Talent Management

Addressing Talent Challenges Through a Comprehensive Approach

Transform to Retain: Addressing today’s talent challenges through a comprehensive approach to career planning, performance management, compensation, and skill development

Over the last year, the Great Resignation has left companies reeling from talent challenges, with 4.3 million employees leaving their jobs in January of 2022. The talent market has become wildly competitive, so how do organizations of today attract, engage, and retain valuable employees? 

Employers are all too familiar with the costs of replacing an employee. Along with the cost of recruiting and training new employees, high workforce turnover also harms workforce morale, and the customer experience. On the other hand, more and more employers are realizing that an engaged, satisfied workforce presents a significant competitive advantage. Engaged and committed employers are not only less likely to leave, but they also perform better, are more satisfied in their roles, and are more productive.

The organizations currently succeeding in this area have a key common trait: an integrated, transparent approach to career planning, performance management, compensation, and skill development.  

Why are employees leaving? 

A new Pew Research Center survey identified the top reasons why Americans quit their jobs last year: 

  1. Low pay (63%)
  2. No opportunities for advancement (63%)
  3. Feeling disrespected at work (57%)

It’s interesting to note that a lack of opportunities for advancement is weighted equally with low pay. Although remuneration is important, it’s only one aspect of the employee experience. Those who quit their jobs in 2021 and are now employed elsewhere have seen some improvement in their current work situation compared with their previous jobs: 

  • Earning more money (56%)
  • More opportunities for advancement (53%)
  • An easier time balancing work and family responsibilities (53%)
  • More flexibility with regards to work hours (50%)

What these numbers show us is that employees are not assets or resources—they are human beings. They want more than a high salary. They want a company culture that supports them, and a career with purpose and prospects. That’s why the ideal employee experience focuses on the whole individual: mental and physical health, along with aspirations for professional growth and development. 

A recent Gallup study found that more than half of workers in the U.S want to upgrade their skills, and 65% of workers refer to employer-provided upskilling when evaluating a potential new job. At all levels of the organization, training and employee engagement go hand in hand, and engagement is closely linked to retention. 

Business transformation initiatives simply can’t afford to fail 

In today’s competitive talent landscape, business transformation needs to take a people-centered approach to create sustainable change, which requires buy-in from employees at all levels. Some are even referring to this time in our history as the People Revolution. Business leaders need to adopt changes that avoid employee burnout, improve employee engagement, and minimize turnover. Failure to do so could be disastrous in organizations dealing with a toxic work culture.

It’s no small task for leaders to engage their teams and gain employee buy-in to the transformation effort. Further, organizations undergoing a transformation will frequently introduce new leader attributes or behaviors, some of which require significant adjustments to past behaviors. Leaders require a clear understanding of the things they’re accountable for, as well as the skills they need to develop in themselves and their teams. Training can offer strong support and help leaders feel confident in this process, and also help to cultivate a learning culture where employees at all levels have a growth-oriented mindset.

Create growth opportunities at all levels of the organization

As studies (and our own experience) suggest, most employees want to grow and evolve along their career paths, opening opportunities to both earn more and expand their skill sets. Blueline’s training and communication tools can facilitate your organization’s transformation to an integrated, transparent approach to career planning, performance management, compensation, and skill development. We can help your organization to become a preferred employer by investing in your people, making growth part of the culture, and enhancing employee engagement. 

Contact us to schedule a consultation to learn more about our learning solutions, and ways to overcome talent challanges.

Don’t neglect learner engagement—engaged learners drive business results 

We’ve discussed the link between training and employee engagement, but there’s another type of learner engagement that’s a crucial success factor for learning initiatives. For a learning program to change behavior and drive business results, the learners have to be engaged in what they’re learning. Training that fails to engage learners is like attempting to drive a car without gas—it just won’t go anywhere. That said, it’s often easier to build unengaging training, particularly when the training will be delivered online. Your learners deserve better, and they’re quietly begging you to try something new. By understanding the real causes of a problem intended to be addressed by training and leveraging the latest tech, you can deliver great benefits to the business.

Get to the root of the problem

In order to see any results, the learning program needs to get to the root of the problem. Without diving into the organization’s issues, the training program will be deemed a superficial effort by the learners who know that there are unaddressed organizational problems impeding their success. Too often companies will design their training to address what they think is the issue, when in reality it stems from elsewhere. For example, a company that is receiving a substantial amount of customer service complaints decides to work on a customer service training program to help improve customer service ratings. However, the root cause of poor customer service ratings may be a faulty product that is frustrating customers. Without getting to the root cause of the customer service complaints, the issue can’t be solved.

A root-cause analysis can help an organization understand the actual problem and ensure it’s one that can be addressed by a behavior change. In our example above, there probably isn’t a training need at all for those customer service representatives. Our Voice of the Business needs assessment harnesses insights from inside the business to help identify the real problem and whether it can be addressed by training. 

By combining research, free-form interviews, focus groups, and questionnaires, the team can ensure that the root problem is identified. If a change in employee behavior is the answer, the root-cause analysis will equip the team to develop a training program designed to reach the problem at its core. Incorporating employees into the needs assessment helps us to identify critical issues and ensure the learning program will be engaging for the employees themselves—simply because the targeted learners will be able to see that we’ve taken their concerns into account when designing the training. Taking this approach helps to show empathy towards the learners; creating an empathetic learning design is an important piece of learner engagement.

Use technology to create an engaging online learning experience

Once you’ve gotten to the root of the problem, it’s time to start having some fun. It’s a well-established fact that when learners are engaged while going through training, they’re more likely to retain the information and change their behavior back on the job. Traditionally, high-stakes learning initiatives with complex requirements for outcomes (we’re looking at you, leadership development) have been delivered in a classroom setting. The parallel forces of advances in tech and the rapid rise of remote work have helped to make engaging online learning accessible for a much wider audience. 

We see 4 key factors that determine whether an online learning experience will be engaging:

  1. Stable, easy-to-use technology capable of delivering the program to team members in multiple locations
  2. Gamified or competitive elements that motivate performance
  3. Discovery-based learning (draw them in and let them figure it out, as opposed to delivering content and expecting them to memorize it)
  4. Empathetic design that demonstrates a genuine understanding of the real-life factors impacting performance on the job

In fact, these forces are exactly why we developed our ExperienceBUILDER™ platform, which delivers immersive, simulation-based training that’s equally engaging for co-located and remote teams. ExperienceBUILDER simulations present real-life business scenarios that have no clear-cut answer. Learners are faced with hard choices that drive discussion, spark debate, and open the door to developing new skills. Robust feedback ensures participants can identify the desired best practices. Every learner in an ExperienceBUILDER simulation is engaged by team-based problem solving and the competitive drive of a live leaderboard. Furthermore, these simulations drive accountability and provide team-building opportunities, which in turn serve to improve decision-making skills in the workplace. 

The business will benefit when learners are engaged in training

Numerous studies have shown that engaged learners are significantly more likely to change behavior and drive business results (provided the training is targeting the root cause of a business problem). In fact, we assert that the converse is also true: when a training program fails to engage learners, they’re highly unlikely to change behavior and drive business results (even if the training did target the root problem). 

Bringing people together in a classroom setting continues to be a challenge; technology and instructional design can work together to offer a solution that leaves no excuse for unengaging training. Organizations that haven’t solved the learner engagement problem in online training are rapidly losing ground. If you’re struggling in this area, reach out to us. You may be surprised to learn that delivering engaging training to a geographically dispersed audience is much simpler and less resource-intensive than it once was.

What is a learning simulation?

Learning simulations are a valuable tool for organizations looking to develop their teams. Simulations allow learners to advance their skills in a controlled environment with the use of fictitious scenarios. Using simulations increases the engagement of learners, and also promotes critical thinking and problem-solving capabilities. Simulations can be used in various types of industries, across all departments, in order to provide people with the opportunity to learn and practice a wide variety of skills. 

What is a simulation?

Simulations place learners in lifelike scenarios that often lack clear-cut answers and enable the opportunity to experience the outcomes of choices without invoking real-world consequences. Flight simulations are a classic example, in which pilots can react to various weather, takeoff, and landing challenges. They can discover the consequences of a broad range of actions without literally crashing a plane. The simulation is programmed to react to pilots’ mistakes, allowing them to learn the appropriate and safest solutions to challenges that they are faced with in flight. When they’re later flying real planes, they’re better equipped to make split-second decisions and arrive safely at their destinations. Flight simulations give pilots the opportunity to gain confidence, experience, and knowledge without the cost or possible negative consequences of a real flight. 

Simulations are also commonly known for being used in medical practice, as well as armed forces and police departments. However, they can be applied more broadly than these high-profile examples. The same techniques used to simulate a medical emergency or hostage crisis can also be adapted to interpersonal conflict, leadership skills, and just about any other situation that involves critical thinking and decision making. Sometimes referred to as experiential learning, simulations can take many forms, such as role-play, games, and team-based experiences. A simulation can be equally effective in an in-person learning environment or remote. 

When can a simulation be used?

Organizations have been using simulations as a part of their training programs for decades. They can be a great opportunity for team-based learning across every department. Learning organizations find simulations to be very fitting for developing interpersonal and customer-focused skills. They’re often applied to leadership development, management, sales and marketing, and customer service. While a simulation can be used to teach a consistent process, they’re commonly used for situations with a lot of gray area, lacking clear-cut answers. Simulations can also be very powerful when a decision may have both positive and negative consequences, and they can show the ways that one choice with multiple facets has a wide-ranging impact.

For example, in a customer-focused training simulation, learners can see how their body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions affect their outcomes in customer interactions. What happens when you greet a customer with a friendly smile and welcoming tone of voice, as opposed to folded arms and a negative tone of voice? Rather than telling people to smile and be welcoming, the simulation gives them the opportunity to explore the possibilities and come to the desired conclusion without any real-world consequences of alienated customers. While this example seems like a black-and-white decision, the power of the simulation is that the learners must deal with the consequences of their choices. Can they rescue the customer interaction after a rude greeting? Might there be situations where an over-the-top greeting is actually off-putting to the customer? Simulations enable explorations of many possibilities.

Why use a simulation?

Simulations are used for a variety of purposes and have many benefits. They promote the use of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, both independently and as a team. Simulations force learners to think deeper, have thoughtful conversations, and be open to listening to others’ ideas and points of view because there are often no clear answers. In many cases, learners will be faced with issues that directly concern themselves, but also involve those around them and the organization as a whole. Learners need to be able to think for themselves, but also to be open to working through issues that arise with the help of others. 

Simulations have become a popular learning tool for organizations due to the fact that they allow people to learn from experience without the risk of wasted resources or lost customers. Working through complicated scenarios reduces the need to spend time in real-life situations figuring it out on the spot and learning from (costly) mistakes. These learning experiences can be done in a controlled environment, custom-designed specifically for the organization, desired outcomes, and learning department. 

Our ExperienceBUILDER™ simulation learning platform enables an equally effective experience whether teams are co-located, remote, or both. ExperienceBUILDER sims are custom-built or tailored to suit the needs of the organization, and the platform itself meets the needs of a hybrid workforce by facilitating team collaboration from anywhere. Learners work together on teams to impact such metrics as resolving conflict, allocating resources, increasing engagement, and developing their staff. Multiple teams can go head-to-head, seeing their performance against one another on a live leaderboard.

We welcome the opportunity to discuss how simulations could benefit your organization and the way in which your learners develop their skills. Our custom-designed learning programs have been producing notable business results from some of the leading worldwide organizations for over a decade. Contact us today to schedule a meeting. 

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. 

Empathetic learning design enables relevant and maximally effective training

Individuals want to feel heard and understood, at home, at work, and when learning new skills. When designing training, it is vital to understand learner pain points, past experiences, and motivations. By taking an empathetic approach from the beginning of the instructional design process, you can generate higher adoption rates, encourage thoughtful conversations, and facilitate open communication. 

While it may sound simple in theory, in practice, empathetic learning design isn’t always a straightforward process. It involves meeting all of the needs of your learners—even needs learners have not openly expressed or personally acknowledged. 

Empathetic learning considers the needs of a specific group of learners; the organization’s culture and diversity; and recent challenges. Empathetic designs often take an immersive approach that use stories/scenarios to create opportunities for problem solving with a nuanced treatment of content that demands inclusive discussions.

When dealing with sensitive content, it’s rare to get any learning program completely right without input from your target audience. Ask your learners for their honest thoughts and feedback, and show you value their input by responding accordingly. 

What tools can help with empathetic learning design?

Using an empathy map provides a helpful framework for going beyond learning objectives and delving into the learner’s point of view. Empathy maps have long been in use by user experience designers and can be a powerful tool for helping to understand your learners’ needs. 

The empathy mapping process uses a series of questions to put you in the position of the learner as you are designing training. You begin by identifying who you’re empathizing with and what he or she needs to do. While this part is straightforward for instructional designers because we’re used to defining our audience and stating learning objectives, we don’t often delve into next-level questions that are typically included on an empathy map: 

1. What does the learner see…

  • In the work environment?
  • In the learning experience?
  • When he or she is looking for information or otherwise consuming content?

Take a step back and try to see things as they would.

2. What does the learner say…

  • In work-related interactions with peers and leaders?
  • When communicating with customers?
  • Outside of work?

And perhaps even more enlightening: what doesn’t the learner say? Is there tension in what’s left unsaid? 

3. What does the learner hear…

  • From colleagues and leaders?
  • From customers?
  • In a learning environment?
  • Outside of work?

Are you truly listening to what the individual is saying? If so, are you responding in an empathetic manner? Are you strictly sticking to business regardless of what may be going on?

4. What does the learner do…

  • Within a learning simulation?
  • On the job when faced with a situation like the one you’re simulating?
  • When approaching a difficult decision?

What may be the root cause of the gaps between the learner’s current actions and the desired behavior? Are there reasons for that behavior that may not be immediately obvious?

5. What does the learner think and feel?

This is probably the most difficult component of the empathy map to get right, and simultaneously the easiest to get very wrong. While we may think we understand what our learners are thinking and feeling, the exercise of working through the questions above may reveal otherwise. 

  • Does each individual feel included and valued? 
  • Do they feel something should be changed? 
  • What do they worry about?
  • What do they wish could happen? 

In some cultures, you may not even be able to get learners’ true thoughts by asking outright. Anonymous surveys and opportunities for feedback can offer an opportunity to get to the bottom of hidden thoughts and feelings.

Empathy in the workplace is becoming a top priority for organizations that are looking for ways to retain current employees and attract new talent. When employees feel as though they are seen, understood, and valued, they perform at their best. Demonstrating that you understand them through an immersive learning experience can be transformative. 

Struggling with the foundational work required to create empathetic learning designs?

Our time-tested Voice of the Business process is a proven alternative to traditional needs assessment (and a client favorite). It involves employees in a way that secures their buy-in while getting to the root of what people really need to be successful. You gain insights to help you create an authentic learning experience while integrating empathetic learning design. Contact us to schedule a consultation and learn how we can support you.