Communication is at the heart of leadership and teamwork. But most of us didn't learn the necessary communication skills to build solid work relationships. Performance Support Systems is the publisher of books and tools that help you grow stronger leaders and teams by improving the way they connect with each other. Meredith is President & Co-founder of the company.Follow Follow
On this episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks with Meredith Bell, founder and president of Performance Support Systems and host of the Grow Strong Leaders podcast, about missed opportunities in training.
On the Grow Strong Leaders podcast, Meredith interviews business leaders who are committed to their own growth and the development of everyone on their team. Listen in and let us know your thoughts!
Listening Time: 28 minutes
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This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live Podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Makes sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. You are listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today, we have Meredith on from Grow Strong Leaders. We were talking about the missed opportunities in training, of which I’m assuming there’s at least millions, but Meredith’s going to take us into this. I can’t wait. Meredith’s been on the podcast before, so this is going to be super-easy for both of us. Meredith, for those that might not have listened to the previous podcast, please introduce yourself and Grow Strong Leaders.
Thank you, William. It’s great to be back with you. I enjoyed our first conversation so much. Yes, I am the Co-Founder and President of our company, Performance Support Systems, and our website is growstrongleaders.com. What we are all about is providing software tools and books to help people be able to communicate better and perform better on the job.
One of the key things that we’ve learned over the years is that it’s more than just sending someone to a training class or administering, say, our 360 feedback tool. There’s so much more to people really learning and being able to apply what they’ve learned on the job. I think that’s what we’re going to be focusing on today.
Let’s do that. Let’s go right there real quick. What the impediments that you see today? We could go through the history of training, of course, because both of us could wax philosophical for the last 20 years, on where we’ve made mistakes, and also where we’ve made great strides. But let’s talk about COVID and maybe a little bit of pre-COVID, but what you also see just right now, as you look out, you look at the opportunities, and the missed opportunities. What do you see?
One of the biggest missed opportunities, and it really is an amazing amount of money that gets wasted, is because training is too often treated as an event. That could be in person or online. People are signed up to, quote, “take a class”, right? Whether it’s an hour, or a week, or two weeks, or whatever, there’s a period of time devoted to them learning information. The unfortunate thing is, too often, the assumption is made, “Well, now they’ve got it. Right?”
It’s like, okay, “We’ve done our part-”
[inaudible 00:03:15]. Yeah.
“We can check that box. We’ve given them the information. Now they just need to use it,” but we don’t provide a framework to really support them in applying those skills.
Are we thinking, “Okay, so, won and done.” We’ll just start there. That’s the first problem, is we think that it’s won and done, or in like you said, it’s an event. You see the better companies, and you obviously work with the better companies that think of it as a continuous kind of a hamster wheel of learning, that you never stop, a relentless pursuit of learning and training. If I have that right… so first of all, debunk that if I don’t have that right, but if I have that right, give us some examples of what you… let’s take it out of the event, the won and done.
Let’s move it over into a different model. What does that look like?
Great. Let’s look at some of the important assumptions before we get into, what does it look like? One of the things that’s important to recognize is, knowing is not the same as doing. So just because we’ve presented information, we can’t assume people will know how to apply it.
Also, I think it’s important to recognize that no matter what skill we’re teaching people, they come to that class wired, pre-wired already in their brains, for doing that skill in a different way, in their own way. Even if it’s something that’s brand new, but when it comes to say interpersonal skills, whether it’s listening or delegating, they already have a way of doing it.
I think we sometimes underestimate how firmly entrenched those patterns are. It’s because there’s physical connections in the brain. So, recognizing that to change a behavior means rewiring the brain, and making that new way of doing the skill stronger than the old way, it’s going to take time.
It’s not going to happen overnight. What that means in terms of what an effective program looks like, is acknowledging there’s got to be follow-up afterwards. I can talk about the different components of what would go into an effective follow-up system if that’s where you’d like to go next.
Yes, I would, actually.
[crosstalk 00:05:44] exactly.
Yes. First of all, recognizing that there’s got to be opportunities for the person to be able to practice the skill and apply it, and then having some kind of system of accountability where somebody cares whether they use the skill or not.
So they’re going to be checking in on a regular basis with someone, not so much from holding the whip over them, as finding out, “How’s it going? Where are you struggling? What do you still need help with?” This support can come in the form of an accountability coach.
This doesn’t have to be someone external, where we have the big bucks that are typically paid for executive coaches. People can be taught to use peer coaching, to work with a partner where you’re holding each other accountable. In fact, that’s why we wrote our most recent book, Peer Coaching Made Simple, because there needs to be an economical way for people to work together in support of each other’s development.
The person’s manager, obviously, can play an important role. That involves getting that manager involved before the person ever attends training, to know what’s going to be taught. “How can I support this person when they come back?” Then having someone else who might serve in that role of a support coach. One of the key roles for both the manager and this support person is looking for opportunities to give the person feedback.
That might mean, the person is asking for feedback. That’s ideal. If the individual participant can take initiative and check with the coworkers who are impacted by their use of this skill, and simply ask, “How am I doing with my listening? How am I doing with resolving conflict when differences come up?”
To get a feel real-time from folks, helps them understand, “Hey, have I nailed this yet? Do I still have a ways to go?” Or, “Where am I on that continuum of beginner to super-confident and competent with it?” So, feedback plays a really important part. Combination of things, of that just looking overall, what do we have in place to provide follow-up to people?
That could include things like a call. Let’s say it was a group of managers that went through a training together. You could have follow-up monthly calls, or whatever frequency makes sense, where they get a chance to talk about what they’ve been working on, how it’s going, where they need help.
So you get this support system. That is, I think, just critical overall to the long-term effectiveness. You’ve got to have that commitment from the participant and the other people who are involved in working with them.
Yes, it’s a two-way street, right?
So, “You’ve raised your hand” or “We’ve raised your hand”, whatever, which I want to ask you that question. And you’re committed. “Okay. We’re committed. So we’re going to meet in the middle,” and I love the idea of practice, getting reinforcement feedback. Again, this is again like anything else, you have to try it, you have to learn it. You got to try it again, keep learning it. You know?
Some say even teach it to someone else, and you can learn in a different form by teaching it. One of the questions I know folks will have, especially with missed opportunities, is how do we discover what actually needs to be trained? Like if I’m in HR, and again, this goes all the way out to TA, because they get questions from candidates that say, “Hey, how are you going to make me better?”
It isn’t just trapped in the L&D, or the CLO, or the training department. It’s actually all the way across HR and probably all the way across the organization. How do we start that process? If we’re thinking about the missed opportunities, how do we make sure that we reconcile what we need them to be trained on, let’s just say, and what they want to be trained on, or in, prior [crosstalk 00:10:11]?
Sure. Well, one thing is using a tool like a 360 feedback tool, if you want to assess how individuals are performing, and are perceived as performing. Self-assessments have great value, but we all have blind spots.
So, being able to do some kind of survey where we get input from other people, and this could even be… we call them employee-engagement surveys, whatever kind of survey is going to be able to allow people to give you input about how they view how the organization is doing, how a specific team is doing, or how an individual is doing.
All of that gives great information. If you’ve got a really good tool, then you can aggregate the data across those different individuals to get a profile of, “Where are we as a company or as a team, or as this specific group of leaders? Where are we strong and where do we need development?” That’s where the development focus is, on where people need help, where are they struggling?
I really like thinking of it, not in terms of a deficit, but as opportunities, truly, to grow. That ties back to what you’re saying about the recruiting and the talent acquisition. What is it they need to do with candidates? I think a key thing is saying, “We want to provide opportunities for you to learn and grow in your work.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean sending you to a formal training class, because you can provide mentorship, you can provide coaching. There are a number of different ways people can learn about something new, so they are given the chance to stretch, to grow, expand. We all have that need to feel fulfilled. Like we are part of something important.
So, involving that person and asking them… When you bring them on board, it’s to fill a particular position. But I think it’s also important to ask, “Where would you like to go?” Not necessarily, “What position do you want to hold,” in terms of a higher level of management but, “What are the opportunities that you would like to have access to in our company?”
To get their input, because we can make assumptions and create these wonderful programs and opportunities, but if they miss the mark of what a specific individual is really interested in, it’s not going to serve your purpose of really engaging them, and retaining them, and getting the best from them.
So what do you see right now in terms of the mix of hard skills versus soft skills in training, from your clients and just your research? It seemed to me, at least I’d say a decade ago, it was a whole lot of hard skills, especially on the technology side, there’s just a whole lot of money being spent on getting people’s skill level up with everything technology-related.
It was just, make it a big bucket. Not as much on the soft skills. I’m not dealing with high-potentials or high-performers, and what kind of treatment, of their training, but just regular training. What are you looking at in terms of the mix of what’s needed and what’s provided?
Yeah, I think you’re right, William, I think there is this emphasis on the hard skills, many times, to the detriment or the neglect-
… of these soft skills. Because truly, you know this, you’ve been around a long time like I have, you know that people more often leave a job because of their boss or the work environment.
More so than a technical skill they didn’t have. So I think we are still seeing organizations that are not giving enough attention, not giving enough resources to the development of their people. So I think that’s why this whole recent focus on people leaving companies and that sort of thing, if you really look at why they’re leaving, usually the bottom line is they’re not being fulfilled in some way.
They are not being valued enough to cause them to say, “Man, I’m in 100% with this company. I believe in what we’re doing. You know, I feel supported by my manager and the team.” If people don’t feel that, if some of those elements, in fact, are the opposite, if it’s a caustic or toxic work environment, that’s due to the fact that the company is, number one, not bringing on the right people, but also not developing those people to really become strong contributors, strong leaders, that know how to really bring out the best in others.
I think that the problem, William, is many times they are providing this training, but it’s the kind we talked about at the beginning of the conversation. It’s an event. You might spend big bucks on bringing in a big name speaker who gets them all charged up, but three days or three weeks later, there’s nothing left from that.
Right. Yeah. It’s cotton candy.
Mm-hmm affirmative). That’s the real detriment, I think, with the soft skills side.
It’s often not addressed adequately.
Yeah. We’re looking at the budget and we’re saying, “Okay, the budget, it’s a pie. And so, we’re going to put so much money into technical skill development, because we need it. Okay, fantastic.” But it’s at… and you already used the word ‘detriment’, it’s taking that pie away. We need to not think of it as a zero-sum, and think of it as more as, “Hey, listen, you need the hard skills. Like, okay, we can’t stop that.”
“We don’t make enough of those things. Okay, fair, covered, stated. But if we don’t focus on the soft skills, we’re going to lose the talent, regardless of what we did with the hard skills.”
Yes. That’s an important thing, because you’ve invested this time and money for them to learn that.
Then when they leave, you’ve got to start all over again with the next person.
There’s one other thing that I wanted to mention, that’s an important part of this follow-up and making a skill stick, and that’s a three-step process that we call focus, action, reflection, or FAR. It’s important. High achievers tend to want to take on multiple goals, right? Or master multiple things.
But you are much better off if you focus on one thing that you’re going to improve in, let’s say in one of the soft skills, and then looking for opportunities to practice, which is step two, taking action. But then number three, we skip a lot of times, and this is the reflection. This can be done on their own, or a manager or a coach can help facilitate this, or an accountability partner.
This is where you ask questions, so you learn from that experience and don’t repeat the same mistake going forward. So, you look at what happened and why it happened that way, what you were thinking, what your assumptions or motivations were. Then, what was the outcome? Did it turn out the way you hoped?
If not, now what are you going to look at doing differently, so you get a different outcome next time? Too often, we’re just going from one action to another, to another, without that reflection point. That is really a key piece for learning. In fact, it accelerates learning, if we take time to do that.
We’ve established that it’s a two-way street. We’ve talked a lot about the trainee. Let’s talk a little bit about the trainer and the folks that run training and development, learning and development, et cetera. What changes do you feel… and again, we’re not talking about… Everybody in HR, their jobs are changing. So, yeah.
The ground beneath all of our feet is shifting, and then some of that’s COVID, and some of that’s just, we have to adapt. What do you think needs to happen there? It’s not just the event and thinking of it as, “Okay, we’re going to get everybody together in one room, and do it this one way that we’ve done it, you know, the last decade or so,” but what do you see the seismic changes that need to happen there, in terms of their process or workflows, and also possibly even technology that they need to use?
Yeah. Well, assuming we’re going to end up with a hybrid, with some people in-person and some remote, and sometimes a combination of the two, I think a key thing that’s changed is shorter sessions. Attention spans have changed, and it’s harder to keep people engaged for a whole day, let’s say, especially remotely. They need breaks. We need to make sure we’ve got them engaged. So it can’t just be a one-way lecture with minimal interaction.
I think what brings it to life and makes it more real, is people being able to process the information they’re getting in bits and chunks, and talk about how they can use it, and then getting back together with the group to discuss, “How did I apply this?” So you have the expectation of people using what they’re learning, and that’s laid out upfront.
That’s not always the case, obviously. I think that that ties in with what we’ve been talking about, is building in the accountability by having shorter get-togethers, spaced over time, where people know that they are expected to practice this skill in situations, and come back and report on how it went.
So they can learn from others, and get support and help if there’s a situation, let’s say, that they encountered that didn’t go well. So it’s making learning relevant to situations they’re dealing with all the time. I think that’s a key thing, and that can mean individualized, right? Because different people will be strong or need help in different areas.
So, the expectations of the trainees. Now let’s flip it and go the other direction, with trainees and what their expectations are today. Because we’ve seen the pendulum move, especially from a career-development, career-management perspective, from the company managed all that for you. Like when my dad was at [Weyerhaeuser 00:21:36], they just put him in programs. He didn’t even ask to be put in programs.
They’d put him in programs, and he’d just go on about his business. Then we got into this area where you’re on your own. If you wanted to learn something new, well, go learn something new. The company didn’t really… unless you’re in that high-performer, high-potential… a small group of people, right?
Now, it seems, we’re moving back to another area where it’s like, okay, the expectation, coming into a company, is different and the expectation from the company is also different, which is nice. Let’s talk about those expectations. If we both know that hybrid and remote is going to be a part of our future, which I think is a pretty good, pretty safe assumption at this point.
We’re going to deal with the candidate and the employee side first. What do you think their expectations are, if they work remotely, or if they work in a remote environment, or a hybrid environment, what do you think their training and development expectations should be?
Yeah, I think it has to do with being given opportunities. I think they really want to be asked, “What’s important to you? Where are you, you know, hoping to grow? What kinds of career paths are you considering?”
So that the employer gets an idea, “Of the different catalog of things that we offer, which ones would be a good fit for this individual?” So that it really is customized. You may end up having a number of people that all want a similar thing. Of course, they can then go through a program together as a group. I just think the important thing is to ask, because like you were just mentioning, in the, quote, “older days”, nobody asked, “What would you like?”
So plugging someone in somewhere where they might be set up for failure because that’s-
… really not an interest of theirs. Giving them an opportunity to take some assessments that would indicate and point them to areas that they’re strong, and open up their minds to possibilities. So that the employee and the company can determine together, “Which kinds of positions might you aspire to based on these strengths that you have, and these other areas you could develop in because you have a natural interest in it.” So, I think it’s really key to ask the person, and also give them a chance to take some kind of questionnaires, assessments that give the employer some good information.
Because sometimes an employee doesn’t even know-
Aptitude and attitude, you want to mix a blend of both the aptitude and attitude.
Because sometimes a person coming into a company, they don’t even know what the different possibilities are.
[inaudible 00:24:51] to ask them, “What would you like,” when they don’t have a good idea yet, might be premature. But you can still get a sense of, do they love working with people? Do they prefer working on a project that’s more solo? There are some things like that, that help you understand what kind of environment they thrive in.
Where they really thrive. Yeah. Yeah. It’s funny. I was put into three different management trainee programs. At the time, all three of them different companies, all three of them were essentially popularity contests. They didn’t ask, of course it was just like tag, “You’re going on a six-week. You’re going to go on a six week bit.”
Last question. It’s going to be interesting, because I was really thinking about the STEM programs that we’ve developed for girls and women for, let’s just say 20 years. I’m sure it’s been longer than that, but just use a [inaudible 00:25:48] number. We haven’t done that with a lot of other different types of communities, right? Latinx or LGBTQ-
Et cetera. So on one hand, we have all the societal pressure, correctly so, to be more diverse at work.
Okay. So, how do you think that the diversity and inclusion initiatives on one side of the firm should mirror, mesh with the training and development programs that happen in another part of the firm?
Such an important question. I think a key aspect of this whole DEI conversation needs to be that it’s not a program itself. It’s a way of being in our company. “We are inclusive, what are ways that we can be more inclusive at the organization and team level, or department level, so that everyone feels, you know, they belong, they are heard.” I think it’s really a cultural piece.
So of course, training can be used to open people’s eyes, but again, as a start point for the behaviors we want to see ongoing in the organization. So it really, I think, it needs to be integrated. Unfortunately, there are too many places, again, where they may offer some kind of program and they check the box, “Yes, we’ve done this,” but there needs to be this spirit of, “This pervades our organization, as a way of being as a company, as a way of being as individuals-”
“And how we treat each other.”
We blink, and 30 minutes is gone. Meredith, thank you so much for your wisdom. Thank you for coming on the RecruitingDaily podcast, and just helping us with understanding the topic. Appreciate you.
Thank you, William. It’s great being with you.
Absolutely. Thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.
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