Conference Daily

Reporter's Notebook: Summaries of Sunday ATD 2018 Sessions

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Avoid Onboarding Horror Stories

Have you ever had a great experience with onboarding? A nightmare one? Those are two of many questions Shana Campbell and Jason Sturges asked at the outset of their Sunday session, “Rock Your Onboarding: 10 Steps to an Employee-Centered Program.”

As participants discussed their answers in roundtable groups, they shared a wide range of experiences. One attendee, Eduardo, said that a former company’s small size made getting to know his new colleagues easy, but a lack of guidance on organizational structure made it hard to navigate relationships. Another participant, Carly, appreciated when a former organization shared clear steps for onboarding but disliked that it didn’t provide any documentation on performing her role. A third, Ryan, shared a true nightmare: He said that he once worked for an organization where he showed up at 8 a.m. on his first day and waited two hours before anyone even spoke to him because his boss had forgotten his start date.

Clearly, onboarding has room for improvement. And talent development professionals should pay attention, warned Campbell and Sturges, because a poor onboarding experience can cause employees to decide within a week of starting that they won’t stay at an organization.

In an ideal world, organizations should think of onboarding as beginning when employees start filling in a job application and ending with the conclusion of their first year on the job. Talent development should make an effort to touch base with these individuals throughout the process, especially after new employees start. Whether it’s after a month, six months, or a year, Campbell and Sturges said checking in can make a big difference.

Out With Clip Art, in With Visually Stimulating Images

People are looking for reasons to become disengaged, warned an animated LaVay Lauter during Sunday’s session, “Top 10 Training Tools: Revolutionize Your Facilitation for Optimal Learning.” If you don’t create engaging visuals nor use other creative tactics to engage your audience and help them remember your content, you’re not being effective.

Among the tips Lauter shared were some for powering up visual aids.

Clip art is from the 1990s, she emphasized, showing a clearly out-of-date photo depicting celebration and contrasting it with a bright sky of colorful fireworks that demonstrates the message much more vividly.

If you’re using a flip chart, make sure that people can see what you’re writing. Why else bother putting the words on the chart? Make letters at least an inch tall and capitalize them, Lauter recommended. She showed such a chart, contrasting that with a second containing a messy diagram that would work with a small brainstorming group but would not be appropriate for a large-room training presentation.

Another type of visual aid not often thought of as such are props. Lauter used a slide with an array of unique hats, which she uses in diversity and inclusion training. Training participants are asked to don one of the hats, describing how they felt wearing the hat, which denoted one of diverse populations.

Lauter also provided tips about where to find props, especially if you’re a trainer on a small budget: Goodwill, your child’s toy box, or even borrowing materials from your hotel in a crunch.

New Talent Practices for an Increasingly Global World of Work

By 2025, 75 percent of the global workforce will be comprised of Millennials, Debra France stated during “Evolving Leadership and Organization Practices for a Post-Automation Workforce.” These Millennials are more prone to want autonomy, novelty, and purpose. As a talent development professional, how will you attract and retain the best talent?

In addition to the reality of the Millennial workforce, talent development practitioners must be cognizant of new technologies and the gig economy. As France described, forward-facing organizations should be asking themselves: How are you recalibrating your talent management systems for a future when you no longer manage your talent?

In the post-automation world of work, humans will do the work that robots cannot do: tasks that require autonomy, creativity, and critical thinking. This is the case just as the educational system, at least in the United States, is cutting recess, the arts, and drama—all which help creativity.

As the world of work moves ahead, many workers will come together in a project-based, team-based environment—even going as far as staying with a project only for the parts they prefer the most, such as for the creative incubation phase.

Additional questions France posed:

  • How are you identifying the key talent you need to retain?
  • How are you introducing more autonomy and personalized benefits into workers’ relationship with you?
  • How are you detecting leaders who skillfully align and connect work streams without hierarchy?

Learning Videos That Draw Viewers In

Your budget shouldn’t determine whether a learning video is successful, cautioned Danielle Wallace during “An Advertiser’s Secrets to Compelling Learning Videos.” In her experience, what really matters is following best practices for sharing your message and reaching your audience.

To illustrate her point, she showed two advertisements. One, which featured a man labeled as “Debt” riding on a woman’s back and snatching things away from her, illustrated in a clear visual metaphor how failure to escape a bad financial situation can affect your life. Another, which featured a cast of animated pandas engaging in seemingly irrelevant dialogue, showed that even high-tech effects can’t make up for failure to follow best practices.

Later, Wallace shared four steps talent development professionals should consider when creating learning videos to improve their effectiveness.

First, she recommended narrowing the videos’ focus and eliminating as much fluff as possible. Next, she encouraged attendees to think of ways to direct their videos that would open viewers’ hearts and minds. Whether by using an intriguing visual metaphor, exciting action, or challenging questions, Wallace advised that doing so could help your video connect and get its point across.

Third, she emphasized something that she believes most learning professionals are already good at: knowing an audience. Make sure a reference lands home or that content is relevant, which can save significant time and, therefore, money.

Finally, Wallace said that it’s important to avoid tired concepts and metaphors. For example, you may want to avoid recycling stale jokes.

Step-By-Step Needs Assessment

You only ever conduct needs assessments for three specific reasons, said Terrance Donahue during his session, “Taking the Complexity Out of Training Needs Assessment: A Practical and Proven Approach.” First, you can do so in response to a request for training. Second, you can use needs assessment to determine future needs. And third, needs assessments can help you evaluate your training organization’s existing curriculum.

In the session, Donahue broke down the differences between the types of needs assessment required for each reason. He guided participants through the process for each one using a detailed job aid, which included step-by-step instructions and useful questions to ask on the job.

For the first type of needs assessment, in response to a request for training, he highlighted how important it is to determine whether training is the appropriate solution. He advised beginning by gathering performance data and conducting a performance analysis to determine what might be causing any gaps. Then, he recommended developing a cost-benefits analysis before making a decision or recommendation on training.


For the second type, planning for future needs, he provided four slightly different steps. He said you should start by gathering information about your company and its industry, telling participants to exchange their books on game design and other design techniques for copies of their organizations’ annual reports. Then he suggested interviewing as many stakeholders as possible, analyzing what you find, and then writing a proposal.

Finally, for evaluating existing curriculum, Donahue said it’s best to start by listing all your organization’s courses. From there, you can analyze each course and determine whether to continue it by answering one simple question: Do we still have a need?

Use It or Forget It

Learning has only one goal, emphasized Art Kohn during “Using Technology to Produce Learning Transfer and Sustainable Corporate Change.” What is that? Behavior change.

Kohn declared that talent development will never be evaluated based on what employees know after training. Rather, business leaders will evaluate training by asking whether employees behave in ways that make the organization more successful.

So, how can employees design training that leads to behavior change?

Kohn said that the best place to start is by acknowledging that training isn’t enough. He shared research that showed 70 percent of information learned in training often is forgotten within 24 hours, and then explained why you can’t prevent it from happening.

He pointed out that humans are naturally wired to forget. As an example, he asked a member of the audience whether she remembered her room number at the hotel where she was staying for the conference. When she responded, “yes,” he asked another question: Did she remember the room number of the last hotel she had stayed in? She didn’t. Here, Kohn suggested that forgetting was a good thing in this case. He explained that by not remembering her last hotel room number, it made it easier to remember where she was staying now.

In other words, since the participant’s mind wasn’t using the information about her last hotel room, it lost the information to make room for new data. As Kohn noted, the key to behavior change is to ensure that any information shared in training is used so it doesn’t get lost. And a lot of that is up to what you do with employees after they leave the classroom.

I’m Talking to You (and It’s Benefiting Us Both)

Calling on audience volunteers to come to the stage to present a quick overview of one of their current L&D projects, Sheri Jeavons provided the volunteers a free mini-coaching session.

During “3 Techniques to Increase Your Impact During High-Profile Meetings,” Jeavons talked about how eye contact, gesturing, and body composure are all important skills for a trainer to develop and hone.

Eye contact, for example, helps a presenter to focus. When a trainer’s eyes are scanning the crowd rather than focusing on an individual, she will tend to be unfocused. On the flip side, when a trainer’s eyes—and thus, brain—are focused, she is much less likely to add fillers to the material—the “ums” we’ve all experienced.

As demonstrated by one volunteer, with additional audience volunteers who stood for the exercise—the presenter came across as much more confident when she held eye contact with the individual audience members and, hence, was “talking to a person.” The volunteer naturally turned her her torso, which provided natural energy.

A second volunteer was commended by the audience for his great energy and the right level of gesturing, which engaged the audience from the start of his presentation. Gesturing will come across more naturally when a trainer holds eye contact while, again, talking to an individual.

Additional tips for improving one’s presentation skills included being cognizant of one’s breathing (slowing down artificially will make it come across as such) and pausing.

Go Forth and Network

A majority of professionals believe that networking is critical to professional success. Yet there is often a negative connotation around it. How can “yuck”—especially for introverts—be turned to “yeah”?

Halelly Azulay and William Gentry offered techniques for flipping the switch on networking. Gentry summed up one important takeaway toward the end of their session: “It’s not about me meeting others, it’s about how I can help others.”

One way to help others is by connecting your contacts with each other. This adds value for each of the individuals. It’s helpful to receive double opt-in—that is, asking each individual before the introduction is made.

In response to audience questions, the facilitators also provided tools to help keep contacts straight (when you met, what you discussed), such as the Contractually app, LinkedIn, and an Excel spreadsheet. The most important thing is not the specific tool, but “what works for them is what works.”

A second tip presented during “Tactics for Managers to Flip Their Script on Networking” was about remembering names. Gentry suggested tying the new contact to a famous person with the same first name. Intentionality also aids memory: When an individual goes into a conversation wanting to remember a person’s name, their brain helps them do so.

And Azulay suggested helping the individuals you meet by giving them a hint. For example, “Hi Kelly. My name is Halelly, which rhymes with your name.”

Culture Defeats Harassment and Bullying

Dysfunctional leaders come in many shapes and forms, and they’re a huge problem, especially when they harass or bully employees. What can talent development do to prevent this from happening? That’s one topic that Mary-Clare Race explored in “Buddy, Bully, or Boss: The Dark Side of Leadership Behavior.”

According to Race, the key is creating a culture of respect. To nurture such a culture, talent development professionals must help create conditions that prevent and contain bullying, manage the abuse of power, and give voice to all parties.

Race offered many suggestions for preventing and containing bad workplace behavior. For example, she recommended valuing humility instead of creating cults of personality, articulating and following through with zero-tolerance policies instead of turning a blind eye to transgressions, and having clear standards expected of leaders rather than ambiguous ones that can skew perceptions. Most important, though, she highlighted the importance of having everyone play a role in making a work environment psychologically safe. She said that talent development can do this by talking directly and frequently with the direct reports of potential initiators.

Next, when discussing how talent development can manage the abuse of power, Race said that it’s important to understand how it tends to corrupt people. She pointed to how empathy tends to decline as power increases, which makes it vital to develop leaders who are self-aware.

Finally, Race covered how talent development can make everyone in an organization feel comfortable talking about harassment or bullying: Cultivate an environment where it’s not the recipient’s fault, ensure that speaking up is encouraged and doesn’t bring any negative repercussions, and redefine the relationship between leaders and expectations around harassment and bullying—setting and enforcing clear policies.

Building Government Leaders

In times of financial hardship, organizations make cuts to what they see as nonessential programs, which sometime includes training. So, in government, when nearly every moment is marked by tight budgets and high demands, how can learning organizations stand out? That’s what Holly Burkett and Trish Holliday explained in “Transforming Learning and Performance in State Government.”

According to the speakers, the key is to position training as an essential part of an organization’s business plan, an apolitical component of success. For example, Holliday highlighted how building a learning and leadership culture had completely changed the attitude and performance of government agencies in her state of Tennessee.

When she started nine years ago, the state’s agencies often struggled to motivate and engage middle managers and frontline supervisors, which in turn hurt engagement across the entire workforce. The speakers pointed to a ubiquitous “they” that managers blamed for everything: “They said we have to do it; they said we can’t try this idea.” Why weren’t these managers engaged? Because the organization had no path for them to advance and relied almost entirely on outside hires to fill senior positions.

Burkett and Holliday detailed how, in response, the Tennessee State government adopted a “grow our own” mentality and built a competitive leadership development to open paths for advancement. Started during the last year of an outgoing administration—a major risk when working in government—the program’s business value and apolitical nature ensured it won over new leadership quickly. It even continued to advance until the state started rolling out more programs for more leader groups, which has made a stellar impact on the state government’s culture.

About the Author
The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.
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