We Are All Generation

Digital and social media have changed everything; companies must adapt in how they train not just Millennials, but all employees.


Effective training for today’s workforce requires a 360-degree view of what you want to accomplish, and management must be committed every step of the way.

Here’s an example: We are working with one of the top door and window manufacturers in the world as they change how they do performance management. For years they did it the old-school way, on pen and paper with files. They realized this was not scalable with their growth. Instead of just buying an online performance management system and completing the cursory training that comes with the software, they have committed to something much bigger.

They hired a new vice president for HR to lead the effort. He recognized they were not just implementing a new software system, but making a radical change—an opportunity to create new processes to become more competitive.

Instead of just doing the basic training, the company is launching a comprehensive program for front-line managers and their managers. We are working with them to create an internal marketing campaign that explains not just why they are making the change, but how everyone will benefit. The ultimate goal: true performance development that will make the organization more nimble.

Management Commitment Is Key

In working with companies on all kinds of change initiatives for more than 15 years, we have learned a crucial fact: Commitment from managers at all levels is the linchpin for success, whether it’s implementing a new internal system, improving customer experience, or making innovation a company value. Step one is isolating the specific skills and behaviors employees need every day. Step two is ensuring managers supporting employees are trained just like them, so they understand the skills and can coach employees effectively.

Companies that invest in training cannot afford to just check off the boxes if they want to make their businesses more competitive. A new report from Educational Testing Service finds that Millennial workers in the U.S. lag their peers overseas when it comes to literacy, basic math, and “problem solving in technology-rich environments.”

Since almost all workplaces today are rich in technology, this is a major concern, but I believe it goes beyond the Millennial generation. It is every employee. We all live in a social media/Facebook/YouTube world, and it is changing the way organizations need to train all employees.

Unfortunately, many managers today are so caught up in the barrage of information they get from e-mails, texts, and social media that they forget to lift their heads in the hallway and ask, “How are you today?” They are not engaging with employees. This is similar to what we see happening outside the workforce. People crave authentic interactions.

Increasing Training Engagement

Here are some steps to keep in mind to increase employee engagement in any kind of training:

  • Preface training with an internal marketing campaign. Any effective change initiative should begin with an internal campaign that explains not only what and how but also why the change is being made. This usually begins with—but involves much more than—an executive e-mail announcing the initiative. A good internal marketing campaign follows up with several touch points for employees. These might include a 30-second commercial that explains the change in a fun way, a one-page marketing slick, or a trickle e-mail campaign from all levels of management. Set yourself up for success. If employees just walk into a classroom, complete the work and check the box, that is really all it will be. To change behavior, there needs to be a connection—“I understand what I am being asked to do and why.”
  • Create an emotional connection (for employees and managers). ­­One of our clients, Time Warner Cable, did extensive research to find out what their customers wanted and how their employees could deliver it. They found that customers really want the person on the other end of the line to be human. We worked with the company to create a guidebook of specific skills that would translate that overall strategy into day-to-day actions. Everyone went through the training, managers and employees, whether or not they interacted directly with customers. One part involved a simulation we developed that put trainees in the role of customers in a restaurant. This allowed them to relate to what their own customers experience (such as “I hate it when my server gets my order wrong.”) Creating those emotional connections and tying them back to their work really ignited change.
  • Practice specific skills for changes in day-to-day actions. Many companies teach skills information and then test employees on it. One key to translating skills into changes in behavior is to add a layer of practice situations that allow employees to put them to use in a simulated environment. For instance, we have created online simulators that allow employees to practice skills with gaming elements based on real situations they encounter in their jobs. A real-world “feel” is key.
  • Support performance change with ongoing development. It’s not just for Millennials. Today, effective training is about giving people the right content at the right time. Learners need information in nano bits and they want it just in time, just for them. For instance, video is the most requested learning format, but in order to be effective, it has to be available in a moment of need and be both succinct and content rich. The pressure is on training firms and designers to make content relevant, rich, and easy to access.

Good learning is not about spray and pray. There’s a whole movement to allow learners to be self-directed, so they can access the content they need when they want it. We all want to have some control. Along the way, management has to provide assessment and evaluation. Just remember, to make any kind of training effective, the manager’s role must be pervasive.

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