I’ve been wanting to write for some time about the customization of, well, everything. I think it’s fascinating that so much can be customized to your very specific, individual tastes. Personalization is in virtually everything we do.

Movies/television? Give Netflix a go.

Music? Check out Pandora.

Hungry? Get a NatureBox with your own favorite snacks.

Sports? Yes, even sports. ESPN’s 22 million (and growing) website visitors are going to see a customized display based on their own location, interests, etc.

This incredible shift is hitting us in all of these areas, but a story I heard a few years ago about a school in New York could be the next advance in learning.

Let me introduce you to the School of One from iZone. Here’s a bit about them:

iZone is a catalyst for 21st Century learning across the New York City Department of Education, (NYCDOE) the largest school district in the country, serving 1.1 million students in more than 1,700 schools. We work with schools, the edtech marketplace and policy makers to design and scale promising learning models that prepare all students for college and careers.

So what is the School of one? In a nutshell it is an individualized education plan that adapts to a child’s learning style. Not just a program that we set based on a child’s preferences, but an actual adaptive program that can change over time to deliver the highest-impact learning experiences possible.

This is blended learning at its best. Children are taught in traditional group classroom lectures, small group work with peers, and online tutoring sessions. Then teachers can review the data on performance before and after the types of sessions, and an algorithm helps to select the following day’s exercises based on which ones the student learned from best. Over time this happens continuously to fit the program to the individual student—hence the name “School of One.”

But What about the Workplace?

We know that our training and development efforts are not going to reach all employees in the same way. And each employee has different needs from the training programs we offer.

What if instead of using a blanket program we could tailor it over time to deliver the best possible learning experience for the lowest possible price? Here’s an example of how this could play out in the workplace.

The Custom Learning Training Method

Let’s say Mary scores highly on a post-test after she sits through a live instruction class, but Bob scores higher after he completes a learning game. Tomorrow we swap them to compare the results. If both of them have the biggest improvement from the learning game, maybe we start lean more heavily on the gaming aspect.

Then we introduce another element: social learning. At this point they diverge. Mary does poorly when it comes to social interaction, but Bob does even better than with the game. So in terms of the learning programs Mary’s preferences are built this way:

  1. Game
  2. Live instruction
  3. Social

But Bob’s are different:

  1. Social
  2. Game
  3. Live instruction

And over time the algorithm will continuously tailor the training to best meet their needs and return the best results for the time invested.

How is this different?

Some would say that companies already offer these types of training options, but the difference here is the system learns what works best for you and redirects time and resources into training you via that medium. It’s not just based on preference–I might like video training but it doesn’t necessarily improve my results as much as a learning game.

My first thought is that this sounds incredibly costly to develop. But Pandora offers an even deeper level of customization completely for free for most users (and still managed to net $230 million in 2015 revenue). And Netflix is just a few dollars a month for a matching algorithm that measures your TV and movie preferences to deliver recommendations that you would enjoy. As more attention moves to this concept of the custom learning experience, we will see more opportunities to scale these types of programs. I’m excited to see what is next.

What are your thoughts on custom learning experiences? What other ways can customization and personalization weave into our training methods and HR practices? 

Recently I had the pleasure of joining Trish McFarlane for an HCMx Radio podcast episode where we talked about how to use simulations in your recruiting and training initiatives.

We start with a bit of my background–if you’re new here that might be interesting for you. Then we leap into some of the work we’re doing at Brandon Hall Group. Finally we get into the meat of the conversation–using simulations to really drive home better recruiting/selection practices and better training/development practices. It was fun and I think you’ll enjoy listening!

Click here to listen to the podcast.

HCMx Radio on BlogTalkRadio

One of the things we talked about was having exercises for different types of jobs. I found this excellent set of examples below (this is partial, click through below for the full listing) to illustrate the point that virtually every job can include some element of this type of tool.

Job Simulation Exercises

PositionMust-haveSample Exercise
COOCritical thinking, writingObserve the organization in action (delivering a training session, staging a rally, holding a hearing, etc.) and propose recommendations for improvement in a 2-3 page memo
Manager of programsStrategic thinkingRead and analyze a set of goals and objectives and come up with recommendations to pursue
Director of communicationsPublic speaking, judgmentRehearse a press conference or a call with a reporter about a controversial program we support
Manager of a small- or medium-sized departmentGeneral management, staff supervisionSimulate giving positive and corrective feedback to a supervisee

Courtesy of the Management Center

 So, what did you think of the topic? Do you like the podcast format? Would you like to see more of those? 

Training needs to mirror real life.

Think about it. If I’m training you on how to change a bicycle tire and then I set you in front of a bus, that training wasn’t very useful. It didn’t mirror real life. It wasn’t realistic.

If I train you on how to change a bus tire indoors on a smooth surface with all of the proper tools at hand, you’ll be more likely to be successful if you have to put that skill into practice.

However, if I ultimately train you to change that tire complete with all of the environmental factors (outdoors, possibly on a road shoulder surface, angry customers staring down at your back, etc.) in the mix, there’s a greater chance of success overall.

As you might imagine, this applies in the workplace as well. In the short video below I talk about simulating real life in both training and recruiting/selection. Subscribers click through to view.

In the past I have shared free eBooks on employee development and training. You might be interested in checking those out.

If you’d like to read the rest of the article and learn three questions to ask yourself about your training as well as a shocking statistic behind aircraft pilot training, you can do so at the Brandon Hall Group blog.

This topic is a bit controversial, but it’s something that I believe and stand by. Why? Because I’m a fan of reading, for one, but also because I have personally seen this work as a tool in the world of work.

  • I’ve used books within performance discussions, both positive (succession/development oriented) and negative (performance improvement/problem-focused) with varying degrees of results.
  • I have helped to establish a library for employees to help them have access to some of the books that mattered not only to our industry, but also to the type of culture we wanted to have.
  • I have read books that have made me better at work in a variety of ways. Knowledge really is powerful stuff.

Last week I was quoted in the Chicago Tribune talking about this very topic. The article is a good one and worth a read. Here’s a snipped:

It dawned on me recently that reading is not an activity that’s often associated with work. It’s more of a leisure-time endeavor, which is fine — but if it’s so darn good for us to read, why shouldn’t reading be a part of the working world?

I’m not talking about co-workers starting a book club, but rather companies encouraging all employees to read certain books. Maybe even launching discussions about those books or using them to drive home aspects of the company’s culture.

“I think it really applies to the workplace and the kind of environments we want to create,” said Ben Eubanks, a human resources analyst at Brandon Hall Group and an advocate for workplace reading. “One of the things that I like best is when you read it and I read it, and then we get together and talk about it. The discussion that happens afterward. If you’re sitting in a PowerPoint presentation, I’m telling you things and you’re taking things in but there’s really no discussion.”

He thinks reading should be an expected part of any employee’s performance. It could range from books that management picks for all workers to read — ones that get at the company’s core philosophies — to books that managers suggest for specific employees, with an eye toward helping make the employee better.

“I’ve worked with managers in the past to assign them a book that we think will help them learn the things they need to learn or develop a skill they’re not being exposed to,” Eubanks said. “People who are successful are often crazy about reading. They make time for that because they understand how important it is, and it’s kind of like a secret weapon.”

Instant replay

Let’s replay that last part again:

People who are successful are often crazy about reading. They make time for that because they understand how important it is, and it’s kind of like a secret weapon.

Simply put, leaders read. And people at all levels of our organizations can be extraordinary leaders, if we help give them the keys to learn and grow.

I can’t determine causation without some hefty research, so I can’t speak to whether reading makes us successful, or successful people naturally read more. What I can say is that there is correlation there and we can certainly attempt to exploit that for the betterment of our employees and their families.

The big picture

As I have shared numerous times in the past, reading is something I believe we all could stand to do more of. If you’re trying to read a book per week, learn how to set up a structured reading program within your company, or set up a book club in your local area to connect with other folks who want to get smarter, those are all worthwhile goals.

That’s why I have published dozens of book reviews over the years. That’s why I continue to accept the ridiculous number of pitches from publishers trying to get me to read and review books about HR, leadership, talent, learning, etc. I want to get better, but I also want to share with you so you can get better, too.

I can still remember the first book review I ever did. As I read The Pursuit of Something Better something changed and I really saw how the ideas I picked up from the book could impact my day to day HR practices. This is powerful stuff, and if you learn only one idea from a book that you can use on a regular basis, then it’s worth your time and money to invest.

Thanks for letting me rant a bit. Some of you will take this to heart, pick up a book (maybe one I have suggested), and commit to being better at this HR thing. Others will finish reading this article and move on, making no changes to their own professional growth. I hope I’ve reached you, dear reader, as one of the former.

I’m at the SHRM Talent Management Conference in Nashville this week. This morning I attended a session on improving employee retention by Linda Ginac at TalentGuard. Here are some thoughts on that topic…

Turnover is real

With average employee turnover by generation standing at 2 years (Millenials), 5 years (Gen X), and 7 years (Boomers), turnover is a real issue for organizations everywhere. According to a recent study, the average turnover in the US is 15% with just over 10% of that being voluntary/preventable.

So, what are you going to do about it?

[Related: Check out this employee retention video]

Each employee is more than their job title

Continue reading

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a project to collect some employee development ideas for a free eBook. It launched recently, and I’m excited to share it with you today. Click the link below to download this guide full of actionable tips and strategies relating to employee development ideas. I have published a piece of my contributed article below for you to see the kinds of topics the free guide includes.

The Development Scale – Leading the Right Shift to Self and Organizational Development

Employee Development Ideas: Encouraging Development

employee development ideasCongratulations! You’ve picked a development goal for yourself. It’s big, but that’s okay, because the important thing is that you’re focusing on your development and setting goals for yourself. Now let’s sit back, relax, and enjoy the happy feelings associated with setting a personal goal.

Or not.

See, the problem that I consistently see with employees making development goals is that they don’t give enough thought to the actual completion of the goal. It feels good to set a goal and declare our intentions, but when you’re mired in the “everyday” tasks, the goal is the furthest thing from your mind.

The important thing here is that we all need some encouragement to pursue those stretch developmental goals — they don’t just happen accidentally.

And research shows that employee development may have a larger impact on their overall work and results than previously believed…

Click here to check out the guide and read the rest of my piece, along with content from some of the other highly intelligent development ninjas in the space! A big thanks to my pal Chris Ponder for putting this guide of employee development ideas together!

I’m edging into my three year mark with Pinnacle Solutions, and I’m thinking a good bit on growing professionally and avoiding a stagnant mindset, among other things. Recently my friend Krista published a piece on staying fresh. She made some great comments, and I want to spin off those today as a great tie in to the overall discussion.

  • How long is too long?  
  • How do you keep growing?

how long before you burn outJust to get us started, let’s check out some of Krista’s commentary:

I’m a little torn on this whole 10 years [at the same job] = stale idea. I’m not stale. You know what, I’ve known people who were stale in their roles after two months, because the truth is, they were never fresh. I’ve known people who moved from position to position within the same organization and are still stale with each incarnation. And… I’ve known people who honestly do stay too long and go stale in their roles.

So, if there’s a formula or idea on how to do it right, what is it? How do we answer the big questions mentioned above? Let’s dig in.

How long is too long?

We’ve all met those people. They are continuing to “work” and exist in the workplace, but they aren’t contributing anything of value. They are going through the motions and just biding their time until they can leave. They’ve been there too long.

In my own career, I have kept up one steady focus: grow or leave. If I ever get to a point in my job where I’ve stopped growing and learning and I no longer have passion for my daily efforts, then I start looking elsewhere. In the past, that could have been 1 year, 2 years, or more. It really depends on the manager, workplace, and other factors.

That has been my longstanding decision, though. And I stand by it. If you’re not growing and developing, you might as well find a place where you can.

How do you keep growing?

It might be a surprise to some of you, but growing requires effort. You can’t just sit back and have growth opportunities pour into your lap forever. Sure, when you pick up a new role or responsibility, you might have the option of picking and choosing from a multitude of growth opportunities, but eventually you’ll have to take the responsibility on yourself and seek them out.

As I discuss in the post on owning your own growth, you need to have a mindset change. Want to be more valuable? Make yourself more valuable. Want to develop new skills? Start researching ways to make that happen. We all have growth areas we can pursue, but the hardest part is often making the first move. Commit. Go for it. Make it so.

Nobody else is going to do it for you.

Wrapping it up

To turn it back to my own career progression, I’m approaching the three year mark at Pinnacle and still learning new things each week. I’m staying on top of trends, learning new software tools, and developing my daily skill set to prepare for future career opportunities (whether at my current employer or elsewhere).

Want the world to know that you are not stale?

Prove you’re not. Today and every day.

In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.