Leadership Development

Five classic signs your training lacks empathy

Stepping into someone else’s shoes to see things from their perspective can have maximum impact in both personal and professional situations. We have discussed empathetic learning design, and how to teach empathy, but how do you know if your learning initiatives need an empathy makeover? Below are some signs your training lacks empathy. If you’re noticing these, you may be in need of an empathetic learning approach to take your organization to the next level.

1. Your actual learner population isn’t reflected in the course visuals. 

If your staff comprises more than one gender, culture, or background, yet all of the visuals represent a single category, you may need to change things up. Corporate training frequently makes heavy use of stock photos, which isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s when those images lack diversity that the whole program can come across as generic and not applicable to individual learners. Your course visuals should represent the learner population in all its diversity. If they don’t, learners will have a harder time picturing themselves in the scenarios, and may even feel excluded and undervalued. 

Ideas for representing your learners in course visuals

There are a few ways to take a more inclusive approach with your visuals. First, if you’re going to use stock photos, choose images that represent the learner population. Sites like iStock and Shutterstock have come a long way in offering photos of people in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Even royalty-free stock photo sites offer cultural diversity that has come a long way over the past few years. Alternatively, consider using photos of actual employees in your company. Although it’ll require more effort to shoot or collect photos, the payoff of learners seeing themselves represented will make the work worthwhile.

Another work-around is to avoid using photorealistic visuals at all. There are many other visual art styles that can be effective without looking cartoonish. Sometimes it can be an effective design technique to help learners step away from interpersonal situations by representing them in an entirely different way. Even colors, animals, and textures can add visual interest while side-stepping the need for photos of people. Alternate images can also help learners through situations that have no clear answer by eliminating the bias that many images with humans can represent.

2. Difficult interpersonal situations are treated as having clear-cut answers.

When conducting training that involves challenging situations between people or teams, evaluate whether clear-cut answers are truly representative of the real-world situation. In most cases, navigating situations that require emotional intelligence can’t be boiled down to right vs. wrong. The gray area is what leads learners into thoughtful conversations, discussions of ideas, feelings, and perspectives. If you remove the gray area and limit learners to a right or wrong answer, you will have missed the opportunity to develop empathy. 

How to embrace the gray in learning simulations

It is possible to design training that encourages exploration of topics without a hard right or wrong answer. Traditionally these types of initiatives took place in classroom workshops, or may have required a high-end gamified scenario. New learning modalities adapted to the hybrid workforce are enabling companies to provide safe environments for teams to grapple with complex problems. That need is exactly what led to the development of our ExperienceBUILDER platform. In brief, we create space for learners to assess non-absolute questions by creating multiple scoring parameters for each decision. The real magic happens as teams interact to solve these problems together, competing against other teams using metrics that reflect real-world constraints.

3. You aren’t using accessible design principles.

Organizations need to understand accessible design principles, not only for their customers’ needs but also for their employees. Just like your customers, learners also need to have content that is accessible. If you’re avoiding these design principles for your learners, you could be completely excluding certain individuals or making it harder for them to learn. 

Having empathy toward learners means ensuring that everyone is equally included, regardless of any disabilities. Imagine if you were color blind, and your training was designed in colors that make it impossible for you to see. Chances are you would feel discouraged and would struggle to fully immerse yourself in the learning. Meeting learners where they are increases buy-in, leading to higher adoption and enhanced learning rates.

How to design online training with accessibility in mind

This is a huge topic of ongoing importance for all of us, and too much to address here in a brief blog post. There are many resources online that can help you navigate the basics of accessible design. Two we recommend are Sheryl Burgstahler’s 20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course and 10 Tips for Creating Accessible Course Content from Iowa State. To continue to exercise empathy in this area, evaluate the needs of the people in your learning audience. Are there specific concerns or needs that require more than the most basic accommodations? To get started exploring this area of the workforce, talk with your partners in HR.

4. People aren’t given adequate support to grapple with complex problems and implement changes back on the job

If you’ve launched a training program and expect to see results on day one, you may want to reevaluate your expectations. In order to help learners make improvements and implement desired change back into their jobs, you must give them grace, encouragement, and provide ongoing support. Learners will then feel comfortable implementing what they have learned where they see fit and when they feel it is right.

Build post-event support right into the training

What this looks like will really depend on the topic of the training itself. For example, many leadership development initiatives are now paired with ongoing coaching and mentorship programs. In other cases, a follow-up training event is appropriate. Considering what learners need after they’ve completed the initial program will go a long way toward adoption and overall impact.

5. You’ve assumed you understand what people need but have missed the mark

This is oftentimes one of the greatest challenges facing a leader. You may feel as though you know what people need, how they feel, or what will help them, but in reality you don’t see the whole picture. Lack of empathy and emotional intelligence can lead to missing the mark in all sorts of scenarios, and it’s particularly important for us to be aware of as learning leaders. We’ve all dealt with the classic challenge of being asked to build training for something that is actually a process or management problem; assuming you know exactly what learners need in a complex situation is the other side of the same coin.

How to overcome bias when assessing training need

There are many ways to get to the root of a need or problem when designing training; what they all boil down to is getting outside of your own perspective (i.e., showing empathy for the learner’s perspective). An empathy map is one helpful tool for working through the questions from the perspective of the learner. We also use a process called the Voice of the Business to bring in disparate perspectives. You may know what the organization needs as a whole, but your learners quite possibly know what is needed at their level better than you. Take the time to ask questions, offer anonymous questionnaires, and practice active listening. 

It’s important to develop empathetic learning practices, and also to help your learners develop empathy as a key skill for emotional intelligence. Nobody overtly tries to create training that lacks empathy, which is why it’s so important to look out for the signs. If you’re guilty of any of the above-mentioned items and unsure of the way forward, reach out to us. We can create a plan customized for your business needs that will help to incorporate empathy into the organization. 

Teaching empathy at work requires an environment of self-discovery

While we are born with a capacity for empathy, developing this soft skill takes time and is influenced by those around us. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, seeing a problem or situation from outside of your own point of view. When we feel empathetic toward someone else’s problem or circumstances, we’re able to be compassionate, which is crucial for developing relationships. Without empathy, relationships will fail to thrive, both personal and professional. A Center for Creative Leadership study found that empathetic leaders are “viewed as better performers in their jobs by their bosses.” 

Teaching empathy at work has become a particularly urgent task for learning leaders across the spectrum of industries. We can do so with direct techniques designed to help learners take a more compassionate approach to interpersonal situations. We also have an opportunity to influence the overall culture by designing empathy into the learning experiences we create.

Can empathy at work be taught effectively?

We’re all familiar with lackluster training experiences that beat learners over the head with orders to embrace diversity and be kind. While these may have marginal success at changing behavior in specific situations, they’re rarely effective at building true empathy between all members of a team because they don’t dig deep into personal biases. While it’s true that old habits die hard and personal change requires deep commitment, it is possible to create a program that builds an overall empathetic mindset in learners. Doing so requires a more nuanced approach that allows people to get deep into complex situations without straightforward solutions.

Empathy at work can be taught effectively if it’s approached in a way that invites robust dialog and enables learners to see past their existing beliefs. We all have biases, which developed over many years via our personal experiences, the media, and the people with whom we surround ourselves. Biases can negatively impact our ability to empathize. The most powerful antidote for bias is to see a situation from someone else’s point of view. Being aware of how others may view situations, actively listening to teammates, and engaging in conversation with people from diverse backgrounds can aid in developing empathy, inclusivity, and understanding in the workplace. In a training simulation, we can create an environment that enables learners to overcome their biases. Because biases are often deeply rooted, an effective training simulation must invite self-discovery, in which learners are provided with a safe environment to uncover and work through their biases (rather than didactic instruction on what they should do).

ExperienceBUILDERTM simulations foster empathy by putting learners into situations where there is no clear right or wrong answer (much like the problems learners are working through daily on the job). In an ExperienceBUILDER simulation, teams collaborate to find a solution that will impact a range of metrics, such as overall productivity, profitability, employee engagement, team health, and progress toward a goal. The team receives real-time feedback as their score meters change, and they must balance business needs with other priorities. Just like real-life situations, that balance is key. Sometimes one meter may go up while others go down. Working together as a team enables all learners to talk through the options, balance the pros and cons, and find a solution that checks as many possible positive boxes with minimal sacrifice. In the process, they can see how biases are affecting overall performance, and perhaps even begin to unravel their own closely held beliefs.

Why is empathy important in the workplace?

Studies support the business value of empathy and emotional intelligence. For example, healthcare professionals who show empathy toward their patients tend to see the patients adhere better to their treatments, thus resulting in better health outcomes. Empathy involves listening, understanding the emotions of another person, and responding accordingly. While many workplaces have long struggled with a lack of empathy, the events of the past two years have shone a spotlight on how critical empathy is to productive collaboration and business success. In a world of shifting work environments, labor shortages, and ever-changing business needs, leaders and contributors at all levels must be able to empathize with their colleagues in order to be successful. 

Training people to be more empathetic is possible with an immersive, discovery-based approach. ExperienceBUILDER simulations can help to guide individuals into meaningful conversations, solve complex interpersonal situations, uncover biases and judgment, and improve inclusion efforts for a diverse workforce. Ready to learn more? Contact us to schedule a consultation.

Practice Doesn’t Always Make Perfect

Why Training from Day One Just Makes Sense

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We’ve all heard the expression “practice makes perfect.” When I was young, my dad would provide me with all kinds of objects of curiosity to keep me active, help me learn discipline and (most of the time) test my resolve. My first BB gun, a set of weights, baseball bats/gloves and footballs all were handed to me with instruction from dad to “get out there, use these things, and get good at them.”

Now picture yourself at eight, nine or even 49… and someone simply hands you something to do and tells you to go out and get good at it. Don’t get me wrong, my dad was a great man and meant well, but it was near impossible to succeed without basic instruction and direction, encouragement when I succeeded and consequences when I didn’t.

Each of us has witnessed firsthand the results of self-directed instruction without skill or discipline. Schools and businesses are littered with self-proclaimed experts in skills untested. Employees are placed into jobs with some preparation, but not always tested or incentivized to perfect their trade, service or skill. We rock along looking for performance, and performance doesn’t come. When performance doesn’t come, the employee and employer become frustrated and perhaps disengaged. They try “emergency room” triage education and encouragement, then move to minor – and sometimes major – surgery (i.e., classes, seminars, coaches and mentors). More often than not, it’s too late.

Blueline Simulations offers a variety of employee development blended learning solutions to give your employees the skills and strategies they need to succeed from the beginning… thereby avoiding frustration, disengagement and the need to backpedal in an effort to get things on the right track. For you, this means your strategic goals are being pursued. For your employees, it means added competence and confidence to meet those goals.

Our engaging curriculum includes immersive onboarding experiences that engage and prepare new hires for success from day one – a move that could save your organization millions of dollars. We also offer leadership development for new leaders and business transformation for organizations that want to set their employees up for success through change.

I invite you to contact us to learn more about any of our business acumen options, employee development, custom classroom simulations, Blueline Blueprint™ learning visuals or other innovative delivery methods that have been generating notable business results in leading organizations worldwide for more than 13 years.

Going for Gold: Strengthening Your Teams Through Business Acumen

business acumen

Although the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil are just a memory now, most of us saw some (or in my wife’s case, “all”) of the games. From the opening to the closing two weeks later, there was plenty of excitement and pride for both the athletes and the fans.

Interestingly enough, while all 11,000 participants were athletes, they all have very different skill sets, abilities and talents. Golfers play their own game, but some are much better than others – or are further advanced in their skills. Soccer players have different positions, requiring them to have slightly different skills, yet they’re all on the same team and complement each other with their abilities.

Business is much the same way. Each department, function, region or work segment is a vital part of the whole. All employees receive fundamental education or training before participating in specialized education/training that provides the competence and confidence to do their jobs and contribute to the good of the entire company.

So how important is it for your employees to understand your entire business? How deep should you go in your organization to get them to understand “your business” or business in general?

Believe it or not, if you want to get your employees excited about your business, provide them with knowledge about how it works – and link that to how valuable they are in each role.

You might say, “This all sounds good, but I can’t afford to put all of my employees through a course on business acumen.” Fair enough, but how about those who lead your employees? If your leaders were equipped with business acumen at a level they could appreciate, then they could answer the hard questions and provide guidance to help employees understand how the business works.

Blueline Simulations’ suite of business acumen courses includes:

ALL EMPLOYEES

Apples and Oranges – Business finance and strategy for employees at all levels Performance – Marketplace strategy for all employees

FIRST- AND SECOND-LEVEL LEADERS & INDIVIDUAL CONTRIBUTORS

Decision Base®

Business finance and strategy for managers of your manufacturing or distribution organization

Tango™

Business finance and strategy for managers of your service-driven organization

Business Challenge™

Online business finance and strategy for managers and individual contributors

HIGH POTENTIALS AND SENIOR LEADERS

Executive Challenge™

Business finance and strategy for executives and high potentials

Enterprise™

Market analysis and positioning for managers and executives

I invite you to contact us to learn more about any of our business acumen options, custom classroom simulations, Blueline Blueprint™ learning visuals or other innovative delivery methods that have been generating notable business results in leading organizations worldwide for more than 13 years.

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Reflections on Coaching: Why a Mirror Might Be Your Most Valuable Development Tool

Organizations worldwide have spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the years on peer assessments and live skill practice, all in an effort to hold a mirror up to their leaders.

The goal? To get leaders to see themselves as their employees and others see them – namely in coaching situations – and build on their strengths while improving on their weaknesses.

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This approach reminds me of a time when I coached my sons’ youth sports teams. I was that guy on the sidelines, screaming at a group of 8- to 9-year-olds to do this, stop doing that, run over here and block over there – all in the name of winning.

Of course, at the time I didn’t see myself that way. After all, coaching pre-teens in an athletic environment is easy, right? Kids trust quickly, expect to make mistakes, love to learn, and the culture on the playing field is one of constant coaching. Besides, I cared about the kids and enjoyed the incredible environment in which they trusted me and craved my coaching.

But then came the video

I asked my wife to shoot video of some games so I could watch them afterward and look for ways to help the children improve. What I discovered came as a shock: It was me who needed to improve. The videos were key to learning about and improving my own coaching weaknesses.

Through the videos, my coaching style evolved, and I became supremely confident in my skills with the children. I discovered how to challenge them, pick them up when they were down and even occasionally inspire them to greatness. To this day, many of my sons’ friends still refer to me as “coach.”

Your associates, of course, aren’t children in a sports environment; however, I believe there are still some important lessons to be learned from my experience. To enjoy success as a leader, you need to:

  • Build a culture of trust and constant coaching. Encourage your people to take risks and make mistakes.
  • Honestly assess your skills as a coach. You likely model a compilation of everyone who has coached you over the years, which may or may not be a good thing.
  • Find a “mirror” so that you can watch your skills evolve over time. What you see is likely to be truly eye-opening and possibly career-changing.

If accessibility and cost make finding a “mirror” difficult, I’ve got great news: Blueline’s simulation technology offers an exceptionally affordable mirror that enables anyone who needs it to develop and hone their coaching skills in a safe environment. Imagine rehearsing delivering difficult feedback in a range of real-life performance improvement scenarios to a broad range of employee personalities. Imagine using these newfound skills to build a culture of trust and constant coaching. Imagine the positive impact your high-performing team will have on your organization. Demo the simulation now to experience the possibilities.

Contact the coaching specialists at Blueline today to learn more about our leadership-related offerings or any of our custom classroom simulations, Blueline Blueprint™ learning visuals or other innovative delivery methods that have been generating notable business results in leading organizations worldwide for more than 13 years.