Workspaces are more open and casual. Inhabitants are more diverse in every way. Mobile devices abound. Paper and writing tables are scarce. There is a sense of continuous motion. Start and stop times are difficult to identify. Organizational hierarchies are nearly invisible.
Now, the largest demographic in the U.S. labor force, workers of the Millennial generation, have often been criticized or, even blamed for some of the generational conflict in the workplace as they push up against the traditional power holders in organizations, the Baby Boomers. Another, sometimes painful, reality is that we are changing and learning from the new workers! The Millennial and other younger generations have grown up with technology in hand. Their hand-helds are their security blankets. They multitask as a way of life, are comfortable in a self-directed learning environment, and are adept in digital and electronic communications, whether e-mail, text, twitter, or video calls.
When it comes to training, Millennials know how to mine data and gather information; they don’t default to an instructor to present fundamental concepts to them. There are many components of traditional Learning and Development (L&D) programs that can be carved out and deliver more effectively on digital platforms. This is where technology shines, with eLearning, webinars, self-paced learning, virtual classrooms, and gamification. Training can be suited to any device, from PC to tablet to smartphone.
But, not everything that L&D provides can or should be delivered in the virtual world. Take, for example, Richardson’s Six Critical Skills for sales: Positioning, Listening, Questioning, Relating, Presence, and Checking. While knowledge about each skill — why it’s important, what’s involved, and how it’s used — can be learned on digital platforms, it takes instructor-led sessions to build competency in each skill, providing opportunities for practice and feedback.
The optimal result comes from adapting learning and creating a blended L&D program that reduces both the time and cost of an actual training event while sustaining engagement and ultimately improving outcomes, as employees come to training sessions better prepared with basic knowledge that they can then build on in realistic role plays.
The first generation of technology platforms for training allowed greater access by more people and more flexibility in scheduling. Such tools included online video courses, eBooks, audiobooks, and even the early webinars, in which an instructor would walk through slides and give a presentation. Those technologies worked well to an extent but were mainly one-way communications.
Today’s technology is becoming even more interactive, with two-way communications made possible with allowing audience members to ask questions in real time. There are also adaptive learning platforms, built on complex algorithms, that change the nature of the interaction based on how the person has previously responded, with mastery demonstrated through Q&A and other tests.
The challenge is to make the best use of technology without just dumping traditional material onto the new platform. The idea is to find ways to engage participants as early and often as possible, which is one reason gamification is becoming more widespread in L&D environments. Richardson uses one such mobile gamification tool, QuickCheckTM powered by Qstream®, to reinforce and sustain learning and desired behaviors after a classroom (whether traditional or virtual).
A final element is needed to reinforce both traditional and digital learning — and that is coaching. Here again the fundamentals of coaching can be learned through technology platforms to gain knowledge. But, acquiring competency in coaching requires a more personal approach, with an instructor who can present realistic scenarios for role play and then offer constructive, personally nuanced feedback for improving skills. The nuances of interpersonal communication and the social and emotional intelligence of interactions are best addressed face to face.
Most often, training with managers on developmental coaching skills for their teams is done in day-long workshops. It can also be done in one-on-one sessions or over the phone. The important point to note is that personal interaction can be overlaid on digital training in fundamentals, but it can’t be eliminated if coaching is to become a competency.
This is true for coaching and for all other skills-based training in sales effectiveness and performance improvement.