Sunday, January 31, 2010

Gradually Going Virtual

This week I joined my team in delivering training to a veteran group of managers in my company.  It is always a challenge when you have to conduct management training for an experienced audience.  Clearly, this was a successful group with very few skill deficiencies for the jobs they are doing.   But despite their experience and previous success, it is important that they keep their skills aligned with the current and future direction of the company.

Without a doubt, things have been rapidly changing at my company.  Our managers need to make sure they are adapting their management tactics to keep up with the changes in our operating approaches.  Their failure to do so could put us at a competitive disadvantage.   One growing phenomenon in our work place is the increase in remote management situations.   While this is not new at our company, it is happening on an increasingly larger scale than in the past.  More managers have remote staff members, while some (including myself) have completely virtual teams.

Needless to say, managing remote teams was an important topic in this week's training program.  We reiterated the importance of using traditional leadership skills to help teams successfully meet their business goals.  In addition to that, we discussed new skill requirements that are specific to managing virtual teams.   Two key topic areas were approaches to building trust and maintaining strong communication while managing people at remote locations.  Below are items that were explored during these topic discussions.

Building Trust with a Virtual Team
  1. Conduct Face-to-face Meetings - If possible, it is recommended that virtual teams have at least one in-person meeting so that people can put names and faces together.   Studies show that meeting in-person helps teams overcome communication and trust barriers during those times when they must meet virtually.
  2. Maintain Transparency - Team members should always be aware of department goals and priorities and how well they are performing against those goals.  Additionally, managers must make it a habit to continually inform remote team members about issues that impact their work.
  3. Be Accessible - Remote team members must feel they have access to their manager (and other team members).   Managers must take extra care to make sure they are being responsive to remote team members.   While team members who are co-located with their manager will see the things that my be preoccupying the boss, remote team members could interpret silence as disinterest, which might make them hesitate to reach out to the manager when they should be doing so. 
  4. Share Team Member Profiles - The more team members know about each other, the easier it will be for them to be open and candid during remote communication.  Sharing photos, interests and areas of expertise will go a long way towards bringing team members closer together.
Communicating with a Virtual Team
  1. Establish Communication Routines - Make it a point to get to know when each team member is most easily accessible by phone, email or other means.  Set up specific days and times for one-on-one and team meetings.
  2. Share Good and Bad News - Provide status updates to remote team members on a regular basis whether the news is good or bad.  While managers may be tempted to reach out to remote workers only when the news is good, remaining silent when it is bad leaves things open to interpretation which can create tension and misinformation.
  3. Take Advantage of Available Technology - There are great tools available for conducting virtual meetings, engaging in instant communication, file sharing, and capturing group input.  Many of these tools are intuitive and can be used with little or no training.  Others do require investing some time to learn how to use them.  But the payoff for this investment is usually well worth it.
In addition to discussing these topics, our training included demonstrations of some of the technology tools available in my company that are helpful for remote management.  We also gave managers the opportunity to sign up for one-on-one or small group coaching sessions to help them get the most out of these available tools.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Social Media Strategy for Learning

In last week's Many Ways to Learn blog post, I wrote about how I was rededicating myself to building learning communities inside my company using yammer.   This week I took the first steps toward that goal by outlining a strategy and placing a few posts to generate some activity.

Here is the approach I am taking:
  1. Use hashtags (#) to create threads around specific topics - Since my primary role is management development, the hashtags I have started with are:  #leadership #managing #change #engagement
  2. Join groups - The department that runs our annual employee engagement survey has already set-up an engagement group, so I have joined that.  There is also a group dedicated to promoting social media usage inside the company.  I have joined that as well, along with a few others.
  3. Create "Topic Managers" to lead specific threads - I am going to have each of my staff members specialize in a topic that is important to management and create groups and/or discussion threads for those topics using hashtags.
  4. Promote usage  - Since yammer is a relatively new tool in my company, my team and I will take every opportunity to introduce it and promote it during face-to-face or virtual training sessions and at company events.
It takes time to build a following, so I recognize the need to be patient.  So far, I am encouraged with the trickle of activity created by my posts during the week.   Here are few examples of what I have been doing:

Example 1 - Providing quick tips and identifying resources that could be helpful to managers

The post below includes some brief thoughts about building trust from the book, The Carrot Principle.  Notice that four people indicated that they "like this."  It may not seem like much, but I am just starting out.  I started the week with only 17 followers.

Example 2 - Promoting learning and performance support tools available to managers

One of my staff members recently interviewed five managers who had very high scores on our last employee engagement survey.   He created a podcast series to help managers develop action plans for increasing employee engagement from those interviews.  The day I posted this, I received a reply from a manager saying she had listened to all five, she thought they were great, and that she was passing them on to her friends.  Hooray for small victories!  (Note: I removed the link from this example for confidentiality purposes.)

Example 3 - Sharing quotes (and again promoting available resources)

The quote below is from In Praise of the Incomplete Leader, a Harvard Business Review Article which is available to our employees through Harvard ManageMentor (an excellent learning and performance support tool by the way) which they can access through our Learning Management System (branded internally as My Portfolio).

This is outlines my strategy.  I have added a trickle of followers this week so I know it is getting some attention.   But as I said, it will take time to build a community.  I will post a follow-up on this blog at some point to let you know how things are progressing.  In the meantime, I welcome any feedback, comments or suggestions you might have to help me accelerate the process.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

@dorothy - There's No Place Like Home! #Oz

"Oh, but anyway, Toto, we're home. Home! And this is my room, and you're all here. And I'm not gonna leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all, and - oh, Auntie Em - there's no place like home!"

When it comes to social media and my company, I feel a little bit like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Prior to August 2009, I was not really a social media participant. Yes, I had a facebook page and a LinkedIn account, but I was not really present or active in either space. In August, I simultaneously started this blog, opened a twitter account, and logged on to yammer at work. I made a decision that as a learning professional, I needed to embrace social media so that I could learn how to help others use it to capitalize on the informal learning that takes place through these tools every day.

I was excited that my IT department had recently made yammer available inside our organization. It made me feel that my company was being forward-thinking and innovative. But sadly, as I went on to yammer I discovered there were only a handful of users there, mostly from IT and Marketing. I invited others to join me as tried to make some connections and start a dialog around topics that were important for learning, but people mostly responded in ways that made me feel like I was annoying them. Much like Dorothy in Kansas, I felt unappreciated and misunderstood, so I clicked off yammer and went out in search of people who would listen to me. Dorothy left Kansas with a small basket and her dog Toto, and landed in Oz; I sat down at my computer with a cup of coffee and my dog Smokey at my feet, and landed on twitter.

When I arrived, I found it to be a strange and wonderful place. Like Oz, it was a little disorienting at first and it certainly had its perils, but after a while I found a few kind souls in the learning community to help me navigate my own yellow brick road. So for the last few months, I have been out there tweeting and bookmarking links with these fine folks. The list of people who I follow, and those who follow me, has grown at a modest but steady pace. I'm learning new things every day but lately a feeling of melancholy has set in. I have a longing to "get back to Kansas" and share these experiences with my own "family."

So today I decided to click on the yammer icon that has lately been sitting idle on my desktop. And there was Aneta from Marketing and Steve from IT (and not much of anybody else), just as I had left them. It was no glorious homecoming. Not much had changed since I'd been over the rainbow. But of course, now I am different. I've learned so much about the possibilities of social media on my trip through Oz/twitter. One thing I learned is that it takes patience to build a community. So I will yammer on, joining groups, posting quotes and comments, sharing links, and gradually I will build a community of learners - right in my own backyard.

I welcome any comments or suggestions on fostering informal learning and building communities through yammer.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tips for the New Year Part 2: Train-the-trainer

Last week in Many Ways to Learn, I discussed how Learning & Development departments that are operating in a “leaner and meaner” mode after 2009 will need to get creative this year about how to handle tactical functions such as course development and delivery. Last week’s blog entry covered tips on how to manage an outsourced e-Learning project. This week’s topic is how to conduct a train-the-trainer session for new or occasional trainers.

Train-the Trainer

Throughout my career, I have managed a number of projects in which it was necessary to have people who were not training professionals deliver training. Without proper preparation, projects like these could be a disaster. But by taking appropriate steps to prepare individuals who are selected to be trainers on how to deliver the training, these projects can be both successful and rewarding.

Fortunately for me, a number of years back I had the privilege of earning the credential of Master Certified Instructor from Achieve Global. This means I have been deemed qualified to certify others to deliver programs from their leadership development line. Over the years, I have conducted a number of Achieve Global certification programs. The techniques I learned from the training they provided me and through the experience of delivering these certifications has been invaluable to me. I have used them over and over again on projects in which I have had to rely on a contingent group of inexperienced facilitators to deliver training.

Here are some of the key activities that have helped me to make those occasional trainers successful:

Establish Criteria for Identifying Trainers – This will have a huge impact on the success or failure of your project. People who you are relying on to deliver training must be willing, able, and available to do the job. Being able means hey have appropriate subject matter expertise, presentation, and facilitation skills. Being willing means they are enthusiastic about the role. (There is nothing worse than attending training delivered by a reluctant trainer.) Finally, being available means that they can commit to delivering the number of programs you need them to deliver within the timeframe identified for your project.

Provide a Solid Package of Course Materials – Expert trainers who have knowledge of a given topic can often get away with “winging it.” That is not the case with novices. They will need a complete package of training materials that are clearly written and easy to follow in order to be successful. This should include an instructor guide, participant materials, handouts, job aids, and other media as appropriate.

Conduct a Modeling Session – One of the best ways for people to learn what is expected of them is to provide them a good model of successful delivery. Your train-the-trainer candidates should first experience the program they will be asked to deliver from the point-of-view of a participant. This will give them a good frame of reference for understanding the expected outcomes of each activity or discussion so they can figure out how best to manage them.

Review Facilitation Techniques – In addition to understanding the content they will be delivering, it is just as important for your new trainers to be able to create a comfortable learning environment. Cover techniques such as how to establish and uphold ground rules, how to question and listen to participants, how to provide verbal and non-verbal feedback, and how to control distractions that may occur during delivery.

Provide Practice and Feedback Opportunities – Train-the-trainer candidates should have at least one opportunity to practice delivering a segment of the training and to receive feedback on their practice delivery. Ideally, they should have a second opportunity so they can hone their skills and address any issues uncovered during their first practice. Typically, for a program that could be delivered in one day or less, I would structure a train-the-trainer session as a three-day event: On day one I would conduct the model session and go over all the materials in the training package. On day two, for the first part of the day I would have each candidate deliver a brief segment from the program. The focus of their delivery would mainly be on getting across the program content. They would receive feedback from me and from each other. For the latter part of the day, I would focus on facilitation techniques. On day three, they would be expected to deliver a longer segment of the program incorporating some of the facilitation techniques covered on day two. This approach usually works well, but can be challenging if you have a large group. The alternatives are to eliminate one practice or to break the candidates up into smaller groups and conduct several train-the-trainer sessions.

End by Scheduling Deliveries – The last thing I do before ending a train-the-trainer session is to get the new trainers to commit to deliveries. Depending upon the parameters of your project, this can be done by assigning them delivery dates, presenting them with a list of dates to sign up for, or giving them a window in which to schedule their own delivery dates. This approach capitalizes on enthusiasm before momentum for the project wanes.

I have found these train-the-trainer practices to be very effective in preparing non-trainers for classroom delivery. A variation of this approach can be used for preparing people for virtual classroom delivery as well. One significant difference would be to replace the practice deliveries with one-on-one or small group online coaching sessions. It is difficult for a large group to stay focused on line as each person tries out polling features and annotation tools on your virtual classroom delivery platform. It is much more effective when this is done with only one to three people at a time.

If you have additional suggestions on how to structure a train-the-trainer event for new or occasional trainers, please add your comments below.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tips for the New Year Part 1: Outsourcing e-Learning

2009 was a tough year for most of us in Learning & Development. The economy forced us once again to do some belt tightening. It seems that every time we are absolutely sure we can’t possibly do any more with any less, we end up finding a way to do just that. But with the New Year having arrived, there is again reason to be optimistic.

Predictions indicate the economy will regain its strength. This means business leaders will be shifting their priorities from reducing operating expenses onto strategies for developing profitable growth such as driving innovation and renewed customer focus.

Learning & Development and Talent Management departments will be called upon to devise and execute the Human Resource component of these business strategies. But with these departments operating in a “leaner and meaner” mode after 2009, tactical functions such as course development and delivery are more likely to be outsourced or temporarily handled by other members of the workforce. So this week and next, Many Ways to Learn is offering some practical advice on how to approach these situations. This week’s blog entry will cover tips on how to manage an outsourced e-Learning project. Next week’s will address how to conduct a train-the-trainer session for new or occasional trainers.

Outsourcing e-Learning

Whether you are considering outsourcing e-Learning development for the first time or looking to supplement in-house development in order to keep up with demand, here are a few things that I have found to be critical to keeping a project on track:

Assign Internal and External Project Managers – In order to have the project run smoothly, you want to make sure you have a single-point of accountability with your e-Learning vendor. They should assign a “go to” person who will accept your input, answer your questions, address your problems, and provide status updates at regular intervals throughout the project. Alternately, your e-Learning vendor should have a similar “go-to” person inside your company to coordinate internal resources and manage communications on your end. Ideally, this person should be an instructional designer.

Hold a Project Kick-off Meeting – Once you have accepted a proposal and agreed to work with a particular e-Learning vendor, you should hold a project kick-off meeting. The meeting should be attended by all parties who have a role in the launch of the program. On the vendor side, this should include the project manager, script writer, graphic artist, course developer, and technical support person. On the customer side, meeting attendees should include the project manager, subject-matter experts, Learning Management System administrator, technical support person, and any other relevant parties who need to provide input to the vendor.

Agree on an Interface at the Beginning of the Project – The skin or shell in which the e-Learning program will be deployed may not be the first thing on everyone’s mind, but once development work starts, making changes to the interface could cause a chain reaction of changes to other program elements leading to project delays. Some e-Learning vendors will have preferred templates from which you can choose a particular look; others will provide a custom-designed interface. Either way may sure the look is right for your company and your culture before development begins in earnest.

Identify and Distinguish between “Reviewers” and “Approvers” – Once the project gets underway, there will be a series of milestone review points during which your vendor will need to receive approval to move on to the next stage of the project. Typically, approval will be needed for the interface design, overall concept, objectives, script, storyboard, graphics, interactions, narration, and content tests. In my experience, internal reviews with stakeholders and subject-matter experts can often be the cause of project delays. That it is why it is important to clearly identify who must approve each element before moving onto the next phase of the project, versus who are “nice to have” additional reviewers. Don’t lose valuable time waiting for input from someone who is only marginally interested in the outcome of the project.

Schedule and Communicate Your Internal Review Schedule – Expect there to be at least four reviews during the project:
  • Script & Storyboard Review 
  • Graphics/Interactions Review 
  • Narration/Audio Review 
  • Final Review
A good e-Learning vendor will provide a uniform template for collecting comments and feedback which should make this process easy. But it is important that anyone who must provide approvals is aware of the deliverable dates so they can set aside ample time for review.

Plan for Testing and LMS Integration – It is a great feeling when you have proceeded through all your project reviews and your vendor delivers the final files for deployment. However, sometimes modules that have functioned perfectly throughout the development process will act differently when published on your Learning Management System. That is why it is important to involve technical support people in your kick-off and to build steps into your project plan for testing and LMS integration.

Use Written Change Orders If Needed – Sometimes the shared vision of the concept that everyone seemed to have after the kick-off meeting does not always hold its course throughout the project. When that happens, it will necessitate changes that are above and beyond the scope of the original project. Your internal reviewers and approvers need to understand the implications of requesting large-scale changes. In those cases, you should have your e-Learning vendor prepare a written change order informing you of what new work needs to be performed, what additional costs it might involve, and an updated project timeline.

I have found that attending to these items can save a lot of time, money and headaches for all concerned. If you have additional advice to share on outsourcing e-Learning, please add your comments below.