If you have been in training for more than a few years, it is likely you are familiar with the Ken Blanchard Companies. The Ken Blanchard Companies have more than 40 years of in-person training experience and are a power-house of instructor-led training. Like many other companies, this group of individuals is looking forward to a more agile approach to training development as our world shifts to new approaches to training.
In episode 31 of the Train Like You Listen podcast, we sit down with Britney Cole, Associate Vice President, Solution Architecture and Innovation Strategy at The Ken Blanchard Companies, to talk about how this company planned a new approach to training development even before the pandemic hit, knowing that things can change drastically from the start of a project to the end of one, or as an evergreen training needs to fit a new modality. Britney takes some time to discuss how she and her team used their puzzle pieces to fit various modalities and how the companies look forward to new processes based on what they have learned in recent months.
Transcript of the Conversation with Britney Cole
Brian Washburn: Hello, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a short podcast about learning and development. And today we are joined here by Britney Cole, who is the associate Vice President of Solution Architecture and Innovation Strategy at the Ken Blanchard Companies. Britney, thank you for joining us.
Britney Cole: Thanks, Brian, for having me.
Brian Washburn: You’re super busy at work with just, kind of, an overall digital transformation of things that have traditionally been done in-person. It sounds like lots of other organizations are going through the same thing. So I thought it would be fun to talk about this a little bit today.
Brian Washburn: Before we get into that, as we always do, we give our guests a chance to introduce themselves just briefly using exactly six words in a biography. For today’s topic, for me, my six-word biography is “life seems like that Jumanji movie”. And I’m talking about the one with the Rock and Kevin Hart where they get sucked into a video game, because we’re all getting sucked into digital stuff. How would you introduce yourself, you know, in six words?
Britney Cole: I would say “the flywheel is now digital”. I share that as a tee up. So, for the past 21 weeks, and I know it’s 21 is because starting 21 weeks ago our president, Scott Blanchard, started sending all company emails with his thoughts on what’s going on in general, in life, at the company, cause he, how he really has his leadership point of view, which he is defined as, you know, valuing mastery and kindness, but also forthrightness. And one of the analogies he’s used over the past 21 weeks was the flywheel at the Ken Blanchard Company for almost 40 years was face-to-face training. And that flywheel has stopped. In its tracks.
Brian Washburn: And I think that that is something that, if you want to use that kind of terminology, the flywheel, I think that isn’t just unique to Ken Blanchard, right? It’s something that most organizations that– whether they’re training organizations or any other organization that actually has to train people. It’s traditionally been in-person. You know, you and I, this year had a chance to meet at ATDs Techknowledge Conference. And you talked a little bit about what you do at the Ken Blanchard Companies. So before we jump into some of this digital transformation, can you just give us an idea of what kinds of things are keeping you busy these days?
Keeping Busy During COVID at the Ken Blanchard Companies
Britney Cole: I feel fortunate because as I came into the Ken Blanchard Companies in October, so 10 months ago, I was hired and little did I know to actually COVID-proof the company Knowing that there were leading indicators that were happening in the market far before February of 2020. For instance, instructor led training was starting to trend down. Customers are making investments. Large enterprises they’re making investments into curation platforms and learning experience platforms and trying to figure out how do we meet our people where they are, because they’re not always able to be in a classroom and we don’t have time for them to be taken out of the classroom for days or weeks at a time, or even for a half day. And travel is expensive. So what are the things that we can do to get people to acquire new skill sets, but also have a mindset shift but not always in a classroom setting? So that was happening before COVID. And so as I came into the organization, I remember in November, I said, “hmm, what might I do?” And I really created a two year strategy and, you know, that’s what’s been keeping me busy.
That strategy has been executed and was finished by June with a very small team. Because that’s what we needed to do in order to really change the business model of what our training business has relied on for a long time.
Brian Washburn: So you’re forced to, kind of, compress your schedule, but it was something that you had the vision to do as you came in. What do you think are going to be some of the biggest long-term payoffs for all of the effort, all the resources that are going into a transformation from taking something from that’s been 40 years in the making in-person to a more digital type of platform?
The Digital Transformation of a Well-Established In-person Training Business
Britney Cole: I was so grateful to come into the organization where the plans were in place for many years before. When you think about looking at a catalog of programs and courses like SLII, like Building Trust, like Coaching Essentials and the other core programs in the Ken Blanchard umbrella, one of our teams, our product development team, started looking at those core programs five to eight years ago and saying “what do we need to do to make ourselves more agile?” And it really was going from custom program to custom program from client to client, to more of a Lego block approach where we really look at things more from a product perspective and how can we really take programs like SLII and build all the Lego blocks that sit underneath it? And then when we think about building new modalities, whether it’s classroom training, virtual classroom training, digital, or a blend, we can pull from that same Lego bin.
And so when I came into the organization, those pieces were already there. Those pieces at the time, primarily lived and were delivered in a classroom fashion, but the virtual classroom experience already existed. So when we think about our Lego blocks, we really had our modality of virtual already created. Our customers weren’t using it. In fact, we had customers even as late as April of this year saying we’re not an organization who does virtual. We have to be face-to-face. And so while Blanchard started to create our programs in terms of building blocks and had classroom training, again, which was the primary delivery means whether that was done through our facilitators, but a lot of times it was done where we would train internal clients that deliver SLII and other programs. But virtual, the design sat there and was used really limitedly. The e-learning courses were starting to get built together by taking those different building blocks from the courses. And so when COVID happened, we didn’t have to do a whole lot of building.
Brian Washburn: SLII is Situational Leadership, which is one of the core pieces to what the Ken venture company offers.
Britney Cole: That’s right. It’s, you know, if I sort of do a plug, it’s the most popular leadership model in the world. It’s really looking at performance and, through goals and tasks, individuals have their goals and tasks. And then based on those, they identify where they are, based on their own competence and commitment that diagnoses them at a particular development level.
And then the leader matches where that individual is at that particular task.
Brian Washburn: Yeah. As opposed to applying a one size fits all approach, I guess, to–
Britney Cole: Exactly. And so using that, it’s extremely practical. It’s extremely tactical and tools-driven. And so when an individual or a leader completes that program, they walk away with a series of tools to use on the job to support their conversations.
And so that’s been, you know, even so today, one of the most popular common programs and interestingly enough, a lot of the facilitators within our clients who were training this program, they said, “well, we’re not– we don’t know how to facilitate virtually”, even though they knew the program and they had the virtual design of SLII.
It was up to us. And a big part of the spring was educating our facilitators, our certified trainers around the world of how to facilitate the same content, but in a new way. Because we all know going from the classroom to virtual, isn’t just, you know, talking for 60 minutes.
Brian Washburn: Yeah. So with this transformation, and a lot of people are in the same situation and they’ve been in the same situation since April and realizing now, “wow, we’re going to be in the situation for a while longer”. People are trying to retrofit in-person stuff to fit an online environment and sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m wondering, is there anything that you’ve found – old teaching styles, methodologies, things like that – that you’ve had to kick to the curb as you’ve embraced a more digital delivery platform that doesn’t really translate one-to-one and, and what’s taken its place, what have you put in there instead?
Britney Cole: I think primarily there’s– when you think about going from face-to-face or even virtual classrooms where you have a small group to transition from small group training – so a facilitator who might have a group of 16 to 20 people – to one to many where you have large cohorts or even self-directed content, the big shift happens is how do people interact together?
You know, while we have e-learning courses and online overviews, to have them by themselves, isn’t necessarily going to move the needle. But when it’s wrapped around a journey where every week or every other week, they’re accountable for some pieces they do on their own, and then they’re coming together in a group setting, it drives that accountability. So one of the biggest shifts is, we’ve seen for the most part now people are realizing “I have to do something. I just can’t wait until the classroom comes back. But I also know that it’s not all going to be all virtual classroom either. And so how do I reach people where they are and build things in their day?” because we’re all on calls longer than we’ve ever had. And so even pulling people out of the virtual office for two hours might not even be feasible.
So one of the big pieces is still trying to find that opportunity to have that human connection, but in the digital world. And have it in a way where it’s authentic and not just a regurgitation of lecture and facts. And so it’s using tools like Zoom, where you might have a group of a hundred people coming together and you’re seeing this energize activity and chat, but then you’re breaking out in a small group of four and you can emulate that same type of table topic discussion that you would have in the classroom.
And so people still feel that they’re getting the flexibility of self-directed over the course of time, and they’re able to pick up small concepts. It’s spaced out and so they can have the chance to apply, but then they’re still coming together, which maintains accountability. And they’re still able to share in a very real way. We might see better returns in some of these blended programs than when shoving it all into a one day program because they actually have a chance to apply.
Brian Washburn: Yeah, and I love the adjective that you used. It needs to be “authentic” because there are lots of different features that you can use, whether it’s on a virtual meeting platform like Zoom or, you know, a learning management system or something like that, where it’s just a cool feature.
So you have people do stuff, right? But keeping it authentic is really a key to people wanting to come back and learn and talk and interact with other people. For people who are just– who are going through this process and trying to figure out how to get started, do you have, you know, one or two kind of simple things or something that people should be keeping in mind as they’re making this transition from classroom in-person to a virtual world?
Advice for Making The Transition to Virtual from In-Person Classroom Training
Britney Cole: I think the biggest piece of advice, just get out there. See what works for your customers in the markets. You know, when we think about typical digital development and sort of, a more of a waterfall approach, the amount of time it might take to build that perfect e-learning course or the perfect rollout of a digital asset, or even an interactive PDF, you can get really mired in the details of that and really over-engineer.
But, I think when you transitioned from a face to face model and you’re going virtual, or you’re going digital or a blend, you have to really decide how do I want to show up? So, for instance, if you’re a small training company and a lot of your business was through facilitation, are you wanting to become more of a virtual facilitator where you’re training content and you’re using formal facilitator guides, and you’re using other third party content, like Blanchard content? Or do you want to sort of pivot and– or do both and pivot to something that’s a little bit more unscripted and start to think about, you know, when you think about trainer and all the ways to like a one-on-one coach, there’s sort of a gradient. And moving to more of the coaching style of facilitating, where you’re trying to generate more dialogue and you’re relying slightly less on that facilitator guide and more of the dynamics of where the group is.
That might, for you, mean you really have to up your game and your presence virtually. And it also might change how your day-to-day work gets done. If I think about our own facilitators in the past, they were used to having like “number of days” booked. Like I have a two day class, I travel here, I facilitate for two days, I travel here and then maybe I have one day off. Right now, it looks different. Right now, on day one I have a virtual session for two hours. I have a break. I have another virtual session. Then in the middle of the night, I have a debrief session, where I’m facilitating some group dialogue, cause we’re going through a learning journey as an intact team.
And so I think there is a soul search for anyone who is primarily having delivery or designing face-to-face to say, “How do I want to show up?” “What do you want to want to do?” Cause I think there’s abundance. But you almost have to, sort of, define your angle.
Brian Washburn: Absolutely. And, and I really like what you said there in terms of you, you need to play around to see what’s going to work in your situation because there is no magic answer. There’s no magic bullet to this.
Brittany, I appreciate your thoughts just in terms of giving us a brief overview of what you’ve been going through and trying to take, you know, 40 years worth of in-person experience and bring it into a digital age even before COVID. But now with COVID it’s even more urgent.
Get to Know Britney Cole
Brian Washburn: Before we leave I have a few speed round questions for you, just so that people get to know you a little bit more. Are you ready for the speed round?
Britney Cole: I am ready.
Brian Washburn: First question here is, and I know that you do a number of presentations, what’s your go-to food before you deliver a training session?
Britney Cole: Coffee. That’s not food. Oh my gosh, that’s blasphemy, but just a big pot of coffee.
Brian Washburn: Yeah. And it’s not food, but it’s fuel. It’ll fuel you for your presentation.
Britney Cole: Fuel.
Brian Washburn: What’s a piece of training technology that you can’t live without?
Britney Cole: You know, I just discovered one and it’s called Full Page and it’s a little Chrome extension where, when you use it, it actually takes a full snapshot of your web page and so it’s this great– it’s better than Sssnip!, but it’s called GoFullPage. Since I’ve put it into my little Google extension I think I’ve used it like twice a day.
Brian Washburn: Nice. So you can print an entire webpage as opposed to having to print just one screen at a time.
Britney Cole: That’s right.
Brian Washburn: Very cool. I didn’t know about that one. Is there a book or a podcast that folks in the talent development field should be paying attention to right now?
Britney Cole: This is a shameless plug, but I’m going to do it anyway and I’ve really come to love the LeaderChat podcast that are done by the Ken Blanchard Companies. We’ve had the chance to talk to all these amazing authors: Brené Brown and Simon Sinek and Susan Fowler. And for the LeaderChat podcast, for me, has actually become little get abstracts because it’s really usually tied around one of their books.
I’m a mom of three kids and I worked for what feels like a startup. So I don’t have time to read right now. And so there’s actually become something I’ve listened to it just so I can get the Cliffs Notes version of all of these different thought leaders.
Brian Washburn: What’s the name of the podcast?
Britney Cole: That is the LeaderChat podcast.
Brian Washburn: The LeaderChat podcast. I love it. Well, Brittany, thank you so much for giving me some time here today and thank you, everyone, for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen.
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Thank you everyone for listening. Until next week, happy training.