How to Achieve a Difficult Balance?

Imagine a scenario where you (representing Learning & Development team) receive a mail from the head of the business asking to conduct a training program for all of the direct reports to make them Agile-savvy. This mail is special since a business leader is not only committing two days of leadership time locked in a classroom but also volunteered to attend the session.

This email seems to have the right notes for a perfect symphony i.e. sponsorship from senior leader, relevant learning topic, commitment to spend time in classroom etc. It should initiate a clock work of defined approach i.e., fix the dates for a 2-day workshop, block training room, identify participants, confirm trainers, commit the dates to sponsor, prepare a launch mailer etc. All this in the right spirit of displaying agility and importance.

However, let’s apply the P.A.C.T to this scenario. Start with “Compatible Outcomes” and identify the benefits or purpose that will be achieved by “ABC” i.e. (A) Associate/Learner,(B) Business and (C)Customer in this situation. You should ask a few critical questions to business sponsors, for example:

1. What made you realize that “Agile Training” is required for your direct reports?

2. How will your customers benefit post completion of training (This question is similar to asking success criteria of training but provides better insightful responses)?

3. What changes do you expect in the first 60 days post training?

After the responses are received, let’s say success measure is documented as “Increase in adoption of agile model by 10% in next 6 months”.

However, the bigger challenge is to understand learner.

What was their need? What would engage them? What are the problems they are facing and what is the real capability gap?

This challenge is also accentuated if each of the expected participant has 20 + years of experience with portfolio ranging in millions of dollars and 1000s of team members. They are not going to spend 16–20 hrs in classrooms if they do not see any value and are not engaged. It is easy to design a learning program based on direction from top. However, a top down prescription may work for novice or entrant level but may fail to engage the learners of this profile if we do not make them the center of the design.

Basically, every learning requirement needs to be evaluated through a lens of providing a difficult balance between delivering “Business Impact” and being “Learner Centric”

This is where design thinking can come to the rescue. There is a need for L&D professionals to start conducting empathy interviews with the recommended participants. These interviews help in documenting learner’s explicit requirement such as key topic coverage (deep dive in SaFe and Distributed agile), identifying trainer profile (need to interact with practitioners to learn from their Agile journeys) and learning design (not limiting learning to 1 or 2 days of classroom sessions).

These interviews will also provide insight on what the participants are doing at work. Are they breaking development cycle to 3 weeks plan to show agile model? Are the user stories being developed by the team members co-located with client, though project is following Scrum model?

These interviews may provide an insight into the feelings of participants regarding learning approach- do they believe in effectiveness of self-paced sessions or e-learning? These inputs are critical in designing right solution as well as personalizing which is the next element of P.A.C.T.

If you ask an L&D professional about what the best approach is, to engage a group of learners each with 25+ years of experience? Answer should be “I don’t know”.

It is OK to start from the state of “not knowing” because this will help you understand your consumers or learners.

Are they all waiting to attend a classroom and listen to experts or are they willing to spend time in self-reading or watch a video? What will help them in engaging with their peers on the topic of learning?

Key aspect while designing a program is also to remember that we do not end up in preaching the choir as the learner group may understand fundamentals of Agile but need help in enhancing the capabilities which position them as true agile partners?

One alternate approach is to ensure that the 2-day session does not address any theory and directly discusses examples and case studies through interaction with experts. This may trigger a potential challenge to convince SMEs/ trainers to change their content and training methodology. Most of the SME/trainers follow a set format of content and pattern of delivery and may not be comfortable in customizing the same to suit the need of learner. This tricky situation can be managed by helping SMEs understand the outcome of design thinking exercise and co-designing a new learning solution as an experiment without compromising the fundamental knowledge transfer principles.

New design may mean that though classroom session is not explaining fundamentals and jargons, it is still important that the learner group has a chance to refresh concepts and are at the same knowledge level.

Think beyond formal learning and try to engage learners by leveraging their personal social connect application such as WhatsApp.

Imagine a scenario where curated content in the form of videos, quizzes, cartoons, word anagrams, reading articles are posted by BU sponsors and SMEs on daily basis on a WhatsApp group and discussions get triggered. These discussions will not only validate the problem statements, a critical input to refine workshop content, but also provide relevant learning engagement during the 3 weeks count-down to workshop.

Now is the time to start thinking like a brand manager. Which advertisement has impressed you in recent past to the extent that you decided to buy a product or at least made a mental note to buy?

It is important for the internal L&D professionals to market their training programs as a product.

Entice the learners and not force them to consume learning. What could be done differently in the case cited above? How do you avoid the trap of sending a mailer to all learners informing the date, time, venue and title of training program along with the key learning objectives?

Here is a suggestion to “Address the Need” element of P.A.C.T: Take a back seat. Make yourself invisible. Be it a mail or post in the WhatsApp group — it is easier to engage learners by not reminding them explicitly that they are learning or are a part of a formal learning session. Let the business sponsor form a group and post a personalized message for example —

“Hey folks, in recent past we have discussed the challenges faced by our teams in moving to Agile model of delivery. I was wondering if we could use this group to exchange thoughts on Agile as a concept, share some good practice and clarify doubts on the process”.

This message is informal and personal, addresses a need and shows the commitment of the leader. L&D professionals and SMEs can curate content which can be posted by BU head and fellow learners. Obviously, you need to be prepared and follow a plan towards execution but you need not be visible. Learners are engaged in conversation based on their needs during the countdown to the formal learning event. Yes, an event which involves logistics (venue booking, time blocking etc.), decoration (relevant information and messages related to training displayed at the venue) and gifts (prizes for quizzes, takeaway not in the form of big binders but cue cards).

Finally, we need to avoid the call to push all the intended role holders for attending the training program. We all use different approaches right from top down messages, coaxing the learners, identifying right influencers so that attendance is maximum. However, try applying a different approach, especially if you have confidence in the design and effectiveness of the learning program.

Limit the attendance to exclusive “by invite” only.

Identify serious learners based on interaction during pre-workshop engagements. Conduct surveys or interviews to figure leaders who are genuinely interested in capability development.

This is a tricky area and will work only if the design has already addressed “Compatible Outcomes”, “Personalization” and “Need of the Individuals”. If done properly, these learners will become the evangelist of the learning program. It is not about getting business leaders into a classroom but can we really engage them meaningfully to the extent that they recommend it for their peers and team. If they do not compromise on any of the design elements, it will prove that you have made an everlasting mark

Yes, you can achieve a DIFFICULT BALANCE of impacting business while delivering a learner experience to remember. It is possible

This post is dedicated to Team Tiny Magic for helping me develop a work habit