Are We Really "Skilling Up" Our Employees?

This blog is generated from the Performance Matters Podcast episode titled “Are We Really ‘Skilling Up’ Our Employees?” In it, Bob Mosher shares his perspectives on popular skill initiatives and offers guidance to ensure we’re not making past mistakes.

Bob Mosher: We're exploring a topic that is of high interest in our industry, and it’s been at the top of our minds because it makes us a little anxious. It's this whole “skilling” idea. 

We recently went to a large conference and asked the several hundred people in the room how many were involved or would be involved in a skilling initiative. Ninety percent of the room raised their hand to indicate they were involved in what our industry is calling reskilling or upskilling. We want to run at that because what makes us a little anxious is that we've been down this road before. I don't know how many of you are old enough to remember “competency modeling”, something our industry tried to do a while back. I want to be careful to say that these initiatives are not bad. Their success depends on how we approach them and how we design for them, plus the outcomes by which we’re judged. 

I think many would argue that the whole competency modeling effort was kind of a failure, because it really didn't get uptake despite the millions of dollars invested in competency modeling programs, consulting, and initiatives. We don't know if organizations ever got the uplift around what true competencies could have meant. Frankly, I don't even know if we define them well. Now that we have this focus on skilling, do we truly know what we're getting into, or are we going to repeat mistakes of the past? Did we take competencies far enough? I was involved in many competency efforts and saw that, as an industry (myself included), we failed to take competencies deep enough into context. If I’ve learned anything through my efforts in workflow learning, it’s that it is all about the workflow. With competency modeling, we never went beyond general, broad lists of competencies based on roles. But roles are defined by workflows, and until you bring that context into the content, efforts around competencies, skilling, reskilling, upskilling, etc. are likely to fail. 

Let's dial it back a bit and start with a definition. I am a huge fan of vocabulary, because our industry has gone awry at times when failing to clearly define things. We toss around terms, we start trends, we begin initiatives. For example, don't get me started on “micro-learning”. It's a term I bash all the time. I don’t bash micro-learning as an initiative, but I honestly don't think we know what it is. I think if you put ten learning professionals in ten different rooms and ask them to define micro-learning, they will give you eight different definitions. I’m not blaming micro-learning, but I am putting some of the blame and responsibility back on us for not clearly defining terms. So, what do we mean by “skill”? When we say we're going to bring skill initiatives into our organization, what do we mean? What is a skill? 

For that definition, I went to the place that I thought would be most helpful: the good old dictionary. Here is what I found for skill: “the ability to use one's knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance”. Note the word “performance”. In other words, to understand something is not a skill. Instead, a skill is when knowledge is effectively and readily used to execute performance. In our 5 Moments of Need vernacular, a skill is a task. A skill is something people perform. Skills are judged by performance vs. knowledge. Do people have to know things to perform? Of course. We call those things Supporting Knowledge. But the reality is, I've seen some outlines of skill initiatives and, unfortunately, we're mixing it up again. We're putting knowledge-based elements in our skilling (aka performance-based) outlines. So, we must be sure when we do skill analysis, or what we would argue is “workflow analysis”, that we pivot on execution, performance, and the use of knowledge. When someone performs a skill in their job, it is observable because it is executed and performed. And skills are absolutely supported by knowledge, and we will still teach, train, and make knowledge available. But knowing information is not a skill. 

Here's the question, friends. Will we get down to the task level when we define skills? Effective instruction doesn't happen until it reaches the workflow and is defined by tasks performed in the workflow. Here is an example of what’s making me anxious about some of the skill initiative outlines I've seen. Picture the term “sales rep” written on a whiteboard and below it is a list of all the skills—mistakenly, some of these are actually knowledge—that a sales rep performs. That list is not enough, because two things will happen. Number one, the descriptions of what sales reps perform are way too broad; therefore, we teach them to cast too wide of a net. They have to “sell”, or they have to “close a deal”. Well, wait a minute. “Close a deal” is a broad concept. Is that a skill? Or are there skills (aka tasks) within the process of closing a deal that we should define? Number two, if we don't take those skills beyond a list of things that SMEs tell us are important, if we don't contextualize them into a workflow, we will never reach transfer when we try to teach and support these different skills. Why? Because we won't get specific enough to the workflow itself. We must consider the workflow. We must get down to workflow analysis of the skills/tasks that are performed, and support those with Supporting Knowledge. 

What is our end goal of getting to the point where we as an industry can define a skill so that it is performed well and we understand the observable nature of it, so that we can judge whether someone has that skill? When you sit down to discuss skill programs with those you serve, consider two words: “skilled” and “skillful”. These might sound like I'm splitting hairs, but I'm really not, because I think they beget different outcomes. These words will allow us and challenge us to create two very different deliverables. I understand the “up” and “re” parts—upskill and reskill—but to what end? Do we want people to be “skilled”, or do we want them to be "skillful”? I'm not just throwing around different words. I looked them up and “skilled”, by definition, is having acquired mastery of a skill in something. Mastery. If you know our 5 Moments of Need vernacular, if you've seen Train/Transfer/Sustain, mastery is not competency. Mastery alone is not application. Moments one and two (Learn New and Learn More) support someone as they become skilled. We're not saying that's not important. Moments one and two are parts of the 5 Moments of Need. You must be skilled to become skillful. So, here is the definition of skillful: possessed of or displaying skill, accomplished with skills. You see the difference? Skilled is having acquired mastery of a skill; skillful is possessed of or displaying a skill and accomplishing something with that skill. I don't think that can be more perfectly laid out. Skilled is moments one and two only.

In college, I became skilled in accounting. I got an A in the course. I showed mastery. I might have even demonstrated some skills in the course. But I can't do your taxes. Why? Because I never took my accounting knowledge and the degree to which I was skilled in it to become or, more importantly, remain skillful as accounting changed. You see some parallels here? Skilled equates to moments one and two—mastery. Skillful equates to the other moments of Apply, Change, and Solve, moving out to where we apply skills. So, why am I splitting hairs? Because we must be mindful when we sit down with those we serve as we design these skill solutions. Notice I didn’t say “courses” because it's not just courses. It's all about the Digital Coach/Performance Support. It's all about performing in the workflow. But here's my concern. Again, I've seen outlines around this, and we are already backing ourselves into the skilled corner. And there is going to be plenty of skilled content out there. But unless we as an industry and those we serve move into skillful—the transfer of, the display of, the performance of, and remaining current in a skill—we will stop at skilled. We will give pre-tests and post-tests. We’ll identify skills gaps and ask questions like, “Do people know a skill before they start the course? Do they display it or not after they finish the course?” And we're going to be in the exact same situation we've been in forever. We will not cross that powerful line into application and the workflow.

This is a brilliant opportunity for us to use this new trend to set a new bar in the way we design things. A lot of people ask us about the journey to being allowed to use the 5 Moments of Need framework and introducing a Digital Coach. Well, the door has been opened by this whole skill initiative because it's new. Organizations are waiting for us to help define it for them and to build solutions for it. Get in the deep end with this one to drive and direct the dialogue! Challenge those who want you to build reskilling or upskilling programs and ask these questions: “To what end? When we're done with it, what will success look like? Will we have skilled people who have acquired mastery of a skill, or will we have and sustain skillful performers who possess or display a skill and accomplish things with that skill?” I think it's a stunning opportunity. 

But there is a lot of quicksand out there, and we've been down this road before. We must be very careful not to repeat past mistakes. We need to walk through this open door and really introduce these powerful ways of approaching new solutions. Methodology begets solutions, right? So, if we're going to shift and take people beyond skilled to skillful, we need a design methodology. ADDIE is not going to get the job done, and in our 5 Moments of Need vernacular, we have EnABLE. That is our methodology that Dr. Con Gottfredson has spent 50 years of his life perfecting, so that we can ensure a workflow learning, task-based, skillful delivery. As an industry, we've got to adopt new methodology. Now, what comes with that? Tools. We are an industry of tools. We are familiar with things like the LMS, eLearning, the LXP, Zoom, and MS Teams. Those are some hammers in our toolkit that help us build things. If we're going to change our methodology to EnABLE, or another workflow-focused approach, we must also use our tools differently. Better yet, we need to understand what they do. Tools must be well designed and orchestrated. 

A lot of you know the term “blended learning”. You've heard us pick on it before. Back in the 90’s when it first came about, did we ever truly make or design blended learning? Once I considered it through the lens of the 5 Moments of Need, when I was in the thick of a blended learning initiative, I realized I had not made blended learning. Instead, I had made blended training. There's a difference! I had used tools for moments one and two (Learn New and Learn More)—eLearning, coaching, the classroom (all highly effective when used appropriately)—to design blended training. I did not use them or go beyond them to create blended learning.  

The exciting thing about the world we're in today is that our toolkit is more sophisticated than ever. At the same time, it can get complicated. Remember, methodology begets technology. In and of itself, technology has never resulted in anything new or different—at least not in my career. In fact, when I've taken a tools-first approach, it has always died on the vine. Anybody remember the failed virtual world called Second Life? I'm not going to blame a hammer for failing to drive a nail. I'm going to blame the carpenter for not correctly swinging the hammer. So, I don't blame Second Life for how it petered out. What I blame is our approach to it, our design of it, and the methodology we applied to it. In my opinion, that's where that promising virtual world failed. 

Now that we're talking about skills, there are tons of available tools and more opportunities for us to use them, blend them, and orchestrate them wisely. As your colleague, I'll share what I currently see when it comes to tools being leveraged for skills. I’m not saying my view is right or wrong, and you should make your own list. Understand the relationship of the hammer to the nail and the saw to the board. Know when to use which tool and the results you will achieve with each. For me, on the skilled (aka mastery) side, I think the LMS, eLearning, virtual platforms, the classroom, content repositories like SharePoint and others, and even VR and AR platforms are effective. I only listed a handful and there are certainly more remarkably powerful tools that, when used well and focused correctly, can best help with getting people skilled. Remember, skilled means having acquired mastery of a skill. But when we move into people being skillful, meaning they possess or display a skill and accomplish things with that skill, I think we have a whole different set of tools to target. You know our bias—a Digital Coach/EPSS—because we've seen it work brilliantly and achieve high impact and high ROI, resulting in skillful workers. 

A Digital Coach/EPSS must lead the way. It must be the tip of the sword. Like the LMS, eLearning, and maybe the classroom all form the tip of the sword on the skilled side (at least in a digital domain), we would argue that the Digital Coach/EPSS is the tip of the sword on the skillful side, as well as tools like knowledge management platforms and collaborative platforms for coaching and mentoring. We would argue that the LXP clearly falls in this area, although with my bias I think the jury's still out on the LXP and if anyone is really using it well. But back to my Second Life example, I'm not blaming the LXP at all. The implementations I have seen—again, this is my view of the world—are underwhelming. That’s not because of the tool; it’s because of the design. But I think the LXP shows tremendous power and potential on the skillful side. Chatbots and AI engines: these tools are incredibly powerful on the skillful side. So, the blend or orchestration on the skilled side can include the LMS, eLearning, virtual, content repositories, VR/AR, etc. On the skillful side, particularly in the machine learning world, there is lots to do and talk about! But in our current state, I see the Digital Coach/EPSS leading the way, and roles for knowledge management platforms, collaborative platforms, the LXP, chatbots, and AI engines. These kinds of things help us blend learning. 

I'm not saying that's the definitive list. My point is to go back to where this started. If we're going to meet these skill initiatives, we have to know some things, like what do we mean by a skill? Do we do a good job of analyzing skills? When it comes to workflow analysis, task analysis, and critical skills analysis (all things you've heard us talk about in the world of this domain) do we design them well? Do we move away from ADDIE and into a different world that lets us truly design for a workflow-based, 5 Moments of Need solution? And lastly, how do we use the tools in our toolkit? All those things I mentioned above must come ahead of the tool. If you don't do all those things, tools get applied poorly and incorrectly. So, once we've done all the analysis and applied the methodology, after we've defined skills in both the skilled and skillful workflow domains, do we successfully orchestrate and blend tools based on understanding the outcomes of skilled vs. skillful? 

Friends, this is such an important dialogue. We've got to get this right or some scary or dangerous things can happen to those we support. That's where we must learn from our past. We must understand what's in front of us, what works best, and do what's right in these initiatives. We are the learning professionals. We have to drive this dialogue. Just like I would expect a doctor to drive a medical discussion, learning professionals need to drive a learning discussion. And defining skilling is a key conversation for us to direct right now. 

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Supporting Business Transformation with the 5 Moments of Need

This blog is generated from the Performance Matters Podcast episode titled “Supporting Business Transformation with the 5 Moments of Need”. In it, Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson, PhD, RwE interview John Townsend, the Vice President and Head of Business Transformation for FuturePlan by Ascensus, about his lessons learned and guidance for L&D professionals who are working to transform their own organizations.

Bob Mosher (BM): We are honored to be joined by John Townsend, the Vice President and Head of Business Transformation for FuturePlan by Ascensus. John is one of our heroes in the business and a dear friend who's done remarkable work. John, welcome. 

John Townsend (JT): Thanks, Bob and Con. It's always an honor to spend time with you, and thanks so much for all you’ve contributed to my capabilities and my success. It’s just an honor to be part of this program and chat with you today. So, thank you. 

BM: Those are kind words! It's a mutual admiration. 

Conrad Gottfredson (CG): The thing that's been wonderful about our association with you, John, is you came to us from a very different viewpoint. We started working with you as a representative of your business vs. its learning group. It has been a wonderful experience to have your business perspective as we've worked on some significant projects with you. 

BM: And this is a perspective L&D needs. That's one reason why we invited you here and are so excited about this conversation. Tell us about your journey and why you have a passion for this thing called business transformation. 

JT: I wanted to be a teacher from the earliest part of my career. When I went to college, I worked as a tutor, etc. And then as I got into business, I found I was training. I had a gift for communicating and training and helping people align with processes and procedures. So, I did a lot of that early in my career. As I grew in my leadership roles throughout several organizations (all in financial services), I even had a stint where I led an L&D department. So, training and performance are near and dear to my heart, and I see them as inextricably connected. You can't have training without performance, and you can’t have performance without training. But the magic and what I've really appreciated about working with you and Con and the team at APPLY Synergies is the perspective of, “Well, that's great in concept, but how do you apply that? How do you get the application of that?” Because from a business perspective, that's all that matters. 

I started running large-scale operations in contact centers where we had a lot of turnover. I kept thinking about what I could do to address that, because eight weeks in a training room is costly and doesn't guarantee that the person who sits there comes out the other side ready to perform. So, we spent a lot of time in my former organizations trying to fill that gap by building layers of content. Business tends to see everything as a training problem, but training is just one component of performance. There's also support, management, and all sorts of things that go into that. There's also experience complexity: the more you perform a task over time, the less ambiguity exists around that task and the more confident you become. So, all those things are in my background. 

Here at Ascensus FuturePlan, we've had a wonderful opportunity to grow through a lot of acquisitions, so we have a lot of different cultures, teams, and mindsets all coming together at once. In my new role as Head of Business Transformation, I get to take a step back and look at the confluence and how people, process, and technology all come together. Of course, underneath all of that is learning and performance support. It all comes together for me, and it all needs to be part of that solution set to get the value and the results that you want. 

CG: John, we hear the word “transformation” a lot. As Head of Business Transformation, what does the word transformation and the area of business transformation mean to you—from an organizational perspective? 

JT: Simply put, it's mindset. We do change really well in business. In fact, we do it too well sometimes, and to our detriment. We change, change, change—but change doesn't mean transformation. That is something that happens from within. It's a mindset shift. In the field of learning and development, mindset is important too: introducing a new concept, a new strategy, and/or a new way of doing work is important. But what we found is that despite spending a lot of time developing great technology, writing rigorous business processing, and doing a lot of training, those things alone don't make people transform. 

In my mind, from a business perspective, it’s not only about having great training and great performance support processes and systems. You also really need to focus on the human aspect, because at the end of the day, the one constant in any change is the person, the human, the actor. Having the business focus on helping people transform and feel comfortable—while reducing their ambiguity and increasing their understanding of why and how what they’re doing connects to the bigger picture, especially as change is happening faster and more dramatically—is really, really important. To me, transformation is mindset, and you don't transform your business until you've hit that last button. It's the hardest and most elusive to reach. When we ask why most change initiatives fail, research shows us it’s because you can do everything right, but if you don't transform the human actor in that sequence, you're never going to get the throughput you deserve. It takes a lot of work from an organizational perspective to make that happen. 

CG: A good friend of ours, Tim Clark, once told me, “Leaders aren't hired to maintain the status quo. Leaders are hired and put in place to make things better.” At the heart of that is a human being. We've got to learn how to lift them up and help them find internal motivation to change. 

BM: John, you've always been a remarkable champion of the 5 Moments of Need (5 MoN). For me, that resonates so well with your idea of the complete learner who is addressing all 5 Moments. When it comes to these transformations, how has 5 MoN fit into this shift in your role that you’ve just described for us? 

JT: First of all, I'm making sure that as we move forward, we are leveraging the knowledge and capabilities that the 5 MoN framework provides us. It's changed how I look at things. Again, I was part of the problem. As a business owner, I just kept thinking everything was a training problem. Bob, you talk about “train, transfer, sustain” (and grow), which is really what the business needs. The trainer or the instructional designer could do a wonderful job of doing everything right, but there's still frustration because the business isn't seeing performance. There's that critical moment of Apply. Learning New and Learning More—we got those covered really well, and we cover what to do when things change and when someone gets stuck. But where it really comes together from a businessperson’s perspective is at the moment of Apply. Things are changing so rapidly now in every business line! I don't care who you are, the old model of training and marinating, and then moving into production and then coming back for more training doesn't really exist anymore. You have to learn by doing, and we need support for that. 

Having a 5 MoN approach recognizes that the learner turns into a performer the second they're done with their learning exercise, and that’s when they need to transfer their learning. That's scary. All change, no matter how large or small, is a stress factor for anybody. Reducing that ambiguity and unfamiliarity as quickly as you can and supporting people to get to that point of optimization is really how to get your best business results. If you don't understand that and you miss that critical part—if you only do the training and measure the output, but you don't stop and think about the throughput—you’re missing out. You need to support people so that new knowledge and new ways of doing things are no longer ambiguous, hard, or uncertain. There needs to be a very deliberate approach to solving for that and 5 MoN has helped us see it that way, frame our perspective that way, and then take action as a business to do it that way.   

CG: John, if you were to give counsel to learning leaders and learning professionals on how they could become critical to the business and seen as strategic partners in the business, what advice would you give them? 

JT: I'll use a golf analogy for just a little bit. You’ve got to walk the course backwards. You’ve got to start from the green where the pin is and then you see things differently as you walk backwards. By that, I mean the business has always focused on the outcome and not the journey to get there. It sees training as the tee box where they're going to start, and then something magical is going to happen in the middle, and then they're going to get on the green and the ball is going to be in the hole. But you can't see that until you walk the course backwards. 

What I would tell our learning development partners is what I've learned the hard way: L&D needs to be present as business is coming up with strategy, ideas, and KPIs. Understand the KPIs. What are you trying to achieve? Why are you trying to achieve that? How does that align with your strategic mission and goals? We spend a lot of time focusing on that alignment, but if the learning partner doesn't have that perspective, their tee shot is going to be errant and off course. So, you start there and then you bring them back for questioning about how changing a business process, introducing a new concept, or upskilling the workforce faster is going to tie directly to the desired business outcomes. It may sometimes feel like a very obvious answer, but by asking those questions, you start walking backwards. Then, you realize that what you need from a training perspective is to create the foundation. How do you then create the learning support and harness your managers, your coaches, your knowledge, resources, and artifacts? Because we can get you out to a tee box, but that doesn’t mean we're helping you get all the way through to the end. L&D professionals often don't quite have that assertive perspective, and you need to, because otherwise the business will not see it. You have to almost be the guides that help the business walk that course backwards. I think if you can master that skill set as an L&D professional, you're going to feel better about the work that you do, and I think you're going to provide much better results for your business partners. 

BM: It's such a brilliant metaphor. So many L&D professionals see themselves as handcuffed when it comes to their reach and impact. It’s that tee box idea that once they leave my domain (e.g., my classroom or my LMS), they're out of my control. We also get whacked about a lack of business acumen. We don't know the business or how to walk back from what gets a CFO and a CEO up every day (i.e., the business outcome beyond the corporate goals that are stated every year). If you want to run this metaphor out, there are 18 holes on a golf course. You don't just go, “Oh, we're playing Pinehurst tomorrow.” You go, “We're playing Pinehurst five and I want to go with eight teams like this and seven teams like that. Plus, there's a hazard on 16.” That gives you insight into going back to the tee box and starting like you never have before. 

JT: And L&D isn't just producing content. Because we're learning professionals, we understand how the human brain takes in and applies information. That practice also applies to your business, including teaching leaders how to think and act differently. I know that may seem like a daunting task, but I think you’ll benefit from having those conversations and dialogues. We've got a phenomenal learning support partner now and she already naturally gravitates to this process. Before, we’d say, “Chris, we need training designed.” She’d say, “Before I even have a conversation with you, tell us what you are trying to achieve. What does success look like? If at the end of this you execute, is it six months from now? Is it three weeks from now? Is it tomorrow?” She already naturally (thankfully) has that approach, and our organization thankfully supports that process. 

Have that conversation, whether it’s your lead learning professional, your chief learning officer, or whomever. Make sure that you're setting those expectations with your business partners. Say, “In order for us to serve you better, we're going to do things a little bit differently. We're going to start with the end in mind. We're going to ask you a lot of questions, because when we do, we're going to find those traps and those hazards that we want to avoid, and we’ll help you design a better learning program. But more importantly, we're going to help you use learning as the launchpad—as a tee box if you will—to achieve the desired goals and results.” I don't think that happens if you just sit in your silos and work. 

BM: Let's peel this onion. I love where you're going. You are such a brilliant practitioner and one of the more pragmatic leaders with whom we've had the good fortune to work. Share your best practices around your transformation journey. What does this mean to businesses now? What are some roadblocks to anticipate and what are your lessons learned? 

JT: We learn through a lot of failure, right? Oftentimes, failure is the greatest teacher. From my experience. I can share two things that I've really been focused on. One is that you've got to be a really good storyteller. There's a great book that I'll reference by Chip and Dan Heath called Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. It’s about how you make “sticky” ideas and I've leveraged that content for several years. I think the book has been out for about a decade. It talks about how everyone at all levels is bombarded with inputs and stimulus from 9,000 directions. There's noise in our personal lives. There's noise in our corporate lives. There's a lot of noise everywhere, and you have to confront that. You need to acknowledge that. Doing more of the same thing and communicating the way that you've always communicated is only going to be noise. I've tried to use a lot of the practices that I've I learned from that book. For example, how do you frame ideas? How do you approach stakeholders and give them “elevator pitch” kinds of bullet points as things that will become sticky ideas? Then, as they're being bombarded with lots of different things, they have a very simple way to come back to your message. Like, “Oh, John. What are we talking about with transforming the annual administration process? You said that there were three steps, right? Input, output, throughput…”and I'm making this up, but it gives them a trigger and something to stick to. My COO has a lot of responsibilities. There's lots of information passing across his desk, so I found that one of my chief obligations to move and transform business is to help create sticky ideas. That takes a lot of thought and practice. So that's one lesson learned. 

The second is that I draw a lot of pictures. I've gotten really, really good at PowerPoint. I write a document first because that's my background (I write things out), but then I have to translate that thought into pictures. You have to show people what you mean because people are coming at your ideas, your concepts, and your change initiatives with a lot of different stakeholder needs. Some want data, so I've got to have a spreadsheet version ready to go for them. Some want to see the big picture, so I've got to have a visual ready for them. And some (very few) are the introverts, like me, that want to deeply read, consider, and think through a document. So, you have to consider your audience. 

To sum up, 1) focus on “ideas made to stick” and how you frame them, and 2) understand your medium for conveying those ideas and really understand your stakeholders. I will even ask stakeholders things like, “It seems to me, Bob, that you're a visual learner. Would you prefer if I present things to you in this fashion?” I think the more I've asked those questions, the greater success I've had with breaking down barriers. I'm doing it right now. Literally, before we started this conversation, I was in the middle of translating an Excel document with rows of data into a Word document and into a PowerPoint. It takes time, but I think if you do that on the front end, it will save you so much swirl and so much churn on the back end. I think it's a great investment of time. Those would be my two points. 

CG: John, I remember when you flew out to Sundance in Utah, and you and I rolled up our sleeves to figure out how to communicate to the leadership of your company in a manner that would help them envision a new way of doing things (and actually fund that new approach). This is the great challenge, right? You're talking about stakeholders and communicating to stakeholders. The leaders of an organization are the ones that control the priorities and the funding of those priorities. So, in addition to that guidance you just gave us, what is it that key leaders in organizations are looking for? What trips their acceptance and gains their approval? You've walked that journey. Your transformation and your ability to move and transform an organization is really tied to getting the approval and the support of leaders. Any advice there? 

JT: Thanks, Con. Again, I don’t think I wouldn't have gotten there without the collaboration with you and Bob over the years to help me understand the impact of performance support and envisioning new ways of working, so thank you for that. 

What I see is that today's CEO, CFO, COO, and all C-suite executives are bombarded with pressures that are ten times what they were even a decade ago and certainly more than they were twenty years ago. I think understanding their “why’s” is the most important thing. How are they going to defend a decision to spend “X” number of dollars here versus there, and what is the risk? This is what they're thinking all the time: “I have choices. I have a limited budget, and I've got to produce certain outcomes from that. Where's the next best spend on my dollar?” We know that’s what they're thinking, and that's probably not changed too much, except I think the tolerances for failure or are much tighter than they ever used to be in corporate America (and probably around the world as well). 

Secondly, they’re thinking, “How do I defend the decision?” Because they don't know that an investment in “A” or “B” is going to produce value until they can look back on it and see what happened. So, they think, “How do I defend this decision? Why would I trust this guy, John, who's telling me he's got the greatest thing since sliced bread?” I understand that challenge. I don't take that personally and wonder why they don’t believe me. I see that as an opportunity to say, “Alright, I understand what the executive’s needs are. I know that she's going to need to know this and be able to defend her decision. I need to help give her the inputs that she needs to mount that defense.” 

For me, in terms of learning support at a high level, how many people do we have in our organization? Today, my organization's overall count is over 5,000 people. We sit in two different countries. We are an assimilation of lots of different cultures that have come together pretty rapidly to drive towards a single point of view. That's a lot of change in the system. That's a lot of reconnecting. That's a lot of transformation. What is the cost of them being stuck as performers? How do we help them if we just have a ten percent improvement over that? If you look at your salary run rate, that's “X” amount of dollars. Doesn't it therefore seem logical that if we can help them perform better, reduce their training time—their offline, non-productive time—and get them into the work stream where they’re being productive and confident with less burnout, less attrition, and better client satisfaction, that those benefits make the case for an executive’s support? Those are some of the things that I've tried to build into my narratives and storyline to help them say, “Okay, you've got a reasonable objective cost model.” I don't try to overcook the books and say, “If you give me this, I'm going to produce this in return.” But there's also a really solid argument for why this is a thoughtful and objective decisioning process that lets them get comfortable with the decision. 

When you as a learning professional or a businessperson are bringing an idea to leaders, I think it's often seen as being your idea. Then it becomes about how much they trust you or how well they know you. That’s really not what it's about. It's about the conveyance of the idea, whether it's me sending the idea, or Bob or Con sending the idea, or anybody sending the idea. What is the story? Let's strip away the relationship side and look at the factual arguments. If you can make a strong business case for how it's going to help drive your objectives and you can also demonstrate that your approach for getting to that decision or getting to that perspective was thoughtful, objective, and complete, I think you go a long way into gaining executive support and the resources you need to transform your business. 

BM: You know, every time we reengage with you, my friend, we're reminded why you're so successful and a wonderful leader. You have the humility that I think L&D professionals need to have to do what we do well; yet you are a student of the trade, and you back up your work with really remarkable, sound advice. Let's put a bow around all this. What are three things an L&D team and leaders need to start thinking about or understanding if they want to be part of “transformation” or digital transformation? We attach this buzzword “transformation” to everything nowadays! As you've said so eloquently in this podcast, L&D should be at the center of that but so often it’s not. What advice would you give for folks to better align with that? 

JT: First, thank you for your very kind remarks. It's always a pleasure and I've gained so much from working with APPLY Synergies. Coming up with three things is kind of tough, but I think one is that the business is not going to understand in general how to partner with the L&D community, especially considering where it's going (e.g., APPLY Synergies is on the cutting/leading edge of realizing that traditional models are outdated and is coming up with new ways of working). So, number one is that you have to be your own best advocate. You have to get comfortable with that and have in-person conversations, if possible. Grab lunch and talk about it! You need to engage others and get in the room. 

Two is that you need to start asking questions like we talked about before with our golf course metaphor. You've got to start at the end with the end in mind and get really good about asking questions around objectives, goals, and what this looks like when it's done. Ask how it looks after workers come out of training. We can train them on whatever the business wants, but after they come out of training, what does that look like? How are we going to monitor and measure things? What kinds of feedback go into the system? You need to get good at being almost a consultant as opposed to just a content developer. 

Lastly, number three is that in this distributed environment, where so many of us are not collocated and learning is occurring in multiple mediums and across streams, make sure that there is a transformation check-in process with learners. In other words, “We've presented the content. We've walked you through it. You've done side by sides. You've done whatever it is to get your level of proficiency.” Make sure you also stop and ask, “How does that feel?” I think that should absolutely be the domain of the business, but I think learning professionals would do a lot to ask emotionally intelligent questions, which are not about whether learners liked the training or if it was effective. These questions need to be more on the emotionally intelligent side of how learners feel about their experience and their confidence. We want people articulating that. 

If learning professionals do those three things I listed, I think you’ll find the L&D community will have much better success. You'll find some resistance along the way but have faith and be persistent. Great organizations will come to embrace and see the value and the benefits of having L&D and Performance embedded in their work streams all the way through from beginning to end. It doesn't stop at the beginning. It really carries all the way through the performance at the end. 

BM: Courageous learners. That’s what we need to create these days, isn't it? We can't thank you enough for your authenticity and your willingness to take time out of a very busy schedule to share your remarkable experiences over the years. It's been a blessing to work with you along the way and we look forward to where that goes. For our listeners, who I know will replay this one over and over, we can't thank you enough. 

JT: It's been my pleasure, and mutual respect and admiration for both of you and for the great work that APPLY Synergies does. Thanks again and I look forward to connecting with you soon. 

CG: Thanks, John.

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