Episode 4: A Global Perspective

Five continents. Five experts. One frontline story. JD calls on some of the smartest people in the global talent development community to explore how workplace disruption is fundamentally changing the ways organizations support frontline workers.

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Episode overview:

Is this the push L&D needs to finally get beyond the classroom? How will frontline knowledge and skill expectations shift in an increasingly digital world? And will these changes be short-term, or will they last beyond the pandemic?

Listen to the first episode in our two-part conversation with our international panel of experts, who were very generous with their time and insights:

  • Donald Taylor (Chairman, Learning and Performance Institute, United Kingdom)
  • Dani Johnson (Co-Founder and Principal Analyst, RedThread Research, United States)
  • Linda Van Der Loo (Executive Partner Learning Innovation, Blue Pebble Consulting, South Africa)
  • Hazel Jackson (CEO, Biz Group, United Arab Emirates)
  • Michelle Ockers (Learning Strategy Expert & Learning Team Capability Builder, Australia)

About the Guest(s)

Donald Taylor

Chairman, The Learning and Performance Institute

Dani Johnson

Co-founder & Principal Analyst, RedThread Research

Linda Van Der Loo

Executive Partner, Learning Innovation, Blue Pebble Consulting

Hazel Jackson

CEO, Biz Group

Michelle Ockers

Learning Strategy Expert & Learning Team Capability Builder

About the Host(s)

JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect
JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect

JD Dillon became an expert on frontline training and enablement over two decades working in operations and talent development with dynamic organizations, including Disney, Kaplan and AMC. A respected author and speaker in the workplace learning community, JD also continues to apply his passion for helping frontline employees around the world do their best work every day in his role as Axonify's Chief Learning Architect.

Richia McCutcheon, Community Manager
Richia McCutcheon, Community Manager

Richia is a builder of all things, from communities and brands to relationships and partnerships. Over the last 10 years she has become proficient at connecting people over their shared values, dreams and favorite things.

Episode Transcript

Episode Opener – JD Dillon (00:00):

The 80% is brought to you by Axonify. Take your frontline training to the next level and drive results for your business, head over to Episode four: A Global Perspective. Recorded on Wednesday May 13th, 2020.

Introduction – Multiple Speakers (00:19):

The workplace is evolving faster than it ever has before. 

So we’ve talked about the pace of disruption and the pace of business, man. Oh yeah, no idea. Right? Disruption is pushing organizations to rapidly adopt new ways of working. 

It’s a different way of viewing the world for everything, not just learning, but for everything we do at work.

And frontline employees especially are being challenged to keep up with the accelerated pace of change. 

Oh, we have been stuck in this way of doing business for 150 years and everybody knows it and everybody talks about it. Within the space of two weeks, everybody had to redefine how they did things. 

So how are organizations adapting to support their front lines through this change? 

Literally overnight, all classroom training was stopped. So L&D folks really had to think about how to deliver learning differently teams. 

How will this disruption impact their practices now and into the future.

When you throw people in the deep end and you don’t have a choice to hand hold or spoon feed them and you get pleasantly surprised by all of these people that have secret hidden talents that you didn’t know. 

I asked some of the smartest people in workplace learning for their perspectives. 

People generally are learning how to connect and adapt and trying new things out of necessity. This is willingness and openness to try new things, get ready to travel across five continents as we explore frontline perception and support across regions and cultures. 

I’m Donald Taylor. I’m the chairman of the learning and performance Institute in the UK. I’m based in London. 

I’m Hazel Jackson. I’m the CEO of Biz Group and I’m based in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. 

My name’s Linda Van Der Loo. I am a learning innovator and at the moment I’m situated at my home in the Western Cape of South Africa in Africa.

My name is Dani Johnson. I’m the Co-founder and principal analyst at Red Thread Research and I am living in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

I am Michelle Ockers. I work independently with a range of organizations, predominantly in workplace lens strategy and I am based in Brisbane, Australia.

And I’m JD, Chief Learning Architect at Axonify in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Welcome to The 80%:  A Global Perspective.

JD Dillon (02:35):
Global frontline training is a big topic and our friends had a lot of great things to say. 

Don Taylor:
That’s a really big question man. How long do you want me to talk for? 

JD Dillon:
So we started with the current state before the impact of disruption was felt. How has frontline training been perceived and how are frontline workers typically being supported? 

Don Taylor (03:00):
Growing up from corporate training has either been a reward or a reluctantly pursued obligation. Frontline training in contrast in my experience has more often been linked directly to an impact of behavior. A result that affects the business.

Michelle Ockers (03:12):
I think it depends what frontline environment you’re talking about. Certainly with manufacturing a lot more on the job as opposed to pulling people out into classrooms. About. The only time I see people in manufacturing being pulled out into classrooms is where new production lines are being rolled out, new equipment and there’s sort of a more intense period of education

Hazel Jackson (03:32):
In the region particularly, there’s a lot of hospitality and retail out here and those frontline employees have normally gone to an internal training center with internal resources, typically more classroom based, but some of it on the job.

Michelle Ockers (03:49):
If you’re talking more about contact centers, for instance, what I see is often a lot of time in classrooms when people are going through the induction process, when they join contact centers. 

JD Dillon (4:07):
Training approaches clearly vary by use case, but they’re also informed by regional and logistical factors. 

Dani Johnson (4:10):
You have to pay people to do the training. They’re not salaries, they’re usually hourly workers and then in some situations you’ve also got unions to deal with, so it’s much more complicated. It seems to be. In the past it has been a little less robust, I would say, and a little less focused on the future and more focused on the here and now. Exactly what you need to do for your job.

Hazel Jackson (04:24):
I think one of the things that’s unique about the United Arab Emirates is it’s quite small. We’ve got just nearly 10 million in population, but you can drive from one end of the United Arab Emirates to the other in a day. So typically face to face has been the preferred way of doing any learning and tech has always been seen as a secondary option.

Linda Van Der Loo (04:45):
So do you from the South Africa, Africa perspective, we have different challenges around digital and technology. We don’t have the big 3,4,5G networks, so we did need to rely heavily on people coming into a classroom. At the same time, if there was bandwidth, you were competing with the banking businesses for learning. 

JD Dillon (5:08):
Culture also plays a role in how you support your frontline. 

Michelle Ockers (5:14):
In some environments, literacy and education levels are an issue in some frontline environments and from the English speaking world, so we’re English is a second language

Don Taylor (05:19):
And there’s a great British tradition of amateurism that you pick it up on the job when you sink or swim. It’s obviously a pretty appalling way to get people to learn things, which was rather important. You go through all that business of recruiting somebody and then you just see if they can sell shoes on, not by watching them sell shoes.

Hazel Jackson (05:34):
So what’s made training hard is these poor frontline team members are struggling with: not only must I remember maybe the company policy and the product and the information, but I must also apply it to a multiple different range of customers and their own preferences and that just makes it so much harder.

JD Dillon (05:54):
But there are two challenges that really stood out when it comes to training. The biggest one was:

Hazel Jackson & Linda Van Der Loo (05:59):
Time is an issue. Frontline workers are needed on the front line and they’re not needed in the classroom at these training centers.

Don Taylor (06:07):
It’s always done with people who are shorter time. And the idea is to get this important training done as quickly as possible to get people back to the workplace. And that contrast with how a lot of other training has done in the workplace.

JD Dillon (06:20):
And if you can find the time, then there’s the question of access and value…

Linda Van Der Loo & Michelle Ockers (06:25):
When you got them into the training and we needed to make sure that the training was relevant, was applicable and was something that they could take back into the frontline space. I think sometimes we don’t make it easy enough for people generally, but in particular for frontline workers to find what they need.

Don Taylor (06:41):
Very often frontline staff are in industries where you’ve got a high turnover of staff. The key thing is always to make them feel it’s worth their own while doing the training and to put as few obstacles as possible in the way of doing it.

JD Dillon (06:52):
These challenges can ultimately limit the impact of frontline training regardless of format.

Michelle Ockers & Hazel Jackson (06:57):
How well it’s done. Depending on whether it’s just, Hey, Joe over here has been working here for five years. He’ll just take you on a walk around or whether Joe’s actually receive some sort of support in how to effectively instruct and demonstrate on the job. Even when they have been able to get into the training room, it’s not been as effective as frontline lenders really want it to be and they can be a burn rate. They get to three or four weeks in a classroom. They’re like, I don’t know that I want to do this. It’s all too complicated for me and not enough time, early on the tools in the real world.

JD Dillon (07:28):
And then the pandemic hit and every part of the frontline experience was disrupted. The talent development industry shifted to talking about working from home and online courses, but did they include the unique needs of the frontline workforce right away?

Dani Johnson (07:42):
No, they haven’t. I mean a lot of frontline workers have been furloughed  in several of the industries and so I haven’t really seen a lot come out about frontline workers and particular in this context. I think it’s shortsighted for sure. We’re relying on frontline workers to keep the economy moving right now. Just tell them to do their job without the help. That additional learning provides, I think is really short.

JD Dillon (08:04):
Many L&D teams were caught off guard after all. No one plans for disruption like this, but some were able to respond quickly and that’s because they were already open to new ideas.

Michelle Okcers (08:15):
I’ve seen a very mixed bag in terms of the involvement of L and D professionals in helping their organization to respond and how well they rose to that. But many did rise very well to that and they didn’t rise to it through formal training programs. They rose to it through being adaptive and responsive and getting close to people in the business and finding out what they needed right now and supporting them with that. Right now.

JD Dillon (08:38):
By its very nature, this disruption has the ability to fundamentally change people’s behavior.

Don Taylor (08:44):
What we’re living through right now is an experience that is unique for two reasons. Firstly, it’s massive and it’s common or worldwide. There was something like two to 3 billion people in lockdown right now. Now that’s just extraordinary. We’ve never had anything like that before. The second thing is it’s going to last a long period of time. It’s going to last at least months for most people. Now. That means you’re having people going through a prolonged communal experience together. When they come out of it, they will have developed different habits and the key different habit. I think that most people are going to come out of this with in terms of what generally not just about learning is the idea that rather than things having to take place in the physical space, it can be digital and in fact I think we’ll be so accustomed to it by the time it come out of it. The idea will be the things work generally not just learning can be digital by default. I’ll be ready for it. I’m not sure. I think some organizations are, I think some will be caught on the hop because they’ve got great teams for developing courses but not great teams for supporting learning in a digital world.

Michelle Ockers (09:47):
I think we’ll see a leap forward in terms of learning in the flow of work, in better use of technology and learning and more discrimination and discernment about when to take people off the job and put them in classrooms and maybe a full path offering. Because for some people, you know, some people have really enjoyed not traveling as much. Some people really enjoyed reduced commute at the businesses. There are benefits to people not having to spend so much time traveling. I think there could be these parallel paths being offered where people get the option of doing some stuff face to face and some stuff virtually.

JD Dillon (10:19):
The speed of this disruption is accelerating changes that were already coming but are now required.

Hazel Jackson (10:25):
So this rapid adoption has been quite interesting because everybody has been surprised, I believe, by how tech enabled their teams are already and how easy it has been for people to get used to learning that way. Whereas perhaps countries like Australia or South Africa or in America, they’ve been used to a little bit more of that distance and so it’s happened before here. It’s been like a wow, mind blowing awakening of the fact that you can jump on a call and you can learn something and everybody will be engaged, not leaving their desks. So I think that’s been a huge regional aha moment for us

Michelle Ockers (11:05):
From a business continuity perspective. It kind of makes sense after this experience to be constantly thinking about, okay what if rather than everything being defaulted to classroom or that being the Depot. And I’ve been surprised by how much classroom training was still going on JD. Like when I talk to groups of people it’s often like 75% about delivery. It was being done in face to face classrooms still, you know, the longer we are in the virtual environment and were denied the opportunity to use the face to face classroom, the more experimentation will be done and the less we’re likely to just default back to face to face classrooms.

Linda Van Der Loo (11:39):
And one of the biggest challenges that obscene and one of the biggest shifts that I’ve certainly noticed is it’s not a cut and paste from what you did in a classroom to cut and paste what you’re doing in the third shop. That’s a massive shift from a learning perspective, both as the learner and as the delivery of learning. And  I’m not sure we’re getting a draft to be honest. I think we all just in the cut and paste and I think in a few months time we’re going to see the reap the rewards about either pretty delivered virtual classroom or a well constructed virtual classroom.

JD Dillon (12:09):
But this goes beyond just adopting new tactics. L& D must be ready to support frontline employees as their role expectations evolve to promote organizational agility. 

Dani Johnson (12:20):
It would be very shortsighted of organizations to go back and put in place what was already in place before this without rethinking exactly what’s going on here. I think one of the biggest things is understanding the skills that individuals have and the skills that the organization has and the skills that the organization needs and being able to use that data to move people around to help adapt to external challenges and opportunities I think is going to be crucial.

Hazel Jackson (12:43):
When you suddenly all hands in, it’s no longer where you’re the receptionist and what receptionist should do is X and you can’t answer the phone. Now it’s art. That’s Lonnie. What’s Lonnie good at doing and what are all the capabilities that we need right now and how do we juggle that all around and role titles and job descriptions have pretty much gone out the window.

Don Taylor (13:03):
I’m a huge believer that organizations are combinations of individuals with skills that are largely overlooked because they don’t fit into the organizational structure narrative. Changing that organizational structure and narrative is not a function of the pandemic. It’s really a function of how the organization perceives the organizes itself. So I think it’s very unlikely that this will precipitate a change. I think what will precipitate a change is the fact that some organizations will be born that have a different way of looking at people’s skills during this pandemic. They will be more agile, more flexible, more cost competitive, and will put pressure on other organizations to be like them. So I think if you like, it’s a second order effect. In order to be as smart and as fast, you’re going to have to recognize people’s skills rather than putting them in a box and just regarding that as someone’s going to keep doing that job until they go on to the next job, probably somewhere else.

Dani Johnson (13:55):
I think there’s a tendency to perceive employees as their role right now and I think that’s dangerous. We’ve done some work on looking at organizations that organize around the work and organizations that organize the work around the people and then the organizations that organize the work around the people. It gets scary really fast in situations like this when you need to adapt because you’ve got this whole structure in place and who reports to who and who does what and who you can blame when something goes wrong. But when you organize the people around the work, it’s the work. It gets the sort of the onus and the people need to work together in order to get that work done. I’m not a cashier, I’m part of a team that works on a floor to make sure that things happen. I think we need to train, which we need to train our own brains to think differently about what the capabilities are of the people and the work that needs to get done rather than the roles that we think we need to hire for this focus on individual knowledge and skill is going to require learning to be a constant in the frontline working experience.

JD Dillon (14:53):
It’s also going to require strategies that can help people quickly learn more and more complex skills. Even in traditional frontline roles.

Don Taylor (15:00):
Increasingly as frontline skills become digitalized, if you’d like,  because people are doing a job, not just face to face, but also partly online is that the quality and the sophistication of the work people need tends to increase. So I was talking to somebody recently who’s in the financial sector. They’re dealing with a high street bank and the high street banks are not typically open, but the people that are still having to deal with, in fact the phone desks are overloaded. So they’re still dealing with queries. The knowledge set that people have to have about the company’s products, the level of sophistication of dealing with people are in really quite difficult circumstances, often has had to increase. And so what you’ve got is people suddenly having to step up, do things digitally, either on the phone or via chat with people, which is more demanding. Often they’ve had to do in the past. And I don’t think that will go back because getting people to deliver this service online is almost always going to be cheaper and more effective than getting people to do it face to face. So I think increasingly many frontline jobs are going to have a digital component and there’ll be a requirement for those people do more skilled than they have been in the past.

Hazel Jackson (16:04):
One is around this whole concept of self leadership in how frontline workers might have been before trained on do this, say this, you know, follow the rules. Now they’re actually saying you need to take more responsibility for your own safety, for your customer’s safety. You need to call out if colleagues are not doing the right thing, and so we’re almost teaching them that self leadership, which I think is really fascinating to see how the roles are reversing.

JD Dillon (16:31):
When you combine this increased complexity with the pace of business and disruption, it becomes even more important to help people focus on learning the right things and not wasting their limited time.

Linda Van Der Loo (16:43):
In a world maybe now where you’re not seeing people face to face and you can’t really judge body language and how people are genuinely feeling as we need to be very clear around the GPS or the global positioning system or tracking system we give learners because they could quite quickly go down a road of learning the wrong skill that’s going to make them irrelevant going forward.

Hazel Jackson (17:06):
I think our whole perspective of training has changed. It needs to be faster. It needs to be highly relevant to a situation that somebody might be in right now or something that they can take away and practice and do. We’ve always known that, but there’s been more flexibility for a bit of fluff or opportunity for a bit of extra time doing this exercise that didn’t necessarily really help.

Michelle Ockers (17:29):
So I think with this speed we will find quicker ways to get people to where they need to be and more of what do they really need right now versus how much are we stuffing into programs and so on that maybe they can self help too or maybe we bring them back down the track. But I think we will find ways because we now see what we’re capable in terms of how quickly we can do some stuff. We’ll find ways of doing that. I like to think that some of the decision making will be a little more devolved, that there’ll be a bit more empowerment because people have been released to make decisions more quickly.

Hazel Jackson (18:03):
I also think there’s been pressure coming from all the free content that’s out there. You know, these libraries of availability where it’s overloading and it’s confusing. So to differentiate when you’re speaking to the frontline, you’ve got to cut through all of the stuff you could go and learn and try and make sure that you’re delivering exactly what they do need to learn for this day, this week, this new update. So I think there’s been a lot of clearing away the clutter and getting a lot more focused and I think that’s not going to change because it was long overdue.

JD Dillon (18:35):
The people who support the frontline have a mandate. People need their help to do their best work in a challenging situation. That means you don’t always have to wait for permission to try something. 

Don Taylor (18:50):
New employers that are taking training seriously, it doesn’t usually come from the top except to the few cases. Usually there’s somebody in the learning and development department in that organization who’s got a real zest and a drawing for who transformed staff and then nobody notices and they keep transforming staff and then eventually they notice ultimately the best way to understand what the frontline needs is to get out there and ask them.

Linda Van Der Loo (19:12):
So I’ve been in the learning game for a long time and one of my favorite fallback comments is what two days in the shoes of your learner. I think if we can do that, we certainly will be a long way forward in terms of how we give people that safety. We don’t understand what it’s like to have to face or front line and if you can walk two days in the shoes of your learner, I think that from an LEP perspective you’ll be, you’ll have a lot more perspective of what the requirements are. Sydney, working across Africa, we have some very interesting cultural challenges and lovely cultural challenges. In fact, you know when we talk about walk two days in the shoes of your donors walk two days in the shoes of your learner who is maybe English isn’t their first language. Maybe they don’t have safety security that that you think that they have in terms of being able to face off to customers. And often I’ve seen and certainly maybe from our African colleagues is when we put that in place in learning programs or learning experiences, you have a very different learning solution that is crafted by the L&D folks.

Michelle Ockers (20:18):
And there’s a growing realization that you cannot support people sitting at your desk in a corporate office. You have to get out and understand their world, their work place and what’s going to work for them given their constraints and the demands on on them and what sort of people they are and how they work. So the going to togetheris a really big theme for me that I’m hearing a lot of lately.

JD Dillon (20:41):
We all clearly recognize the people on the frontline as heroes right now, but the impact they on our everyday lives will not stop when the pandemic is over. Organizations must take this opportunity to put the tools and mechanisms in place to make sure our heroes get the support they need and deserve longterm.

Hazel Jackson (21:00):
So I think as long as companies see learning and investing in those frontline staff beyond COVID-19 when lockdown is over and we’ve all got back into work as something that they could measure the results and the contribution that that training gave them, then I think it will continue. Not all companies know how to do that though, so a lot of them are still kind of like, here’s the library of content. It’s all available to you. You’ve got access for anything you like and whether you participate or not is not monitored. Those that are doing a good job of using the right tools to monitor and track and recognize learning that makes a difference. I think we’ll continue to invest in that.

Don Taylor (21:42):
We all go out on the balconies here and we clap everybody on Thursday evening at eight o’clock in the UK and I think that’s great and I do it. It’s also important to remember that it’s not just people in the emergency services doing this. As you say, we’ve got people all over doing a really important job, whether it’s menial tasks that are going notice most of the time or something else. I think those people need to be recognized as well and I do believe that we should be recognizing these people after the pandemic is over in a year’s time and recognizing also the people who’ve lost their lives in those frontline jobs because they deserve to be devolved in our memories.

JD Dillon (22:16):
I’d like to thank our panel of global workplace learning experts, Don Taylor, Dani Johnson, Linda Van Der Loo, Hazel Jackson, and Michelle Ockers for sharing their insights and experiences with us for this episode. But our global story is far from over. Tune into our next episode to hear more from our expert panel as they share stories and practical examples of how some of the ideas they discussed today are coming to life on the front lines. 

To make sure you catch this episode and listen to even more frontline stories, you can subscribe to The 80% on your favorite podcast app. You can also find all of our episodes online at Until next time, be kind to the front line.

Don Taylor (23:00):
That’s great. That’s all we have. Time for now. Going to take you through two three 30 now with JD let’s move sounds on.

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