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Archive for April, 2015

Building Learning Agility in Your Organization: The Google Way

Friday, April 17th, 2015

Building learning agility in your organization: the Google way.

The world of business is becoming more volatile and complex, and the ability to learn fast and adapt is paramount to survival. The nature of knowledge work has shifted from what existing data points to look for, and where to find them to how to identify novel and unprecedented insights from the exponentially increasing amount and complexity of information available at our fingerprints. The nature of learning has shifted as well from what to learn to how to become a better learner, and learning agility is becoming the next management buzzword. Broadly defined as the ability and willingness to learn from experience and apply the learning in novel, complex situations, the term appears on every consulting company’s website.

An internet search for the topic shows over 14 million entries, large companies use it as one of the high potential competencies, and multiple organizations sell learning agility measurements.

In my recent role leading the global learning strategy at Google, I was responsible for a project to determine how to maximize learning agility in the organization. Research of hundreds of academic articles, conversations with leading academics and consulting organizations taught me quickly that there is no agreement on what learning agility means, nor how to best develop it. Definitions overlap with other popular buzzwords like growth mindset, learning orientation or emotional intelligence. Measurements are inconsistent and yet to be validated.

Learning agility does not need to be overcomplicated. Simply, it’s about knowing what to do, when you do not know what to do. The real question is though, how do we help develop it. How do we equip people with dispositions, skills and mindsets to publicly acqnowledge lack of knowledge, inability to solve a problem, frustration with something they don’t understand? The knee jerk reaction would be to come up with yet another training program, but this is not the solution. Learning is finding out what you don’t know, or what you can’t do and struggling with it. Learning is how we respond to stuckness, disappointments or surprises, when they occur. It requires attending mindfully to each situation at hand, observing and modelling, taking risks, experimenting, failing and learning from the failures. In a nutshell, learning is tough, and frustrating. And it takes time to learn to learn.

We all acknowledge that real learning happens in real life, and not in a classroom, yet, we confuse learning with training. The stereotypical 70/20/10 formula (10% of learning happens through formal training, 20% through coaching and mentoring, and 70% on the job) has become a nice excuse for learning professionals to say that the only thing they can control is training and mentoring programs. L&D  functions are still structured to to help people how to learn some things better, and not how to become better learners. Since the key performance indicators are training hours delivered, feedback scores and budget saved, the focus is on popular “edutainment” classroom training that is  can be clearly timed and organized, enjoyed and budgeted.

So formal training still rules. In 2014, Japanese companies spent an estimated 500 BLN yen (USD 4.3 BLN) on external training, and if we count the cost of internally delivered education and the the cost of time employees spend in the classroom, the amount of money would easily exceed country’s spent on mandatory education. Unfortunately, much of the training feeds participants with outdated content that has not changed in the past fifteen years. They still teach what to look for, and not how to look or what to do when we don’t know what to look for. It promotes rigidity of thinking, passivity towards “experts” and compliance to “expertise”.  It confuses comprehension (ability to talk about something) with competence (ability to do it). And to quote Einstein, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

What this really calls for is a radical shift in focus in KPIs from programmatic events to slow, relentless, gradual seeding of culture change and habit change. It requires a shift of focus from when and what training is provided, to when and what learning happens. L&D functions need to shift their efforts from content expertise and formal program management to creating platforms and structures to enable people to learn from others, learn from (and in) action and learn from reflection.

The good news is that it’s actually cheaper than formal training. Learning from others can happen in and outside the company. Internally, simple things like creating regular information sharing and lunch-and-learn sessions, identifying and promoting “gurus” who have certain expertise and can teach or coach others, ensuring that managers hold regular 1:1 meetings with their staff and give feedback and coach can do wonders.

Google’s L&D has changed its focus from providing specific training to training employees on how to facilitate and coach others, and supporting volunteers who are willing to do that. Today, over 90% of all training provided is delivered by line employees. Internal coaching program has five distinct categories (management and leadership, career development, sales skills, expectant and new parents, team development and facilitator coaching). g2g (Googler-to-Googler peer-to-peer) program contribution is included in performance evaluation. Externally, the culture of learning from the user and crowd-sourcing programming is in the company’s DNA.

Facilitating learning from experience is also simpler than you may think. Internally, Google has a 20% project rule in place, which means that any employee who meets performance expectations can spend up to 20% of their time on voluntary projects in different teams or functions. “Bungee jumps” or rotations into another team are the direct manager’s discretions. Employees are also encouraged to learn outside through taking quarterly sabbaticals, voluntary work, or taking external courses.

Reflection is supported through an extensive focus on mindfulness. gPause program offers meditation sessions organized by volunteers at regular times. Line employees are qualified to deliver courses on managing your energy and mindfulness. Not to forget coaching, which managers are explicitly evaluated on in their annual upward feedback they receive from direct reports. Reflection on failures and successes is promoted through weekly TgIF (Thanks Google it’s Friday) sessions broadcast globally, and other regular town-hall and all hands meetings.

All these, and many other programs cost a fraction of the classroom training expenditure. They are self-sustainable, curated and delivered by employees. They develop a culture of sharing, modelling what works, giving and receiving feedback. They create engagement through enabling people to build friendships and informal mentoring relationships. And when an opportunity for learning happens, when one fails, struggles or is disappointed, they know how to who to ask for advice, or coaching. So in a nutshell, forget your training programs and focus on structures that help your employees learn from others, learn from experience and learn from action.

Contributed by:

Piotr Feliks Grzywacz | |

In my most recent corporate jobs, I was a learning and organisation development executive at Google and Morgan Stanley. I have over 15 years of experience in coaching senior executives and facilitating strategic organisational development interventions. My experience includes business partnering and relationship management, talent management, leadership development, innovation, change management and technical and functional competency development). I drove large-scale learning strategy and change management projects.

I never stop to learn. My education includes two Master degrees and a unfinished PhD in linguistics, three postgraduate degrees in management consulting, marketing & business administration, and public relations. I am working on my Doctorate of Business Administration in Management Consulting at Henley Business School, UK. I have several counselling and coaching certifications. I love learning languages, social studies, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy and business. I interested in many things, my hobbies range from cooking to shark diving. 

Originally from Poland, I have lived and worked in Germany, Belgium, Holland and Japan. For the past fifteen years I have worked in Asia and the rest of the globe.  

Learning and Development Best Practices is brought to you by Innovative Language Learning, LLC. They offer an innovative, fun, and easy to use language learning system that is designed to get you speaking from the very first lesson. Learn at your own convenience and pace with our short, effective, and fun audio podcast lessons, a comprehensive, state-of-the-art Learning Center, and a vibrant user community. As well as custom multi-lingual corporate learning & development solutions.

Click here or contact to learn more about Innovative Language Learning, LLC.

Getting Ready for Overseas Assignments

Friday, April 17th, 2015

Getting Ready for Overseas Assignments


“There’s so much freedom in between the things you think you have to do.”

–Moonshots, Shaky Ground

Most of us have heard the expression, “Ready, willing and able.” Originally applied to legal contracts, it now refers to a broad range of situations, and every HR director wants to know if a person assigned to a task is ready, willing and able to do the task the employer needs done.  All the more so if the task is an overseas assignment.

What do we mean by “ready, willing and able” in this context?  Let’s take the third word of the phrase first:  “Able.” Is the person capable of carrying out an overseas assignment?  How can we tell?  There are many assessments, including one my company provides (the Global Readiness® Profile) that can help. But even without an assessment, HR can check on “capability” by asking the candidate and colleagues a few questions, chief among them:

“Tell me about an overseas assignment you have taken in the past?”

The best predictor of future performance is past performance under similar circumstances.  So in asking about a past assignment, you will learn about the challenges and solutions the candidate was able to find.  A good model to follow is the “STAR” behavioral interviewing technique, where you ask the candidate to describe the Situation under which they were assigned overseas, the Task (or Tasks) they were supposed to carry out, the Actions taken and finally, their specific Results.

You can ask the candidate him or herself, and then their supervisor and people who worked with the candidate on the assignment, using the same STAR method.

This will give you some idea of whether or not the candidate is capable of doing well overseas.  But how about his or her “willingness”?  We can attribute much of their willingness (or lack thereof) directly to how the company treats its employees, both on their overseas assignments and upon their return.  How valued are overseas experiences by the firm? Often, a younger, less-experienced candidate will embrace the chance for adventure, whereas a more seasoned veteran will see the post “detour” from his or her route to the top.

This isn’t always the case. One Japanese executive we’re working with recently returned from Europe, where he was engaged with several international projects.  Now back  “home,” he can hardly stop talking about how much he preferred the work he was doing overseas.

Let’s say you’ve figured out the candidate is able, and willing, to take on an overseas assignment. How “ready” is he or she?  Readiness includes capability and desire, but in addition explores issues that interweave with the other two:  timing, family, health, energy, language abilities, other “soft” skills.  Most capable and willing candidates can (and will want) to do more to “get ready.”

Books, websites, lectures on the place where the assignee will be going is a start.  Language training (just 10 minutes a day can go a long way, given the right program), and individual coaching and/or mentoring all can help increase both “capabilities” and “willingness,” thus leading to greater overall “readiness.”

As the quote at the start of this article implies, there’s always time if the issue is important.

The difference between being “ready” and “not ready” is huge-both to the candidate and to the company.  You’re familiar with the costs associated with “mis-hires,” (that can be many multiples of a person’s salary).  Sending the wrong person overseas, or the right person at the wrong time, can be even more damaging to a firm and the candidate, for often such assignments require a lot virtual management with more responsibilities and less back-up.

So do what you can to choose the right candidates for overseas assignments, and then help them prepare, because globalization is now coming on faster than ever, ready or not!

Contributed By:

Andrew Silberman | |

Andrew Silberman has been coaching high performance individuals and teams since 1989.  At AMT Group, which he co-founded in To- kyo in 1992, he leads a team of multi-national facilitators and staff whose mission is “Developing Global Thinkers.” His clients are managers and executives from leading firms throughout Asia (as well as occasionally in the U.S. and Europe).

Andrew’s expertise is in improving “Global Readiness®,” the theme of his book Get a G.RI.P.*: Andrew’s Ax Guide to Global Readiness®, published by Media Tectonics in 2012.

To contact Andrew and learn more about how you can better prepare your teams for global assignment, please send an email to:

Learning and Development Best Practices is brought to you by Innovative Language Learning, LLC. They offer an innovative, fun, and easy to use language learning system that is designed to get you speaking from the very first lesson. Learn at your own convenience and pace with our short, effective, and fun audio podcast lessons, a comprehensive, state-of-the-art Learning Center, and a vibrant user community. As well as custom multi-lingual corporate learning & development solutions.

Click here or contact to learn more about Innovative Language Learning, LLC.

Demonstrating an ROI for Sales Training Programs

Friday, April 17th, 2015

Demonstrating an ROI for Sales Training Programs

ROI for Sales Training Programs

Learning and Development (L&D) programs are increasingly being evaluated by their ability to deliver an ROI to the parent organization.  For many L&D programs, such as those related to compliance or new employee onboarding, the process for determining an ROI can be complex and difficult at best.

The positive effects and the ROI of sales training programs, on the other hand, are much easier to identify and track.  In this article we will explore some of the different types of sales training programs that are available, how best they can be used, and best practices for calculating an ROI.

There are essentially four types of programs for sales training; Sale Process Training, Product Training, Motivational Training, and Soft Skills Training.

Sales Process Training

These programs focus on the sales process or the mechanics of selling.  They include end-to-end programs that teach many or all of the steps in the selling process such prospecting, making an elevator pitch, agenda setting, how to ask questions, giving presentations, closing, etc. Or, they can focus on a single activity in the selling process such as closing or asking for referrals.

There are literally hundreds of sales process training programs to choose from.  Some of the better-known programs include SNAP Selling, SPIN Selling, and The Sandler Approach.

For many organizations these types of programs work straight off-the-shelf with little or no customization or supplementation required.  However, as industry specific buying and selling styles differ, L&D executives should check for a track record of success in their specific industry or one that is closely related.

Likewise, not all approaches work in all cultures.  For example, in many Asian countries, some of the more progressive sales processes used in the West haven’t caught hold yet. This is because selling in many areas is still considered to be more of a relationship driven activity as opposed to a process driven one.

Product Training

Product training, regardless of industry or culture is vitally important. Both product knowledge and product belief are key factors in the ability to sell something. If your salespeople don’t understand your existing or new products, they will lack the confidence and ability to properly introduce them.

Therefore, many companies spend a fair amount of time, energy, and resources on product training.  And, as product training is mostly company specific, most of the training programs are custom developed for that particular company or product.  This can make them, on average, more appropriate and effective than off-the-shelf sales training programs.

However, when done in-house, it can become more challenging to allocate true costs and thus difficult to get an accurate assessment of the ROI.

And, while in-house development teams will often have superior knowledge of the product, they may not have access to platforms and tools that can make the program more engaging and effective for the learners.

For example, I was recently involved in a product training initiative that spanned several times zones and countries.  The program included weekly live training sessions in each time zone.  The trainers were skilled experts on the product that was being launched.

The problem was, the team that was doing the training hadn’t made any plans to capture the sessions on video or audio.  Thus, if a salesperson missed the weekly training session, there was no way for them to make up that session.

So, if you are creating your content in-house, it may make sense to receive some input from external L&D consultants to see if there are any tools, platforms, or techniques that you might possibly adopt to improve the effectiveness of your training.

Motivational Training

Motivational training is designed to create some additional excitement and momentum in your sales team.  Often times the training is provided as part of a larger event such as product launches or annual awards etc.

Motivational training is usually delivered by external specialists.  This is due to requirements related to variety and the appropriateness of the content.  Variety is important because most motivational training is more of an event than a process. And, if the same training or event is repeated, the positive effects of the training can rapidly dissipate as the intended audience loses interest.

Appropriateness to audience is critical as some messages just don’t travel across cultures.  For example, I once participated in a highly effective motivational program that was provided by an ex-NFL player who structured his program around American football.  If that same program were delivered in countries that aren’t familiar with the rules and customs of American football, it probably wouldn’t resonate with the audience.

The costs for motivational programs are typically very clear and seen as one-time or single program fee.  However, the quantifying the actual benefits can challenging.

Soft Skills Training

Soft skills such building rapport and asking questions are important in almost all types of selling, and are critically important in industries such as private banking and financial services.

As soft skills training focuses on behaviors related to interpersonal communication that have been learned over an individual’s lifetime, the training takes time and practice to become effective.

Soft skill training is usually provided by external trainers. There are hundreds of providers soft skills training in the market.  And, as industry context is especially important, many training providers focus on a particular industry such as private banking, or hospitality.  There are also some well-known providers of generics soft skill training such as Dale Carnegie and Franklin Covey.

The costs and resultant ROI of soft skill training is relatively easy to track. The cost is whatever you pay the trainer, any internal support staff and venue costs, and the participant’s time.  The benefits typically become quite visible in terms higher conversion and client retention rates, as well year-on-year increases in revenues for individual participants.

Internally Developed Programs vs. Externally Sourced Programs

For all sales training programs you will need to decide on either a custom program, designed and delivered by an internal team, or an off-the-shelf solution.  Customized programs tend to more relevant and effective.  However, true costs, which are typically higher than off-the-shelf programs, can be more difficult to calculate.

Off-the-shelf programs can be easier to evaluate in advance in terms of actual pricing and a track record of success.  But, they may lack the relevancy to your specific company, industry, or current training needs.

Regardless of whether you go with a custom or off-the-shelf program, it’s always helpful to conduct the training in the context of your specific industry.  So, for example, if you are training private bankers, make sure the examples and exercises are similar to those experienced by people doing that job.

Calculating an ROI 

Calculating an ROI on sales training programs is part art and part science. In reality there are many factors that will affect your sales team’s performance including the condition of the economy, competition in the market, and the value of the product or service you are selling. Training is just one factor in the overall mix and thus shouldn’t be seen as the sole cause of increased or decreased performance.

That said, there are some key metrics you should consider when calculating the ROI of your sales training.

Cost of the Training Provided

If the training was developed and or delivered in-house, you will need to tally all the costs included the number of hours spent, the cost per hour, material costs, and any venue and technology costs. This can be challenging since many of the staff involved with the training will also have other responsibilities and deliverables.

It’s usually easier to get an idea of the cost for externally sourced programs. However, even with externally supplied programs there will often be requirements for your internal team to provide support in preparing or following up on the training.  So be sure to include all related costs.

Effect on Performance

Effects on performance can be broken down into two areas, revenues and activities.

Many companies like to make a year-on-year or quarter vs. the previous quarter revenue comparison. So, if sales go up, the training is judged to have been a success. And if sales go down, the perceived value of the training is reduced. Of course, there could be many other factors that contributed to the sales results and we can’t be sure how much can be attributed to the training program.

Therefore, an alternative approach is to compare metrics for sales related activities such as the number of prospect meetings held, the closing rate, the rate of growth of an individual or team’s pipeline etc.  Under this approach, if an individual increased the number of meetings by 20 percent and improved their closing ratio by 20 percent, we could confidently attribute these improvements to the training they received, especially if this effect were seen across a large percentage of the participants.

Personally, I prefer a hybrid approach whereby we compare financial and activity results with past performance numbers.  I like this approach because there is a strong causal relationship between activity and results, especially if the activity such as drafting proposals or closing deals, is done in a more skillful manner.

Whatever approach you take, I would strongly recommend that you define your method for calculating ROI on a sales training program in advance of the training. Doing so will help you to select an appropriate program, and then track and monitor the results.  It will also help other stakeholders to know what they should be expecting as a result of the training.

Contributed By:

Mark Shriner | |

Mark Shriner is a leadership and business development coach and an expert on sales and sales management. He has authored two books on the subject that are widely used in the training of salespeople and sales managers, and is the co-creator of the ‘Leading and Coaching High Performance Sales Teams’ program with Marshall Goldsmith and Will Linssen.  He authors the blog: that provides advice and tips on how to become a top performing salesperson and enjoy every step of the way.

To learn more about Mark’s leadership and sales training programs please contact:

Learning and Development Best Practices is brought to you by Innovative Language Learning, LLC. They offer an innovative, fun, and easy to use language learning system that is designed to get you speaking from the very first lesson. Learn at your own convenience and pace with our short, effective, and fun audio podcast lessons, a comprehensive, state-of-the-art Learning Center, and a vibrant user community. As well as custom multi-lingual corporate learning & development solutions.

Click here or contact to learn more about Innovative Language Learning, LLC.

5 Key Factors to Launching a Successful L&D Program

Friday, April 17th, 2015

5 Key Factors to Launching a Successful L&D Program

Learning and Development programs are a huge gray area for a lot of companies. In fact, launching a successful learning and development program can appear to be such a big achievement that it naturally generates great publicity - not just within a respective industry, but across the business world.

This mentality is completely flawed, and there is no reason that you can’t run a successful L&D program by focusing on the five factors mentioned in this article.

For a recent work assignment, my team and I were tasked with determining which factors contribute the most to a successful learning and development program. In less than 1,000 words, or 5 minutes of your time, I’ll give an overview of our findings as well as some insight into how your company can work to start applying them today.

1. Motivation and Engagement

“They just don’t use the program” and  “Our employees just don’t want to learn” - I have heard these countless times. Launching a successful learning initiative is all about keeping users motivated and relating the learning programs to the employees’ everyday life so that they can stay engaged. You can do this several ways, so let’s look at a few.

Gamification has been a huge trend, and if carried out successfully, it will definitely lead to an upsurge in motivation and engagement.

The problem here is that gamification has gone from a clearly defined concept to a sloppily applied buzzword.

Gamification is a very difficult concept to apply, and there is no one-size-fits-all application. It involves a lot more than adding badges and achievement markers to your current learning program.

You must analyze and access the goals of your program, and then find a way to create a game that will lead your employees down that road. It must seem more like a game - something that gets employees excited about using the program, because games are fun!

As a result, they are proactively engaging with the learning material.

Progress tracking is another super powerful way to keep your employees coming back for more. After applying a simple goal and progress tracking feature to one of our programs, user retention increased by over 30%. It almost seems like human nature to want to fill small progress tracking bars, and trying to get that 100% mark.

2. Performance Tracking

A major issue I found in almost every learning initiative I looked at is the lack of follow-through with the L&D program. This means actively monitoring employee progress.

Employees are very busy, and if their work starts to stack up, it is very easy to sideline activities that are not seen as high priority. When the habit is broken once, it will usually remain that way, and the employee will not re-engage of their own free will.

Making it clear that the L&D program is a mandatory activity, and that progress is being monitored, is the only successful way to prevent this from happening.

I discovered this almost by accident when working with a large international corporation. They had a limited number of software licenses due to budget constraints. In order to remain enrolled in the program, you had to actively use the program. If an employee’s usage stopped or slowed down, they were booted from the program, and lost their chance to earn the benefits that came with successfully completing it.

In this case, the benefit was the chance to be selected for an expat position - a huge career bump for most anyone in a multi-national firm. Due to this restriction, employees were actively engaging with the program on nearly a daily basis, and very rarely did people drop out of the program.

3. Ease of Use

Another key point that is very often overlooked is the ease of use, or ease of getting started with the program.

Again, employees are busy, and if you throw a huge learning platform at them - no matter the awesome capabilities or features contained - they will open the program once, close it, and never look back.

The program needs to be simple. And by simple, I mean dead simple.

Employees are there to learn the content and subject matter, not how to use a new learning system. If they cannot get started in one to two clicks, the program will most likely fail.

You don’t need to be dumb down or over-simplify the whole platform, but you need to make sure everything is readily accessible.

Of course, there are ways around this with training and information sessions on the program, but those will just take time away from focusing on the subject matter, and teach how to use a learning platform.

4. Demonstrable Skills Improvement

This point falls in line with motivation. Demonstrable skill improvement is one of the best ways to keep employees moving forward.

We can all relate to the feeling of completing a hard task, or the sense of a job well done.

With learning programs, this goes one step further, because it is a matter of developing a life-long skill.

I have yet to find something more motivating then employees being able to look back and realize that less than one month ago, they wouldn’t even have considered what they are doing now a possibility.

This is a surprisingly simple system to set up as well. All it takes is setting certain benchmarks that can be applicable to real-world situations.

For my company’s language learning program, for example, we have a simple list of can-do statements that align with the content taught, and that learners work through.

For example, I can order food at a restaurant, or I can introduce myself in said language, all the way up to I can conduct a meeting in said languageDoing this gives the employee instant awareness of how far they have come, and the new capabilities they are learning in a real world perspective.

5. Ability to Customize Content

A lot of learning programs are pretty set in stone, or are fairly topic-specific, and it can be difficult to customize these kinds of programs. There are however, quite a lot of topics taught in L&D programs that have the ability to incorporate diverse content.

For example, in a language learning program, you should have set goals and targets for language acquisition that fall in line with your company’s needs. But, why stop there?

Language acquisition is a lot more than learning a few sets of grammar points and vocabulary, in fact focusing solely on this will inevitably lead to failure.

You must be able to engage with the culture and know about country-specific practices. By offering a wide range of content for your employees to study, you not only offer them variety, but also allow them to find content that they can relate to, thus making it more enjoyable.

This is not only applicable to language, but a huge variety of topics commonly approached in learning and development initiatives.

Contributed by:

Ryan Beck | |

Ryan is a learning and development specialist at responsible for designs custom learning solutions for companies of all sizes, ranging from small, privately-operated businesses to multi-national Fortune 500 corporations. To learn more about custom language solutions, please contact:

Learning and Development Best Practices is brought to you by Innovative Language Learning, LLC. They offer an innovative, fun, and easy to use language learning system that is designed to get you speaking from the very first lesson. Learn at your own convenience and pace with our short, effective, and fun audio podcast lessons, a comprehensive, state-of-the-art Learning Center, and a vibrant user community. As well as custom multi-lingual corporate learning & development solutions.

Click here or contact to learn more about Innovative Language Learning, LLC.