Future Proof: How to Keep L&D Relevant and Impactful in a Changing World – Thoughts from the Talent Development Forum

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As the great resignation marches on, with an average of four million people leaving their jobs per month for over a year and a half, many organizations are finding that, as talent leaves, so does the institutional knowledge of business processes, systems, products, as well as best practices. The resulting skill gap is unprecedented.

The Southeast Wisconsin chapter of ATD held their annual Talent Development Forum panel on October 28, 2022 at Kohl’s Innovation Center, focusing on the impact of this skills gap to those of us in the Learning and Development (L&D) field.

For background, according to the ATD 2022 Skills Gap1 report, 83% of organizations report a skills gap, with 78% reporting that they expect to face such a skills gap in the future.

A skills gap is a significant difference between an organization’s current capabilities and the skills it needs to achieve its goals and meet customer demand. When an organization has a large skills gap in its workforce, it risks not meeting customer expectations and demands.

Michelle Reid-Powell

“This isn’t a training problem,” said CARA President and CEO Michelle Reid-Powell, “It’s a business problem. And there has never been a better time for Talent Development professionals to establish our relevance and make a significant difference in the success of our companies.”

Not only does Talent Development address the skills gap, it plays a significant role in retention.

Microsoft’s Work Trend Index Special Report2 2022 released in September discusses the connection between learning and retention. Per their data:

  • 76% of employees say they would stay at their company longer if they received development support. Numbers rise even higher for business decision makers (+7).
  • Employees consider opportunities to learn and grow as the #1 driver of great work culture, a jump from 2019 when it was ranked #9.

Taken as a whole, prioritizing employee learning and growth presents a winning retention formula for organizations—or, alternately, if neglected, could pose a threat.


Michelle Reid-Powell, President and CEO of The CARA Group, led the discussion with some insights into how to keep L&D relevant and impactful in a changing world. Based on their research and expertise, CARA recommends the following solutions to combat these challenges:

  1. Learning and Development teams should join forces with those associated with Workforce Planning and Talent Acquisition. Sometimes, the best way to fill a role is to recruit internal talent before they look elsewhere for career mobility. Working together, these teams can align approaches and metrics and partner to optimize talent initiatives.
  2. Review your course offerings and ensure you focus on value over volume. Rather than an endless database of possible courses, create learning paths to support specific roles in upskilling (especially those most in-demand by the organization).
  3. Support and develop your managers. The role of Manager is more challenging than ever. They need to build their skill sets around creating emotional safety, career and skills development, coaching, managing a remote workforce, and how to support diversity, equity and inclusion more fully. They also need a playbook for how to support their employees in training (many whom are new to both the organization and the role.)
  4. Connection is more important than ever. Learning strategies need to consider all stakeholders for learning – and ensure they have a role in supporting the success of the organization and the learner in applying the skills post-training.
  5. Metrics are still important, but organizations are focusing on only a few critical formal measures. Instead, more frequent stakeholder feedback from learning sessions is being reviewed. Focus groups, surveys and performance check-ins are important for all learning sessions.


After Michelle set the stage, she turned to the panel for their insights. We were fortunate to have four key leaders from SE-WI to share their experience:

  • Yolonda Evans, Organization and Change Effectiveness Consultant at American Family Insurance
  • Guillermo Gutierrez, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity at Manpower Group
  • Allison Peschel, Vice President of Client Services at JB Training Solutions
  • Mike Tack, Director of Talent Development at Kohl’s

Some highlights of the discussion:

How is the world of work changing?

Given the level of volatility in the business environment, we need to prioritize HOW to equip people managers to lead change and create a safe work environment where people can share their ideas and viewpoints.

Mike Tack emphasized the importance of walking in the manager’s shoes. He stressed the need to know the daily challenges managers face in performing their jobs and aligning that with learning solutions.

There has never been a more critical time for hard skills – what I mean by that are people skills. Those are most important now,” stated Guillermo Gutierrez.

Yolanda Evans

L&D is being embraced right now because managers are exhausted. We (L&D practitioners) must prioritize what our leaders truly need right now. Yolonda Evans chimed in, “Now they need us – for a long time we were the scapegoat. For the first time L&D is a first responder – double edged sword!” Yolonda exclaimed.

An interesting observation shared by Allison: “we are also finding that what is challenging now are the informal conversations that were happening before the pandemic are now more formal conversations in the remote world.” There is a need to be more intentional about having those informal conversations.

How do you make a business case for training?

We are all going to have a moment when we have to sell training as an investment: tell a story – why the training matters, why is it important? Talk about money but also the time invested by managers. Talk about skills and well-being – think about internal and external customers. A manager’s stakeholders are their direct reports. If a manager attends a training, what impact is that having on the employees of the manager’s team? What does attrition/retention look like? How will your learning strategy impact people three layers removed?

Mike Tack

Mike outlined how Kohl’s has changed their approach in how they offer training. His group found that they were offering too many options for the same type of training. People signed up but did not attend the training session leading to inefficiencies in deploying their limited training resources.

In response, the team tried a cohort model with a limited period to sign up for a limited number of seats. This created a sense of urgency around the training. They had four cohorts out of 50 people and all four filled up within 30 minutes. They did not change what they were offering but changed how they marketed it. A business case can be made by looking at how many people are clamoring for the training. This also required Mike’s team to be comfortable with having too many people interested.

Allison Peschel

What metrics are you using?

Allison noted that companies continue to track metrics including attendance, sign up vs. show up rate, net promoter scores, number of people reached, facilitator score, relevance to own job, tracking any barriers to application, etc. BUT – over the past year she has also seen a major shift to this idea of tracking sentiment, versus tracking skill. Michelle noted that this is something not traditionally done but could be a measure of engagement. Tracking sentiment can be a meaningful metric; if it goes well that is the business case for the training. If not, then the case can be made for why the training must happen.

Guillermo Guitierrez

Adding to that, Guilermo emphasized “ Show me the value rather than show me the numbers. How are we going to figure out what training did to the culture? How will we add questions to measure that? How can you be innovative in culture – how will your learning strategy impact people three layers removed.”


Lastly, panelists shared some final thoughts –

  • Design and solve for your business not trends.
  • Know your business, walk in your manager’s/coworker’s shoes.
  • Get a true sense of the business, what is happening, what is needed. Create, solve, and design from there.
  • We are all businesspeople in service of what the business needs.
  • Be your authentic self – don’t worry about pushing back on requests.
  • Talk about being remarkable. Is what we create remarkable? Aim to create something you want to tell your friends about.

Our thanks to the panelists and attendees for this dynamic, engaging, and insightful discussion!

Mark your calendars for this year’s Talent Development Forum scheduled for October 27, 2023 at Kohl’s Innovation Center!

1 ATD 2022 Skills Gap Report :
2 Microsoft Work Trend Index Special Report September 22, 2022:

How Learner Personas Can Enhance your Instructional Design Approach, Part 2

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Welcome back learner persona enthusiasts! In the previous article (How Learner Personas Can Enhance your Instructional Design Approach, Part 1) we showed you how five personas captured the core learning motivations of our healthcare emerging leader program population. We described our research process and how we identified participants’ core learning preferences and goals, along with how to best reach them in support of their leadership development needs. Through our analysis, we identified key ways that individuals tended to show up as learners: Champions, Change Agents, Achievers, Connectors, or Troubleshooters.

“Where our learner personas made the biggest difference was in enhancing our design to include instruction and activities that were essential to enhance the learning experience of our participants.”

As a reminder, here is how these five learner personas were defined based on our research:

  1. Champions: Individuals who, above all else, are passionate about making a positive impact on peoples’ lives, providing exceptional above-and-beyond service, and demonstrating a calm and positive approach when working through challenge and conflict.
  2. Change Agents: Individuals who are proactively forward-focused on improvements and see themselves as advocates for positive change within their role and the organization at large. Those individuals who pride themselves, above all else, on being flexible, agile, and resourceful when adapting to change—both incremental & breakthrough.
  3. Achievers: Self-motivated individuals who set a high bar on their personal performance and engage in a relentless pursuit of their ongoing growth and improvement. Those who are driven to be best-in-class in their area of expertise and continually push themselves outside of their comfort zone.
  4. Connectors: Individuals who are focused on making an authentic and personal connection with others (both colleagues and patients alike), model what it means to foster a collaborative team environment and strive to do what is needed in the service of achieving the highest-performing team possible.
  5. Troubleshooters: Individuals who are driven to leverage their skills, knowledge, experience, and creativity when addressing challenges and solving problems. Those who are motivated in demonstrating the initiative to explore creative and out-of-the-box solutions, while building a reputation for being a “go to” resource within their specific area of expertise.

Through our research, we also obtained the following data to describe the goals that different individuals desire as part of their learning experiences:

  • Apply Skills & Knowledge: Having an opportunity to incorporate their technical/functional knowledge and expertise; staying up-to-date on best practices in their field; observing and learning from others who demonstrate expertise.
  • Meet Challenges: Having ways to apply their learning experientially while practicing while doing; troubleshooting solutions to refine their approach.
  • Set & Achieve Goals: Establishing structured learning goals with an opportunity to assess their progress; ensuring a clear understanding of, and alignment with, the “why.”
  • Flexibility & Independence: Acquiring learning in a flexible manner, including using blended methods and an opportunity to access on-demand content.
  • Build Relationships: Working with others to solidify their understanding and exchange insights gathered from topics to reinforce content learning.
  • Innovation & Creativity: Ideating and iterating when solving problems and identifying new opportunities.
  • Reflective Introspection: Reflecting upon concepts, new insights, and how to apply them; taking practical and tangible next steps to reinforce their learning.

With these foundational elements in place, we were then able to assess how the personas aligned across two distinct and equally important learning spectrums—key learning drivers (short- vs long-term) and overarching leadership interests (intrinsic vs extrinsic). As illustrated below, Champions tend to be intrinsically motivated based on the satisfaction they obtain from helping others and demonstrating leadership in-the-moment. Conversely, intrinsically motivated Achievers are focused on how actions they take today position them to achieve their long-term leadership development goals. While Change Agents are extrinsically motivated toward immediate ways they can influence and lead proactive change, Connectors are guided by the synergy obtained from maintaining network relationships as a way to achieve goals together. Finally, Troubleshooters are agile and flexible, leveraging both short- and long-term opportunities to solve problems and demonstrate leadership in their roles.

Learner Persona Spectrums

You may be thinking, “This all sounds great, but exactly how did this help you to design your leadership development program?” Great question. Let’s get to it. In short, we leveraged these learner personas by including training methods and topics that we knew were critical to our participants. Where our learner personas made the biggest difference was in enhancing our design to include instruction and activities that were essential to enhance the learning experience of our participants. We listened to the powerful examples of learner personas brought to life based on how individuals engaged with their colleagues and patients. Through these examples, we understood how to best tap into individuals’ leadership and learning interests, from their own words. The following table captures a summary of participants’ key motivators, mottos that guide their work (from their direct quotes), learning goals, preferences, how to reach them, barriers to learning, and leadership interests.

When combined, these key learner persona elements are provided below and highlight critical aspects addressed in the development of the emerging leader program.

Learner Persona Instructional Design Dimensions

In the end, the Emerging Leader Program was designed to meet the needs of all five learner personas, as described above. The program objectives were to implement an interactive learning experience that provided participants with practical concepts, tools, and techniques to develop their leadership skills. The program target audience included employees of color who were ‘ready now’ for, or recently promoted to, a first-time leadership role. It was our goal that by completing the emerging leader program, individuals would not only solidify their readiness to take on a leadership role but also shorten their learning curve and increase their probability of success in the process. One key factor in achieving this was aligning our learner persona details throughout the program’s design.

We also developed an Emerging Leader Learning Journey map to demonstrate how individuals would progress through the program components. The learning journey illustrated the pathway through the program, following a Leading Self, Leading Others, and Leading the Business framework. This included specific learning content that began with fundamental concepts for transitioning to leadership, involved content on leading teams and creating an inclusive team culture, as well as content on developing business acumen and understanding compliance, laws, and policies relevant to a leadership role. The learning journey also described specific milestones through the 12-week program, along with delivery method (which was a blend of online a-synchronous self-study combined with virtual instructor led weekly sessions.). We were intentional in designing the program to leverage their technical skills and comfort in working with technology, ensuring flexibility (with structure) to focus their learning, and providing a ‘sandbox’ with multiple experiential opportunities to practice new skills while working together.

We hope you found this case study example both interesting and informative. It was a fascinating opportunity for us to incorporate learner personas into our design approach. As instructional design and learning professionals, we are always looking for new ways to enhance our process and end results for our clients. This article series shows how learner personas provide an important tool to add to our toolkit to help us achieve this goal.




How Learner Personas Can Enhance Your Instructional Design Approach, Part 1

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When was the last time you’ve created a development program wondering “How well will this align with the audiences’ inherent learning needs…really?” If this is a question you’ve asked yourself, this blog issue is for you! In this article we present a case study introducing the concept of ‘learner personas,’ which can make sure you’re tapping into individuals’ underlying learning needs, interests, and motivations. We will also show how knowing this information helped to design and develop a powerful leadership development program, based on a recent client example. But first, some background.

“One thing that worked particularly well was taking a thorough, thoughtful, and customized approach by incorporating learner personas as a foundational instructional design element.”

The learner personas you’ll see come to life in this article were developed as part of an initiative involving a consortium of three health systems in the Chicago area. The consortium shared the collective goal of positively influencing and enhancing the diversity of the local labor market. The mission was to remove barriers and create avenues for nontraditional workforce populations to further develop their employment opportunities.

As a result, an emerging leader program was designed to support people of color in developing skills that will position them to advance into leadership roles within the healthcare sector. Ultimately, the program rests upon the fact that diversity in leadership is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business—as inclusive organizations have demonstrated themselves to be more profitable, innovative, and agile than others. The opportunity in creating this leadership development program was to truly understand individuals’ unique learning styles and preferences so that program customization would be aligned with participant needs across critical dimensions.


Enter the learner persona. Ultimately, the objective of learner personas is to appropriately represent the individuals you are trying to develop. In doing so, personas highlight individuals’ skills, motivations, and learning preferences—as well as the challenges and struggles that may impact their work and learning experience. According to Harvard Business Review (Peter Merholz, 2009) “A persona is the single most effective way to generate and spread empathy throughout an organization.” Indeed, the process of creating personas shows a desire to tap into the core needs of a learner group so you can best customize your program content and approach. This was important, as the leadership development program was designed to rectify the fact that current leadership development initiatives do not typically address some of the most critical challenges, behaviors, and skill gaps that nontraditional participants faced within their communities.

To ensure that our personas were appropriately reflective of our population of learners, we embarked upon a structured interview process with a sample of 24 high-performing individuals across the organizations represented. During the interviews we collected a variety of information, including targeted questions across the following areas: Current role and work dynamics, work experiences and approach toward learning and development, opportunities to demonstrate leadership, future work and leadership interests, as well as learning interests and motivations.

Data were analyzed and themes extracted that identified individuals’ work and learning style preferences, learning goals, barriers to accessing learning, how to best reach them, as well as their leadership interests. Important to note is that each interview was conducted by a member of two consulting organizations working in partnership. This ensured that interview questions reflected the cultural needs of the target audience and provided a consistent interpretation of interview responses.

Results of our thematic analysis produced five distinct learner personas, described below:

We also administered a brief online survey to augment the resulting interview themes, by providing participants with additional time to reflect upon their: Key motivations, learning style, learning approach, and current technical skill levels. The resulting survey responses reinforced certain aspects of the learning environment that would best facilitate participants’ learning experience. For example, individuals stated preferring a balanced learning approach, including both an interest in learning as part of a group as well as taking time independently to reinforce content learning on their own. The vast majority of participants also reported their current technical level as skilled, being able to work with different technologies with little help. This was critical information to validate, as the leadership development program was designed to be delivered using a virtual format.

In the end, the emerging leader program was designed to meet the needs of all five learner personas. Specifically, the development of learner personas was based upon who the program was designed for as its key audience. Based on interview comments obtained, we developed a high-level program content framework including what skills and behaviors were demonstrated by the most effective emerging leaders. We then developed an emerging leader program journey map to demonstrate how individuals would progress through the program components.

As with any case study, it becomes important to reflect upon lessons-learned. One thing that worked particularly well was taking a thorough, thoughtful, and customized approach by incorporating learner personas as a foundational instructional design element. This provided an opportunity to later customize learning content and methods in a way that met participants where they were. It was also helpful to take a targeted needs assessment approach across the three involved organizations as part of developing the local community. One challenge that was addressed involved the timing and scope of an initiative of this magnitude. When it became clear that adjustments needed to be made to further reinforce the time-phased implementation of the action learning project during the 12-week program, the consulting and internal healthcare project team met and adapted the approach, as needed.

Now, stay tuned for Part 2! This is where we’ll show how we leveraged these personas in the development of the emerging leader program itself. Specifically, in our next article you’ll see how we leveraged these learner personas to customize our instructional design and development efforts—as well as the impact it has on program content and approach.


Break The Bias: Reflections on International Women’s Day 2022

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The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #BreaktheBias. Bias is tricky, often an unconscious, knee-jerk response to the unknown. It is perpetuated by culture, those unspoken assumptions of one group about another. Bias manifests itself as the thousand paper cuts of language itself, embedded in words and phrases so familiar they may not appear at first to contribute to equality’s cause of death. So how do we “break” bias?

If, at its core, bias originates in ignorance and fear, the natural antidote must be knowledge and compassion. When confronted with bias, we have a choice to respond by asking ourselves, “What did I just learn from this experience so that I can prevent it in the future?” When called out on our own unintended linguistic offenses (parents of teenagers know what I’m talking about), we can admit our ignorance, say, “Thank you – I’m learning,” and do our best to show it.

At The CARA Group, we have a motto: “Change, Learn, Grow”. This reflects the services we provide to our clients. It also describes our aspirations for the CARA culture. Being open to change means admitting that we don’t get better by staying the same. Having a learning culture means acknowledging that mistakes are inevitable. That growth is an individual and a group process that requires commitment, focus, and time. To #BreaktheBias requires a commitment to “Change, Learn, Grow”, to take the small individual steps that together become a giant leap for mankind humanity. (See what I did there?)

In honor of International Women’s Day 2022, let us take a moment to acknowledge the women of Ukraine, where the battle that is being fought is one of survival. In Ukraine, IWD has been a public holiday for decades. As we take the day to recommit to “Change, Learn, Grow” in our local communities, let us also honor these women who will not have the chance to celebrate. One only need to witness their strength and resilience to #BreaktheBias about what a woman can do.


Creating an Agile Organizational Learning Strategy

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Is your organizational learning strategy keeping pace with agile business strategy?

As a business leader, you have heard the buzz, “The Big Quit” … “The Great Reshuffle” …” Hybrid Workforce”, etc. As we headed into 2020, business and learning leaders were preparing for mass upskilling to enable the workforce of the future for digital transformation. Strategies were prepared and plans were made. And then came COVID-19.

“… what is your approach to ensuring your organizational learning strategy is appropriate for today’s business realities? Are you leading learning from a strategic point of view or from a to-do list?”

Fast forward two years, and as we prepare and implement our 2022 business and learning strategies, we still have a need to upskill and reskill for ongoing digital transformation, in addition to adjusting to new ways of working and fast changing market and consumer conditions. We are seeing businesses both merge and split. We are seeing rapid growth and the impact of the health crisis on employment.

So, what is your approach to ensuring your organizational learning strategy is appropriate for today’s business realities? Are you leading learning from a strategic point of view or from a to do list?

In our August 2019 blog “The 10 Elements of Organizational Learning Strategy” we said: “A well-crafted and rigorously executed organizational learning strategy can ensure that your learning and development organization supports the business in achieving the strategic goals set forth by senior leaders. Without a clear strategy, learning and development organizations tend to lose focus and effectiveness.” This holds true today.

Strategic Framework for Creating an Agile Learning and Development Strategy

Leverage the strategic framework and review the statements below to audit your approach to creating a L&D Strategy that aligned to your business strategy.



Put yourself into the role of a L&D leader in your business as your review the statements below. Any statement that you cannot say yes to can become an action taken to create or improve upon your L&D Strategy.


  • I know the key business strategies and initiatives that the learning organization will need to support. (i.e.: new lines of business, new ways of working, merger/acquisitions, market expansions, technology adoption, etc.)
  • I meet with key stakeholders and/or appropriate business leaders to understand their initiatives and identify support needed and/or expected.
  • I am aligned with other Talent Management work streams such as recruiting, performance management and succession planning.


  • Through assessment and surveys, I have documented my team’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • I stay connected with external influences to understand opportunities to leverage new learning techniques, technologies, delivery methods.
  • I understand what legislation and regulations may impact learning policies and procedures.


  • L&D has a sponsor who advocates for the organizational learning strategy with senior decision makers.
  • I present the L&D strategy and plans to senior decision makers to gain feedback and alignment.
  • Senior decision makers keep me informed of business shifts so that plans can be adjusted.


  • I have KPIs defined and agreed upon to ensure efficiency, effectiveness, and business results.
  • I have an actionable scorecard or measurement system developed to track KPIs.


  • A plan has been created to depict learning projects, programs design and delivery dates.
  • Systems and processes are in place to ensure learning projects run smoothly.
  • The L&D team is upskilled to support the execution of the strategy.
  • Subject matter experts are oriented to their role and expectations for partnering with the Learning Organization.


  • I keep key stakeholders informed of KPIs discussing what, so what and now what based on metrics.
  • Learning costs are calculated regularly and reviewed.

What connects all the elements of the framework is ongoing communication with your key stakeholders. This cadence of communication is essential to determine if your organizational learning strategy is enabling your business strategy. While an annual planning process kick starts your year, ongoing measurement and communication is essential to ensure that your strategy powers the performance of your workforce and enables business strategy.

Contact us if you would like to discuss your organizational learning strategy needs at






Actively Engage Participants in Their Learning: 5 Quick Activities to Use

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Consider these instructor scenarios:

  • “I feel like I’m pulling teeth to get my students to actively participate in their learning or remember the key points I just presented.”
  • “At the end of the session, I feel like all I did was talk, talk, talk and they just nodded in agreement.”
  • “ I want to do something to make changes to the class so they participate more, but the reality is, I just don’t have time!

As a consultant, I have found my clients experience these scenarios because, often, the instructor is the Subject Matter Expert (SME). While there are advantages of having the SME as the instructor, there can also be some challenges such as not having facilitation experience or the ability/time to develop activities to incorporate interactivity into the session.

Recently, I came across the book, Training from the BACK of the Room! 65 Ways to Step Aside and Let Them Learn (Sharon L. Bowman). The book details 65 activities/techniques to actively involve participants in their learning and divides them into 4 Cs:

  1. Connections – helps participants connect to the content
  2. Concepts – helps participants learn the training concepts
  3. Concrete Practice – helps participants apply what they learned via concrete practice
  4. Conclusions – helps participants conclude/summarize the key learnings/concepts presented in the session

As I read it, I realized I had incorporated many of the activities as an instructor and found them to be very successful. This book seemed to be a perfect tool for my SME instructor client, so I approached the client with the idea of conducting a Lunch & Learn Session to demonstrate some of these activities and provide a development opportunity for the instructors.

Five Activities to Use

In preparation for the session, I chose five activities because they are quick to complete, easy for the instructor to implement in their existing training materials and require little to NO preparation on their part . I felt the instructors could be successful in implementing these activities if I demonstrated how easy they were to use, how little time it takes to prepare to use them and then practice using each activity. The five activities (Concepts & Conclusion) are:

  1. Rapid Response
  2. Concept Clinic/Mind Map
  3. Paired Teach-Backs
  4. Fact or Myth
  5. Improv Teach-Backs

I presented the 90-minute Lunch & Learn session explaining each activity type, providing examples of the group size appropriate for the activity and when/how it could be implemented during the session (i.e., end of the day, beginning of the day, after an activity, at the end of a module, etc.). Instructors then practiced each activity by using general company content.

For example, when instructors practiced Concept Clinic/Mind Map, flipcharts displayed around the room were labeled, Tools, Safety, Performance Tools, etc. so each instructor could fully participate in the activity since each has his/her own specific content area.

After each activity, I conducted a debrief with my co-facilitator, a current SME instructor, who successfully incorporated these techniques into his existing training sessions. He shared his experience, how engaged the students were and how using follow-up questioning techniques and building off the students’ responses helped draw more information/key concepts from the students and engage them even more in their learning.

The first Lunch & Learn session (12 instructors) was so successful, that I presented three additional sessions to other departments. Each instructor left the session with the tools needed to implement these activities. These tools included a copy of the book, pack of index cards, flipchart markers, pad of flipchart paper, the PowerPoint presentation I used and one set of prepared flipcharts as a give-away.


Presenting the Lunch & Learn sessions was a huge success with my client. The instructors are now implementing the techniques, seeing the positive results and realizing how easy they are to implement.

I had the opportunity to get feedback from the students who practiced the paired teach-backs and they raved about it. They said they liked being involved in the learning and having to re-read the materials and prepare a presentation helped them retain the content.

Taking the initiative to present the Lunch & Learn was a win for my client because it helped develop their instructors. As a consultant, it was a win because it strengthened the consultant/client relationship. Just like the instructors, we consultants don’t typically “have the time” to create additional materials/training for our clients. However, in this case the good-will it established was priceless.


Source: Training from the BACK of the Room! 65 Ways to Step Aside and Let Them Learn by Sharon L. Bowman ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0787996628


Now is the Time to Reskill and Upskill. Tips for Employers and Employees.

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I recently met a consultant who shared a very profound statement with me. She said someone once told her, “I can meet you in the middle, but we can’t stay here.” In a world of constant change and turbulence, that statement made me realize that no matter what the change is, whether it is on a professional or personal level, we all need to work together to drive towards a future that makes sense and works for that situation.

“We all know as learning professionals that adoption of new skills/behaviors does not happen overnight and that training programs incorporating change management will ultimately achieve long lasting results.”

As we approach the end of 2021, we continue to hear about the growing skills gap and shortage of labor occurring in the workforce. Looking at this from the perspective of professional development, now is a great time to focus on reskilling and upskilling the core (hard or functional skills needed to accomplish a job) and power (soft or people skills needed for interpersonal relationships) skills. Employers should take this time to offer opportunities for employees to strengthen or gain both core and power skills. On the other hand, employees should not only look at development opportunities being offered by their employers, but also take control of their own development.

Employers should:

  • Understand the gap in core and power skills within their organization at all levels.
  • Create a strategy that will address upskilling or, perhaps, reskilling their existing employees.
  • Design and implement a plan that will have immediate impact as well as address future gaps.
  • Continually evaluate and adjust the plan over time. Don’t let your strategy become stagnant. It needs to shift as technology and the way we do business continues to change.

As an employee, you should:

  • Assess and determine what skills you would like to develop whether it is related to your current role (upskilling) or for a different role (reskilling).
  • Take advantage of what your employer has to offer. Have conversations with your manager/employer to ensure you are all on the same page with your goals.
  • Not rely only on what your employer is providing. Research and look for your own development opportunities. Whether that is taking classes, attending conferences, taking on projects, etc. Not only will it help you enhance the skills needed for your current role, it may also offer you an opportunity to take on stretch assignments or move into a new career path.

For example, as a learning professional, maybe you are looking to enhance your eLearning skills. Why not check out Tim Slade’s eLearning Designer Academy? He offers an 8-week guided program including cohorts, hands-on activities, and more. Or perhaps you are looking at complimentary skills such as change management; check out Prosci. We all know as learning professionals that adoption of new skills/behaviors does not happen overnight and that training programs incorporating change management will ultimately achieve long lasting results.

From my personal perspective, I recently stepped into a new role, and I was not prepared to take on a direct report or to build out a new function. While my employer will provide me with tools, resources, and coaching, I also need to take charge of my own development path and look for ways to help me achieve these goals. So, we are meeting each other half-way to move forward down a path that will be mutually beneficial.

Technology will continue to change and the way we work will too. So as employers and employees, why not work together to ensure we all continue to move forward from the middle?

Source: eLearning Academy

What I Learned: 10 Microsoft Accessibility Tips

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Companies are committing to diversity, equity, and inclusion as they develop and design their learning and documentation. I have learned a great deal about accessibility in learning and documentation since my journey began a couple of years ago and it has been exciting for me. I have learned so much and wanted to share with you what I have learned. I also want to be clear that I do not know everything (not even close!), but I found these 10 tips most helpful and hope you do, too.


Working on my first client accessibility project presented a daunting challenge.

The web is rich with guidelines, tools, and tips, but it is inundating without a roadmap and I could not find one. For example, there are dozens of features to resolve several types of issues related to disabilities in MSFT Office. I was truly overwhelmed. Fortunately, I worked with a knowledgeable and very patient client team that pointed me in the right direction.

First, and without a doubt, THE most important tool is Microsoft Accessibility Checker. You will find Accessibility Checker in any MSFT Office Product. “Check Accessibility” is in the Review toolbar and will provide you with a list of issues and recommendations on how to fix them. To make the checking process easier, you can set Accessibility Checker to run in the background while you work on your files. You can learn more about Accessibility Checker by clicking here.

“First, and without a doubt, THE most important tool is Microsoft Accessibility Checker. … [and] I found that starting at the task level worked best for me.”

How to Begin – 10 Tips

I found that starting at the task level worked best for me. Here are what I consider to be ten tips for those who do not know how to start when developing for accessibility in learning, documents, worksheets, and even email.

  1. Use more than color to convey the message: Screen readers do not read color information aloud. Do not be afraid of color, but use text, symbols, and texture to represent the messages being conveyed.
  2. Use Alternative (Alt) Text: Using Alt Text provides screen readers with a description of an image you use in your document. In all Microsoft products, right-click any image, select Edit Alt Text from the drop-down and enter a brief description of your image in the text box provided.
  3. Use good contrast: Contrast is the measure of brightness between two colors placed on top of or next to each other. Strong contrast makes it much easier to distinguish text from background color. Use a contrast ratio of at least 5:1, including black or dark blue on white.
  4. Use captions with videos: Videos can be challenging for those with low vision or who are visually impaired. Captions for video are available in the Microsoft 365 apps. Due to specific formatting requirements, captions can be tricky and will likely take a few attempts before you get it just right. More information on creating and inserting captions can be found by clicking here.
  5. Use built-in Headings and Styles: Built-in headings and styles follow screen reader tab order and make it easier for screen reader users to go through your documents, as screen readers are programmed to read in the order of the numbered headings. Apply built-in headings, styles, and bulleted lists in most 365 products, and screen readers will read the files correctly.
  6. Clean up Excel worksheets: Screen readers read the tabs of the worksheets in Excel, letting the user know the contents of the tab. Make your tab names clear and unique so the user can distinguish between what can be many sheets in an Excel workbook. Remove blank tabs as screen readers stop on all tabs, blank or not, and the user will not know if it is an extra, a blank, or missing a label. By using unique names and removing blanks, the screen reader can better read the sheet names to the user.
  7. Use simple table structures in Excel: Design worksheets and tables so that information can be located and read properly by a screen reader. Screen readers use header information to identify rows and columns and identify their location in a table by counting table cells. If a table is nested within another table or if a cell is merged or split, the screen reader loses count and cannot provide helpful information about the table after that point.
  8. Ensure slide contents are read in order: In PowerPoint (PPT), screen readers read the elements of a slide in the order they were added to the slide, which might be different from the order in which things should be read or appear. Use the Accessibility Checker and the Reading Order pane to set the order in which the screen readers read the slide contents.
  9. Use accessible templates in PPT: If you are working in PPT, just type “Templates” in the search box on any PPT screen and you will be taken to the template screen. The Template Search bar will appear. Type “Accessible templates” in the new search box and dozens of accessible templates will appear. These are templates that are highly compatible with screen readers and other accessibility tools and contain fixed headings and other settings that you will not have to create from scratch.
  10. Make your meetings accessible: Ask the participants which type of accessibility they need. Share material in advance and include live captions in Teams meetings.

I’m learning more each day and will leave you with your first assignment: open any Microsoft 365 app and familiarize yourself with Accessibility Checker. In my opinion, it is truly the best place to start!

Sources: Microsoft Accessibility website, Enable-the Microsoft Accessibility YouTube Channel, American Foundation for the Blind

Click here to access the Microsoft Accessibility website

Click here to access Enable, the Microsoft Accessibility YouTube Channel

Click here to access Screen Readers referenced above: American Foundation for the Blind

Click here to access Alt Text referenced above: American Foundation for the Blind

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Collaborating and Solving Problems Together: CARA’s Consultant Connect

By | Change Management, Learning | No Comments

My vision has always been to build a community within CARA where our consultants could learn from and connect with each other. I believed from the start that this kind of community would help them to develop the skills that were important and relevant in our changing business landscape. I knew that dream would need to be realized by taking baby steps along the way. Here is the story of how we began, where we are today, and lessons learned along the way.

“How do we build a true community within our talent community? How do we engage with them and provide them the opportunity to engage between and among themselves?”


The first step we took was to ask ourselves “How do we build a true community within our talent community? How do we engage with them and provide them the opportunity to engage between and among themselves?”

The answer to that question was to initiate our Change, Learn, Grow program in 2017. We offered webinars on relevant topics that our consultants needed to learn about and found interesting. In 2019 we held a weeklong event with the culmination being a full day of in-person learning and growing. We were on track to do the same in 2020 but the pandemic forced us to change our plans. The webinars continued during the week but, obviously, no in person event was held.

At the end of 2020, I decided I wanted to shift gears a little bit and add another approach to how our community could learn about interesting topics. The idea was to put the focus on bringing our brilliant consultants together to learn from each other.

CARA Consultant Connect

The result is what we call CARA Consultant Connect, introduced in 2021. The model is a very interactive, virtual information sharing and ‘networking’ session. The concept involves, first, selecting a relevant topic, then providing a bit of researched information to the participants, and then proactively using most of the time for breakouts. We break out and throw our collective consultant brain trust against challenges that are currently happening all around us.

We have now held three Consultant Connects. It’s been so fun to see things unfold!

The three topics we have tackled this year:

  • Q1- Success in a virtual environment.
  • Q2- The Return to the workplace challenge.
  • Q3- Hybrid is here to stay: What can we do to remain effective in our new hybrid world?

It’s funny to see how our topics this year have mirrored our hopes and expectations for what we thought was to come, however, as is life, there is so much out of our control, and we are all just riding this wave.

So, what did we talk about in our most recent session?

Here are some of the most relevant points discussed:

  • Ambiguity is part of life and change. Most of us are fixers when it comes to how we respond and a good reminder is that you can’t control what happens to you but it’s healthier to focus on what we DO have control over, which is our own reactions.
  • What are the positives that have come out of the hybrid work model?
    • Personal flexibility of time
    • More movement opportunities like walking the dog mid-day
    • Remote collaboration CAN work and be super effective
    • Less commuting, convenience, and congestion
    • Greater freedom but the need to communicate and set boundaries better
    • People of all ages are now more technically astute
  • What are some unintended consequences?
    • Loss of natural time barriers (when are we NOT “at work”)
    • Fostering relationships can be more difficult
    • Mentoring for early career workers is not as easy when not in an office
    • Hard to make and develop a social network and make friends
    • Businesses that have relied upon office workers or traveling consultants, e.g., airlines, rental cars, restaurants, have not returned to normal
  • What are your predictions for the skills you will need to add or sharpen?
    • Technology skills, communication, and writing
    • Listening and emotional intelligence
    • Developing a stronger camera presence
    • Running a ‘focused’ meeting
    • Building relationships in a non-traditional way
    • Time management
    • Ending meetings on a positive note as a way of continuing to work on culture
Lessons Learned Along the Way

As always, our consultants brought such wonderful and diverse perspectives to things that we are all encountering on the daily.

We have learned a lot since Q1, but one thing has stayed the same: we have the best team of consultants and it is energizing to come together, connect and brainstorm to solve problems.

What’s up next? I’ll keep you posted.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Please share your comments with me. And if you are interested in joining CARA’s Talent Community, check out our current openings.

Reflections on International Women’s Day 2021

By | Change Management, Communications, Learning | No Comments

Reflecting on International Women’s Day, the #ChoosetoChallenge theme, and Women’s History month overall, I am proud of how CARA continues to evolve and strengthen our commitment to diversity and inclusion. As I look back to when we founded our firm in 2002, and where we are today, women have consistently held leadership positions at CARA, mirroring the industry statistics. According to an article on, Women Lead the Way in Learning and Development, by Taryn Oesch, CPTM, nearly 60% of leaders across change management, learning, and communications are women. However, there is still an inherent gender bias resulting in a pay gap ranging from 6% to 20%, depending on which practice a woman works in and what age a woman enters the workforce. Whether bias is implicit or explicit, we need to continuously challenge our own policies and procedures against inequities in hiring and pay. CARA’s current leadership team is vigilant about workforce equity, and regularly benchmarks our talent pay scales against industry standards.

One of the decisions I am most proud of was in 2018 when CARA’s Board of Directors unanimously decided to appoint our first woman President and CEO, Michelle Reid-Powell. Michelle was the right person to strategically lead our organization and be the standard bearer of our values that drive how we do business. With Michelle’s appointment, CARA earned its certification as a woman owned business under the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). With support from the WBENC, CARA continues to #ChoosetoChallenge the status quo and do our part to ensure equity for women in the workforce.

I am honored to have founded CARA and remain its co-owner. As CARA focuses on enabling the workforce of the future, I know we will recognize and celebrate the achievements of women beyond this one day. To our clients, our consultants and our staff – all my CARA friends – happy Women’s Day!