In this episode of the L&D Cafe - Pranav Kale, Senior copywriter at iMocha speaks with Travis Wilson, Senior Management, Learning & Development about his approach to create a balanced learning program that is beneficial for bit organisation and its employees. He talks about gaining participants' trust, empathy, the Importance of assessments, How L&D leaders can improvise their programs and a lot more.
01:11-08:46 What’s Broken in L&D?
08:46-14:22 Participant's Enrollment
14:22-18:01 Organisation Vs Employee
18:01-22:54 2 weeks rule
24:53-33:17 Order takers to strategic partners.
33:17-35:50 Earning the trust of leaders
35:50-41:33 Earning the trust of learners
41:33-47:22 Self Empowered Learning
47:22-51:18 Are Assessments Necessary?
51:18-55:12 Evaluation through projects
Pranav- Travis, my friend, welcome to the show. Happy to see you.
Travis- Hey, thank you, happy to be here.
Pranav- So, let's start with this? What do you think is broken when it comes to learning and development that happens in organizations of any kind? What do you think is broken? Let's start from there and then let's see where it goes.
Travis- Oh gosh, wow. What a great question to start with, and we're gonna go all over the place here in a fun and interesting way. So I was a big fan of "The Daily Show" when John Stewart was the host. I haven't watched it too much with Trevor Noah as the host, and I think I'm missing out, but he had on a guest, Tim Gunn, the fashion icon. And Tim comes on and they are doing their banter and they're talking about the show he was on at the time, "Project Runway." The conversation meandered,
and then it went, Tim said, "You don't really need fashion. The world isn't gonna end
if you don't have fashion." For someone who's a fashion icon to say, "You don't need this
industry that I'm in," it just blew me away because, to me, it spoke to the maturity with which that professional approached his craft. He knew this isn't a low-level Maslow's need. This isn't food, water, and shelter. When I think about leadership development, learning and development within an organization, you don't need it. It's not going to kill the organization to not have it. At the same time, what kind of organization would you be if you were not helping
your employees learn and to grow and to engage. And so to get to your question, I think there are a couple of things. So, number one, learning and development, what's broken about it is I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding about what it's for. There are elements of learning and development that are for distinct upskilling, and that could be the upskilling of learning to code. It could be the great work that iMocha does, the skills that you are developing. So it's learning, developing to be a better coder, be a better cybersecurity professional, be a better technical professional within your field.
Then there's the learning of development of growing thoughts, values, beliefs, and mindsets. There's that kind of learning and development as well, and that's a little bit harder to quantify, not impossible, but that can be harder to quantify. So when it comes to. The point that I'm trying to arrive at is that there is a direct impact. There's the direct impact. We might have to edit this part, but there's the direct impact aspect, there you go, of learning and development, but there's also the brand aspect of learning and development. And my sense is that some professionals are like if you're not learning to be a better coder, if you're not learning to be that, this learning and development thing is broken, but it's not. It's also a brand element as well. When your company puts an ad on a social media platform for $5,000 a month, and it generates, I don't know, $10,000 worth of revenue, you're gonna keep putting up that ad until the revenue drops.
But when your company sponsors a lecture hall in a university, when it sponsors a football stadium, it's like, "Well, what's the return of the value of that?" The return of value is that it's a brand element. It's making a statement about the type of company that you are. Learning and development, leadership development, and function within an organization are that as well, and I think that's something that's really misunderstood and needs to be leveraged more. So that's number one. Number two, we don't push people hard enough. When you go to visit a personal trainer, you shouldn't be like, "Yay, I'm gonna go visit my personal trainer, and they're gonna make me do 100 push-ups and 1,000 sit-ups, and 200 chin-ups," or things like this. If you're going to a good personal trainer, you're saying to yourself, "Ugh, this is gonna be hard, but it's worth it. On the other end of it, I'm going to be better." Leadership development should be just like that. It should be pushing the boundaries. It should be creating clashes. It should be generating heat for those that are in that experience so that way when they come out of that experience, there is an intellectual and an emotional connection to what they just went through that is going to tie in and lead to new synergies, new ways of being for them as leaders. And more often than not, I feel that it is what I would call leadership theatre, where you're doing something, but you're not really doing anything, and that the outcomes aren't tied up or it's not reinforced enough with that brand that you're trying to exude. So I think that's the second thing. And the third thing, finally, is what a friend of mine who's a consultant at a tech company used to say, is "The pause for the cause," and that's the reflection, is a lot of, I feel, leadership development can go, go, go, go, go, go, go, and simulations, and this and that, but where's the time to just take a breath and be like, "What did you learn? What's different for you now? What did you see before that you don't see now?" Or, "What do you see new now that you didn't see before?" So I think it's those three things to encapsulate. It's that understanding the brand element of leadership development. Number two is really pushing people toward growth, colliding perspectives, and heat experiences. And then number three, it's the reflection time. It's the time to take a breath. If you were to ask me for a fourth thing, you're not, but I'll tell you anyway, most organizations are traditional hierarchical and bureaucratic. Many of them are. The tone at the top means everything, everything.
And this is what I tell leaders, this is what I tell executive leaders, and this is what I tell individual contributors, listen 100% to what your executives say. Watch 300% of what they do. Integrity matters, integrity matters at the upper levels of the organization. A focus on that from a leadership development perspective is so, so, so important because you could be doing this great stuff down here, but if it's not endorsed by the top, if it's not believed in by the top, if it's not spoken to by the top, if those values and beliefs haven't enculturated in such a way that the top, it's not only from the top, but they can really accelerate and reinforce the type of learning that's going on at the lower echelons in the organization. It's gonna be an uphill battle, not a vulnerability. If the top of your organization doesn't believe in being vulnerable, it doesn't believe in expressing tensions and having hard conversations, all the tension cards are done by the ready, and all the crucial conversation programs are done. They're not called vital smarts anymore. I think they're called the crucial company or something. It doesn't matter, it's not the. I'll put it this way. I'm not gonna say it doesn't matter. I wanna walk that back. The likelihood of success for the things that are trying to be made is gonna be very small.
Pranav- Wow, so there are like four directions we can take it from here.I think the third one about.I think this was the second or the third one I forgot about the pushing the employees. Not pushing them hard enough. I think that was like super, super interesting to me. I'll tell you why, because what I've observed is that a typical training program, starts with a lot of enthusiasm, so let's say the LND team designs a program and they put in the hours, and then there's this huge course recorded by spending a lot of money and time. And we have the LMS also LXP. The learning program is rolled out. And then there's a big reception, people love it for the first nine days or so. And then the participation stops dropping. So there's this element. I'm not entirely sure if it's in connected with what you're trying to say, but yeah, talk to me a little bit more about what you mean by pushing them a little bit more. Do you mean that we push them more towards participation? Do we push them more towards, like enforcing the participation on them? Or did you mean it in some other way?
Travis- A couple of things that pop up, and that's a great question. So when you talk about the participation dropping off, what pops in my head is this, you don't have enrolled employees or you don't have enrolled participants. They're not enrolled on the journey. You and I met in the marketing. Many leadership development programs are put together and formulated by a hierarchy within the organization. This is for individual contributors. This is for senior managers, directors, whatever. I listen a lot to Marc Maron's WTF Podcast, and he's a comedian here in America. And he says, after decades of doing standup, he realized that he doesn't have a demographic, he has a disposition. And I'm like, "That's beautiful." That helps create, not perfect enrollment. There is no such thing as perfect enrollment, but that creates enrollment. So for me, if I were being a consultant for you, and if you start seeing that participation drop off, one of the first things I would do is say, "Who are your participants? Are they enrolled?" Because it's very likely that they're not enrolled. That's very different though. From participants that are the right participants. They're your disposition participants, but you're not engaging them in a way in which they're looking to be engaged. So I think that's almost a second level is, you have your enrolled. And then are you meeting the promise of what you're looking to do in that leadership development program? Are they expecting the CEO of the company? Are they expecting intimate time with the CEO of the company? So the CEO participates for an entire day with the experience.
Because for some participants, particularly in a company, having exposure to the CEO, that's really exciting. are they expecting to be challenged in their thoughts, their mindsets, and beliefs? And that, as I was sharing earlier, I think that's something that leadership development professionals really need to focus more on and lean in on to make a powerful change and to create the experience that's gonna help move the company forward. So levels of engagement. Is the content rich? Is the content rich enough in order to keep them plugged in because it's different having utilized.I don't know, I'm just pulling things out of thin air. It's different using the happiness advantage by Shawn Achor versus Dare to Lead from Brene Brown. Sure, there's ven diagram overlaps in the work that they do, but there's a different approach and different ideas. So if you have a group that's expecting more Shawn Achor versus Brene Brown, then you're going to have disappointment. And then they have to make a decision for themselves, whether they continue to engage with that or not. There are probably some other things that I'm not thinking of right now, but when you're starting to see that participation go down, I think those are some things that you need to consider. And I think talking with your learners is a great way in order to best understand that. I think doing some I'm such a huge fan of Premortems. Before this learning program engages and starts, what could possibly go wrong with it? And I never would've said a global pandemic could affront or could you swap a leadership development program, but it could doing that premortem.
So that way, when you experience a failure, when you experience that participation dropoff, you can go and look at your premortem and say like, "Okay, was this something that we anticipated?" And if it's something that we anticipated, then we're like, "Okay, then this is a good fail, because this is something that we thought about, we planned for and we were comfortable in our decision in moving forward with that leadership development program, based upon how we designed it. And we anticipated that, for example, if you didn't wanna have the CEO involved or any of the C-suite and people said, "Well, we wanna see more of the C-suite, more of the CEO involved." But you didn't plan for that, and you're not able to get that for whatever reason. It's like, "Okay, well, that's a good fail. We understand why people would be disappointed. We anticipated them doing that." So those are some things that I would look at as a leadership development professional. And I think the quick intentional planning on the front end will payoff dividends on the back.
Pranav- Here's the thing, though. There's always a tension between what an employee would want and where the organization wants to be. And I think that there's a difference between the bottom up and the top down approach. So you can always go and talk to talk to an employee, because for you spoke about enrollment and me to let's say, enroll Travis in a journey, I have to go and talk to Travis first, and then I have to understand his motivations. And then based on that, I prepare that learning experience. That makes a lot of sense. But what if the organization that Travis is working for has a vision where they want to want Travis to upskill, but not necessarily in the way that Travis sees himself being upskilled. So how do we navigate through this tension? What if there's not a complete alignment between the organization and the employee? How do we bring that about? Is the question.
Travis- Wow. I was in a meeting once with a executive. And this executive told me that we need to have 100% alignment between what we were doing and what their peers wanted. And their peers were overseeing, pretty significant business units, parts of the organization and the company that I was in, 100% alignment, 100% alignment. I had the audacity to tell this executive, "When my wife and I are 80% aligned, that is a great day." And honestly, it is. So what popped in my head honestly, is Travis needs to make a choice Because those at the top of the organization, they have what I call the burden of the call. They have the burden of the call to say, "Yes, in this direction, no, in this direction, we're gonna implement our AI this way. We're not gonna implement our AI this way." What have you, they have that burden of the call. It's their company, they make the call. And so if I were to be asked to be upscale in a particular way, fundamentally it's my choice, but I would also appreciate the opportunity to dialogue around it in terms of, "Okay, why this? What's the change that we're trying to make by way of this? What are you hoping for me? What are you hoping for the company by way of moving in this direction? And having that opportunity to talk it through. I'm thinking of the work of researchers, Deci and Ryan and their Self-determination Theory, autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
All three of those things, they're on a spectrum and in some cases there are different polarities. So there has to be, I think, a melding, if you will, between the intent and vision of the organization and the intent and vision of that employee. And it could be that without that dialogue or that reflection or thought or consideration the employee could be missing out on something that could be life changing, because there have been cases of employees saying, like, "I really was not bowed into this. And then I decided what the heck and tried it, and, oh my gosh, it changed my life. It was such a great decision." Or there are some that they tried something and they're like, "This wasn't for me." Or "There's a piece of information left out that I didn't consider." I lean forward and my preference is toward the aspect of agency, self agency. And if this is not something that is for you, that you have to make a decision as to whether or not this is going to be Whether or not if you don't feel that it's for you, is this something you want to try to lean into or not?
Pranav- Okay, so I think, you have not used that word,
but this is a word I can see coming up indirectly, which is empathy. Because you're talking
about Premortem, you're talking about having conversations with the learners. And you're talking about, how to create that win-win basically for both the organization and the employee, just as being the devils advocate here, I can already imagine the LND team of groaning that, "Okay, Travis is asking me to do the hard work, here I am burdened with deploying the course. My deadline was yesterday, and I'm not done with that.
And I have to bring on the subject at that expert. And then I have to deploy this on recorder course, deploy it on the LMS. I don't have the time. I don't have the energy to sit down with an employee and ask him or her about where they want to go. I just have received orders from my CHRO or my CEO or whoever my boss is to execute this." I wanna put an answer here before I let you answer, which is that I completely understand that this is also a cultural thing, perhaps the answer is as simple as find a better organization, because if your CEO doesn't get the.If your CEO doesn't understand the importance of enrollment, just find another organization. That's one solution I understand. But what could be another way to navigate through this? If there's someone who's struggling with this, what advice would you give him or her?
Travis- Well, a couple of things. So it sounds to me so I'm wondering in this situation of this individual, what is going on in the culture of the organization that's leading to the tension and the conflict? So there's something I heard years ago, maybe a decade ago from Seth Godin was, when he worked for a software company, they would agree on a project to be implemented. He made the executives in the company sign a document that said this, you get two week from the time we launch the project. Two weeks after that, to do whatever you want with the project, threat changes. "I don't like the font, I don't like the color. I don't do this, whatever. you have two weeks after two weeks, you're done. You have no more say because from that point forward, it's about getting it to launch. And he called that experience of loving interference if you will as thrashing. because it was like a no thrash clause. So when it comes to this project, it could be that there were aspects or components about it that were either not discussed or were changed in mid-project if I'm hearing what you're saying correctly, that are keeping a deadline from happening. If that's occurring, then I'm imagining that this individual is under stress. And if an individual is under stress, and if they're feeling that they're drowning, coming to them with, "Hey, how would you like to develop as a leader may not be the right question that they wanna be asked. They're like, "I don't..." I'll give an example for my personal life.
During the beginning days of the pandemic, I started working from home. I have three young children. And my spouse could not work from home because my spouse was frontline healthcare worker and had to go into the hospital and still see her patients under fear of what may happen to her by way of this incredibly deadly virus. I had friends and colleagues sending me, "Hey, here's a webinar on how to be a good parent during this time." or "Here's a webinar on how to..."Here's a here way in which to fit your children's schedule." And in front of them, I was like, "I'm just trying to survive here. I am just trying to survive." I understand, I think I really appreciate the warm thoughts and intentions of those individuals, but when I'm in a meeting and I'm putting myself on mute and I'm turning my head to the side, saying, "Please put that box of cereal away." You just ate 30 minutes ago or trying to break up a little scuffle or trying to entertain another little guy who wants me to play with him. And he thinks 30 minutes is 30 seconds. That development just wasn't helpful for me. So I don't know if I'm answering your question, but it's Exactly.That's not going to help. And I think the real question needs to be is like, what is the time? What is the resources? What are the adjustments that need to be made in order to shape what needs to be shipped in a way in which it meets the needs of the company, it's not going to detrimentally affect the experience of the worker. And it's going to do what intends whether or not the outcome is what the leaders want to be. And you mentioned empathy. Empathy, I learned, we keep referring to the marketing seminar and I learned more about, and got a deeper and more rich understanding of empathy in that experience than I have in my coach training in tons of other leadership, development experiences. A lot of people think empathy is being nice and you can be nice. You should always be nice. Empathy is not capitulating or condoning. It's not saying, "I'm gonna do what you want me to do." Nor is it saying, "You're right, I agree with you." You can empathize with someone and not do what they want you to do. You can empathize with someone and not agree with what it is that they think. They have a certain point of view with which they see the world. And you can say like, "Oh, okay, I get it, based upon what you think, what you want, what you need, what you believe, why wouldn't you think? What it is that you think?" Of course they wouldn't think in any of their way. If you're having an executive team, that's putting a lot of pressure on their employees, you can empathize without condoning, without capitulating. Well, to an extent you're working for them. Those executive leaders, they're being driven towards success, they're afraid of the come company failing and not being able to put food on the table for their employees. Maybe there's some ego involved or what have you. You can say to yourself, "Oh, okay. I get it, I understand how someone in your position would act and think and behave how you're acting." And then you can say to yourself, like, "Okay, is this for me? Or is this not me? Is this something I want to buy in and endorse or not, but yeah, that empathy component I think is really powerful, whether you're designing a product to work for a particular customer or whether you're engaging with somebody that you're in harmony with or somebody that you're in conflict with.
Pranav- During the beginning days of the pandemic, I started working from home. I have three young children. And my spouse could not work from home because my spouse was frontline healthcare worker and had to go into the hospital and still see her patients under fear of what may happen to her by way of this incredibly deadly virus. I had friends and colleagues sending me, "Hey, here's a webinar on how to be a good parent during this time." or "Here's a webinar on how to..."Here's a here way in which to fit your children's schedule." And in front of them, I was like, "I'm just trying to survive here. I am just trying to survive." I understand, I think I really appreciate the warm thoughts and intentions of those individuals, but when I'm in a meeting and I'm putting myself on mute and I'm turning my head to the side, saying, "Please put that box of cereal away." You just ate 30 minutes ago or trying to break up a little scuffle or trying to entertain another little guy who wants me to play with him. And he thinks 30 minutes is 30 seconds. That development just wasn't helpful for me. So I don't know if I'm answering your question, but it's Exactly.That's not going to help. And I think the real question needs to be is like, what is the time? What is the resources? What are the adjustments that need to be made in order to shape what needs to be shipped in a way in which it meets the needs of the company, it's not going to detrimentally affect the experience of the worker. And it's going to do what intends whether or not the outcome is what the leaders want to be. And you mentioned empathy. Empathy, I learned, we keep referring to the marketing seminar and I learned more about, and got a deeper and more rich understanding of empathy in that experience than I have in my coach training in tons of other leadership, development experiences. A lot of people think empathy is being nice and you can be nice. You should always be nice. Empathy is not capitulating or condoning. It's not saying, "I'm gonna do what you want me to do." Nor is it saying, "You're right, I agree with you." You can empathize with someone and not do what they want you to do. You can empathize with someone and not agree with what it is that they think. They have a certain point of view with which they see the world. And you can say like, "Oh, okay, I get it, based upon what you think, what you want, what you need, what you believe, why wouldn't you think? What it is that you think?" Of course they wouldn't think in any of their way. If you're having an executive team, that's putting a lot of pressure on their employees, you can empathize without condoning, without capitulating. Well, to an extent you're working for them. Those executive leaders, they're being driven towards success, they're afraid of the come company failing and not being able to put food on the table for their employees. Maybe there's some ego involved or what have you. You can say to yourself, "Oh, okay. I get it, I understand how someone in your position would act and think and behave how you're acting." And then you can say to yourself, like, "Okay, is this for me? Or is this not me? Is this something I want to buy in and endorse or not, but yeah, that empathy component I think is really powerful, whether you're designing a product to work for a particular customer or whether you're engaging with somebody that you're in harmony with or somebody that you're in conflict with.
So if you keep that person in mind, there's this talk of moving from being an order taker to a strategic partner for a learning and development profession. And I wanna make a very blanket statement, I'm painting with broad strokes here, but I genuinely find that the learning and development community is nice. They're very, very nice people. They truly care about the employees, which is not something that I see every day, caring for people and I see them caring a lot. I see them as, very, very wise people, but somehow I feel that they're restricted, they're restricted because of the culture again, or maybe a number of reasons. And some of them are motivated to move towards, being a strategic partner. This is an very broad open question and I don't have very specific thing to ask you, but I just wanna know, do you do believe in this? Do you see that we can have a world where LND professionals are actually strategic partners as opposed to just.can they be linchpin in Seth Godin's language as opposed to being just an order taker?
Travis- Wow, that's a great question. I think getting back to that question of what's it for? Is important and powerful one. In my experience I've conducted skill development workshops but limited technical skills type of develop development sessions. And honestly that's not for me. How do you use a fire extinguish? Well, that's not something that engages me, that's honestly for the risk management department and for the lawyers, so that when the building burns down and they're like, "Well, Travis went through this training, to learn to use a fire extinguisher. So he has an aspect of liability around here. That's what I think when it comes to something like that. I think that there's different echelons of outcome and engagement enrollment that a company wants for its employees. And I absolutely identify with what you're saying. If I understand what you're saying is, I absolutely believe that a learning and development department can be incredibly strategically aligned. I also believe that oftentimes, it is not, and it's not thought of that way. And I also feel too, and you probably, whether I said it directly or indirectly is that learning and development departments can shoot themselves in the foot by only doing the leadership development theater. And getting clear about what is wanted in a sense, that alignment and those discussions with the upper level leaders and also having the And this is the other aspect to it is having the faith and trust and credibility of those leaders to be thought partners with them and around them. I think of King Arthur and the round table, it's a round table, not him at the head of the table. He's like, "We're all together, we're all equals here." And I've worked In my experience, I've been blessed to be that person in the room that the upper level leaders turn to some brilliant, incredible, talented professionals turn to and say, "This is your area of expertise, we have ideas." What are your ideas? And let's work together on creating a solution that's going to have impact." But when it comes to the strategy, it's not just, "What do we need to accomplish the strategy?" But it's like, "What are the values, beliefs, mindsets that we want to reinforce? What do we wanna expose people to?"
So, for example, if you were to ask me, if you were to say, "Hey, Travis, we have a near unlimited budget and we want have our learners be better skilled at aspects of communication." One of the places where I might have them visit is a television writer's room, because you have a group of people that are coming together to create a product. And they're shooting in other's ideas down. I think of the show, "The office". Mindy Kaling wrote the episode, "The Dundies". But she didn't do it by herself. She did it in collaboration. Exactly, with a lot of people in the writer's room helping her. So her name is on the credits and she had like the thrust and the idea to do it. But she also took this writer's idea and writer's idea and B.J. Novak's idea in order to make it a better episode. So it's her product but it's also not her product. And what's really become clearer to me is that nobody's product is a product by themselves. "The Harry Potter" books J.K. Rowling had an editor. Musicians have producers. It's always, always, always a team collaborative effort. The comedian on stage is working ideas and jokes out in front of smaller comedy clubs where their buddies are there. And they're saying, "This didn't land." And it's always a collaborative effort. So when it comes to being a strategic partner, I feel that number one, you have to know what you want in terms of strategy. Number two, you have to have the faith and trust of the leadership there in order to be seen and valued as a strategic.
And then number three, you've got to push it, you've got to go to the edges in order to create an experience that's going to resonate for your leaders. You can have a session in a conference room where you talk for two hours about how to communicate better as a team and brainstorm and things like that. You could bring in consultant to do that. I like the idea of getting them in the environment, having them breathe, the air, smell the smells, hear the hears or what have you, of what it's like in an environment where competency that you're looking to enhance has to happen. It's like do or die. It's like this is our way of being. If we're not working together as a group, in order to come up with this particular product and the tie for me was a television episode, 'cause they're working together on that. That would be the end of us. My children go to a Montessori school. And so when you talk about self-directed learning, I think that would be an interesting experience for executives to go to. If you're looking to create an environment where your employees are learning on their own and becoming more self-directed, look at a Montessori teacher, where they're not sitting at desks and being told say this, do this, write this in the book. They're helping to guide the learners. They're sitting with them, they're watching the children and observing them as they're engaging with the materials. They're helping to guide them in a tactile and in visual way to learn concepts that aren't in the standard industrialist, do this on a sheet of paper type of method of doing so. And so if you think about that, you think about other industries or other under fields, or other industries, or other practices where that you can really have people engage with and lean into, in order to accelerate those competency. But to me, it does. To be a strategic partner, it all starts with trust. It all starts with that alignment to strategy. And if you have those things, it's like, "Where do we wanna push this to the edge? Where do we wanna push this to the edge in order to make the change we wanna make happen?"
Pranav- So you started with trust, and again, you must have done a few good things because of which, you say that you were blessed enough to work with people who looked at you, and ask you for your opinion. I would attribute that to your work more than the luck or the blessing aspect. So obviously you must have done something right. What was that? What did you do because of which you personally could earn the trust of the leadership team?
Travis- I feel that in the moments of my career, when I've been in my eyes remarkably successful, I showed up without a focus on my outcome. I showed up with heart, values, intent, and purpose, and let that be my guide, instead of saying like, "I wanna try to impress these people. I wanna try to make them do this." Because you can't control the outcome, but you can always be on purpose. So for example, in those meetings with those upper level leaders, I think that there were people that were expecting me to just show up and shut up. I'm either there to do what it is that they want me to do, or I'm there to just be a fly on the wall. You sit there and let the upper level leader speak. And I didn't consciously refuse to do that, but I was engaged in the conversation such that I embrace the perspective of, "I'm here to help." And they want me to help them, and I'm going to help them. I don't know, if they tell me to shut up or what have you, they'll do that. But that didn't happen. And if I had the story in my head that I shouldn't do that, if I had the story in my head that they were going to, I don't know, be rude to me or what have you, I might not have said anything.
That saying, well, it's that, "Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will." And so it's in just that intent in showing up and that intent in expressing, and intent in help would position me as that professional, as somebody who could be turned to and regarded as a thought partner, or a doer, or someone who can help, meet a particular need. But it wasn't about me. And when I think back and maybe I should do this more, is when I think back to those times, when I felt I was really at my best. Normally it's like I'm taking my own self and my own ego out of the equation. And it's about, "What are we here for? Who are we trying to change? How are we trying to change them? And what can we do in order to be of service to those individuals?" And that's where I found success that I can be really proud of.
Pranav- So flipping the question, and perhaps you have answered this already, but still, I wanna put this across, which is that, so you earned the trust of the upper leadership. How do you earn the trust of the employees or the learners?
Travis- I think it's through transparency. I think it's
through being very clear about what the intent and what the promise of your work, your product or
whatever it is. Also there's other elements of that trust too because we talked about enrollment
earlier. If you have a leadership development program that somebody isn't enrolled in, but they're
forced or coerced to be in it, that's a difficult position to be in. And frankly, as long as
they're not being disruptive to the experience of the other participants, it's just something that
you have to work with. It's just something that you have to deal with. Going back to the comedian
example, there are some people, and there will always be people in the comedian's audience that
just aren't laughing. And the comedian doesn't need to point all of their energy at that person in
order to try to make them laugh.
A great comedian will say to themselves, "Oh, okay. Well, they made the wrong choice. I wasn't the right comedian for them right now. That stinks, empathy, empathy. That stinks, that's too bad. If I made a bad choice like that, I would feel upset too. But I'm gonna keep doing my set. because there are 300 other people here that are hanging on my every word." But the thing is in a sense, honestly, the person who was the wrong audience member probably didn't do their due diligence. to really understand who that comedian was, and what they were about. Now, comedians work at a different level or echelon because they're public and they're out there. And some are very famous. You go to see Jerry Seinfeld, you're gonna know what you're going to get. Somebody may not know what they're going to get by coming to Pranav's Leadership Development Program. And so, that's where feel it's very incumbent upon you and us as leadership development professionals, to be very clear. This is what it is, this is what it's for.
This is the change that we're hoping to make by way of this. If you think, want, need believe these things, this program could help with that. And if you wanna be really bold, you can say, if you're looking for a strictly, solo synchronous experience, that leadership development program isn't going to be for you. So if people have that kind of criteria, they then stay away. And then those who do enroll, maybe they enroll, but they say to themselves, "Oh, wow. I didn't think that this learning development platform, this message board would be so difficult for them to learn. And I say difficult for them because there's hundreds of other people who are using it just fine, and they're really engaging with it. In which case then they opt out because it's not for them.
To me, I wanna say two things. Is number one, that transparency to earn the trust I think is absolutely critical. Number two, I think the professional needs to be very understanding of themselves, and understanding of the other factors that could influence trust in a way in which they can't influence it. Because again, if I'm within a company and I'm here to do a leadership development program, and I have a group of individuals who aren't enrolled of it, because they're either forced or coerced to be a part of it, I don't feel there's a whole lot to do about that, unless you're having those discussions on the front end, you're doing a pre-mortem around that with your upper level leaders. And that could be a pre-mortem thing, is we get low scores on, I don't know, our post course evaluations, because there are people there who are just not enrolled. And Pranav, there's actually something I've really been thinking about, is how do you filter an evaluation so that way you get the people who are really caring about it, and are really enrolled, that are giving you the feedback, as opposed to those who are not? Because honestly, if you're not enrolled It's a difference between, going back to the comedian example. Do you like this comedian? And 100 hand shoot up. If 100 hand shoot up, and that comedian is not for them, who cares? But if it's 100 people who are like, "I love this comedian, and I did not like this show, or their promise to me that was transparently shared was not fulfilled." That is a whole different story. That is a whole different story. That's the market talking and you really want to lean into that to try to better understand that. Which then brings us to, who is your market? And sometimes, that can be difficult for leadership development professionals.
Is it the person who is my audience, the person who is engaging with me right now? Or is it the upper level leaders who have their say and their vision, and they like, "Who are you trying to satisfy there?" And I think that is a difficult tension to walk because I think that's something Gosh, this is even going back to your first question, where leadership development can be broken, is not being clear and focused on, "Am I trying to please the vice president, or am I trying to please the people who are gonna be in the audience of the program?" And so when you ask the question like, "What's it for?" Or, "Who's it for?" Who's it for may not be the audience. Who it may be for, is that vice president, and then that's gonna be a very different experience. It's gonna be a very different experience.
Pranav- That's a really, really interesting perspective. I don't think I had thought about that before. I have nothing smart to say on that, honestly, but it's making me think with regards to what's it for and how we can actually cater or tailor the feedback to the people who are actually enrolled, as opposed to measuring all the things that are not relevant to the program. So in speaking of measurement, I am maybe taking a right turn here. But speaking of measurement, what do you think of evaluations? What do you think of assessments? Because I have come across two conflicting thoughts. One is that this move towards What do you say? Let me think of the right word. Self-empowered learning or something on those lines, where the learner is basically into the program because he or she wants to learn, and then there's no need to evaluate them. or assess them. They can do it on their own or whatever. Then there's, of course, the other perspective where you obviously, for a technical skill, for example, you do need to evaluate them, because if you deploy unskilled people on a project that's going to lead to some kind of complication, it's going to cause all kinds of problems.
So I think I have two questions, and you can run with any of them. One is the evaluation or the assessment part, and closely associated with that is the impact. Did the learning and development actually work? And we at iMocha have been doing some work on the Kirkpatrick Model, where there are four levels of evaluation. And so, where do you stand with evaluation and assessments? Where do you stand with measurement of the effectiveness or the ROI? Is what I'm curious about.
Travis- Oh, wow, that's a great question. We, as human research professionals, learning and development professionals, need to. Again, when I talk about taking it to the edge craft, that's something that we definitely need to do when it comes to our evaluations. And you mentioned the Kirkpatrick Model. To me it's dead. The level one was, what was the immediate reaction to it? Number two, is it being incorporated? And this is where you start getting very nuanced. It's coaching skills. We'll just say something like coaching skills. "Travis, what did you think of the session?" "It was great. Five's all around." "One out of five." "Great." Number two is, "Travis, are you using these coaching skills?" And I may say five out of five, but it doesn't matter to me. It matters to those around me. And so that's where I think that we need to lean in more. And we need to design a better evaluation scheme or model to say that, "Travis, when you're taking part in this learning experience, we're gonna ask you for your opinion and feedback, and your views of application.
We're also gonna look at the teams around you, the people around you, your direct reports, your peers, what have you. Because I could say that I'm using these coaching skills really well, but my peers around me, or my team under me may say, "That's it." And to me, I'm like, "Then there's an incongruence here that needs to be investigated. But let's say there is congruence. And then from there, it's the thing of, "How are these coaching skills? How is this making us better as a company? How is this making us better as a team?" And it could be that wow. We're now Because of Travis, and the way in which he is engaging us as a coach, tensions that we feel come to the surface much more quickly, much more quickly. It's not, "I have a concern about this project," that you don't say until two weeks before the project launches. It's done within the two weeks before the two-week-window when the project first launch it. And then we say to ourselves, "Great, we're either going to make a change in order to accommodate that, or we're gonna add that to our premortem and say, "We're not gonna do this. We're not gonna devote the time or resources or what have you. If it fails because of this, it's a good fail. And we understand that, and we'll accept that failure. And then from there, I think it's the broader view of, is not only through this, from a collective perspective, not only is this coaching skills program Are we better as a team, but are we doing better as a company? And that can be assessed by way of engagement scores, company-focused engagement surveys. You could also do evaluations of leaders, like manager effectiveness scores.
Do you have a pilot group, and then have a control group? So this group goes through the coaching skills development program, this group doesn't. Who has the higher skills? And then also be mindful of any kind of confounding that could go on, because it could be that I'm engaging in the coaching skills program because I was already somebody who treated people with dignity and respect, and was coached in my approach. It could be that I self-selected into the program. because that's the type of things that I already like to do. And it came more easily to me, as opposed to somebody who those kind of skills don't really come that easily to them. Which again, gets us into the question of enrollment. Because if you coerce or force them into a class like that, they may be even more recalcitrant. And so, if you're designing an experience, that's for those people who are skeptical or on the fence, or may not readily adopt that kind of way of being, from a marketing perspective, you're gonna have to take a look at that, and empathize with them. And then to transparently create an experience and share what that experience is for, in a way in which they're going to say, like, "I'm willing to take a step closer on this journey. I'm willing to put myself forward and see what that's about. So does that help? Did that help?
Pranav- Yeah, it helps me. Honestly, at one point of time, I wasn't sure if you would be a fan of evaluation or not, because both of us being Seth Godin fans, Seth talks a lot about not having a test. Which makes complete sense in certain circumstances. that you don't have a test or an evaluation in school. So we didn't have a test, for example, when we completed the MBA or the marketing seminar. But I do believe that even though While what Seth is talking is true, I do believe that there's a need for assessments or evaluations especially in enterprises, because there's a project to be delivered. And especially for technical skills, there needs to be a certain measuring mechanism.
So with your answer, I got the validation that Travis necessarily is not against assessment or measuring the impact. It just needs to be measured in a much smarter way, in a much qualitative way than quantitative way. You have to think really hard about the data that you're gathering. It's not just sending us a random survey, or taking them through a test, but looking at the nuances, talking to the team, as you said, talking to the people who this guy reports to, talking to the people who work under him, and evaluating if the learning was applied. Which I thought was super interesting.
Travis- And it's funny because evaluation could be an evaluation after the test to say a multiple choice test. In this situation, what kind of coaching skill would you employ? A, B, C or D? And you circle the right one. And thinking back to the marketing seminar, as a part of your own marketing, if you were an entrepreneur, a solopreneur, a freelancer, and you were in graphic design, and you did your work on the front end to say, "This is my client. This is what they think they want, they need, they believe. This is where they shop. This is what they watch on Netflix, and everything like that. So you design a website with that person in mind. The next best thing you do is to find that person, either through a friend, or a friend of a friend, and show it to them and say,"What do you think about this?" And because that person is the one that you are really caring about, and watching them engage, and watching them click and ask questions, and things like that, you're gonna get so much valuable information.
To me, that's an evaluation. That's an evaluation of the product that you're creating for the audience to be able to engage with it, and to give you that needed feedback. And one of two things happens, either you find out, "Oh, I was wrong. This person who's engaging with my website, isn't really the audience that I was looking for." You're smarter for that, or it is. And they give you feedback that's so very invaluable. When it comes to programs, I'll tell you this. If you have a leadership development program for high potential employees, to me, a huge mark of whether or not it has a success and credibility is if somebody has a new position open and they say, "You know what? I don't want to look at any candidates except those that went through this particular leadership development program. The Pranav's Coaching Skills Program. I don't wanna see anyone else. Because I know that those individuals that went through that program, that they were upskilled, they went through an intense experience. They're topnotch. They came through change. They came through change. And to me I'm like, "That is the most singing and ringing endorsement for a type of experience, not the only one, but it shows credibility. And frankly, if that doesn't happen in an organization, I would ask myself, "I wonder what's the impact then?" What's it for?
Pranav- So I know we have to wrap up, but I can't help, but ask this one last question, which is, what do you think of evaluating through projects? And I ask this because at iMocha we're also working at developing this scenario where the employee can So let's say you go through the training, or even before the training, if you want to analyze where the scale gaps are,instead of giving them. an MCQ, multiple choice question, or a coding simulator, you basically ask them to design a life project. And you evaluate after looking at that project. And I know you and I are big fans of shipping in of project work, so, I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on evaluating through projects?
Travis- I think it's wonderful, to be honest with you. I encountered young professionalism in my career saying, "I'm really interested in getting in the communications department. But I'm an administrative assistant. I have a bachelor's degree in communications. I wanna work for the communications department in this organization, and I don't have a way in. I don't have the experience to be able to do so." And what I would say is, "Well, write a communications plan. Write some fictitious copy. Write something like that." You wrote it, and then people are generally pretty nice, and they will talk with you, and they will be with you.
Do that and then set up, do an informational interview with somebody in the communications department, and put it in front of them and say, "Hey, what do you think about this?" So I think those projects are an incredible way to evaluate people. And again, you're saying that where I've heard of many companies who do this, but instead of an interview, they work on a project. I wouldn't want a company to exploit a candidate. by saying, "Well, work on this project. That's a part of this interview." And they're like, "Oh, thank you. We're not gonna hire you, but you created this incredible copy of work for us." But I think that's a great way. And as you were talking, what came into my mind is the incredible work. I cannot sing her praises enough, Dr. Amy Edmondson. and her work around teaming and psychological safety. She did a study of the implementation of a new medical device, and the way in which it was incorporated into the medical practice of different institutions, a large academic healthcare institution, and smaller community hospitals, and there were four different ones. And the extent to which the leadership created the project, the initiative as a learning experience and created the environment where there was psychological safety, there were end of the week reviews, how is this going? What do we wanna say? And the environment where people can speak up, and share their tensions.
That's what led to the success of this medical device being incorporated into the institution where it was. It didn't matter how big the institution was, it didn't matter how much money they had. It didn't matter the letters behind the individual's names. All that mattered was that kind of environment. So when you talk about projects in evaluation, you can evaluate a project in real time as well. You can have your Scrum meetings and things like that. And you can be skilled at Scrum. You can be skilled at Agile, and all of these different methodologies, but it all comes back to what you and I know as the real skills. The real skills, the soft skills, the ones where I feel comfortable expressing tensions, I will show up, I will take initiative. I will act with intent. I will receive feedback well. Those kinds of skills that are If you have five candidates in front of you, and they all have 4.2 grade point averages or whatever the equivalent may be, and they all went to Ivy League schools, and they all did this. By what factors are you going to select one? And by what factors are they gonna ultimately be successful? It's going to be those real skills that ultimately lead to success.
Pranav- Awesome. I wanna be respectful of your time. I know that there are a lot of things that I would have loved to discuss with you, but that's for part two, perhaps this was so much fun. I had a really, really engaging conversation. Thank you so much. And I think if I had to Even though it's hard to summarize this wonderful conversation in one sentence, I would just summarize it by saying that empathy is the key. You have to put in the hard work of getting into the nuances, talking to the learners, talking to the CEO, have empathy both ways. So many nuggets of wisdom here. Thank you so much, Travis, for the time. And this was wonderful.
Travis- Thank you, Pranav. This was such a wonderful time. It was great talking with you and seeing you in person, and talking about a subject that I know is very near and dear to us. It's a powerful field. There's so much opportunity here. And a company, not just being about the end product, but the growth and the development, the fulfillment, the betterment of people, and the betterment of society are values. that I hold close to my heart, and ones that I that I feel you hold close to your heart too. So the opportunity to talk about this was so wonderful. Thank you.
Pranav- Thank you, Travis.
And I hope to have a part two with you very, very soon.