Storytelling about Nomadic With Matt Burr

Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 160. This week we have storytelling about Nomadic With Matt Burr. During this episode, Matt and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing Nomadic Learning.

Matt is CEO and co-founder at Nomadic and an expert in all things leadership education and transformation. His passion to help empower and transform the “middle management” layer of your organization into successful team leaders really comes through during the podcast.

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

Thanks, William

Show length: 25 minutes

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Matt Burr
CEO & Co-Founder Nomadic Learning

Nomadic Learning has an eclectic, talented team that supports our clients worldwide in using our online courses to transform their managers into leaders.

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Music:  00:02

Welcome to RecruitingDaily’s Use Case Podcast, a show dedicated to the storytelling that happens or should happen when practitioners purchase technology. Each episode is designed to inspire new ways and ideas to make your business better as we speak with the brightest minds in recruitment and HR tech. That’s what we do. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

William:  00:23

Ladies and gentlemen, this William Tincup and you are listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today we have Matt on from Nomadic, and we’re going to be learning a business case or the use case for [inaudible 00:00:34] analysis or why practitioners buy Nomadic. So, we’re jump right into it. Matt, please do the audience a favor and introduce both yourself and Nomadic.

Matt:  00:47

Great. Yeah. Thanks, William.

William:  00:51


Matt:  00:51

Excited to be here. Yeah. My name is Matt Burr. I’m a co-founder and CEO of Nomadic, Nomadic Learning. We’re a leadership development solution, mostly used in larger enterprises, but increasingly used in smaller and mid-size enterprises as well. Our mission is to transform managers into leaders. And so, we work with our bigger clients to build what we call leadership academies, which are ongoing places where you can come and improve yourself as a leader. I’m sure we’re going to talk a lot about what that means and how we do that. But yeah, that’s where we sit. I’ve been doing this kind of work for a very long time. I’ve been in and around leadership development originally in person. I worked and lived in China for a long time doing that. And then I did had some earlier startups that were content-based and then have been running Nomadic for the past eight years or so. Yeah, excited to talk more and see what we can…

William:  01:55

Tell the audience, when you say leadership academies, let’s give them some four walls about what does that usually look like for your clients.

Matt:  02:05

Yeah. So, I think most of our clients are either formal leadership development buyers or they’re in the CLOs organization. Oftentimes, what we are doing is we’re coming into an existing situation, where there’s a sort of hodgepodge of leadership development solutions. Some of which are big, open libraries of content all the way up to highly bespoke custom executive education kind of things. Nomadic Academy really targets somewhere in between there. We are usually servicing thousands or sometimes even tens of thousands of managers, but it’s a highly social and a community-based experience. So when you come and join the academy, you start taking programs and you do start consuming content, but probably the more important thing is you start building relationships and building networks. Over time, an academy becomes a kind of as much a social hub as it is a content hub for managers and leaders and organizations who are looking to get better at their job.

Matt:  03:12

Historically, leadership development usually was pretty segmented, so people would get leadership development opportunities at particular moments in their career. You might have something early on. If you’re a high potential, you would get something when you first became a manager, maybe, again, when you became a manager of managers. We are trying to democratize and say, “Well, actually, in the world that’s changing as fast as it is and with the role of managers changing as quickly as it is and all the new stuff on manager’s plates and managing things, like the transition to remote and hybrid work and so on, you really need to have and always on meaningful way to do leadership development all the time, not just at these particular moments, and it has to be what all leadership development is, which is inherently social and connected to other people.”

Matt:  03:58

So, leader of development is one of these things that just doesn’t work as a learning thing if you’re just off on your own all the time studying stuff, because leadership is an inherently social thing. It’s about your interactions with other people. And so, studying by yourself ultimately just doesn’t work, which is why the best leadership development programs in person always are built around the connections you’re making with the other people there. We’re trying to bring that into the enterprise at scale to make sure that those same kind of relationships can be built through a digital medium.

William:  04:30

So, historically, leadership development was seen for high potentials or high performers, et cetera, kind of an exclusive group of people inside of an organization, especially in large enterprise, it was just for a select group. Programmatically, they had stuff that they were learning. A lot of it was also nurturing towards the succession plan as well. There was a legit reason for that. And then some companies also have LMSs, where they house content, either they build their own content or they go and get content from other places and then they put it into their LMS, or worse, they have an LMS and it has no content. It’s not used by their employee or managers or leaders or et cetera. You know the history of those things, so does the audience. I mean, positionally, where do you position the academies?

Matt:  05:36

Yeah. I mean, in terms of an LMS are really… And the success of the LMS is that LXP, the learning experience platform, so things like degree that have kind of… We set a layer above those usually in the stack. We talk a lot about horizontal versus vertical solutions. So, an LMS is a horizontal solution to the extent that it has content in there. It can range from compliance to technical skills content, to leadership development, to all kinds of things. So it’s sort of like an all things to all people, and that’s fine. There’s a real role for that. When we say our layer up, we are focused on one vertical. We actually focus on two verticals and I’ll talk about our HR education offering in second, but the main thing we say is leadership is its own thing. It needs its own kind of content. It actually needs its own kind of approach.

Matt:  06:32

We run all of our leadership development through a cohort-based approach to learning. We can talk more about what we mean by that. But the content that we developed is for leaders and it’s for particular… It’s for generating conversation in those cohorts, the way we structure learner journeys over time. Anyway, by going vertical, by saying we don’t have to be all things to all people, but we are going to be the best in this area for this particular thing, it opens up a whole new world of functionality, of content, of interactions, of all, and data. You’re getting much more meaningful data, because the limitation when you’re trying to be horizontal is that the compliance training, the leadership development training, the sales training, all have to be… They are constrained in what they can be by limitations of the technology.

Matt:  07:20

In fact, when we started Nomadic, we thought like, “Okay. We were content people. We’re going to make the best content and we’ll work with the platform provider.” But you very soon realize that the platforms have these restrictions on them that actually do not have anything to do with improving the user experience. They’re about either ease of administration or standardization in older way of thinking about that. In a world now of APIs and cloud-based and whatever, a lot of that need to have every block of content be exactly the same so it all can come out of the same system has really disappeared. There’s not much cost advantage in that anymore. What you lose in terms of user experience and engagement levels is enormous. I think our key is vertical focus. We get the best thinkers and most interesting people on leadership. We stage these interesting conversations about leadership. We encourage people to come in. When we see completion rates just for our programs, usually in the high 70s or low 80%, whereas LMS-based courses are way lower than that usually.

William:  08:22

Oh, yeah. The hodgepodge of LMS, again, useful, needed, we don’t need to disparage them in any way, but the reason that I’ve heard from users, that they’re not as excited about LMS is because they get their sexual harassment training, internet policy stuff, and at the same time, some skills-based stuff and then potentially managerial training or leadership training as well. It’s like there’s so much, but it also has some stigma around it being compliance-driven. And so, it’s like this is a place I have to go to, not necessarily a place I want to go to.

Matt:  09:07


William:  09:08

And y’all have flipped that. Again, with everything that you’ve done, you’ve flipped that on its head. Tell us a little bit more about cohort-based learning, because to me, it reminds me of my MBA experience in some ways.

Matt:  09:20

Yeah. So, we all know that human beings learn best in small groups, like small-ish groups, right? It’s like since Plato or whatever. I mean, Plato’s academy, you aren’t just sitting in a room by yourself, writing stuff down. You were in conversation with other people. We’ve known that for a long time. University is structured that way. Everything is structured that… School, always. In e-learning, however, we forgot that for a long time, right? There are certain things you can do digitally with e-learning that are interesting if you’re on your own, personalized learning paths and stuff like that, that are in inherently individualized. But at its core, for a topic like leadership, at the end of the day, you’re only going to learn so much on your own and you’re only going to learn so much even in interaction with a “professor.”

Matt:  10:08

The main thing that the best long-term learning you’re going to have is from other people in a group, but there’s an inherent problem with the way we’ve structured cohort-based learning historically, which is the cohort is built around a teacher or a facilitator or an instructor. There’s a human being that organizes and runs the cohort. So your MBA, you were in a cohort, but you guys didn’t spontaneously organize. You were there and brought to places at a particular time and to be together. So, that’s the great challenge. But we have clients who say, “Well, I have 15,000 managers. Do I need to do this thing at the same time?” We can’t throw 1,500 facilitators at that. That’s just chaos. That’s never going to work. So, how do you manage that tension between scale and cohort?

Matt:  10:54

So, the way for us, that actually was an instruction. Weirdly enough, it’s an instructional design problem. It’s like if you think about how you’re building the content in a different way and you’re building social experiences into the flow of your design, of your content, and you’re asking the cohort to have certain conversations with each other in the flow of that content, you can start to generate really meaningful interactions with that cohort in the absence of an instructor. The key to that actually is… So, in learning, we always talk about synchronous or asynchronous, right? That’s the kind of polarity, either you’re there at the same time as other people, like we are here, or it’s asynchronous, means you do it whenever you want. We think almost all of our learning happens in something that we call semi-synchronous time zones.

Matt:  11:43

So basically, when you take a Nomadic program, you usually have four to six weeks to complete it. During that four to six weeks, you can do it however you want. You can do three minutes a day. You could do all four or five hours of the learning time all at once, but their cohort is going to be in with you during that time period. So what’s going to happen is you’re going to come in on your own in your own time. You’re going to take some content. You’re going to see a prompt. You’re going to share something. And then a few hours later, I’m going to come in. I’m going to see what you shared and I’m going to like it and reply to it. And then you’re going to get a notification that says, “William, Matt just commented and liked your thing.” So just like you would on Twitter or anything else, which is also semi-synchronous, you’re going to say, “Oh wow, somebody liked my thing.”

Matt:  12:21

I want to know who that was. I want to see what they replied to me. I’m going to come back in to Nomadic and check that out. When you come back in, if we’ve done our job right, you’re going to look at that and you’re going to say, “While I’m here, let me just keep going. I do want to finish this program. I’ll do the next piece of content.” And then you’re going to find another social prompt, where now we’re going to ask you to do something else. In the design, we’re actually going to ask you something a little bit harder, or maybe ask you to share something a little bit more personal or tell a story. Now, you’re going to write that and you’re going to wonder, “Hmm, I wonder how many likes I’m going to get for that,” or whatever, and that’s going to keep you engaged through that whole time period. If we do that right and design it right, those micro-social interactions across a cohort will ladder up to a really meaningful, robust conversation in that group of people.

Matt:  13:08

They will have never been there at the exact same time and there will have never been a facilitator asking them to talk to each other, right? They will just start doing it. Again and again, when we get the design right and when we get the surrounding pieces right, which is who’s communicating it, what’s it for, what’s the brand, et cetera, that happens all the time. So it’s not unusual for us to say… We had a client just now. They put 2,000 people through a cohort-based program. Those 2,000 people posted 35,000 comments in six weeks. That’s high. That’s a really strong engaged group. It’s not unusual. Those people are coming out of that with real relationships. They’ve gotten to know people, and yet in the same way that you can get to know someone through Twitter, right? I know people through Twitter that I’ve never had a synchronous conversation with. I know a lot about them. I feel like I know them. But anyway, so that key, that semi-synchronous…

Matt:  14:05

And then the other thing is to think about cohort size. So, for a lot of people, when they talk about cohort learning, they’re usually mean 15 to 20 people. In our world, cohorts are usually a bit bigger than that. It’s more like 50 people, because you need enough people in there to get those comment threads moving. There’s just a certain kind of mathematical logic to who’s coming in, how often and when to make sure that that kind of process gets rolling. So, you need slightly more people. But if you put in over a hundred people, if you put 200 people into a cohort in Nomadic, then the conversation threads become unwieldy. They get way too long and you can’t really see who’s in your group and you have less meaningful interaction. That 50-person is about the sweet spot for us in terms of a cohort that will self-organize, take off, and that you’ll actually over the time, over the period of program you’ll find and build meaningful relationships.

William:  14:59

Yeah. It’s not too small to where you feel like you’re on a rowboat and it’s not too big where you can’t get to know or meet everybody in your cohort.

Matt:  15:11

Yeah, exactly.

William:  15:11

Talk to us, leadership development, the stigma of it being for just a certain group of people. You’ve said a couple different times in different ways that you really want to help managers, I mean, managers to learn how to become better leaders, right? So, you democratize that and you’ve said, “Well, listen, even if you’re not a manager and you want to learn how to be a better leader, there’s a path for you. There’s a way. There’s content. There’s interactions. There’s things for you.” How do your customers, how do they know who to turn this on for and not?

Matt:  15:49

Yeah. So, we would love to turn it on for everyone, obviously. That’s not usually where we start. Where we usually start is with people who are already tapped for management, the manager, people who are already tapped for leadership development for some reason. And that’s usually around milestones, right? The new managers, the new management, that kind of thing. What we hope to see clients progress towards is sort of… Well, actually, there’s no… The reason why people have done that is because it’s very expensive to give everybody management training, so you need to find some rules, so like, “Okay. We’re going to give it to you because you got promoted.” That’s a reason to give it to you and not other people, but those restrictions make no sense in a cloud-based digital platform.

Matt:  16:32

The incremental cost of adding a new user to Nomadic is basically nothing, or, I mean, over time it comes up a little bit, but really, there’s no reason if you’re going to put 6,000 people in that you couldn’t have 10,000 or 20,000 or 25,000 in from a cost perspective. Even from an administrative and facilitation, again, a lot of that is kind of like old habits based on that sense of like, “Wow, I need to get these people to this place and I need to have the facilitators and the hotels.” There’s a lot of complexity underlying that need to restrict it.

Matt:  17:04

Actually, the argument that ends up winning it for us, so part of it is around engagement and part of it’s around finding people, and this is, I think, when we talk about talent, this is maybe a little bit close to your wheelhouse, is that the more people you have in there, especially the more managers, the more meaningful the data is that we are producing in there, and that data then has much more relevance to the rest of the organization. So, if you have a goal, a big goal, if your CEO has come and said, “I need leadership and leadership development to be a part of the retention, solving a retention process-

William:  17:36

Yeah, it’s engagement and retention.

Matt:  17:37

… or an employee engagement.” Right? Engagement. Engagement is really where we’re thinking about a lot. So you have an employee… You want to say, “Generalize across my organization. I want employee engagements come up.” I know that the number one driver of employee engagement is the quality of the manager. That’s just true for everybody, pretty much, right? I mean, there are a lot of other things in it, but pretty much, if you have a good manager, your employee engagement scores are going to be pretty good. If you have a bad manager, they’re almost certainly going to be bad, right? Yeah. So, you want to make a dent in employee engagement. Okay. We can help you do that. That’s an outcome we can help you achieve, but it’s going to be hard for us to do that if we’ve artificially restricted who’s going in there based on random things, like they got promoted this year, which are totally unconnected to their engagement scores.

Matt:  18:21

If we’re going to restrict them at all, we’d rather say, “Okay. Managers who are in the bottom half of engagement scores are going to come in and take this program.” Okay. Well, that’s better for us because that’s actually something real that we can say, “Okay. Well, that’s something we can try to help fix and that’s something we can measure over time to see if we are trying to help fix it.” But even that, not amazing because there are all kinds of other reasons why the top half of managers probably should be in there too, not least of which so that they can interact with the bottom half of managers, right? You actually want those high performers in there in a social learning context because it’s not just about the knowledge that everyone’s acquiring, but it’s about the connections they’re making, the conversations they’re having.

Matt:  19:04

And so, if you’ve already officially restricted who’s in the conversation, the conversation is probably going to be worst for ways that you couldn’t have imagined in advance, because you don’t know what people are going to say when they get in there, who’s going to have an interesting comment and so on. Yeah. So the democratization is partially about getting people in, get the general movement of this sort of stuff down, but it’s also there’s a real strategic and organizational reason, which is the more people you have in it, the more data you’re producing, the more engaged they are in the learning, the more valuable that is in achieving big strategic outcomes for the enterprise or for the organization overall.

William:  19:46

What are your customers tie this to in terms of just performance management, total rewards or recognition or succession? I mean, they can tie all kinds of different things, but what do you find that they, they love tying this to, or do they not tie it to something and they just can keep it to themselves and leave it off to its side?

Matt:  20:09

So, historically, we’ve been measured on learning metrics, completion, engagement. That, we can say like, “Okay. Well, we have higher completion percentages. We generate more social activity. People get better quiz scores,” whatever. So, there is that stuff, which is really great and some of that is really important for within the L&D. But your question, which is like what are we linking to outside? This is like the 20 million or, no, 20 billion, hundred billion, trillion dollar question in L&D, right? What we think now is that for a long time, it was really hard and people would do crazy stuff. Okay. People came in. They did this program and now my 50,000 person organization is more profitable and you’re like, “Huh, really? Did you do that with your management program? You made P&G more profitable or whatever.” Right? It seems unlikely.

Matt:  21:04

But what we do have now is granular data often down to the manager level around things like employee engagement. Employee engagement is one that we think about a lot, because people are doing pulse surveys. That’s no longer just this one-off monolithic data set. It’s a much more nuanced, much more granular, much more agile and frequently updated data set. We are pushing more and more to say, “We want to tie our performance to real metrics and to do it down to, if possible, the manager or even the individual contributor level.” That’s harder at the moment. But the manager level is… For somebody who’s using one of these advanced listening platforms, like Glint or the other ones, Medallia, any of those, and Qualtrics, and increasingly Workday, that data is there.

Matt:  21:55

And so, tying it to us is shouldn’t be that hard. It’s not hard technically. I mean, it’s just APIs and just talking to each other. It’s sometimes hard organizationally and politically, because sometimes people are probably nervous about what they’re going to find if they’re connecting all these things together. And so, part of our job is to say like, “Yeah. You can feel confident that it’s going to be fine, that you’re going to have real meaningful results and that clients who do that could show…” So engagement is the one we think about the most, but we’re also thinking about… I mean, tying to total rewards, usually that’s outside of us, right? That’s like, “Okay. Once we’ve done something, you can do that.” But there are other big things that we’re thinking about, like productivity, if you have measures of innovation of creativity.

William:  22:42

Comp. Yeah.

Matt:  22:43

Comp, yeah. Agility is something that we’re thinking about a lot. Influence is another one, which is like… Influence is a weird one because we help people… And this is a reversal for a learning platform. Usually, learning is telling you, “They were this way. Then they did the learning experience. Now they’re this way. And that means this, right?” What also learning can do if it’s well done is say, “We put 10,000 people in and let us tell you what we learned about them. We’re going to show you who are the top 100 most influential people in this region based on their performance in this learning, not anything else, just the data that we see here. We’re going to help you find hidden talent because of what the data is telling you inside the learning.”

Matt:  23:24

So, influence is an interesting one, where there’s no external thing for us to link that to, but we can become a source of insight into who’s influential in your organization, again, if the pool is broad enough and if there’s enough people in there. So, that to us is the future of ROI and learning is one of two ways. It’s either tying to these metrics, like engagement or productivity, that are now really you can get much more granular or producing data that the organization needs that you can’t find in other places. A lot of that is about insights into talent and helping to discover and find high potential or hidden talent that you might not have otherwise seen.

William:  24:06

This has been absolutely fantastic, and I love Nomadic. I love y’all’s approach actually to making a better experience for the user, the end user, making a better experience for everybody involved. Again, the social, the part where you got to comments and likes and people interacting with the each other, that’s what you want. You’re doing it around learning, which is fascinating, because you could do that around other things that aren’t about learning, but you’re doing it around learning and people are getting better, which, again, it is engagement. By its very definition, it is engagement, but it gives them a fighting chance of actually retaining that talent because the company cares enough to have Nomadic in place for them to be able to do that. So, thank you, Matt. Thank you so much for carving out time and coming on the Use Case Podcast.

Matt:  24:59

It was great. Thanks so much for having me.

William:  25:01

Absolutely. And thanks everyone for listening to the Use Case Podcast. Until next time.

Music:  25:06

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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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