact, had it not been for confidence gained through the stories of passionate female leaders and influencers, maybe I would not feel comfortable sharing my opinion through this platform? Who knows…

As a champion of learning in the workplace, I firmly believe that we need to pay attention to the direct and indirect messages we are sending, and use our influence to shape learning experiences for employees in the organizations we support. This article was a powerful reminder.


 

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Don’t miss a thing! For tips, ideas and yes….an occasional rant, simply complete the form below. Be sure to connect on Twitter too – @MichelleLBaker. You’ll be glad you did!

 

Heading to #ATD2016 this month?

2016-ATD-International-Conference-and-Expo

It’s May – are you heading to Denver for ATD’s International Conference & Expo (ICE) this month? I am – and I couldn’t be more excited! ICE is the biggest event of the year for L&D folks, and I’m ready to absorb every possible idea or nugget of wisdom along with 10,000+ of my fellow colleagues. Plus, I’m on the docket to present this year, which is such a tremendous privilege. 

I'm-speaking-at-ATD-ICE-2016

If this is your first time attending ICE, you should know that this is not an event you just show up at, sans-plan. With so many session options, it’s important to map out some options ahead of time. I’ve been working on my game plan for the past few days. While it is definitely subject to change, here are a few of the sessions I’m considering:

Sunday, May 22

8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Chapter Leader Breakfast, Chapter Leader Day

1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – (SU205) Flip & Drip Approach to Leadership Development: Accelerating Learning Transfer

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. – (SU314) The LeaderShift: How to Engage & Develop the Next Generation of Leaders

4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. – (SU408) Keys to a (Really) Successful New Supervisor Training Program

Evening – ATD-Central Indiana Member Meetup!

Monday, May 23

8:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. – (General Session) Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Come Together and Others Don’t

2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Chapter Leader Power Hour

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. – (M212) Cracking the Code for Kirkpatrick Levels 3 & 4

4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. – (M3318) Creating and Launching Sales Onboarding in 90 Days or Less 

Evening – TBD

Tuesday, May 24

1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m – (TU200) Redefining the Future of L&D with 70-20-10 and Beyond 

4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. – (TU416) 70-20-10 Onboarding: How to Engage, Empower & Develop New Employees (My session – join me!)

Evening – TBD

Wednesday, May 25

10:00 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. – (W201) Keeping Learning Alive Through Social Media & Learning Communities

1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – (W304) Ending the ROI Void: What You Should Measure Come Monday

There are still several open spots on my agenda…this is why careful planning is necessary! There are so many intriguing sessions being offered, it’s tough to play the Sophie’s Choice game to decide which to attend. I’ll be narrowing the list over the next week or so, but I still fully expect to call a few audibles here and there.

First time at ICE?

Fear not! The conference website has a handy session planning tool that will let you review the session lineup and bookmark your favorites. Some folks in the L&D blogging community have also shared their own tips for a successful ICE experience. Here’s a great one by JD Dillon – 5 Tips for Making the Most of #ATD2016. He’s also shared his #ATD2016 schedule – check it out!

Will I see you there?

What’s on your must-see list while at ICE? Share your can’t-miss sessions in the comments below! 

Looking for some good conversation while you’re in Denver? Let’s catch up and talk shop over a cup of coffee! Drop me a note – let’s meet up!

When does onboarding become too much of a good thing?

paris-love-locks
Ah, c’est l’amour.

For several years, countless tourists in love made a pilgrimage to the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris to pledge their undying devotion by attaching a padlock, a “love lock,” to the metal grating on the bridge.

So. Many. Locks. 

The love lock tradition has spread to a number of other cities around the world. Like the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City:
love-locks-brooklyn-bridge
I saw the Brooklyn Bridge locks last summer when I was in New York with the family. Even enterprising street vendors were trying to capitalize on bridge-crossers in loooove by selling padlocks along the bridge. It’s definitely a thing.

The idea of love locks has brought mixed reactions among Parisian tourists and locals. Some saw it as a romantic gesture, an homage to everlasting love….others, including preservationists and city officials, saw it as a cluttered mess, ruining an otherwise historic landmark. Last year, an estimated one million locks were cut from the Pont des Arts bridge, thus ending the Love Locks tradition.

What started out as good intentions – a sweet gesture – quickly spun out of control.

If we’re not careful, the same thing can happen with our onboarding programs. We invest time, energy and resources into creating a memorable experience for our newly-hired employees – but without proper management, even a great “idea” can go awry.

Be aware of these red flags…does your onboarding program:

  • Focus on training, rather than on performance?  Spending too much time “teaching to the test,” or mastering hypothetical, simulated content, instead of preparation for real-world experience can be risky. Ensure that your content is aligned to the true working environment, and that there are ample opportunities for application and assessment.
  • Have too much show, but not enough substance?  We want our Orientation and onboarding experiences to be pleasant. We want our new employees to enjoy themselves and have them walk away feeling they made the right decision in joining our organizations. Free lunch! Scavenger hunt! More swag! All good things. Just ensure that the fun elements have purpose. 
  • Set unrealistic expectations of how amazing your organization is? Onboarding is a process that bridges the gap between the sometimes-idyllic first impressions set during the recruitment and pre-boarding process and the reality of everyday life in the company. If your new employees are pinching themselves because things are just too perfect, beware. Showcase your organization’s strengths, but keep it realistic.
  • Encourage long-term reliance on a training facilitator, rather than a supervisor, peers and resources?  In cases where “new employee training” lasts several days or even weeks, training participants often look up to their primary training instructor and view him/her as an expert. While that may be true, it is important for the primary focus to shift away from the training environment and move toward the job environment. Make an effort to enable new employees to utilize self-directed learning resources, leverage peer coaching, participate in on-the-job training and (most importantly) build a solid relationship with his/her direct supervisor.

Having a hand in the new employee experience is a privilege. Creating an experience that balances learning, engagement, immersion, relationship building and yes, fun, requires thoughtful planning and ongoing attention. Just like the locks prevented visitors from experiencing the beauty of the bridge, don’t let your organization’s heavy “locks” outweigh the value your program adds.

Your turn: What are you doing to make that experience a memorable one in your organization? Share your tips in the comments below!

The easiest tweak you can make to your training and orientation programs…

stocking-up-on-classroom-candy
How many of you put out candy for training attendees? I know we do at the day job…in fact, the photo above is a shot of my cart on a recent stock-up trip at my local Sam’s Club. Even when the cost of doing business continues to soar, this is an expense that we have curbed, yet kept.

Why?

Because people like candy.

Before the workplace health and wellness fans start to worry, we also provide fresh fruit and some considerably less-exciting snacks like granola bars and trail mix.

Until I attended a recent conference, however, I didn’t give much thought to the bowl of candy that graces our training tables. Then, a tiny little tweak transformed a simple snack into a learning tool.

I promise you now, whether you are a long-time phase(two)learning follower or this is the first post you’ve read, this is worth the price of admission. Which, frankly, is free…so what a deal, amiright?

Check this out:

tech-tip-on-candy-wrapper

Whoa! Mind. Blown.

How simple is this? All that is needed is candy or snacks, a package of printable adhesive labels and some tips or ideas to share to your participants.

Granted, I’m sure I’m not the first person to “discover” this little nugget, but in over 20 years of teaching and facilitation, somehow it’s new to me. Regardless, it got me thinking….how else could we use this easy tip in training or Orientation programs? Here are 8 beyond-simple ideas:

  1. Provide the URL for your organization’s intranet, wiki, or other learning sites.
  2. Share the Twitter handles for influential, must-follow people in your organization or industry.
  3. Post can’t-miss dates – like when your benefit paperwork is due.
  4. Distribute your company’s IT Help Desk email or phone number.
  5. Share interesting trivia about your organization’s history. (Bonus: Have participants piece together the trivia into a timeline!)
  6. Introduce your company’s mission or purpose statement. 
  7. Solicit simple, one-sentence quotes from other employees – tips on how to be successful at your organization
  8. Share “Fact or Fiction” statements about your industry, organization, products/services, etc. Have participants stick (literally!) the wrappers under one of two columns on a flip chart (“fact” or “fiction”). As the candy is consumed throughout training, the columns will grow. On the last day of training, see how accurate everyone’s guesses are!

Honestly, I could probably come up with a dozen other ideas…there are so many creative possibilities for this one!

Your turn: Have you used this type of interactive element in your training sessions? What tips have you communicated? And most importantly, what is the must-have candy in YOUR candy bowl?

10 Things You Learned in Kindergarten That Will Make You a Better Facilitator

10-things-you-learned-in-kindergarten-that-will-make-you-a-better-facilitator

Do you remember the book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? Recently, I came across a copy of Robert Fulghum’s inspirational collection of essays and remembered a high school teacher had a poster with excerpts from this book in her classroom. While I recall looking at the poster, and even reading the simplistic statements…I was a teenager, desperately trying to be seen as a young adult, so any suggestion that I should revert to things I learned as a 5-year old didn’t interest me at the time.

But now, looking back at this idyllic book with a grown-up pair of eyes and perspective, I see how much truth lies in its simplicity. It reminds me of how unnecessarily complicated we tend to make things. Yes, in life. But also in career.

I flipped through the book, first in a general sense, but again as a learning professional. How could we revolutionize our interactions with training participants, with organizational stakeholders, with clients or our own teams if we followed Fulghum’s advice?

Thinking as a facilitator for the purposes of this post, here are 10 lessons we learned in Kindergarten, based on Fulghum’s book, that could make us more effective:

1. Share everything.

Transparency is key. Use your platform as a facilitator to encourage a collaborative environment. Share best practices. Discuss real-world scenarios and struggles. Celebrate wins. Be all in with your participants.

 

2. Play fair.

Maintain a level playing field throughout your sessions. Ensure that your content is relevant. Set learners up for success, not defeat or frustration.

 

3. Clean up your own mess.

Both literally and figuratively. Set house rules that allow for exploration, but also for accountability.

 

4. Take a nap every afternoon.

(I wish.)

Never underestimate the importance of taking a break. Your participants – and YOU – need time to recharge your batteries, get some fresh air, or take care of work issues that may arise. Building breaks into your agenda will also help ensure that your participants stick with you during the content.

 

5. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Okay, this book was first written in 1988, long before things like “lactose intolerance” and “gluten-free” entered our mainstream vocabulary. But the lesson I take from this statement is that little details make a big difference. Go above and beyond to create a positive environment and make your participants feel special. Warm cookies and cold milk are certainly a nice touch…even if you have to provide a healthy alternative.

 

6. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

Provide support opportunities after the session – whether through online resources, discussion forums, social media or other channels that work for your organization. Encourage participants to network and share with one another to continue the learning long after the lights go out in the training room.

 

7. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

As a facilitator, I interpret this as accommodating a variety of methods and learning styles into your session. Balance heavier content with lighter, interactive methods. Don’t rely on stale, wordy PowerPoint. Avoid lecturing for hours on end. Leverage group discussions and other engaging exercises to keep your participants moving throughout the day.

 

8. It doesn’t matter what you say you believe – it only matters what you do.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, “Less talk, more walk.” That’s really what it’s all about. Live and facilitate with conviction, friends. Be an advocate for learning in your organization not only by what you say in meetings, but how you interact with peers, subordinates, stakeholders and bosses.

 

9. It wasn’t in books. It wasn’t in church. What I needed to know was out there in the world.

Amen to that. The most effective learning takes place through practical means – on the job, in the real world. Recognize that, and design your formal instructional time in a way that sets learners up for real-world application.

 

10. You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think. There are always those who couldn’t do without you. The rub is that you don’t always know who.

A self-aware facilitator understands that it truly is all about the participant, not about the facilitator. Yes, even those of us who have a flair for the dramatic and like to dazzle the crowd. But friends, please remember what a privilege it is to bring learning experiences to the workplace. You are in a unique position to add value to your organization – even though sometimes, on days when “everything is a training issue,” it can feel like a thankless, after-thought of a job. And my goodness, how rewarding does it feel to see the proverbial light bulbs switch on during a session, or to see tangible business results after a big learning project was implemented?

So, in a way, it can be **a little bit** about us once in awhile…

 

Your turn: What childhood lessons do you follow, when designing, delivering or managing the learning function in your organization? How have those lessons helped you throughout your career? I’d love to see your insights in the comments!

 

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Six Ideas for Getting Started with Blended Learning

getting-started-with-blended-learning

The idea of lecture-heavy, “sage on the stage” classroom training has been an antiquated notion in workplace learning for quite some time, particularly in a global organization. Images of snoozing, daydreaming, multi-tasking attendees (because they really aren’t “participants” at that point, are they?) come to mind, and any shred of intended value or applicable learning flies right out the window (likely the same window the attendees are staring out of, wishing they were anywhere but in training).

Does that mean classroom training is dead? Not at all.

Depending on the organization, classroom-based training is very much alive and still has its place in workplace learning. It can be an incredibly effective method, when implemented appropriately. That said…

“Appropriately” doesn’t mean a trainer, standing idly at the front of the room, reading wordy PowerPoint slides.

“Appropriately” doesn’t mean unleashing the “training by firehose” approach.

“Appropriately” doesn’t mean cramming three days of content into one day for the sake of saving a buck.

“Appropriately” doesn’t mean letting a rogue employee “dial in” to a full-day classroom session to simply listen over the phone…and assuming they “learned” something.

“Appropriately” doesn’t mean a one-size-fits-all audience.

“Appropriately” doesn’t mean butts-in-seats.

Appropriate classroom training means leveraging the face-to-face time to set participants up for success where it really counts – on the job.

Employing a blended learning approach can help learning teams implement effective strategies, both in and out of the classroom. If you utilize classroom-based training in your organization, consider these 6 ideas for getting started with blended learning:

  1. Incorporate a variety of self-guided resources to supplement the classroom experience – Online courses, articles, videos or even internal wikis, blogs or FAQs can be a great way for participants to continue learning at their own pace following the classroom session.
  2. Flip the classroom – What can participants do prior to the training session to prepare them to fully immerse themselves in the classroom? Provide an on-topic pre-reading selection, assign an online course or share a relevant video. Doing a little homework ahead of time should provide a successful start on the learning journey.
  3. Get people talking – Leverage social and collaboration tools, either through your LMS or an enterprise platform like Yammer, SharePoint, Socialcast or Chatter, to start the discussion prior to training, and continue after the session ends. Ask for feedback, let the participants share questions and answers with each other, commit to action plans, encourage them to share how they are using the content on the job.
  4. Show-and-tell – Can participants apply what they’ve learned in the classroom by mentoring new employees as they join the team? It can be as simple as doing a “teach-back” for others on the team when they return from training…give them opportunities to use what they’ve learned in a real, practical way.
  5. “Chunk” it up – Break a full classroom course into bite-sized, on-demand content that is easily accessed. Participants can easily access or review the content they need, exactly when they need it.
  6. Involve the managers – According to a study by Broad and Newstrom, the most critical key to making sure training sticks is to get the participants’ immediate supervisors involved. How can they help their employees prepare for training, or apply what they’ve learned after training? Remember, coaching is part of the “20%” of the 70-20-10 model…don’t underestimate its value!

 

Integrating a blended approach to learning programs doesn’t have to be complicated. All it takes is some mindful planning to provide the most effective solution for creating an environment that is conducive for relevant, meaningful learning.

Your turn: Are you using a blended learning approach? How did you get started? What benefits have you seen as a result? Use the comments section below to share your thoughts!

The Secret to Connecting With Training Participants

the secret to connecting with training participants

Waaaaaaay back in 1992, right about the time I was sporting my Hypercolor sweatshirt and teasing some very tall bangs, there was a study by Broad and Newstrom about training transfer. While some many elements of the workplace learning industry have changed – technology has certainly commanded much of that – there are still a number of things that hold true now, more than twenty years later. This study is a good example.

The Broad and Newstrom study looked at the 3 primary stakeholders in a training session – the facilitator, the participant and the participant’s manager. The involvement of these stakeholders is evaluated at 3 distinct points during the learning process: before training, during training and after training. In a simple grid, these roles are plotted and ranked, according to the impact on learning transfer (the lowest number indicates the highest level of impact):

2015-02-25 13_11_07-The Transfer of Training « elegantlearning

Unless you are completely new to the concept of training transfer (and if you are, I realize this is a very crude explanation), it’s probably no secret that the manager plays a key role in whether or not a participant is able to apply the skills and knowledge s/he acquires in a training session. As you can see from the grid above, the #1 and #3 most important components are tied to manager support.

So, the secret to connecting with training participants during a session?

Involve their managers.

Here are 10 – count ’em, 10 – creative ways to involve even the busiest manager:

1. Share the agenda with the manager ahead of time – be clear with the objectives so s/he knows exactly how the session will impact the participant’s job performance.

2. Provide talking points to the manager to use as a conversation starter when the participant returns from training.

3. Create an infographic with success stories/testimonials, stats and other interesting nuggets about the subject matter and its impact on the organization.

4. Survey managers about how the training will address specific performance gaps…then follow up.

5. Invite the manager to attend a portion of the training to observe and/or participate alongside their employee.

6. Offer a brief overview to all participants’ managers prior to the session – tell them what the participants can expect, how they can support their employee, and answer the managers’ questions.

7. Send a digest of links to supporting documents, articles, blogs and other resources for managers to read more about the topic or to share with their employee post-training to continue the learning.

8. Host a discussion forum for managers about their role in the learning transfer process, using the social features of your LMS, internal social platform (like Yammer, Socialcast, etc), or even a Twitter chat, if it works for your organization/culture.

9. Encourage participants to lead a “teach-back” when they get back to the job, to summarize their learning directly with their manager.

10. Utilize action planning for participants to create a plan – how they will apply what they learned and how they will involve their managers. Send a copy to the manager!

There you have it: 10 ways to engage managers – before, during or after a training session. The next time you’re implementing a training session, give one (or more!) of these strategies a try…and see if your connection to participants goes up a bit!

 

Your turn: How do you engage training participants’ managers to encourage or increase learning transfer? Use the comments section below to share your tried-and-true methods!

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