Storytelling about InStride with Sean Flynn

Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 110. This week we have storytelling about InStride with Sean Flynn. During this episode, Sean and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing InStride.

Sean is an expert in all things education and strategic guidance. His passion to bring life-changing education to the workforce really comes through during the podcast.

Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.

Thanks, William

Show length: 26 minutes

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William:   00:24
That’s coming is William Tincup. And you’re listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today we have Sean on from InStride. And we’re going to be learning all about InStride, and InStride in particular. So here we go. We’re off to the race. Sean, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and introduce InStride?

Sean:    00:45
Sure. I’m Sean Flynn, Chief Customer Officer for InStride. InStride is a public benefit company. Our mission is to bring life-changing education to the workforce. We were founded by TPG Rise and partnership with the Arizona State University. And our origin story is the Starbucks SCAP program. That’s the Starbucks College Achievement Program that Howard Schultz put into place a little bit more than five years ago.

Sean:    01:16
And our mission is to scale that out. I’m working with Fortune 500 companies with their corporate partners. And so far we’ve erased somewhere north of $300 million of student loan debt, as an example of the impact we’re able to make with our learners and our corporate partners.

William:   01:34
Oh, I love that. So when you come in, you’re typically talking, I would assume with chief people officers, CHROs. Maybe you might get into benefits and folks, and may be even the EAPs and things like that. But tell us about their customers and what’s your front door for your customers?

Sean:    02:00
Yeah. It’s a good question because we believe that education done right in a corporate context, it’s a business strategy.

William:   02:10
Mm-hmm  affirmative).

Sean:    02:10
And so of course, we’ll work with the chief people officer, the chief human resources officer, the chief learning officer. But we found it equally valuable to work with the CEO, to the general manager with the line of business. Because wherever you have culture as a strategy, it’s a natural extension to have education as a strategy.

William:   02:32

Sean:    02:33
And if you’re purposeful about how you design the education program, something that maybe has been thought of as a benefit and loosely coupled to the business strategy, it can be purpose-built for the business strategy. So a simple example, workforce planning requirements, “I need more skills in this area. I need more diversity in this area.” You can build an education program that fosters that in a very authentic way.

William:   03:03
So one of the parts I love about this is education as a retention strategy, and then engagement strategy, right? So what can we do to… In fact, I was programmed at an event a month ago, and I talked to a lot of chief diversity officers. And in doing so, one of the things I learned, is that diversity and inclusion is everyone’s responsibility, A.

William:   03:30
B, that the attraction of diverse talent is the stuff that keeps him up at night. It’s the retention of diverse talent that keeps him up at night, which I did not know. I was really thinking it was more, “How do you find?” And they’re like, “No. How do you keep?” And with what you all do, this is a great way to engage all talent. And also it helps them, it gives them another arrow in the quiver of retaining that talent.

Sean:    04:03
Yeah. And I think what’s essential when you’re thinking about retention of talent and fostering particular outcomes, is offering your employees opportunity and advancement with how you’re doing education. So certainly there is the access to education. But if you are doing it in a way that you meet the learner where they’re at, so there’s an on-ramp, because adult learners are in different places.

Sean:    04:35
Some have what we call educational trauma, and they need to start at an earlier point. Some have degrees, but they need to reskill, they need to upskill over time. But if you can meet the learner where they’re at with an on-ramp, that makes sense for them, degrees, non degrees.

Sean:    04:51
But it’s part of a pathway. It’s part of the continuum of education over a career. Now you’re giving people a way to build contemporary skills, to earn life-changing degrees that make them very attractive for different roles or for progression, senior leadership kind of roles.

Sean:    05:13
And you’re doing it in a way that the person we have shown in our experience that when you’re offering this type of strategic enterprise education, we have about 92% retention in our population. And people are graduating, and almost to accelerate that you have in a normal college population.

Sean:    05:32
And it builds a much stronger bond for the employee and the employer over time. As I was saying earlier, it’s just a very authentic way to invest in people and show them that you really care about where they’re going.

William:   05:44
What do you think the relationship is, because some people just like to learn? I have a good friend of mine in Dallas. And he’s just one of these people left alone. He’s just going to pick up in the LMS or wherever he had access to it. And he’s just going to learn something new, and that’s just him. He’s always been that way. And just left on his own, he’s going to go learn something new.

William:   06:07
And juxtapose that with someone maybe that’s not wired that way. What’s your take, or what’s your customers’ take on incentives or access? You made it really painfully clear to folks, it’s like, “Giving people access, meeting where they are. And helping them understand the journey and pathway to where this might lead.”

William:   06:33
I think all that, especially internal mobility, I think that leads to some great conversations. But some folks might need an incentive, might need something other than just that, “This is how you get from point a to point B.” What have you learned from your customers about that?

Sean:    06:52
Yeah. And it sounds like your friend is one of those naturally curious people that’s going to find the education no matter what you do. Right? That’s a-

William:   07:01
You can build walls up in the pathway, but he’ll climb over the wall. Yeah.

Sean:    07:07
And I love those people to death, hire as many as you can. But when you’re doing education strategy, it’s kind of like, “How do I meet the center of mass?” Say if it’s a strategy, “How am I getting 20, 30, 40% of the population involved?” 75% of Starbucks stores have somebody that is in the SCAP program today. You’re trying to implement a strategy where Starbucks is your third place, right? The office were Starbucks, is the third place. That makes a difference.

Sean:    07:34
When you have a staff that’s engaged and believes in getting promoted at a higher rate in implementing that business strategy. But I think to the core of the point that you’re making, that has to happen with some scale. And the things that we have learned, one are, you want to remove barriers for adult learners. There’s so many reasons not to go back to get your education, whether that be a degree or CPE.

Sean:    07:59
So take away from a reimbursement as an example, if somebody… Reimbursement’s an awesome way to do it, but most people don’t have more than $400 in their savings account. So that’s a significant event to go and pay for something and wait for reimbursement. The company can do a direct bill. So it’s a frictionless kind of experience. Help them understand the benefits of what the education is going to give them.

Sean:    08:24
But we’ve learned that it’s every bit as important to educate the manager, as it is the employee on the benefits. Because most people view their work experience with their relationship with their manager. Their manager is on board, and understands why they need to take whatever time, or understands what the benefit is. Then they’re so much more likely to engage.

Sean:    08:43
And we’ve learned that our managers with toolkits, and do it at the time of personnel reviews is one way. And the last thing is, another example is like cohorts. If people feel like they’re part of the community. And say you’re trying to, maybe it’s gender diversity in leadership. And you bring a cohort through, now, you’re part of this community of people that are going through it together and can share their experiences and help each other.

Sean:    09:10
So they feel supported by the employer. The employer is taking care of the program and the billing, it feels supported by their management. It feels supported by their peers and people who are like them going through it. You’re going to get a much better completion rate. You’re going to get much better outcomes, and degrees, and graduations on the other side of it, than you might without this kind of purpose-built approach.

William:   09:30
I love that. What of your customers, if any, have they talked to you about learning styles and learning differences?

Sean:    09:39
And we’re thinking things like online learning versus in-person learning.

William:   09:44
Yeah. The styles, sometimes people learn in different ways, right? So all the ways that you just mentioned. And then getting into some people learn in a classroom environment, some people learn more one-on-one. I think SHRM defines there’s seven different learning styles. But the delivery method is where you took that as well, which is interesting, I don’t want to cover that.

William:   10:12
Learning differences is more like dyslexia, dysgraphia, other types of things, some might be visible, some might not be visible. Have your customers expressed any interest, or kind of intrigue around, “Okay. Well, how do I do this, and successfully do this? And then I have a population of some employees that are dyslexic. How do I ensure that they’re going to be successful, and I set them up for success?”

Sean:    10:44
Yeah. It’s important to note that for InStride, we actually are not delivering the education.

William:   10:52

Sean:    10:52
Part about what we do, one of the service that we provide for their corporate partners, is we will cater a high quality network. And in fact, we believe in quality over quantity when it comes to education. And so what we’ll do is, we have taken the time to go out and find leading academic institutions like the Arizona State University, or the University of Virginia, University of Wisconsin. Who are best in class in the way that they engage adult learners.

Sean:    11:22
And you will find things in the way that they’re engaging that come anywhere from direct lectures with their instructors, counseling, coaching for adult learners. Because they go through a journey and there’s inevitable roller coasters. And in any adult learner’s experience, you’ll find even things like AI and gamifying the education.

Sean:    11:46
And so what we try to do is vet the quality of the academic partner, so that the corporate partner knows, “These are schools I would hire from. These are graduates and learners that we want to bring into to our company.” And so we think of it more as, “Where’s the expertise? Who are the best at it?” Because there’s what you do, and there’s how you do it. And we try to find the best and make sure that’s only what we’re providing to the corporate partners.

William:   12:16
I love that. You mentioned student loans at the very beginning. And this is a mechanism for companies to think about student loans, and also think about tuition reimbursement. Take us into that world.

Sean:    12:31
And also community impact.

William:   12:33

Sean:    12:34
So we have, let me give you an example, Uber. Uber has made the program available to all drivers. And the next time you get into an Uber, you can actually look on your driver’s profile and you’ll see if they are eligible. It will be on their profile. They have 3000 rides, and their rating, 4.8 or above. And they can get their full college tuition paid for.

Sean:    12:57
But Uber did take it a step further. They knew that many of their best drivers were being poached by competition. They also knew that many of their best drivers are the biggest revenue producers. There’s things like rider safety, right? That matter in this world. And so they wanted to make sure that people were in that area, they kept them in place. So they offered it to the driver, but also gave them the choice, either driver or a recipient, a dependent.

William:   13:28
Oh, cool.

Sean:    13:29
So many of Uber’s drivers are first-generation Americans. And if you’re sending a spouse, if you’re sending a child to go get their education, you’re not leaving, you’re engaged. This is something that is bigger than you. It’s intergenerational kind of impact. And I know there’s challenges in many cases where women coming back into the workforce, as an example, after COVID. And they’ve taken on a lot of responsibilities at home, and how does that happen?

Sean:    13:55
And so being able to support these kinds of populations with things like offering it to a dependent, have been very powerful in creating that connection and intergenerational impact. And we think that’s… I know it sounds like I’m just saying this, but it’s really a psyche that you’re doing well by doing good. That’s really what we try to do in everything we touch.

William:   14:18
So first of all, great example. And also an example that kind of highlights the company’s thinking outside of the box, but also thinking about, “How do we engage?” And if not that individual, fantastic, that person is someone in their ecosystem, someone in their family. I love that. I could see that being really popular with companies.

Sean:    14:41
Yeah. And this is a fun one, I’m telling you. The next time you get an Uber, look at your driver’s profile. Some of the best stories come out of these discussions. I was in LA, pre-pandemic, but I was in LA, and I’m heading to a client meeting, and I jumped in an Uber and it was going like eight blocks to get there.

Sean:    14:59
And I’m apologizing to the driver, because I’m like, “Look, I wouldn’t normally take an Uber for this shorter trip.” And I’m like, “I need to get there on time.” And the driver turns around and looks at me and he goes, “No, don’t worry about it. I need to get my 3000 rides so I get my college degree paid for.” I go, “That’s what I do.” And we have this moment between the two of us. But you get some of the best stories out of just the lives that you’re touching.

William:   15:21
Well, you had mentioned community impact, I think a couple of times.

Sean:    15:25
Mm-hmm  affirmative).

William:   15:26
Give us some more examples of the way that companies are using and leveraging InStride to help the communities that they serve.

Sean:    15:35
Education is one of those things that when you’re opening up opportunity, when you’re giving people access to jobs that they didn’t think possible before. That it has those positive externalities and the very few things that you can do in a benefit or in a corporate context do. And so we have had partners that have been very purposeful about what they want to do, working with organizations like the National Urban League, and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the 110 Organization, that think about, “How can we partner with these organizations?”

Sean:    16:14
Both to find access to talent, but also to create the right kind of support, and pathways, and cohorts that will help them attract the right kind of talent into the organization and help them succeed. And we’re big believers and that we can help create those connections with organizations that their companies want to partner with, and help foster the right kind of outcomes.

William:   16:41
I love that. It’s funny that we touched on inclusion. And one of the spokes of inclusion is got to be education, right? And so we want to include a bunch of folks, but at the same time, we also we want to better them. We want to make them better while they’re with us, but also better in general. Like the example you gave with Uber is just genius. Because it’s helping not just that person be better, but their family get better.

William:   17:10
And then that’s just a more inclusive way of looking at talent, which I absolutely love. For the folks that are listening and they love the idea, how do you suggest that they sell it internally initially? Is there something that’s just kind of an easy path? That’s something that you’ve seen with customers, they’re like, “Okay. This is the easiest thing, sell this first, and then we can do other things.” What’s the best way to sell it internally?

Sean:    17:39
Chances are, and this is, I realize I’m putting with a very broad brush. So I’m sure there’s exceptions to this. But chances are, you’re doing something already with education, with tuition assistance.

William:   17:51
Mm-hmm  affirmative).

Sean:    17:52
And it could be more efficient. So a simple example, I had the benefit of my employer paying for my grad degree. The day I graduated, I got my MBA, it’s a big day for me. I’m not sure my manager knew, to think that, right? So are there ways that you can be more purposeful in the way that you’re rolling out education? You’re already spending the dollars. You’re already giving in some form or fashion access to it. Can it be more purpose-built so that it creates a win-win for the employee and the employer? That’s a very easy win, because the dollars are there and you can get more completions.

Sean:    18:28
You can get better outcomes for the learner and for the company. And things that come up as objection sometimes if you’re paying for education, like, “Oh, that person’s going to leave.” You have to worry about that as much, because it’s been designed right from the beginning. Then if you want to go and you really want to expand, and you want to get into this education as a strategy, there are a lot of data points that we can show, that the industry can show that show when you invest in education.

Sean:    18:56
Like in our experience, we have 90 plus percent retention. People that are participating in the program have 3X promotion. They are engaged at the higher rate. They’re developing contemporary skills, their productivity increases and you can build a very strong business case to overcome those objections. And then as the last one as I was saying, it’s line of business buying-in, “Hey, this is important for store experience. This is important for rider safety. This is important for diversity impact in an authentic way.” And that combination inevitably works.

Sean:    19:28
I was in a meeting with a CEO of a financial institution and the CFO. And the CF is very committed to what he wanted to do. He had this goal of 100% participation, which is good, extra credit for what he had accomplished. And I remember the CFO saying, “Hey boss, what if we paid for these people’s education and they leave?” And he said something along the lines of, “What if they don’t get their education then they stay?” It’s just kind of changing the thinking about what you’re trying to accomplish and exactly what you can do in terms of the outcomes.

William:   20:08
So you mentioned one objection in terms of staying and leaving, and leaving being, that’s transferable skill, and now they’re going to leave. But your most HR folks have moved their mindset, and TA folks as well have moved their mindset over to, “We want the best version of them while they’re with us.”

William:   20:33
Thankfully I think that we see that now, executives, and board members, and investors maybe are different, maybe different things happen. But what are other objections that you hear that you all, you can easily navigate around? But what’s another one outside of the, “They’ll leave,” objection? What’s another one that you hear?

Sean:    20:55
There are some common themes around the cost or the time for completion in there that you have to kind of understand what their ways to tackle that as an example, stackable credentials.

William:   21:11

Sean:    21:11
We have learned that in a lot of environments, helping learners earn credit towards a degree by giving them interim milestones with badging, with internal kind of recognition, with certificates, and what have you. Now, you get a little bit of the best of both worlds, where people are earning credit towards an associate’s degree, towards a college degree, towards a master’s, if they’re doing a reskilling program.

Sean:    21:37
But there’s milestones along the way, that the recognition of what the employees achieve, that they’ve got skills that maybe make them eligible for other roles. That aren’t over a multi-year period, like a degree might be, but still aren’t getting them there along the way. And I think it’s a different way of approaching how you do adult education in the workforce context.

William:   21:58
I love all that. The one I’ve picked up on is, it’s a weird mixture of distrust and focus. They love it in their heart, like, “It’s a good idea. We should definitely do it.” And then they’re worried, they will voice it this way, but they’re worried that the person is not going to be as focused on whatever their job is. Have you seen that or heard that?

Sean:    22:24
Yeah. The data shows the opposite, and that there’s higher levels of engagement-

William:   22:28
Well, of course, it does.

Sean:    22:29
…and more involved, right? No. But actually it’s going to be more engaged. Yeah. Time away from work can be a thing that is partly, can be solved in the way that you’re delivering the different modalities under. Maybe the other one that we hear a lot of, is kind of like, “Hey, this is a high overhead thing to do the way that we’re describing.”

Sean:    22:48
And that’s where an organization like InStride can help you, because that’s what we do every day. And we engage the learner, and we get them, and we help them succeed. And that can be the value of somebody that has expertise in working with the academic partner and delivering the education in the right way, or engaging the learner, and coaching them through the whole process. Then you’ll get a better outcome without putting a ton of overhead on your HR team.

William:   23:07
Well, the last thing, and the other is supposed to be a question statement, but this is a great way to attract talent too. We haven’t talked about it because we’ve been focused so much on the engagement and retention of talent, which is important. But this is a great way into your job descriptions.

William:   23:24
And in the way that you position your jobs, your career page, and things like that, to talk about, “Programmatically, this is what we do.” And it could be very easy, especially I think with again, certain types of learners. This is just a great way to attract certain types of people.

Sean:    23:45
Yeah. In the case of Starbucks, which is our longest training engagement. 20% of people who apply to Starbucks say they do it because of the SCAP program, because they want to earn their education. And I think that has been an unbelievable benefit for the learners and for Starbucks. We have learned that as an example, when we create a learner experience for a corporate partner, it’s the corporate partners branded experience, but it also links to the talent page.

Sean:    24:18
Because it should be public and it should be something that people are doing when they’re researching employers, just very common today, right? The employees are researching employers. And they can find, “Oh, I could get this page and I see how this can benefit my career.” And it goes right to the careers page where they can apply.

William:   24:37
Yeah. This is stuff that-

Sean:    24:39
Like in the education benefits.

William:   24:39
Yeah. Your applicants are obviously, they’re researching, they’re looking up on rating sites, they’re Googling, they’re doing all that stuff. So the more a company can show how much they care, and really the actions show they care. And this example with Uber, and this example with Starbucks is just great examples of like, “We’re not just talking, these aren’t just words on a page. Actually, there’s a lot of action that’s behind it.”

William:   25:06
Sean, this has been wonderful. And I’ve really just appreciated learning about InStride. And I know that the TA folks amongst the audience are going to look at this as a tool to attract talent. And the HR folks are going to be looking at this way to engage or retain talent. But I appreciate you coming on the show, and I appreciate you carving out some time out of your schedule to teach us about InStride.

Sean:    25:32
Likewise, this was fun.

William:   25:34
All right. And thanks to everyone that listens to Use Case Podcast, until next time.

The Use Case Podcast

William Tincup

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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