Thursday, November 13, 2014

Onboarding Fail

Previously to joining CO I have worked for 2 of the largest Automation/Control companies in the world and they claim to be “people focused” & “invest in our people” however it has only my experience with CO and the onboarding process that has made me realize that CO is the only company that truly invests in its people.
    -   Jason, New Employee of CO (company named anonymized)

Onboarding.  It’s something almost every company does.  And in almost every instance they do it wrong.  Let me explain.

Most employees aren’t hired to do a specific project and leave – that’s what contractors are for.  I would submit that every new employee is hired after a careful (and expensive) selection process and hired because the employer has hopes of long term productivity.  So why “cheap out” in bringing them on board?

It’s like buying a top end luxury performance sedan and saying, “But let’s go with the cheap tires.”
Some of the biggest and well-known names in business boil their onboarding down to a WebEx or some canned eLearning module.   Why?  They just spent a great deal of time, money, and energy to find the candidate.  Most studies show that companies will invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in getting that new employee fully productive.   And they start them with a webinar?

One company even asked me, “How do we develop an effective onboarding program that runs remote?”

They just don’t get it.

The last onboarding program I designed take an entire week, and it doesn’t involve even 5 minutes of HR systems training.   (That is appropriate for a webinar).  My onboarding program is designed to immerse the new employee in the culture.  Everybody globally travels to the corporate headquarters to go through it.  Management heads come to them to answer questions - the CEO attends regularly.  They do activities where they examine the products and build presentations about our customers and industries.

The entire week is fun and comfortable.  And at the end the employees feel invested.  Isn’t that what you want from your own investment?

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Curves Ahead

"The world is a bell curve."
                -  Simon Sinek

Everyone in the Learning Industry has seen the Four Stages of Learning.  They're usually shown in a 4 quadrant grid, with the travel through the stages shown as a "U" shape.   Or it's represented as literally 4 stair-steps.   But I saw one recently that really caught my attention.   I couldn't find the image so I drew it - shown here:

The stunning part is that it's show in the context of learner confidence and comfort.  When you move through to the awareness stage you really are at a low point.  When you were unaware of your lack of knowledge you move along just happy as can be.   But become aware and that plunges you into a state of discomfort.  Sometimes painful discomfort.

But one of the motivators is showing the learner that of they progress and learn the skill to the unconscious or habit stage, they will be better off than before.

Keep this in mind when you're trying to sell someone on change.   It might help.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Have a Quick Start and a Big Finish

"Ready when you are C.B."
-   doomed cameraman
From IMDB:

Cecil B DeMille is the subject of many Hollywood legends. According to one famous story, DeMille once directed a film that required a huge, expensive battle scene. Filming on location in a California valley, the director set up multiple cameras to capture the action from every angle. It was a sequence that could only be done once. When DeMille yelled "Action!," thousands of extras playing soldiers stormed across the field, firing their guns. Riders on horseback galloped over the hills. Cannons fired, pyrotechnic explosives were blown up, and battle towers loaded with soldiers came toppling down. The whole sequence went off perfectly. At the end of the scene, DeMille yelled "Cut!" He was then informed, to his horror, that three of the four cameras recording the battle sequence had failed. In Camera #1, the film had broken. Camera #2 had missed shooting the sequence when a dirt clod was kicked into the lens by a horse's hoof. Camera #3 had been destroyed when a battle tower had fallen on it. DeMille was at his wit's end when he suddenly remembered that he still had Camera #4, which he had had placed along with a cameraman on a nearby hill to get a long shot of the battle sequence. DeMille grabbed his megaphone and called up to the cameraman, "Did you get all that?" The cameraman on the hill waved and shouted back, "Ready when you are, C.B.!".

One of the great arguments in instructional design is the battle of form and function.   Many designers will argue that the content is king, and everything else is secondary at best and irrelevant at its worst.   I know one colleague who refers derisively to anything that isn't pure information as "useless sizzle."

But I disagree.  I don't think you can have a real learning experience if it isn't memorable.  And it won't be memorable if its boring.  You can have the greatest message in the world but if you can't hold your learner's attention you simply fail.

So I will leave you with two insights from another colleague:

  1. Get them doing something interesting -- even if it's just a group discussion -- very early. Don't bog them down with YOUR long introduction, the history of the topic, etc. The faster they're engaged, the better.
  2. Don't let the class fizzle out at the end. Try to end on a high. It's like the movies... where they usually put the best song at the very end, during the closing credits... because this often determines the feeling you leave with. Ask yourself, "what were my students feeling when they left?" 

Think Big.

Design Big.

Be Memorable.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Give your Instructors the Time

"Time is on my side"

I was chatting with some of the other speakers at mLearnCon 2014 this week in San Diego and the concept of time came up.   Too often people giving the presentations run out of time near the end.  You can tell because they look at the clock and speed up.

You see this in classes as well.  You get toward the end of the day and things magically speed up.   In the worst cases instructors search for things to triage (read: skip).   Activities are eliminated.  Slides skimmed over.  A good class can come apart at the seams.

And the ironic part?   In many courses and conference sessions the best parts are often at the end!

So what gives?

I know exactly what the problem is.  Most content developers seem to start with the time, and then work to fill it.  That's exactly the wrong approach, for a couple of reasons.

First, things always take longer than you think.  Technical issues, audience questions, tangents happen. These types of interactions are often very valuable, so you don't want to eliminate them.

Next, it isn't about the time, it's about the message.   You should always start with what you want to say.  What is your message?  What are the critical takeaways?   Why is everyone there?  Hint:  it isn't to fill time.

So here is the recipe for success:

  1. Start with your critical points, develop content.
  2. Then you practice and look at the clock.   
  3. Take your allotted time and subtract 10% - that is your real target allowance.
  4. Add or subtract content to meet your target.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What good does encouragement do?

"Do whatever you have to do to keep making art.”
      -  Neil Gaiman
What good does it do?  Plenty.  I don’t believe in coincidence, and events of the past week have proven that to me.  Last week I was lamenting that I hadn't done anything big and meaningful with my life.    Three people reminded me how wrong I was.

The first was my son.  We were talking about his HS graduation this week, and his plans.  He was accepted into some of the best Universities our system has to offer and he is looking forward to the engineering program at one of them here in California.  I told him how proud I was of his hard work and he immediately shot back, “I couldn’t have done any of it without you, Dad.” 
That gave me pause.   What the heck was he talking about?  And then I remembered how I never rode him about grades or performance, but instead had constant conversations about how his academic struggles were determining his life potential not mine.  I always made sure he knew he was working for himself  I always encouraged and praised good work.

A few days later a note popped up for me on social media.   You are the person who helped me realize I was smart enough to go to college and to get whatever degree I set my heart to get (without that I wouldn't have my Masters and other post-grad certs).”  This was from a smart young woman who used to babysit my kids when they were little.  She was seriously talented, but just couldn’t see it.   All I did was point that out, and encourage her to challenge herself.

And finally, a text today thanking me.  An old friend was telling me how successful he has become at his photography.  I had forgotten a few years ago he was going through hard times.  Bad economy, bitter divorce, the kind of nasty you hear about and cringe.  I forgot that I encouraged him to chase his dream, not because I was trying to prop him up but because he was so talented.   He reminded me that those simple words helped change his life.

It's hard to admit, but these three wonderful individuals made me feel foolish.   I'm certainly not Bill Gates and I won't eradicate malaria.  Nobody is naming a university building after me.  But I have made a difference, that much is clear to me now.  You don't have to leave huge footprints to make the world a batter place.

So encourage someone, in some way, today.  You never know how big that seed will grow.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How to lose a Customer forever in 3 easy steps

"Computers are useless. They can only give you answers."
-     Pablo Picasso
I normally write about all things Learning, but this just struck me so profoundly that I feel it has implications across all vocations.  It all started with an email.   Now I understand that people need to market themselves, and everyone is busy.  I get many emails marketing a product or service every day.  And I almost always at least scan them.  But one I got today was truly memorable.

I will never do business with this company, or anyone connected with them.

The first indicator?   The opening line:  

I noticed that you are the Global Learning Manager/Instructional Systems Desi? at ....

No, you didn't notice anything.  The title line in your automation program has a character limit and it is clearly a mystery to you.  There is nothing so endearing as a form letter.  It just exudes "I don't care."

It gets better.

You can send an e-mail reply with a detailed... 

Isn't that swell.   I can do their discovery for them!  I appreciate someone helping me clear out all of that spare time I have every day.   Occasionally I audit our Sales training.  In a recent course where new sales people were practicing their pitch one of them kindly implored me to go to our web site and search for what was relevant to me.   My gut response was negative. "If you're not willing to take a few minutes to assemble a few pieces of content you feel are relevant to my business, then why should I?"

Maybe the best part is the closing.  The email is signed with a first name, last initial.   Really?  You aren't even going to leave me with your name?  Now I feel special.

Let's contrast that with another individual who contacted me via LinkedIn.   She sent a short, personal note that she would like to connect and perhaps discuss opportunities.   I read her profile, was intrigued, and we had a great conversation.   If I ever have an opportunity to do business with her she will be the first person that comes to mind.

People that really want to connect with me in my professional life ask questions, they don't start by offering me answers.  They start with my opinion, not my wallet.

And just to wrap it up in a Learning blanket, this should remind us to never, ever forget the Adult Learning Principles.  Specifically, Adults learn when they feel appreciated.

Yes.  Yes we do.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Silliness of the Virtual

"... nothing says “we don’t care” like a company saying “We’re so sorry” in an automated tweet"
 -  Dr. Mommy blogger Kim Garst

Google the phrase "people who love their jobs" and you will get a gazillion results.  Seriously, I was shocked at the number of hits, what with all of the people who say they hate their jobs.  Apparently there are many to love what they do!   :)

While the answers vary, you will find one common theme among most every answer.   People who love what they do have a connection to the people that work with and genuinely love to work with them.  There is a human connection.  We are social animals and for all the penetration of social media we need that proximity.

Which is what drove me to this post.  I got a couple of spam emails that proclaimed, "The Benefits of Virtual Onboarding!"  Huh?  What is wrong with people today?   Onboarding is a process of socialization.   People forget it really has only one goal: to make the employee come to the conclusion, at the end of the process and on their own, that they made the right decision to take that job with that employer.

Think about how much you invest in hiring someone.  Even in the best scenario - after you consider salaries or commissions and other costs - you are going to dole out tens of thousands of dollars.  Factor in how much time and salary you spend before they are really 100% productive.  One VP was famous for saying it cost a company $300K for each new employee.

Contrast that with a Silicon Valley top 20 I spoke with a couple of years ago about their onboarding program.  Over and over again the concept of virtual came up.   "Can't we do this online?"  "What about videos?"  By the end of the conversations I was convinced they just didn't get it, and someone at the top was probably screaming about cost savings and "spending too much time on travel."

One of the best programs I ever designed was a simple Orientation program.  It takes and entire wee and we teach no on the job skills whatsoever.   We spend an entire week building relationships, learning about the culture and the company, diving into the value messaging surrounding our products, and answering questions.  In short, it's all about the new employee.

Nobody is productive their first week on the job, and what's the cost of a plane ticket compared to a six figure salary?  Onboarding programs are an investment in people.  Treat them that way and you will see the ROI in spades.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Two Essential Ingredients to Success

"I like to cook with the philosophy of using great ingredients and not altering them too much." 
            -     Aaron Sanchez

I like to watch Chopped on Food Network for a lot of the same reasons I appreciate a world-class learning experience.   (If you have not seen the program Chopped a panel of contestants is given set of random ingredients that they have to transform into delicious dishes, as judged by professional chefs).  They would seem to have nothing in common but in fact they share the two absolutely essential ingredients.

The ingredient you have to start with is a good challenge.  One of the worst learning experiences you can think of is one where you sit through hours or perhaps days of lecture, your brain desperately trying to stay engaged.  Often this is driven by the need of the instructional designer to stuff as much content into the program as they can, without regard to what learners actually take away.

Recently, we did two things that were controversial to raise the challenge, but I see as real differentiators.  First, we removed all of the solution pages from our workbooks.  Too often we see learners hit a roadblock and immediately flip to the solution.   That may make the experience more smooth for the learner, but it only demonstrates that someone can follow written instructions.  Removing the solutions requires the learner to figure it out.  It's more difficult but it results in real learning.  Look at your own experience - you probably remember the things you had to struggle to get right.

Second, we limited lecture to 15 minutes.  We started a rule in the design process that "if you're talking for more than 15 minutes you need to stop."  Humans learn when they do.  Period.  In one set of advanced classes we lecture for a short time on Monday morning, give the learners a challenge, and ask them to present their solutions on Friday.  This is really hanging someone out in the wind, but everyone who has gone through that program has said the same two things: it was really hard but they learned a great deal.

But challenge is only one half of the equation.  You have to make the experience fun.   Humans enjoy variety and have a need to be entertained.  Mix up your exercises and activities, break people into various teams, try new things.   I learned form a colleague to play music during exercises - it seriously raises the mood.  Your learners will have a memorable experience.

Compare this to Chopped.  The contestants are seriously challenged but they all seem to have fun.  It's a winning recipe.  So remember, start with Challenge and Fun, and add spices to taste.