David Hutchens

Learning Business Literacy… and Eating Your Vegetables

Watch the faces of your employees next time you tell them they need to learn business literacy.

I bet they look a lot like my ten-year-old when I tell him he has to eat his vegetables.

“Financial acumen training” doesn’t get much love from the folks in organizations who would benefit from it the most. They imagine themselves adrift in a sea of numbers, ratios, and acronyms. (“EBITDA?” Really?)

At Blueline Simulations, we’re on a mission to get your people excited about business acumen. After all, what’s more energizing than recognizing that the work you do at your desk has an immediate impact on the financial health of the enterprise?

It turns out that “excitement” and “fun” are not such difficult goals in business literacy training. The trick – and yes, we are about to share some of our “secret sauce” with you – is to make it real and relevant. We do this by:

  •  Focusing on the story, not the numbers. See all of those numbers on the balance sheet? Every one of them is a story. Behind each is an event, a decision, a problem, and a human drama that played out in the halls of your organization. Tell the story well, and that squiggly, upwards-trending line on the graph is suddenly imbued with urgency.
  • Changing the point of view. A lot of business literacy training is written from the high-level perspective of an accounting professor. But the employees’ line of sight (and influence) begins at his or her own desk. Make the connection between the job and the financials first. Once you’ve established that critical context, you can lead the learner surprisingly far out into the deep waters of financial acumen.
  •  Making it fun.  With a little melted cheddar, my ten-year-old will eat his broccoli and ask for more. Business literacy training is a lot more palatable when flavored with high-engagement learning techniques – such as “gaming” principles, compelling story lines, and lots of opportunities to engage with their colleagues.

Adult learning theory says that retention increases when learners are able to make immediate applications of the concepts to the challenges and pressures that they are facing right now.

Give us a call at Blueline Simulations, and we’ll tell you more about how we can increase the relevance, urgency, and fun of your business literacy training. And if you ask, we’ll even tell you our secret broccoli casserole recipe.

Organizational Practitioners are Recognizing the Power of Story

If you haven’t been following the fast-emerging discourse around “organizational storytelling,” allow me to help you get caught up.

Here’s the idea: More and more organizational practitioners are recognizing the power of story to create culture; speed learning and change; archive knowledge; establish brand; and build shared meaning. (Gosh, there’s so much more to say here. If your attention is already piqued, check out resources like this one, this one, or one of my own articles here. Or just do your own Google search and be prepared to get lost in the heady fun for hours.

Funny thing is, pretty early in this conversation most people hit an immediate roadblock — not around best practices, but around something as basic as the very definition of organizational story.

That’s right. Many of the best thinkers in the story space are still deliberating over what a story is.

I’ll give you an example. Pause for a moment, look at the image below, and take note of any reaction you may have:

cokecolaSo my question for you is, is that a story?

Story purists say no, a logo or a brand is not a story. After all, the Coke logo above is lacking even the most basic story elements. Where’s the plot? The protagonist? The problem? The journey? Heck, it doesn’t even have a beginning, middle or end.

Right?

Granted, you probably wouldn’t shell out $10 to watch a corporate logo on a movie screen. But these objections miss an important point; one that has everything to do with the topics that concern us most here at Blueline Simulations, like learning and engagement. (We’ll get to that in a moment.)

Let’s stay with the Coke logo a little longer. When you reflected on that red, scripted icon, what did it trigger? Did you think about Mean Joe Green, or perhaps a multi-ethnic crowd singing in harmony on a hilltop? Did you have a memory of sharing Cokes with your kids as you strolled down a beach or paused in the shade at a Disney theme park? Or perhaps your reaction was negative: a perception you have of a monolithic corporation; or your distaste for their marketing efforts towards school-aged children. (Here’s what it evoked for me: the smells of cut grass and gasoline from a lawnmower; the feeling of sweat rolling down my neck; and the fizzy, carbonated feeling as it hits the back of my throat.)

Unless you moved through this little exercise quickly, the Coca-Cola brand triggered something for you — whether it was a feeling, a memory, a desire, or experience that was dormant in some remote network of synapses in your mind.

In other words, it triggered a story. And that story engaged you at a deeply personal level.

And so the question is not so much what is a story, but where is it; and the opportunity for learning practitioners is to ignite the rich well of stories that already exist tacitly in the minds of their learners, and unleash untold levels of participation and engagement.

There’s something important happening here for the practitioner of organizational change. Sure, I could present a PowerPoint slide with a series of bullet points telling why you should, say, build trust in a team. But somewhere in your experience is a painful story of what happens when that trust doesn’t exist. What if instead of clobbering you with bullet points I could somehow tap that latent source of emotion and conviction that already lives in your memory?

This is what we do at Blueline Simulations. We don’t market ourselves actively as a “story company.” (After all, there aren’t too many people asking for that. At least, not yet.) But the “co-creation of narrative” lives in everything we do… “ from simulations, to games, to our signature Blueline Blueprint learning visuals.

There’s a hallmark moment to every Blueline Simulation learning engagement. It almost never happens when we project a model up on the screen, or when the facilitator offers some brilliant word of wisdom. Instead, it is usually an invisible moment that happens silently in the mind of the learner, in which they have been invited to reach deep into their own wisdom and experience… and there they encounter a story that elicits powerful reaction and demands an actionable response. Like a silent explosion of some invisible supernova, we can’t always see it. But by designing our interventions to those moments of internal discovery (and not merely to the faithful reproduction of data via a series of PowerPoint bullet points), Blueline Simulations taps into a nearly inexhaustible source of engagement, participation… and action.

If you’ve never done so, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to click around the Blueline website. There is a rich portfolio of learning resources here awaiting your discovery. You’ll probably be impressed by the cutting edge technologies, the unconventional learning devices, and the sheer creativity of the offerings. But remember that those are merely triggers, and that the real deliverable of Blueline Simulations is something we can’t depict in a JPEG image on our website.

In parting, a few questions for you:

What kind of change do you seek to create in your organization?

What might happen if, instead of dictating that change through a series of imperatives, you extended an invitation and an opportunity for learners to connect to their own stories?

What is the new story of success and opportunity that you and your people might co-create together?

Stories that Engage

Last week, I made the pilgrimage to Jonesborough, Tennessee. This postcard-perfect town boasts unbelievable views of the Smoky Mountains, but is famous around the world for another reason: it is the home of the International Storytelling 1010-core-imgCenter.

Every October, more than 10,000 storytellers and story lovers from all over the world descend on Jonesborough for one common purpose: to hear and to share stories.

It’s the biggest storytelling event in the world, and its subject matter is as diverse as its audience.  Family stories. Historical stories. Ghost stories. Funny stories. It seems that all you need is a stage, a microphone, and an audience… and the opportunities to engage through stories are endless.

What does this have to do with organizational learning? Quite a bit, it turns out.

Today, more and more organizational practitioners are asking questions about the use of stories to engage their people and their marketplaces. That was the subject of my presentation, which was titled “The Stories We Create: Narrative and Engagement in Organizations.”

Many organizational leaders have personally experienced the unique power that stories have to engage and create a shared experience and new behaviors… often without the defensiveness and resistance that accompany most linear and expository organizational communications. (For a thorough exploration of the topic, check out the rich body of work by former WorldBank Executive, Stephen Denning.)

Now imagine that you could capture the most powerful narratives in your organization in a form that is fully replicable, scalable, and engineered to create engagement and behavioral change.

That’s the idea of a Blueline Blueprint

1010-profit-imgHere’s the idea. You begin with an organizational need: say, to mobilize activity around a key change initiative; or to make the organization’s mission and values come alive for a new employee. (Those are just examples. What is the pressing need that requires action in your organization?)

Next, the learning and change experts at Blueline Simulations work with you to create a table-sized visual that is rich in metaphors, stories, and quantitative information.

The power happens when your people pull up a few seats around the Blueline Blueprint. They explore the stories, analyze the data, and link the information to their own experience. They begin to link their own stories to the need of the organization. Action and behavior change emerge fluidly and organically.

These are the same activities that have built communities around millions of campfires over the centuries… only here they are applied strategically to create engagement around your strategic need.

The best way to experience a Blueline Blueprint … is, well, to experience it. Give us a call at Blueline Simulations. Tell us the story of your organization… where it is today, and where you would like for it to be.

Then let’s work together to create a new narrative; one that is about meaningful work, engaged people, and marketplace success.

Onboarding: This Is Not Your Father’s “First Day on the Job”: Blueline Simulations looks at the organizational phenomenon

Remember your first day on the job, on your first job, all those years ago?

I do. I remember awkward introductions. (“If you need anything at all…” “Hook ‘em horns!”)

I remember paperwork. SO much paperwork.

And I remember pulling up a chair in my undecorated closet-office and going straight to work.

And that was my “onboarding” experience, which, come to think of it, was a term that nobody used. Sure, I had enough human resiliency to eventually navigate my way through the organization.

But today’s organizational practitioners are arguing that launches like mine were a missed opportunity.

Today the “get them to work fast” ethic remains, but the process is tempered by a more nuanced, employee-focused conversation: What value does this job deliver to ME? How do these tasks connect to my sense of aspiration, my purpose, and my own unique value proposition? How does this role position me for the next step in my career? The days of “and here’s the supply closet” are long gone. Onboarding is itself a unique value proposition, an edge in a marketplace desperate to grab the top talent.

Okay, sure, you still need to tell the new employees the after-hours code to the elevator. But there are some more urgent dynamics at work here, because in a world where many dismiss company loyalty as a fossilized idea, some are nonetheless making a bold bid for engagement, enthusiasm, cultural fit, and an instant network that serves as a hedge against costly attrition.

This comprehensive reimagining of the new hire’s “first five days” (and “the first three months” and perhaps even “the first two years”) is a huge investment, but the idea is that it delivers big dividends down the road. In practice, this is indeed proving to be the case.

It is also proving to be a realm of real innovation in learning, with many organizations engineering rich, immersive, and original experiences all for the purpose of extending that new hire’s honeymoon into a solid, lasting relationship.

Blueline Simulations has worked with some of the world’s leading talent-driven organizations to deliver these onboarding experiences. Stay tuned for our next blog, and we’ll give you a peek at some of the breakthrough practices that some organizations are implementing to create high-performing, engaged, and – perhaps most tantalizingly – loyal and committed associates.

An Evolution in Learning: Welcome to the Age of Integration (part 2)

Do you want to deliver on your learning objective at the exact moment of need?

In my previous post, I examined the evolution of learning methodologies — from transactional to constructivist to integrated.

In this post, I’m going to share some new ideas we have for delivering your mission-critical content to the point of greatest learning impact: the moment that your employee is doing the work.

Introducing Go Team.
At Blueline Simulations, we are excited to make available a new, best-in-class team training product to our clients. It’s called “Go Team: Powering Team Performance,” and it’s a case study in integrated learning.

There are no mouse clicks here! We use immersive traditional media, delivered to teams in short modules at the moment of need.

For example, let’s say your intact workgroup faces an important decision. That’s the perfect moment to deliver the Go Team module: “Making Team Decisions.” As the need is identified, the team leader goes online and prints handouts for team members then, over a brief two-hour period, (perhaps an extended lunch?) the team is encouraged to analyze their decision and come to a consensus for action. And, of course, in the process they will practice skills for decision making that they can exercise over and over again in the future.

Go Team consists of 18 learning modules that cover a variety of learning needs that teams experience universally. Topics include Clarifying Team Roles, Building on Style Differences, Running Effective Meetings, Resolving Conflict, Giving & Receiving Feedback, Sparking Team Creativity, Managing Change and many more.

The age of integrated learning is here. And Blueline Simulations is at the front line, delivering and developing performance support tools (utilizing a wide range of technology and dialogue based solutions) that deliver on your learning objective at the exact moment of need with an almost surgical precision.

Want to know more or get a taste of Go Team as well as our other immersive, integrated learning tools and approaches? Contact us today. And we’ll show you what’s next in the world of organizational learning.