Rethinking Inclusivity

Every year my kids’ school has spirit week where they are encouraged to dress in themed clothing for each day of the week. As a person who facilitates activities for a living, I’m a good sport about most things that serve a purpose and cause no harm. Up until this year, I’ve taken no issue with the silly shenanigans of Crazy Hair Day and putting my children in backward clothing.

This year, however, I’ve observed a lot of anxiety over one spirit day that has me thinking about the inclusiveness of activities. Continue reading

Reflections on Diversity Training

With Martin Luther King Jr. day approaching, my daughter recently asked me a why we take next Monday off school to remember him. As a trainer and a parent, I typically relish in opportunities like this; moments where the learner is engaged and asking good questions. As I began to tell her all about great speeches and peaceful protests, I realized I wasn’t getting through to her. At that moment I thought about all of the diversity training I have sat through in my life and I realized this wasn’t a moment for a lecture. Continue reading

3 Recent Blog Posts Worth a Few Minutes of your Time

I’ve been on vacation the past two weeks, trying not to think about work. But every once in a while I still peek at a blog post or two. Recently I’ve posted about a variety of books to help round out your L&D library. But if you don’t have time to read something cover to cover, here are a handful of recent blog posts that might spark some thoughts and/or help you do something new or differently or better: Continue reading

If Organizations Espouse “Diversity” As A Priority, Their Conference Planners Need To Go And Look For It

Panel and Diversity

I have been a keynote speaker, panel participant, panel moderator, breakout session facilitator and I’ve also led pretty much every other high profile conference, meeting and symposium role you can think of. Ok, well maybe I haven’t personally done that, but plenty of people like me have – straight, white, Christian, (upper?) middle class men with no physical disabilities.

Over the past week and a half, I’ve noticed the topic of diversity has come up thrice with respect to conferences and conference faculty selection.

The first mention popped up in my Twitter feed Continue reading

Push and Pull Learning

Learning should be self-directed. L&D departments should provide resources for people to access and then get out of the way. Allow your employees to access the resources they need, whenever they need them. Heck, most people find what they need just by doing a quick Google search.

Pull  Learning

The L&D department of the future is less about an army of instructional designers “pushing” training out to the masses and more about being nimble, responsive to needs, curating resources and putting them where people can find them while providing on-demand performance support.

It makes sense. A McKinsey study I like to cite from time to time says companies spend $100 billion (with a “b”!!!) each year on training initiatives around the world and only 25% of those initiatives actually show measurable results. With numbers like that, pushing training out is definitely wasteful. Professional development is something that should be “pulled” by employees when they need it.

“Learning Zealot” Mark Britz shared his organization’s experience creating more of a “pull” learning culture last week in an article entitled Money Talks, Bullsh*t Walks. Author and all-around learning revolutionary Clark Quinn expanded upon the idea in a short post on his blog.

I like the idea of training and professional development that should be pulled. Mostly.

Why Push and Pull Learning are Needed

On the other hand, training and professional development programs aren’t necessarily all about the return on investment. They’re not always about whether people walk away immediately being able to do something new or differently or better.

Sometimes pushing a training program is necessary. Sometimes supervisors should require their employees to attend certain training programs. While the employees may not do anything right away with what they’ve learned, sometimes a seed is planted. Sometimes a new idea that a self-directed learner may never have thought to expose him or herself to will be presented.

Diversity training is a prime example of this. Sending employees to an industry conference or association’s annual meeting to gain exposure to new trends and technologies is another example. I could go on.

Self-aware, self-directed learners with an enlightened L&D department of the future and an effective manager is great. Maybe it’s even the ideal situation. Yet even the most self-aware, self-directed learner needs to be nudged into new and challenging directions in order to continue to grow. Supporting both push and pull learning may be critical to achieving your organizational goals.

Where does your organization stand on push and pull learning? What does the balance look like?

Can eLearning Change Hearts and Minds?

Last week I wrote about how a well-designed classroom training experience can change long-held beliefs and practices. I began to wonder if an eLearning experience could change hearts and minds in a similar way. I was skeptical.

I discussed this idea with eLearning instructional designer extraordinaire Kirby Crider.

Kirby

What do you think? Can eLearning ever provide a powerful, life-changing experience that some people may find in the training room? We’d love to see the conversation continued in the comments section below.

Brian: I’ve seen some amazing eLearning design from folks like Michael Allen and the Articulate community. They’re fun. They’re engaging. But I’m skeptical that eLearning is a tool to change hearts and minds for something like diversity training or change management. You’ve spent more time designing eLearning than I have. What do you think?

Kirby: Plenty of classroom sessions don’t change hearts and minds, and the same goes for eLearning. I do think it’s possible to break out of the standard way of doing things in the self-directed eLearning world, just like how you’ve shown on this blog that it’s possible to break out of the reading-off-a-PowerPoint-slide way of doing things.

Brian: A lot of what I write about is based upon what I’ve seen working in practice. I just haven’t seen an eLearning module in practice that I’d consider powerful or life-changing.

Kirby: Describe for me what makes those in-person experiences so powerful for you. You recently wrote about a white privilege checklist activity that made a big impact on you. Why did it resonate so much?

Brian: The checklist itself was interesting, but it wasn’t enough on its own to change anything for me. The ensuing conversations with a diverse group of other participants crystalized this concept of privilege. It was eye opening for me to be able to see and feel the passionate, incredulous reaction of an African American colleague when I confessed to never having through about my privilege. How do you replicate that intensity online?

Kirby: Of course there will be certain things that can’t be replicated online, but have you ever watched a TED talk that profoundly changed the way you behave? I have. Imagine if you combined the storytelling, the surprise and the utter relevance of a killer TED talk with reflection questions that promote asynchronous discussion via an integrated message board with other users!

Brian: Interesting. Video can be more engaging than looking at clip art or even photos of real people on the computer screen. I definitely find webinars more engaging when the presenter uses a video feed. But it’s so easy to misinterpret tone in an online discussion. Any suggestions for how to mitigate misinterpretation of tone for anyone interested in designing a social component into their eLearning design?

Kirby: There’s a body of research that suggests conversational language and first person language (“you” or “I” instead of “one”) increases retention, and things need to be memorable in order to change hearts and minds. Art Kohn has a nice article about selecting language on the Learning Solutions magazine site. Honestly, we need to stop taking our scripts so seriously in the asynchronous world. When I design an eLearning module, I like to take chances with an activity like this: “Alright, by now you’re probably tired of listening to my voice and clicking on the next button. I’d like to challenge you. Take what you’ve just learned, and go find a colleague. See if you can explain it to them!”

Brian: Bringing the online world into the real world, I like it! Any final thoughts about how to reach a learner’s heart and mind?

Kirby: My father-in-law teaches an online class. In order to build a sense of common ground, he has his students ship dirt from their yards to each other and then asks each person to make a sound effect out of the dirt they receive. We have so many tools at our disposal – Twitter, wikis, discussion boards, plain old email, Padlet, even the US postal service – I’d like to challenge all eLearning designers to use them. You change hearts and minds when you can build community and create spaces for discussion and growth.

What do you think? Is eLearning a tool that can change the hearts and minds of learners? Add your thoughts to this conversation in the comments section.

This training could save you from a $1.875 million lawsuit!

Would you like to be on the losing end of a lawsuit that cost your employer $1.875 million because you were too buddy-buddy with your hourly, non-exempt staff?

Personally, I would not like to be the cause for a multi-million dollar court award against my employer. And I would hang on every last word a trainer says in order to prevent being put in a position to lose a court decision like that.

Last week I had an opportunity to attend a manager training which was led by an employment attorney. By the end of the three-hour training, she had clicked through 152 slides and somehow she covered FIVE HUNDRED AND THIRTY SEVEN BULLET POINTS during this session. She was efficient with the pace by which she blitzed through her material. Mind-numbingly boring… but efficient.

Yet for some reason she didn’t attempt to open our eyes to the real-world, real-money consequences of our actions as managers until she was two hours (and 148 slides) into her presentation.

Everything Wrong with Corporate Training

This 3-hour session represents everything that’s wrong with corporate training:

  • 17 managers invest a combined 51 work hours of their time in attending this session.
  • The outside expert (in this case an employment attorney) is given a pre-packaged, non-customized slide deck to run through.
  • She adds a few stories from the trenches to illustrate her points (537 bullet points to be exact) and she encourages people to ask questions so that the training can be “interactive”.
  • And people walk away entertained by the stories, thinking the presenter was good and nobody will ever know whether any of the 17 managers in attendance can do things better or differently as a result of the 51 combined hours they invested in this session.

The managers were never asked to demonstrate proficiency in a single skill that could avoid a $1.875 million lawsuit. The managers weren’t given an opportunity to test their skills at identifying what unintentional discrimination in the workplace might look like. The managers were never challenged to describe what “appropriate documentation” might include.

Fixing Corporate Training Isn’t Really That Hard

Following the training, I was speaking with another manager who had attended the session and he said how surprised he was that the speaker didn’t even ask us whether we did certain things during recruitment, interview or regular supervision activities that might get us into legal trouble.

Just ask a question

One of the simplest ways for a presenter to customize a session, even if it’s on the fly and in the moment, is to ask questions of the audience. Give us a pop quiz. Or just ask to see a show of hands and start a sentence with: “How many of you…”

Discuss a brief case study

I’m sure that employment attorneys have seen many, many cases that involve “grey areas” – actions in which one side could claim discrimination and the other side could claim that they were treating each employee fairly and equitably. Another simple way to engage the group and check to see if they’re “getting it” is to show a few case studies and ask the managers what they would do in certain situations.

Show a video

Similar to the case study idea, simply showing the group a video or two and asking what the managers identify as appropriate or inappropriate management strategies is yet another way to see if the group is “getting it.”

Mock Trial

Finally, if you really want to scare the heck out of the managers (and the executive staff), or perhaps better said, if you really want everyone in the organization to take this topic seriously, it would be fun to present the managers with some information and then ask them to demonstrate how they’d handle the scenario. Once they complete their demonstration, the attorney/facilitator could either say:

  • Congratulations, you handled that well! Or,
  • Bummer. Your organization now owes that employee $1.875 million

Have any ideas that are different from what’s described above in order to fix corporate training? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Know someone in a position to fix corporate training? Pass this blog post along!

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Are You A Racist? When It Comes To Training, Words Matter.

I was participating in a session on coaching last week when an argument erupted.

The facilitator suggested that a continuum exists in which consulting lies at one extreme and coaching lies at the opposite end.  Once we got into a demonstration of what coaching looked like, one participant (with a consulting background) observed that the coaching demonstration – in which the coach asked a lot of questions in order to better understand some of the root causes – looked exactly like consulting. Others insisted that consulting is just another word for being directive and having all the answers while coaching is a process to help others find their own answers. We were using the same words in fundamentally different ways.

I’ve seen these arguments before, perhaps most dramatically in a training course focused on diversity. Some people used words such as discrimination and prejudice and racism interchangeably, while others felt these words were quite distinct. Tensions rose quickly, feelings were hurt and discussions quickly got out of control.

Conversations can’t be constructive when people are left to assume that everyone uses the same definition of key terms and concepts.  Over the course of today, several hundred people will read this post. If every reader was to write the definition of the word “racism” in the comment section below, we could easily collect more than a hundred different definitions.

Diversity of thought and experience can lead to some great conversation, but only if everyone agrees to use key words and concepts in the same way. We can only have a constructive conversation around things like coaching vs. consulting or how to “undo” racism if everyone in the training room first agrees with how the words will be used.

Definitions of key words or concepts within the training setting may not be the exact way that participants would use these terms outside of the training room, but it is absolutely crucial that everyone agree on how key words and concepts will be used during the training. I remember sitting through a training course when the definition of racism was reduced to a mathematical equation: racial prejudice + systemic power = racism (therefore all white people are racist and people of color cannot be racist).  I completely disagreed with the parenthetical conclusion that seemed to be attached to this definition, but at least I could participate in the conversation because I understood how the word “racism” was being used.

Spending some time in the beginning of a training session to establish definitions for key concepts can help avoid arguments that otherwise would arise when people use the same word to mean different things. Establishing a common vocabulary from the beginning is an essential job duty for anyone who has been given the responsibility to facilitate a conversation.

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