Performance
26:15

Adopting Resource-Based Learning at Vitality

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Episode overview:

What if you could take any random person off the street, plug them into your contact center operation and have them fielding customer calls right away?

It may sound too good to be true. After all, contact center agents have to solve complex customer problems while keeping up with new products and process changes. They typically spend weeks in a classroom before they’re allowed to speak with customers. Managers need them on the phone NOW to deal with spikes in call volume, but they also want agents fully knowledgeable about the company’s offerings. How can contact centers accelerate agent training while making sure they provide great customer service?

JD chats with Sebastian Tindall, Head of Learning and Development Operations at Vitality, who shares his approach to developing highly-capable contact center agents within a fast-paced insurance and wellness operation. They explore resource-based learning, which focuses on providing information and tools agents can access in the workflow to solve problems and build their knowledge.

Check out these recommended resources and professionals to learn more about applying a resource-based approach to learning.

Listen to Sebastian’s appearance on the Learning Uncut podcast with Michelle Ockers.

The 80 Percent is brought to you by Axonify. To learn how you can provide communication and training to your frontline workforce that actually works, visit axonify.com. If you have a frontline story you’d like us to explore on a future episode, let us know at podcast@axonify.com

Join the #FrontlineForward effort by visiting axonify.com/frontlineforward to access free training content, download the 2020 State of Frontline Employee Training Report and subscribe for the updates.

About the Guest(s)

Sebastian Tindall

For the last 13 years, Sebastian has been committed to liberating the best in people. He is a Fellow of the CIPD and LPI and has worked with national and international businesses to define and deliver learning strategies. He has held strategic roles in Santander Bank, The Co-Operative Bank and is currently the Head of Learning and Development Operations at Vitality Health. Over recent years his work with global L&D functions in South Africa, India and the USA have catalyzed his passion for creating a diverse range of innovative high-impact learning solutions. He is a self-confessed L&D geek and has plenty of successes and failures to share!

About the Host(s)

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.

Episode Transcript

JD Dillon:

Welcome to the 80% where we share stories and insights to help you better support and enable your frontline team. I’m JD, the chief learning architect that Axonify on this episode, we explore what it means to take a resource-based approach to workplace learning. We’re joined by Sebastian Tindall, head of learning and development operations at Vitality who shows us how to build an agile frontline workforce while reducing training hours by up to 40%. That’s coming up next on the 80%.

Introduction:

I’m doing the right things. I am your competitive advantage. I am making my workplace safe. When you give the people on your frontline the tools they need to succeed, your business succeeds too. Axonify is sharing free training content and ongoing inspiration to help you move your frontline forward. Head over to axonify.com/frontline forward to learn more. I am on the frontline. I am on the frontline. I am on the frontline together, we will move the frontline forward.

JD Dillon:

Has a post-it note ever changed the direction of your career? Well, one little yellow square of sticky paper did just that for me, about 10 years ago, you see, I had started a new job supporting training for a contact center. On my third day, our primary e-learning developer quit, because I had a background in media production, I had to pick up his development projects despite knowing very little about the business and I quickly ran into a problem. You see, I couldn’t find any of the information I needed to build my online training. I had access to our entire internet, but I was struggling to find basic info. I figured it was just me being new, so I started asking around it turns out it wasn’t me. Agents and trainers alike, all have their own private information. Repositories people had stuff saved to shared drives and SharePoints and on their desktops.

JD Dillon:

No two people gave me the same answer to the question where can I find I was still only a few weeks into my role, but it felt like I had uncovered a real problem. So I went to my boss and told her about what I’d found. I summarized by saying, what if we built something like Wikipedia, but for here, she agreed that we seem to have an information flow problem within our business. However, we had a lot of priority projects in the works and knowledge management. Wasn’t really in our purview. So she wrote Wikipedia on a yellow post-it note and stuck it to the side of her computer monitor that post-it note sat untouched and unconsidered for two years.

JD Dillon:

However, by the time I left the company, almost six years later, that posted had become the, of our contact center learning strategy. That’s because it ultimately led to our adoption of a resource based approach to learning, instead of trying to fit traditional training into time agents didn’t have we provided on-demand resources and microlearning to help them solve problems and reinforce critical knowledge in the flow of work. As a result, our training requests dropped by almost 50% and we were able to tackle more performance challenges more quickly. Now I may be the only L and D professional with a career changing post-it notes story, but I’m definitely not the only one who has helped a workforce keep pace with business change and complexity by adopting a resource-based approach. Let me introduce you to Sebastian Tindall.

Sebastian Tindall:

What if they are your greatest asset and getting the best out of them is your biggest competitive advantage? Right?

JD Dillon:

Sebastian is the head of learning and development operations at vitality, the UK based insurance firm that incentivizes its members to take a more active role in managing their own wellness by developing positive long-term lifestyle and financial habits that are good for them. Good for the company and good for society.

Sebastian Tindall:

What that means is if a new medical treatment is implemented, there’s new cancer cover you, Apple release, a new watch, your gym opens or Peloton releases a new product that our teams need to know about it immediately, as we can get calls about it straight away,

JD Dillon:

Sebastian and his team helped vitality is more than 1000 contact center agents across the UK deliver great member experiences. One conversation at a time

Sebastian Tindall:

That frontline team is just the lifeblood of our business. It’s where the rubber hits the road. It’s where the metrics are created, and people are held accountable for that. But also there were just some amazing people in there that surprise you every day. And I think including them in your L and D process is an absolute necessity. I don’t know what we would do if we didn’t consult them. And I think it was important realization for us to, to do that

JD Dillon:

In doing so. They’ve challenged their stakeholders to think differently about the role learning plays on the front line. This has resulted in a shift away from traditional training to focus on resources that fit into the busy agent workflow.

Sebastian Tindall:

We give them the opportunity to shape those resources and tell us, you know, what do you need? What’s the armbands, when you’re jumping into the pool here, if you tell us what you need, we can give those to you. And then the way we can do that is by less focusing on the deployment of knowledge, but focusing more on deployment and maintenance of it,

JD Dillon:

Let’s explore what it means to take a resource based approach to frontline learning with Sebastian Tindall

Sebastian Tindall:

Yes, you train people. Yes. You teach them what happens if they forget

JD Dillon:

To really grasp the approach. Vitality applies to frontline learning. You first have to understand the everyday realities of their business and the role contact center agents play

Sebastian Tindall:

Traditional insurance businesses and, and R and D teams know that when a customer is calling out, it’s just some form of medical inquiry, right? It’s I need help with this, but that isn’t true vitality, you know, there’s as much chance that might be, could be quoting about the APR and the healthy credit card is there is about hip osteoarthritis. And, you know, they say that great actors have great range. You know, I would say our frontline teams, you know, despite incredible range and it, because we’ve got over a thousand frontline customer service core hundred spread across the UK now in that world, service levels are King. You know, if you aren’t answering a call to a member in their time of need, then we are deliverable, but we kind of committed to do so. Now that means that every minute of time away from their roles is absolutely critical. And in fact, there are strict caps put on the amount of time away from an individual’s role that we can actually utilize, which again, I think sets the table for the environment that our frontline teams operate in, in the role play.

JD Dillon:

First call resolution is often a key measure of success in a contact center. The agent has to have the right knowledge to resolve the customer issue as quickly and with as little hassle as possible. But does that mean that agents have to have a wide body of knowledge to be successful, or should they be focused on specific products and services?

Sebastian Tindall:

It’s an age old it’s do you specialize or do you generalize? And I think in our team’s history, what we’ve done is we’ve tried to push ourselves to the limit of capability and not wait for stakeholder to demand that from us. I think our aspiration is absolutely to provide a fully flexible workforce. You know, whatever happens during that day, whatever types of calls we get, the more fluid we can create resource for you. The better you can handle that. Especially the last year we’ve seen in every organizations and unprecedented core demands, particularly in healthcare, you know, my business introduced a COVID cover and which is amazing and gave people support in their time of need. But obviously there are things like that are entrepreneurial in nature of our business, but they’re just absolutely despite core demand. I think from our perspective, if we want to be able to help people and that’s how the need without delay my team’s agenda is absolutely been, how can we create a fully flexible contact center? That means whatever comes through you can handle. It’s super tough.

JD Dillon:

This level of desired operational agility comes with a Frank reality. Every agent can’t possibly know everything, especially if they’re new in their role, spending hours and hours on training is a waste of time because people just can’t remember that much information, a roll with this level of complexity and constant change requires a different approach to learning and support.

Sebastian Tindall:

We leveraging resource led formal support approaches across the entirety of our contact center. And what that means is let’s assume you get a call. You’re just absolutely legally not able to deal with, or don’t feel like you’re able to, to deal with it. How can we provide all the right tools or actually you can figure it out. I think the reality is once you figure it out, once that’s going to be able to provide the foundations and the ability for you to do it again quicker, better every single time. So we’re trying to create it so that it doesn’t matter what comes through. You can deal with it. And that for us is the absolute operational flexibility. And that’s more my team trying to set that agenda rather than waiting for a new executive to join. And someone’s asked that others were already absolutely on with that journey. And, and we’ve seen incredible strides with that. I do believe there were some areas of businesses where specialism is important. We have an oncology area which deals with their counsel claims and that requires absolutely that specialized care. But when we look at the majority taking that Perato principle, if the majority of staff can answer the majority of calls, you’re going to be okay, whatever happens that day

JD Dillon:

Classroom sessions and online courses often fail because they’re jam packed with too much information. They aren’t grounded in how people actually apply. What they learn. On the other hand, a resource-based approach is focused on behavior, what you actually expect people to do on the job, and then what they need to know in order to demonstrate those behaviors.

Sebastian Tindall:

We absolutely focus on task rather than topic and the majority of things that come through once it departments and trained departments, very heavily our topic. And I think for us, we boil down to what specifically do people have to do go through a rapid task analysis process that just says break apart specifically what you need that individual to do? What are the tasks and steps and the concepts and critically, when we’re asking about things like concepts, we’re not asking SMEs about what does this person need to know is what does this person need to do? A concept is absolutely something that someone needs to know in order to be able to complete a task. If there isn’t an independent task, if they aren’t going to apply that on day to day. And that’s why it’s so important that what you were saying about the frequency, if I’m going to do this, once every two, three months, I said, rather than what I teach in a classroom, you’re just never going to be able to remember that stuff.

Sebastian Tindall:

So we’ll always have to bake in what send a pending task? How frequent do you apply? How frequently do you apply that task? And then what are the steps I’ve got to follow in in order to be able to do that? And I think our aim is can we provide you resources? So someone could walk in cold off the street, have no knowledge of this role, be able to follow them and get this right. If the answer is yes, then that’s what we’re going to do. The default position is not, what do we need to train you is actually, what can we support you with anything that we can support you with those resources, then we need to train you. And I think for us is a distinct shift of looking at training from a very different angle. Training is very inefficient. You don’t have to go very far to find scientific papers to support that. So with that in mind and that commercial approach, we should only leverage that tool when absolutely necessary and performances is the aim here. And that’s where we start. And that’s where the conversations depart

JD Dillon:

That idea, that structured training should be the last resort is near and dear to my heart and the basis of the modern learning ecosystem framework that has guided my work for the past decade. This approach seems to resonate with a lot of learning professionals, but how do you sell it to stakeholders, including frontline employees who are used to training, meaning structured courses

Sebastian Tindall:

With our executive teams is only felt so much easier and like pushing it as an open door because the commercial benefits of trend people, that’s absolutely undeniable. Yeah. The allure of efficiencies is often pretty uses to build to operational leaders. Now, when you, if you’re looking at a waterfall traditional approach, now what happens, maybe you spend five weeks designing, some training module, you roll it over a six week period. The people you train week one don’t remember anything by week six. If a project wants to change something halfway through what you train, the first people is our date. We just replace some of these situations as an operational leaders and talk about what if we could reduce the number of training minutes on an annual basis by 40%, which is, which is where my team is at. Now on an annual basis is 40% less.

Sebastian Tindall:

So far here is the FTE gains to you. And that for us is the cut and dry commercial business case. But of course in fatalities in organization is a change in the needs of its people. So funnily enough, they’re the ones that turn around and say, yeah, but how can we make people feel comfortable? I’ve always found that question really interesting. If you ask an individual in a training scenario, do you feel comfortable? Some people will never say yes, let’s say if you ask them, if they feel confident, some people will never say yes, there was an exponential line of how long do you want to stay in this training environment before you actually do feel comfortable? And what we find is there was some feedback from our frontline staff members to begin with about where’s the classroom, where is the comfort that we enjoy the classroom quite often, sometimes learners, what they think they have found useful is actually not useful.

Sebastian Tindall:

And I think what we’re trying to say here is judges on the results. We’re not trying to make you ready for everything. We’re trying to make you performance ready. And as many analogies have been used, but you know, in, in the UK, you do your, your driving test. You don’t drive on the motorway when you do your driving test. So the first time you drive on the motorway at 70 miles per hour, your equipment at the highway, you’ve never really done it before we have the RG here or what is good enough because when it’s good enough, you can start to learn and apply this stuff in the workflow. And our focus is not just train you less. It’s actually to divert that attention and resource to building things into your day-to-day job that you can rely on because we’re going to remove the pressure for you to have to remember everything. And I think that is, it’s almost taking with your left, but given with your right

JD Dillon:

Building, traditional training is a lot more straightforward. There’s a PowerPoint deck, a workbook, and maybe an online course or a job aid, a resource based approach opens the door to a much larger range of options for helping people solve problems and do their jobs better. But you have to design your resources based on the right criteria and involve the right people.

Sebastian Tindall:

We started to build resources in the traditional style. Hey, you’ve been to an event, here’s a manual, it’s 80 pages long. It’s great. Right? And the answer is none of it’s horrendous. Like I don’t want to leave through 60 pages information to find what I need, who wants to do that. Operation is going to kill us. It’s a terrible experience for our members, but also it’s a terrible experience for our learners. I think we began by focusing on resources, but traditional resources. And I think for us, that was part of the evolution. So you almost don’t want to call it a mistake that we were obviously, you know, we’re doing it wrong. And I think that’s something that we learned to say, okay, what is the purpose? If it was all said, Riley, what does it look like? And what’s the function. We’ve always stuck to the same analogy of you.

Sebastian Tindall:

Don’t have to teach someone directions to a destination. If they’ve got, you know, a set amount or Google maps or whatever. So what is the version of that that can help them operate in? And we shouldn’t put constraints on that by does it have to be on a word document? Does it have to PDF? It’s completely irrelevant, you know, for roses, can you get it in three clicks or less? Can you get to the information you need to in five seconds or less, it’s absolutely relevant what that is. If the answer is yes, and that’s giving you the correct information, and that is the resource, that’s the resource for us. And I think that’s opened up a lot of conversations with us, with support functions, to say, you’re asking us to train something that everyone forgets well, make it pop up in the system, remind the person every time.

Sebastian Tindall:

And then you don’t need to train this. I think for Rosie’s wordy board in that view of a resource across the business, because can you tell people, do you want to make resource that all think at the same thing, it’s a workbook, it’s a PowerPoint. You know, that’s limiting to a traditional video, it’s too narrow a resource or something that helps people perform their job. And if I’m going to create a piece of material or learning experience for the front line, you do traditional and teams get to sign off that content. And the irony is it’s usually senior staff members or execs or something like that, you know, and actually will, how would they know what is the point doing that? And I think funnily enough, where I was making that mistake for many years in my career, and then just a case where I just thought, that’s not, who should be signing this off. Yes, there’s got to checks and balances, but the end user, the recipients got assigned this stuff off because what we were asking, if this is an effective piece of learning material, or go in as a learner for us, that was a really interesting thing where they would feed back and say, it’s not that usable. Yes, we’ll make it more usable. Okay, cool. That we can work with.

JD Dillon:

Even when you try to involve the frontline in the solutioning process, you sometimes get sent the wrong people.

Sebastian Tindall:

It’s that difference between don’t send me a role model, send me a role model learning. And a role model learner is someone who’s truly indicative of the people that we’re trying to help here. They should not be represented. The people that pick out straight away there should be. There should be somewhere in the middle of that bell shaped curve who are going to tell us how we’re going to need to support people. Then new people who ask questions. Some people who might challenge back, that’s a difference between a role model individual within an organization or a role model learner. And I think we absolutely want more. The latter

JD Dillon:

Resource-based approach represents more than just the change in how you train your frontline. It represents a shift in how you value the collective knowledge of your origins.

Sebastian Tindall:

People quite often talk in a disparaging way of SharePoint, but it is that first foray into the hive, mind the community of people contributing to their knowledge of an organization. When you move past L and D in land development and you move into organizational development, how does this business grow and learn from each other? And I just feel that there’s always a focus on deployment of knowledge, but not the support e-learning packages look amazing, brilliant, but within 24 hours, significant amount of that report to be forgotten. And therefore, how are people gonna remember focus on the member? Don’t always focus on the deployment and that will level out people’s experience through analogy perspective.

JD Dillon:

[inaudible] is fundamentally changing. The way work is done on the front line. Unfortunately, this can often overshadow the continued importance of building knowledge and skill within the workforce that can add tremendous value alongside technology and truly differentiate your brand.

Sebastian Tindall:

The reality of the matter is not every customer wants to talk to a human that’s completely. Okay. Certainly that is. I feel like that if it’s transaction, if it’s commodity, I need to do something short and quick chat bots are absolutely fantastic. And I think by concentrating that day-to-day high-frequency low complexity work, that is absolutely a, an area of value for dealing with self-service. I think the opportunity that that creates is almost like iceberg of offense. The tip of the iceberg is what the self-service can do. The complex issue, resolution, the conversations about vitality, core purpose, your health, how are you doing? How were you feeling? I noticed you went on a 5k run last week. Congratulations. There’s stuff like that. That is the bit where the frontline can truly add that value. And I think when you think about anybody in their job does doing a thousand easy things during the week on a, on a perpetual basis, is that the measure of success?

Sebastian Tindall:

Does that give people jobs, satisfaction? I would argue in the long-term no, but I think by equipping your frontline to deal with the complexity, you’re coming experts in those really difficult conversations, because we’ve moved the high-frequency stuff away. That’s where I think the absolute value is as a customer. If you’ve become annoyed with a self-service or whatever, where you’ve actually disengaged, then can we contact someone as they look at us? So you tried to do this and actually you kind of gave up. So let me just reach out to you. Let me help you with that sort of stuff. I think it’s almost compensating for the shortcomings of automation by being an even better human experience that acts as a chassis around that customer experience. I think that for us is really where the advantage and the value is in investing in pharma.

JD Dillon:

Technology plays an essential role in a resource-based approach, especially within a large and dynamic enterprise. Fortunately, you don’t need to make a major investment to get started and then build your business case.

Sebastian Tindall:

All of this stuff is very doable for very low budget. Your only limitation is your imagination about how to use these tools. So I think one of the biggest resources you can do is research what tech you’ve got in your organization and let it sounds silly, but now there are many different things like teams, which can be used to support this and become a technophile. Don’t just brush up on tech research it because some of the capacity and the capability, where are you. And I think it’s important to label that point with people because it’s really kind of shocked to us.

JD Dillon:

Resource-based approach just makes sense after all. It’s how we use information to solve problems in our everyday lives. However, there’s no one size fits all solution. When it comes to applying these principles, every organization is going to have to figure out where this fits within their strategy.

Sebastian Tindall:

Some people constantly have to repair them on podcasts, et cetera. And you know, I think their view is largely that I like this. I’m interested in it. I don’t think it works for me. I think everything is situation dependent. Every organization is different. I’d have a hard time believing that this stuff wouldn’t benefit people in any way to use in their organization. But yeah, I think it’s important point organization very wildly. And I’m really interested to hear from people who have views and experience on performance support, that maybe they’ve done something brilliant. If you happy to share, I’m happy to share too. Or maybe if you’ve given it a go and hasn’t worked, I’m equally interested to hear about that stuff because I think that is the time or now is the time where the function should share what they’ve learned. I think it’s a brilliant profession, but at the same time, it’s never been more important that it demonstrates business credibility. And I think we should see ourselves as that paternity that works together rather than as indirect competition.

JD Dillon:

On-demand resources and performance support. Won’t do the job on their own, but they are foundational components of the workplace learning ecosystem that must be designed to keep up with the changing needs of your business and the people you support.

Sebastian Tindall:

I honestly believe if you’re not evolving at that pace and you’re not completely changing what you’re doing each time searching for the next approach, innovate and trying to find the next approach. Then it’s quite quickly going to lose that relevance and become outdated. And it’s not really a point. This performance will solve every issue. No, but at the end of the game is to create that toolkit of stuff that you can rely on to be absolutely indispensable to our organization. And I think it’s that that’s that point again, maybe someone has an amazing innovation they’ve done in their work, their work place in the organization. And you know, the feature exists. It’s just not evenly distributed yet. So who has discovered the future? And I just hope people will share that willingly because they want it to be reciprocated. And we want to hope for inspire people to reach out and say, we’ve tried this and it worked or it didn’t. You know, I think I do. Those are really beneficial.

JD Dillon:

Thanks to Sebastian Tyndall for sharing his insights into adopting a resource-based approach to frontline learning. Check out the show notes for recommended resources. You can apply to implement a similar approach within your organization. If you haven’t already be sure to subscribe to the 80% on your favorite podcast app, you can also find all of our episodes online at axonify.com/podcast. Thanks for joining me for this story. I hope you captured a few practical insights you can apply to improve the way you support your frontline team. I also hope you’ll join me again for another story about how we can help frontline employees do their best work every day and make a difference in their organizations and communities. Remember that together, we can move the frontline forward.

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