Mike Sowers and Jeff Payne provide some perspective for those in leadership roles to ensure their teams have the right skills in place to deliver on key business objectives.

Mike Sowers: Hello everyone and welcome to our next Coveros Conversation. I’m Mike Sowers, our Executive Vice President here at Coveros, and I lead our consulting and training businesses. I have the privilege today of talking with Jeff Payne, our CEO and product owner of our training line of business. Welcome, Jeff.

Jeff Payne: Hey Mike, how you doing? Hey everybody that’s out there.

Mike Sowers: Today we’re continuing the conversation that we’ve been having over the past year around learning journeys. Learning journeys are those defined paths they’re really creative structured learning experience and foster a culture of continuous improvement within the organization. I’d really like to provide some perspective for those in leadership roles on the topic of ensuring that they’ve got the right skills in place across all their teams to deliver to their key business objectives. That’ll be our focus today.

So, let’s start with some level setting let’s talk about learning and development in the context of this crazy new environment that many of us are working in as leaders, what do you see as the key challenges for those of us in leadership positions regarding growing and retaining talent.

Jeff Payne: That’s a great question Mike, and we certainly live in interesting times, that’s for sure. Leaders have a really tough challenge, in my opinion, right now. From talking to corporate executives, all the way down to team leads, what I hear from them is, first and foremost, the world is moving so fast. Take COVID and the other issues, out of the picture—we’ll talk about them in a bit—but things are just really accelerating. The pace of change in innovation is greater than it’s ever been.

The pace of change in innovation is greater than it’s ever been.

And because of this, everyone’s trying to keep ahead and keep up with their competitors on a global basis. You know a lot of organizations are trying to accelerate their delivery they’re trying to figure out how do we get more value to customers faster.

Those are all good things, but unfortunately what I’m hearing is a lot of organizations and their teams are so fully focused on project work and the stuff that has to be done to keep up with innovation and keep delivering value, that it really limits their ability to provide learning and training opportunities for the organization and for their teams and for their people.

And, of course, the challenge with that, from a leadership perspective is twofold. Because things are changing so fast, we have to figure out a way for our people to learn or they’re not going to be able to keep up. Our teams aren’t going to do well they’re not going to be as productive. That means we’re not going to add as much value as we could, and our teams will start to atrophy over time.

The second piece of course is that it’s always a hot market and technology, and so, if you’re not helping your team’s learning grow, you’re going to have trouble retaining them. Because people realize in technology that if you don’t keep up you become a dinosaur really quickly, so they’re looking to businesses to help them meet that challenge.

…if you’re not helping your team’s learning grow, you’re going to have trouble retaining them.

You throw all those issues in with working virtually and having to lead teams, maybe, for the first time that are distributed and dealing with all of the nuances of not being physically co-located, and it really means it’s a challenging situation for leaders.

Mike Sowers: Sounds like we got a lot to lose sleep over right.

Jeff Payne: Always.

Mike Sowers: I was thinking as you were going through that that list of all the challenges we have, and then adding on to that the pandemic and the other challenges that are in our nation and in our world, a lot of us simply have needed to focus on the right now, the tactical and it’s become very, very reactive.

And so, I was thinking, even in my in my own journey as a leader, am I spending enough time on thinking strategically and planning strategically, particularly from a learning perspective? Am I thinking about what things I must learn, am I thinking about what all my teams that I lead, the to learn in order to stay ahead of that curve?

Any advice from a strategic perspective and strategic thinking around learning, Jeff?

Jeff Payne: Yes. First and foremost, what gets planned gets done, right? I mean, if you’re doing agile or DevOps and we plan differently, we still plan. And you have to have a plan, and it has to align with your strategic thinking in terms of where the organization is headed if you’re going to hit the mark.

With limited time or budget, you know that you have to provide learning to your staff, so you better really make sure you’re aligned with where the organization is headed—again, first and foremost, on what the organization is betting on to accelerate delivery and improve value to customers. Is it agile, is it DevOps and what does that mean for your teams and what they need to learn that they don’t know today?And so, you have to think strategically, and you’ve got to put together a plan.

The other thing is, you have to figure out how to make learning part of daily work. If you don’t have a lot of time to pull people away to go to conferences to take training classes to do other things that maybe you just don’t have time for, those that you do budget for, and do you have to figure out a way to reinforce that every day in the work that’s that gets done. You know that’s going to be your best way to accomplish what you’re trying to do.

…you have to figure out how to make learning part of daily work.

We’re being asked by many organizations to help them think through strategically, how I invest and bet on the right kinds of learning.

To be effective from my experience, that means you obviously need the entire team involved, you have to understand their perspective, this can’t be just a top-down thing right because you may feel like you understand the capabilities of your team.

Usually, when you get everyone engaged you find out there’s some other gaps that you hadn’t thought of. You want to understand what skills your team have, take an inventory of those skills, and figure out—based on the strategy of your organization—where you’re headed, what’s missing, what do you need that you don’t have today that you’re going to need tomorrow.

And then, also consider the fact that in today’s software development process world, whether using agile or DevOps or lean or some combination, those teams tend to be multi-purpose and multifunctional versus very specialized. And so, some of your learning should be around the lines of what skills do I need to round my people out and make them more effective and more productive on their team.

Mike Sowers: You cover a lot of territory there. I was thinking as you were going through that that wisdom and that that advice, about how a leader might actually execute on some of that.

I remember one of the organization’s we work with was an international firm in the airline transportation industry. They came to us and asked us to really develop a plan for them, particularly around improving their core competencies and capabilities.

We did a short discovery of their current state and helped them take a look at their existing skill sets relative to their business objectives, and then we tailored a set of learning journeys—that is, those courses, combined with mentoring and coaching and hands-on pragmatic application—to raise up their core competencies.

That plan actually helped address different roles in the organization. So whether you are a product owner or a scrum master, a developer, a DevOps and operations team member, a tester, it included a plan for raising the core competencies of each of these roles over a series of those interactive and engaging experience experiences—all in conjunction with getting real work done.

What did you see as the key benefits out of an approach like we did for that that airline transportation industry example?

Jeff Payne: I always say that learning equals training plus practice.
If you think about how we learn in school when we’re very young, most of the learning is done in the classroom—it’s training, mainly because we’re learning new concepts, we’re memorizing things. But as our as our learning journey goes through our school through middle school high school college more and more of the work is done out of the classroom because these concepts are things that you have to practice, you’re not going to retain them unless you actually do them, and you do them a lot. And the more and more education, you get the more and more needs to be done out of the classroom and I like in training.

Learning = Training + Practice

In the corporate world, we shouldn’t just be going to a training class and feeling like that’s going to provide our staff with capabilities that they can wield. None of our other learning in the world is done like that, why do we do that in corporate America we should be reinforcing that training with some concept of practice.

There’s a lot of different ways, you can skin this cat. For instance, at Coveros we couple training with coaching, which is where a coach comes with the team after they’ve gone through the training, and their job is to provide them some guidance and support, as they do their job day to day, maybe review some of the work that they do and give them some ideas on how to do things a little better.

It’s really guiding and coaching them as you go and that’s kind of the highest-level approach. It’s kind of like going to see your professor at office hours in an academic setting. They’re just helping you along. They’re not doing the work for you; they’re helping you along. You’ve still got to think it through.

The second way you can do it is what you might call pairing or a learning buddy or a practice buddy. Someone who is an expert in this subject and you take someone who’s just learning it and you pair them up and have them work together—more hands-on, more immersive, maybe more like a tutor. Maybe they actually maybe do a little bit of the work with you to show you how, and then make you do it. You kind of go back and forth and it’s more of an apprentice model of kind of getting someone up to speed by having someone who is a master sitting with them.

And then last but not least, is kind of immersive learning or dojo—somewhere where you go to learn, but then immerse yourself into the topic and apply it right there with other people who are part of your team from an organization that understands this concept. This model has them just working right alongside of you to get the job done, while they’re also showing you how to do it better and more effectively in more of a ‘we’re all part of the same team,’ and ‘do it with us as we go’ approach.

We found those all to be successful. For instance, we worked with an organization in the financial service and kind of tax area with a very immersive experience. We provided training and coaching and support, but then rolled up our sleeves and did the work, alongside of them and helped them learn as we helped them deliver. This approach worked very well.

We also worked with a technology company and software company where they wanted us to provide coaches across their teams. Once they went through training we dropped in coaches, who sat through their ceremonies, worked one on one with them offline to review and give them guidance and comments. That worked very well as well.

So, you can take different approaches to it, but the practice piece is really critical if you’re going to get what you’ve learned to stick.

…the practice piece is really critical if you’re going to get what you’ve learned to stick.

Mike Sowers: Your message there that learning equals training plus practice really resonated with me because I remember reading a couple of studies on how we learn, and all those say that when we attend just a training course, the next day, we lose 50-70% of what we learned. So, in order to move that knowledge and that information from what they called short term memory to long term memory, it’s the old adage—how do you master something, you master with 10,000 hours of practice.

Yes, that really resonates with me. I think the whole idea of learning journeys and then the ability to tailor those two different roles and then deliver that learning in different modalities seems to be great approach. I know we’ve had success with that with our clients.

Jeff Payne: Here’s an example I use a lot. It’s kind of bizarre, during the day you might not remember where you left your car keys, ut that song can come on the radio from 1972 or whenever, and you can just sing the whole thing.

How does your brain work like that? Well, it’s because you’ve practiced that song 1000 times. You’ve sung it along with the radio, or the CD or whatever, a million times. And to your point, that’s how you learn. You have to practice things for it to stick in the longer term.

Mike Sowers: And boy, we just don’t have time for more structured courses today, so we’ve got to really embed the learning and practice in our everyday work.

Jeff Payne: We do! And, ironically that’s probably the best practice—the practice most specific to your situation, your day-to-day job. So, it makes sense to practice as you deliver, so to speak.

Practice as you deliver

Mike Sowers: All right, Jeff, always great to speak with you. Thanks for your knowledge and wisdom and experience.

Jeff Payne: Yes, you too Mike. This has been fun. Please reach out to us if anyone out there needs some help. We’re more than happy to talk to you about what you’re trying to do and how we can help.


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