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May 2020

“Going Digital” A Framework for Corporate Learning

By | Change Management, Learning | No Comments

For many organizations, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed some serious vulnerabilities. Businesses not equipped with a digital strategy have become highly reactive and struggled to swiftly pivot and support their workforce development under these unprecedented circumstances. Clearly, these uncertain times call for pioneer thinking. Organizations must learn, expand, and develop new ways to enable people to do better work through a continuously evolving digital strategy.

This lead paragraph might seem vague and grandiose; don’t get disillusioned by these opening lines. Let’s take a closer look at how organizations can leverage a digital mindset to successfully move both technology and people to the center of their response strategy and ongoing corporate narrative.

Digital Transformation

Where to start? Well, by defining a term that gets a lot of eye rolls – Digital Transformation.

Digital Transformation starts with the complete rethinking of how a business operates. Said best by McKinsey & Company, it is about empowering employees to embrace change and to challenge old ways of working. Digital Transformation must take place at all levels within an organization, i.e., the core business must fundamentally change. Countless business leaders have been reluctant to do the hard work – to transform their business operations to digital, but with the unexpected global crisis, they now have no choice. Becoming digital is the only way forward.

A Digital Transformation introduces boundless opportunities for innovation, operational efficiencies, and competitive advantage. Simply injecting technology into an existing process proves insufficient in realizing what it means to be digital. So, this is when the difference between Automation versus Digitalization becomes important.

Linking proven learning methods with advanced technology allows organizations to meet the immediate needs of their people while future proofing their workforce along the way.”

 

Automation vs. Digitalization

Both Gartner and Forbes have published excellent content on the difference between Automation and Digitalization. Two recommended articles are included in the footnotes. If you are interested, dive in! To simplify the jargon:

Automation

  • To install technology into an existing process
  • To make a process operate automatically by replacing human intervention

Digitalization

  • To provide new value, improve how something gets done
  • To leverage technology to make work and ultimately people’s lives better

Unfortunately, many organizations focus on implementing automation with an intention to simplify work by removing human intervention as opposed to creating resilient business models. The output of these expensive automation projects consistently fails to meet business needs/expectations. Meanwhile, businesses that embrace digitalization have the mindset to better manage change overall, making change management a core competency while the business becomes more agile and customer-centric.

Digital Transformation of Learning

In today’s corporate setting, a person’s success is often attributed to their ability to learn and adapt. Education is an enabler for people, particularly during times of substantial change. One would think this understanding would propel corporate learning to the top of the priority list.

McKinsey & Company’s research had previously forecasted that the skills needed in the workplace will be utterly different by 2030. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated this prediction to 2020. It’s imperative for organizations to support and develop their people in this disruptive transformation of work. Such an immense workforce revolution must be met with appropriate learning and development strategies.

One of the main goals of any corporate learning strategy should be making information accessible across the entire organization. Learning should not be a struggle, yet in most of today’s corporate settings, learning has not been designed to be people-centric. The Godfather of Corporate Learning, Josh Bersin, talks about how external consumer platforms like Google, YouTube, and LinkedIn make it extremely easy to search and consume knowledge-based content. These new age consumer platforms have become the common place for learners to circumvent their company’s clunky learning offerings for a better learning experience. Ironically, these external tech giants end up knowing more about an employee’s learning needs and skill level than their actual employer. And they leverage this information to create personalized, timely and interconnected learning experiences. Businesses should take note, there is something to learn here, pun intended!

Fundamental gaps exist with how people consume content and retain knowledge inside and outside of work. Below are four things to consider when redesigning your corporate learning strategy to meet consumer expectations:

  • Personal – Today’s learners want learning geared towards their individual needs and interests. By leveraging innovations like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), businesses can scale personalization to create individual learning experiences based on unique employee data.
  • Mobile – Mandatory compliance training is often the #1 content accessed within a learning management system (LMS), but usage quickly drops off when it comes to everyday learning needs. A big reason for this is that corporate learning is often confined to a ridge destination (i.e. LMS) verses built into the flow of work. In response, learners pivot to internet searches, videos, podcasts, and other content that is immediately accessible via their mobile devices to fuel their curiosity and support their on-the-job learning needs
  • Social – From infants to adults, we, by nature, learn from each other. Sharing knowledge and expertise via sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube creates new opportunities for individuals and companies to share, promote, and give/accept feedback on learning content. These same social learning tactics can be brought into the workplace too. We’re all vying for the 5-star review!
  • Continuous – Developing ongoing learning experiences is the hook for creating a life-long learner, and, for the tech giants, creating a life-long consumer. Work, let alone life, is in a constant state of change. Continuous learning is a response to the turbulence of modern work (*gulp* life): new technology, new company direction, new process, new teammate, new…, new…., new…

A Digital Approach to Corporate Learning

This humanitarian crisis has changed business operating models forever. In turn, organizations are forced to rapidly evolve old learning programs and training models to support their newly fractionalized workforce. Every organization is impacted differently. Some have transitioned to working remotely. Others have evolved to shift patterns of small cohorts. All are creating new roles and transitioning people to support swiftly changing business demands. A digital learning strategy is required now, more than ever before, to support the disruption.

Not sure where to start with your digital learning transformation? Hit the ground running with these six recommendations for reimagining corporate learning activities into effective and immersive digital learning experiences.

  1. Understand when to be highly digital and when to be highly human – it’s the balance of both where truly the magic happens.
  2. Build an open source API Integrations strategy, integrate new technology solutions to enhance the learning experience – a friendly learning bot ready to assist will do the trick.
  3. Design for mobile first, create a new learning mode for consuming content anywhere at any time – work, life, and learning have no borders in today’s world.
  4. Set the standard for data always – use actionable metrics to connect learning with performance and business outcomes.
  5. Support various types of learning – including on-the-job learning, team-based learning, ILT, blended learning, gamification, and adaptive microlearning, to name a few.
  6. Go all in, become digital – do the upfront work… align your company mindset, understand and build empathy for your people, rethink and redesign your processes, and then use technology to bring it all together.

The Wrap

Remember, the Digital Transformation of Learning extends beyond the virtual delivery of instructional courses and training. It requires a mindset shift for how organizations fundamentally approach learning for the workforce. Linking proven learning methods with advanced technology allows organizations to meet the immediate needs of their people while future proofing their workforce along the way.

 

Sources/Footnotes:
Gartner: https://info.advsyscon.com/it-automation-blog/gartner-it-automation
Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonbloomberg/2018/04/29/digitization-digitalization-and-digital-transformation-confuse-them-at-your-peril/#2458c4162f2c
McKinsey: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/unlocking-success-in-digital-transformations
Josh Bersin https://joshbersin.com/2019/03/learning-experience-platform-lxp-market-grows-up-now-too-big-to-ignore/

 

Announcing our 2020 Q1 PURE Award Winner!

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We are pleased to announce our 2020 Q1 winner of the PURE Service Award, Jim Bierbower.

Jim Bierbower is a tremendously talented Learning and Development professional with over 25 years of consulting experience. His creativity, thought leadership, and collaboration skills are outstanding. Jim has most recently been consulting with one of CARA’s premier insurance customers to conduct a needs analysis for creating a new Learning & Development function.

Jim’s CARA Service Delivery Manager, Deanna Claerhout, shared the following comments:

“Jim exhibited all of our PURE values, he produced a high-quality findings and recommendations report that was detailed and thorough and Jim left no stone unturned. We could always count on Jim to respond to the client’s needs in a collaborative way. He even went above and beyond to get additional buy-in and support for his final recommendations from key stakeholders, ensuring CARA’s ability to move to the second phase work effort. I appreciate Jim’s accountability in seeing the work through to a successful outcome.”

THANK YOU, Jim, for consistently demonstrating CARA’s PURE values, delivering the highest quality of service, and exceeding our clients’ expectations.

CARA’s PURE Service Program provides a unique way to measure success and evaluate how well our consultants’ service delivery meets our clients’ needs. CARA’s service delivery process is based on the PURE service philosophy and consultants are reviewed quarterly based on how well they demonstrate our PURE values: Professionalism, Understanding, Responsibility and Excellence. CARA’s consultants are nominated based on client feedback, PURE evaluations, and team interaction with the consultants. After careful consideration of each candidate, CARA selects the PURE award recipients. The PURE award program is the foundation of CARA’s culture, aligning us with our clients’ and consultants’ values in service excellence.

Your Brain on Change! How to Stop Fighting Gravity

By | Change Management | No Comments

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Albert Einstein

Why, then, do so many organizations take the same approach to change over and over again and not achieve the desired outcomes? Scholars, consultants, researchers and well-intended leaders have all struggled to crack the mystery of successful and sustained OCM (organizational change management). Why is it still so hard?

The problem is not insanity…..it’s that people are complex creatures and, as a result, change is messy. We don’t always behave in a linear fashion based on a well-set plan (if you have teenagers, you can relate). Until we embrace the connection of neuroscience with change, every initiative is at risk of being another statistic.

Neuroscience is the study of the brain and its impact on our behavior. It is not a new concept in the world of OCM, but we need to elevate it beyond a new way of thinking to a standard way of driving OCM. We know that the brain has pathways that respond to change (good or bad), and that our brains are prediction machines to keep us out of harm’s way. We know that it takes more time and energy to try something new and that our brains typically prefer to default to saving energy by doing what is automatic (habit). And we also know that, as a result, the brain often interprets change as a threat. This results in a fight-or-flight mindset, even if a change is positive! But did you know:

  • Many conventional change approaches in fact trigger the threat response
  • Science shows that our brains often make decisions for us before we have time to consciously process ourselves
  • Our brains have FIVE TIMES more neural networks to look for danger than they have for rewards
  • Our brains subconsciously look for threats five times per second based on primal survival instincts
  • Our brains subconsciously decide whom to trust without consulting us
  • With neurons firing at breakneck speed, the brain spurs us to react fast, sometimes too fast

Our brains are constantly on high alert when a change comes our way and can release chemicals that create negative behaviors such as resistance (outward or internal), barriers to learning, anxiety, low engagement and poor decision-making skills. When we can trigger the reward part of the brain, however, we bring about engagement, creativity and hope…..all leading to high performing employees, hence a high performing organization.

Your brain on change:

Threat VS Reward
Source: P. Plohg

A Word About Methodology

Change methodologies are important, with some more impactful than others. I teach methods to graduate students as well as advocate and apply them with my clients. It’s all good stuff. The danger is that reliance of a methodology doesn’t always ensure success. In other words, you may find yourself fighting gravity. Although we can create the best-laid plans and check the boxes when we drive actions around certain steps, it’s no wonder that more often than not we can face prolonged resistance and lack of sustained change.

I remember a client workshop that I participated in to launch a massive transformation across the entire organization. It was a huge investment with a crystal-clear business case along with plenty of benefits to the employees including simplified work processes. During the workshop “capturing the hearts and minds of our people” was mentioned no less than 20 times in the course of two days. We talked about a plan and methodologies, and how to achieve this goal through a rigorous workplan complete with communication, change agents, and training. We agreed that if we hadn’t captured the hearts and minds of the organization through standard approaches by a specific date, we would be behind schedule. Yet these conversations struck me as disingenuous; kind of like telling someone they have two hours to decide if they want to be friends because the workplan says so.

Knowing when and how to change is not the same as being truly motivated to change. The old change paradigm is that we need a burning platform (threat) to convince people to change. But, in fact, most change initiatives are not that severe. The majority of change initiatives are intended to broaden and build an organization’s capabilities and people; sounds pretty rewarding! Opportunity is often a driver for change……and yet as OCM professionals we often try to find the threat within an opportunity to build commitment…. which can become a vicious cycle.

In the case above, my team and I took a step back and examined our change plan through the lens of triggering the reward side of the brain and shifting our familiar ways of thinking. Doing so can be uncomfortable and feel less certain. There was a time when following the change curve guaranteed success….or did it?.

It’s not about throwing standard approaches out the window, but it is about thinking from a more holistic viewpoint focused on what really makes people tick. The table below gives a sample of what this can look like:


Source: P. Plohg

Let’s break down the example of let people make their own connections. By now you’ve likely seen Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” Ted Talk one or 100 times (if not, check it out!). The premise is that we need to drive change starting with the why because people buy into why you do something versus what you do. This lends itself to letting people make their own connections and trigger those brain sensors that say “this feels right” and “I get it!”

The example of we need both rational and emotional reasons for change speaks perfectly to the rider and elephant theories in Switch, my favorite change management book of all time (like you, I’ve read many). The brain is not of one mind, so to speak. We all have a rational (rider) and emotional (elephant) side. Both have enormous strengths and crippling possibilities; if they aren’t recognized and moving in harmony, change will not happen.

A good OCM professional pays it forward by creating change leaders in their wake. I want to leave my clients and students understanding that when we let go of outdated principles and ‘tell’ mindsets by understanding how the brain responds to change, the opportunities for meaningful and lasting impact have no end. I can’t promise that it still won’t get messy, but isn’t that what makes the journey so incredibly rewarding?

To learn more about the neuroscience of change, I recommend:

Leading Virtual Teams: 5 Must-Haves for Staying Connected

By | Change Management, Learning | No Comments

Let’s face it, these are unprecedented times. And they require an unprecedented response from us all. We’ve been used to working within a global VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) business environment for some time—one that’s required us to demonstrate both adaptability and resilience. But these times are different. As we continue to do our part in combatting the global coronavirus we are sheltering in place, maintaining our social distance, and for many of us, finding ourselves in the unchartered territory of working 100% virtually for the first time. This need to work differently, along with the stressors of finding ourselves within a global pandemic, is likely bringing up some new reactions for us all. Common challenges include the need to balance work priorities and deliverables, while battling feelings of isolation and missing the kinds of everyday ‘hallway’ interactions we’ve relied on and enjoyed. We’re all battling these experiences for ourselves while we find our way. And if you’re a leader with direct reports, you’ve got a team of people relying on you to address their concerns and keep them connected as well.

This blog focuses on five ‘must-have’ techniques for doing just that. As you read, keep in mind how and when you can begin applying these for yourself and your team.

“We now find ourselves working in completely new ways where the need to engage virtually has never been greater. As a leader, your opportunity to bring your team together is at a critical phase.”

 

1. Plan Your Approach

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” Comparing the two, experience tells us that we can have a much better ‘hit rate’ for success with a plan, so why not start there? Take the time to be intentional about what success will look like while leading a team that is completely virtual.

This starts by reflecting on your vision and hopes for your team. How do you want your team members to act and feel in this virtual environment? What will it mean to be productive, connected, and successful? How can you help team members tap into their individual core competencies and strengths? How do you see yourself continuing to build team cohesion remotely while making sure that everyone feels part of the team? Your answers to these questions will shape your interactions with your team members and will go a long way to foster the type of virtual team environment that your employees will have. Share your vision and what this means for your team.

Remember that you have a critical role to play in shaping your team’s virtual culture. Be a role model by demonstrating virtual team commitment and collaboration. What work style habits can you build that will benefit you and provide examples of what others can emulate (e.g., taking care of yourself and your energy levels, integrating work and family tasks, maintaining effective routines)? Keep in mind that regular routines go a long way to combat an unpredictable external environment. How can you authentically convey the importance of your team in supporting each other in a virtual setting? Aim to develop realistic, focused goals (both team and individual), and establish upfront expectations of each other. Also, be the kind of leader who has ongoing conversations with your employees on progress made.

2. Communicate Early and Often

In a virtual environment, it’s more important than ever to use a variety of vehicles and methods to set the stage for open communication. How can you develop a cadence and process for coming together—for both team and one-on-one touchpoints? What structure can you provide for your team to foster information sharing and connection? How can you augment this by seizing impromptu opportunities to check-in, share information, ask a question, or simply say “hello” and see how people are doing? Don’t assume that others know what you’re working on or who you’re interacting with. What questions do your team members have? Where should people go with specific questions? Consider your responses to these questions for establishing your team’s pattern of communication, and see where it may need to adapt over time.

On top of this, don’t forget to master the ‘basics’ of communication. Respond to others in a timely manner. Keep scheduled meetings. Listen actively. Remove distractions in your work setting. At the end of the day, set yourself up to be present, engaged, and in-the-moment when communicating with others. When face-to-face conversations aren’t practical, know what to listen for. In this case, you won’t have the benefit of seeing someone’s nonverbals—so you’ll want to pay extra attention to subtle nuances in individuals’ tone and pace of speech. This will clue you in to where you may need to check for understanding.

Communication is so important because it helps direct your team’s actions, accountabilities, and progress made. What methods and processes can you use to make sure everyone is on the same page? Share meeting agendas, outcomes, commitments, and next steps. Your team members will rely on the open communication you foster to build trust in a virtual environment. This will go a long way to your team members being open to giving and receiving feedback as your team continues to evolve.

3. Leverage Technology

We are fortunate to live in a time where we have wide access to technology and systems that give us the opportunity to work remotely. That said, you’ll want to make optimal use of available technology and resources. This means using the right tool(s) for the situation. We’ve probably all been part of remote interactions that didn’t go well simply because an overly complex tool for the situation was utilized. When a formal meeting is involved, this is when you’ll want to learn to make good use of your company’s online meeting software. However, in other cases, exchanging emails, sharing instant messages, sending texts, or holding phone calls will easily suffice to expedite making the right connection.

Another recommendation is to opt for face-to-face interaction to increase engagement (and decrease the tendency to multi-task), particularly when longer conversations are involved. Now is the time to practice getting technology savvy with using your computer’s camera feature! This will come in handy when holding virtual face-to-face meetings with your team. Think of it as a wonderful opportunity for the team to come together, share updates, ask questions, and foster a sense of camaraderie.

What about other important logistics? You’ll want to test your technology equipment and connections to ensure you’ll be in a position to connect easily and both begin and end on time. Do what you can to anticipate and mitigate any challenges that may arise. If you’re part of a global workforce, you’ll want to be sensitive to time zone differences when scheduling team meetings. Think about ways you can facilitate holding an effective and efficient meeting so you are focused and attentive to your role in the moment.

4. Don’t Neglect the Human Component

It’s been said that the most effective leaders show they care first, and give direction second. Focus on how you can continue to build your relationship with each of your team members so you’ll be in the best position to meet them where they are—uniquely and individually. It will be particularly important in a virtual setting to ask your individual team members how they are doing with the changes to their work environment. Listen to what they have to say and empathize with their reactions.

One resource that may be helpful with this is CARA’s recent article on Leading a Virtual Workforce Transformation: 10 Keys to Success (March 30, Andrew Barnitz). This article presents the change commitment curve—the process humans go through when adapting to a new reality. It gives additional insight into the internal psychological adaptation process that an individual goes through when moving through a change. Consider where you fall in adapting to virtual work, as well as where each of your team members are.

Change Commitment Curve Graph

Doing so will raise your awareness not only to what you’re personally experiencing but to what your team members are going through. By reflecting on this you’ll be in the best position to help your team move through the change curve. You may even help them think about how they can reframe initially perceived challenges into opportunities. This will help to foster an environment of team learning. When and how might you hold conversations on how individuals are adapting to virtual work? How could you provide a forum for team members to share ‘bright spots’ they’ve experienced along the way?

This is the time to show your appreciation for your team and how they are rising to the challenge of virtual work. Recognize and celebrate both individual and team success when you see it. Get to know your team members’ individual preferences for recognition, and customize your approach to this. This is also the time to incorporate F-U-N where you can into the workday! Get creative when thinking about how you can build virtual team camaraderie.

What are some good ideas you’d like to share on virtual team building (e.g., meeting themes, playing games, cooking together-but-separate, virtual happy hour)? Please share in the ‘Comments’ section, we’d love to hear your ideas!

5. Stay Flexible

A virtual work environment lends itself to continual adaptation and the opportunity to be flexible. You may find that expectations about how the work will flow and how people will come together will need to shift over time, and that’s okay. Know where your team may need to re-prioritize tasks, assignments, or ways of interacting along the way. Keeping flexible will help you and your team to not get bogged down in old ways of thinking or acting.

This will serve you well in being able to identify what changes may still be needed, both in the short- and long-term. It will also help you determine any immediate changes needed around the corner, along with their impact on the team in general and individual team members in particular. This is where open communication will be instrumental.

In the end, we now find ourselves working in completely new ways where the need to engage virtually has never been greater. As a leader, your opportunity to bring your team together is at a critical phase. We hope you’ve gathered some new insights that will be immediately helpful in directing your team to rise above and achieve more.

Please connect with us if you can use additional help with leading your team virtually, or simply want to talk about your experience in leading virtually. We’re here to help.