Rick Jacobs, Principal Consultant at Jacobs, et al, LLC, joins Blake Proberts on the Strategic L&D Podcast to discuss why you should look outside your business to find what a high-performing L&D department looks like (don’t silo yourself), Rick’s eight point structure to optimally deliver training, and how a codified knowledge of the business lets you truly measure training as opposed to just independent will. Listen to the full episode above or watch below.
Rick, I’d like to start with your background and where you’ve been that’s led you to where you are today.
Well, one of the things I think is interesting is that—having listening to a lot of your podcasts already—everyone talks about how they have a unique background. Well, everyone does have unique background. That’s what makes L&D so amazing is that all these different unique backgrounds create such a diversity within learning and development?
I don’t know if I would claim that my background is particularly unique. A lot of people tell me I do have one, but actually started in L&D accidentally, like a lot of people, through professional photography led me ultimately to where I am today. And yeah, I didn’t know I was doing learning and development. I didn’t know I was an instructional designer, until probably about 10 or 12 years after I got—actually about 15 years.
I started out with, in, as a firearms instructor for law enforcement supply store. But as a firearms instructor, I was a gun salesman to law enforcement and civilians. And I started working, I was asked to run the the firing range within the store. So as a range master firearms instructor, I became a instructor for CCW, and other types of things. But I was also involved a lot with graphic design. So I started out in photography, but being I don’t sit still well, I—and I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to just go get education like a lot of other people do. I started out with photography, got to work for a printing company. And when I didn’t have anything to do, I start wandering around learning everything I could about printing, printing processes, typesetting, all that is when Apple first started getting into the pre-press. And then I discovered computers and typesetting is like, well, that’s fascinating. And that led me into graphic design. And then I got a job working at the University of Utah in the graphics lab to learn how to use the software. And from there, I started teaching people how to use software. And I got a job doing pre-press: how to take the software and turn it into stuff that needed to be printed. And within a year I was a freelance graphic artist.
And then, because I didn’t want to—I, I’ve, I’ve had periods of homelessness and hunger in my youth when I graduated high school. I learned very quickly that the best way to eat is to have multiple skill sets. So, even though I was doing graphic design—I was doing for international advertising agencies and national print shops—I also had that second job as a firearms instructor and a gun salesman for the law enforcement supply store in Utah.
So that got me out of the house. Kept me from being one of those weird guys who collects cats and hoard things in the basement. And through graphic design, and my, my background and being an instructor, I was asked to teach graphic design to a local vocational school. And they asked me to come in and teach Quark Express Photoshop, Illustrator, printing press things, you know, colour theory, typography, photography, all that stuff, and I loved doing it. But I had to invent a lot of my classes. And I did—what I took from my experience as a firearms instructor, the best way to train people how to do something is get them to do it, to have them do it. Given them the theory, give them practical application, and then assess whether or not they do it.
At the time, in the early mid 1990s, I didn’t know that instructional design was a thing. It was, it wasn’t until 2007, when I was offered a job for a defence contractor to be an instructional designer, that I learned that everything that I’ve been doing intuitively and inventing—that I thought I was inventing on my own—was actually a science and a process. When they told me that there was a science and a process to it, I was blown away. I was like, are you kidding me, there’s actual science to this? There’s, there’s something other than just inventing it as I go along?
And so I jumped at the chance to get the job. I had, by this time in 2007, I had moved to Virginia. I was moved to Virginia, because in Utah, if you want to make a million dollars, you have to work a million hours. So I moved to Virginia, to pursue graphic design. And because I want to have that part-time job also, I found out that my local agency had a part-time law enforcement role. It was a part-time deputy sheriff. And even though it was a part-time, I went through academy, and I started seeing how training was done in law enforcement. And I was both horrified and excited at the same time, because a lot of things I felt intuitively was, was across multiple industries. But I was horrified at how poorly law enforcement training was delivered and designed. And at the end of training, my basic training, I told one of our instructors that it was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had, that I was really disgusted with how little confidence a lot of people were coming out of the academy with. And yeah, I know I’m making an indictment. But I truly believe that a lot of reform in law enforcement needs to be done in training development, it doesn’t start at training. It starts at training development.
But, getting ahead of myself a little bit. So I was in law enforcement for a decade. And by the time I left, I was a firearms instructor, I was general instructor, bike patrol instructor. Did a lot of created a number of programmes to try to improve the quality of training in my academy. And, but I was also working for the defence department as an instructional designer for an organisation called the Personnel Recovery Education Training Centre. Which is, you hear about POW/MIA, right? The person of war missing in action. PRETC trains the people who goes and gets those people. Oh, so the training I was developing was for finding and recovering POW/MIA.
So I learned a lot. And ultimate—by, by the time I left, I wrote the operation structure on how to develop training for PRETC. But I had some really great opportunities while I was working for this defence contractor. And one of those things was going to a military school for strategic planning. So I went to this—I got to go to this class as a civilian that’s designed for lieutenant colonels and colonels and majors on how to create strategic planning. And I talked about the three different types of planning as strategic, operational and tactical planning. And that really stuck with me a lot.
So by the time I left the defence department, I’ve worked for, I’ve worked for web technology, web hosting business, I’ve worked for Wells Fargo as a contractor. I’ve worked for travel companies. And right now, I spent a lot of my time training people on how to do instructional design, primarily law enforcement and transitioning teachers, but also developing training for public safety, web technology, banking, whoever needs come by.
So I know—I don’t know if I’m talking way too much. But it’s, it’s my, it’s one of the things I really cherish and that a lot of people look at my background, they’re like, well, you’re not focused on anything. I’m just like, actually, I’m focused on what you can’t see: Is that learning and development training, in particular in education, is not specific to one industry. But there’s so many industries that do something very well that other industries could benefit from. And they don’t know it because everyone’s siloed. Every company thinks that they’ve invented instructional design, or they’ve invented learning development, and they don’t look outside to find out what is other people what—sorry—what are other people doing and doing it? Well, they just promote the guy who did their sales very well to become a trainer. Then they promote that trainer who built a slide deck into an instructional designer, and then they, they wonder why their training never really benefits the company as a whole. And a lot of that is because companies silo themselves and they don’t look outside and do the research of what does it take to have a quality learning and development organisation?
“Learning and development isn’t just a cost centre or revenue generator, it’s important to the… success of the a business. [Operations or accounting] don’t develop an income either, they’re a cost centre, but you’re not going to fire your entire accounting department because your profits are bad.”
And that’s why I think strategy and strategic planning is such an essential part. And that learning and development isn’t just a cost centre, or a revenue generator, but it’s a, it’s as important to the development and the success of a business as any other component of a business. Your operations, your, your, your accounting—they don’t develop an income either, they’re a cost centre, but you’re not going to fire your entire accounting department because your profits are bad. You know, same for HR, HR is not generating revenue, but you’re not going to fire your entire HR department, because you’re starting to hit hard times.
It’s one of the things you learn from military law enforcement, is that if you don’t have training, you don’t have quality employees, and it creates a lot of problems and harms the business or harms the reputation a lot faster than not having enough sales. I’m going to take a pause real quick, so you can get a word in edgewise.
How have you gone about aligning the training you’ve developed, given you’ve worked with some non-traditional business objectives?
Well, I found that about the only difference is the seriousness of the decisions being made. You know, I’ve been in interviews before where people will ask me if I can handle making decisions, you know, in high pressure scenarios, and I, and they’ll know my background like, well, is anybody shooting at me? And they laugh, like, well, no, nobody’s doing that! I was like, then it’s going to be pretty easy. Because in law enforcement and war, you don’t have the time to scrutinise. You have, you’re entirely based off your training.
To give you an example, I went on a call one time, but we had a panic alarm at a bank. I was working midnight shift, buddy, a buddy of—a buddy of mine and I were dot going through our reports, we were just down the street, and the other shift hadn’t been released yet. So we went to the, we went to the call, and I take the backside, he takes the front, I get out, I haven’t drawn or anything. And as I’m approaching the back door, the door swings open. Out of nowhere, dude comes through the back. And I start yelling at him to show me his hands and to stop moving. And as I’m yelling at him giving them commands, I realised I have my firearm drawn, I have my finger indexed on the frame. And I’m thinking to myself, wow, I didn’t shoot him. Training works!
Because we’re trained, we’re trained to, when we draw, the index, our finger not to go right to the trigger, index. And then so—analyse the situation—and think about the time it takes to walk to a back door. And for somebody to come through the door, and I had to make that split second decision: Is this person a threat? Well, it turns out that the person who came through the back door was a janitor, the bank had changed the password, and they hadn’t told him, so he entered it in a number of times wrong, which is how, which sets off the panic alarm. So, I’m amazed that I didn’t shoot him because of my training. I immediately went to training.
And I’ve had friends in special forces, who would say that as they’re plummeting, sometimes a parachute doesn’t open. And they immediately go to training and they think, wow, training works, because they’ve built that reputation. They’ve built, they, they, they made it a habit, they made it instinctual.
When you’re talking to tech support, a tier one tech support person, and you’re training them on how to handle calls. Nobody’s gonna be pointing a gun at them. nobody’s going—their life is not at risk, nor is a person that they’re talking to at risk. But that anxiety and that stress that they feel in dealing with an angry person, or not knowing how to answer a problem, is pretty much the same. People respond, you know, we have finite capabilities of how we respond to stress and anxiety. And if we don’t train our people on how to handle those, and how to think through it critically, then we’re setting them all up for failure. So for instance, with a web technology company, one of the things I introduced or attempted to introduce, was taking some of the training that I learned in law enforcement—primarily, primarily creating scenario-based training—where I talk about this a lot. And I’m trying, and I’m hoping to do more talks at conferences, in creating a safe place to fail. One of the biggest failures I see in every business is that they take people and they firehose them in for two weeks, and then put them in on-the-job training and expect them to sink or swim.
“One of the biggest failures I see in every business is that they take people and they firehose them in [training] for two weeks, and then put them in on-the-job training and expect them to sink or swim.”
Well, you’re doing a number of things there. Number one, you’re stressing the agent out severely, creating a high attrition—more likely, that person is not going to show up by the end of the week. And you’re pissing off your clientele. Because your, your clients can tell if the person you’re talking to doesn’t know what they’re talking about. They can feel the fear, they can feel feel the lack of experience. So why are we doing that to people. You want to reduce attrition, you want to increase retention? Because ultimately, it’s a cost factor. How much does it cost to hire somebody? How much are you paying to train that person to have them quit within 30 days? I’ve seen estimates anywhere from $24,000 to $80,000, to hire one person. So extend that training a week. And you create a middle path, a middle step in between the classroom, where they get to practice. And then you put them in live scenarios, where they’re actually talking to instructors, taking phone calls, learning how to operate the multiple systems, do the critical thinking, because they’re supposed to be engaging the person, they’re supposed to be operating three or four different terminals at the same time, supposed to be researching, collecting data, analysing data, analysing information, and then as they, in that week, of, of, of practical application, as people are achieving it, then you put them in on-the-job training, and it can be far more effective.
Imagine putting police law enforcement in a two-week class ,where they just sit in a classroom and get firehosed with information, and then putting them on the frontlines. Putting them out on the street and having them interact with people. And that’s a lot of the problem that we see you with, with, and law enforcement issues that we have is that, that there’s not enough practical application. But you see that primarily in business, where there’s no practical application, it’s a little bit of role play in class, and then thrown out on the floor. And then company is wondering, why are we losing people? Well, partly it’s hiring. Partly, it’s how you’re training, it’s mostly that you’re not giving people an opportunity to fail before they get on the floor. Because if they’re failing on the floor, they’re failing your business, they’re costing you employees, they’re costing you reputation.
So, I think there’s a lot of crossover. There’s a lot of opportunity for taking lessons learned from law enforcement, military, and applying it to business, because you want people who know how to handle stress and pressure, who can think and process information very quickly relying on policy, procedure law, and regulation. You’re talking about cops and military, you’re talking about people who know how to process data very quickly, critically analyse under pressure, but now you’re putting him in a situation where they’re not going to have to fight, they’re not going to have to draw a firearm, they’re not going to have to use force. They just get to make decisions and move on.
So, I think there’s a lot of crossover and a lot of opportunity. But because companies are so siloed, and companies put value—they, they put—it’s funny how cross-minded they are in that they value, they’re frustrated, because they’re losing people, they’re not willing to spend the money on an extra week of training, but they’re okay losing $80,000 when that person fails out, you see what I’m saying?
You mentioned role-play and giving learners a safe place to fail. How do you break down those activities?
Yeah, I’ve—there’s, and that’s something that I that I work on a lot in law enforcement training, too, is that when I develop a scenario for like, whether it’s law enforcement, or whether it’s for sales training, I don’t just create a little situation and say, okay, this is what you’re going to do. And then ad lib it. I actually have, it’s like an eight-page scenario template, where you outline what the objectives are, what the materials are, who the role players are, you have role player cards that provide background effect, explanation, they have explanation of the bat—I’m sorry, I already said that—explanation of the background. But they also have key points to address. Things that they look for. Things that they’re use—that they should use to trigger, the the person, the trainee, and then also follow up. If the, if the trainee does not do this thing, then you do this thing. If the—I’m gonna say participants in training—f the participant does do this thing, then this is what you do.
You have to create scenarios without boundaries, scenarios without parameters. And without an ability to create a consistent result is useless. Most scenarios I see are a one -paragraph explanation. And then it’s left to improv. Well, you can’t assess improv for, you know, like I said at the beginning, discovering that there’s a science and a process to instructional design means to me that there should be scientific method and process applied.
And so, one of the number one things I proselytise is that there’s three things you have to have in training. Because ultimately, when you boil everything down to what training should be, it should be accountability, holding instructors accountable, and holding participants accountable. If you don’t have consistent material, if you don’t have consistency, you can’t have continuity, if you don’t have continuity, you can’t have accountability. That consistency comes from how your training materials are developed. So unless you have training materials that can be applied, regardless of who the instructor is, regardless of who the who the cohort is, then you can’t have consistent results. You won’t have continuity within training. You can’t expect accountability, but yet we hold people accountable to trash training all the time.
So, the scenarios that I develop, I have, I have— I create background cards, even with pictures, and everything that they need to know so that the instructors or the role players are following the same script every single time because I’m looking for the same results every single time. But also, what was very key, is that I see a lot of scenarios are setting people up for failure because they implant the idea that if you do everything well, then then you will have good results. And we know that’s not true. Right? If you don’t, if you don’t have—but that implies that if you have bad results, then you didn’t do everything well.
“We have to get away from results-based training, and focus more on the performance-based training.”
So, so you have to include in the scenario, then, the opportunity to do everything right and still fail. It’s we have to get away from results-based training, and focus more on the performance-based training, because every conversation is not a sale. But you need to train people how to recognise whether that that their performance will lead them to a sale or not, but also how to analyse the conversation to determine if I’m wasting my time, I’m wasting time on call in order to make the sale. That was actually one of my last unpopular position posts on LinkedIn was about that very thing. We have to start training people to performance and teaching them that you might perform, you might do exactly what you’re supposed to and people still have the ability to make decisions and say no, and that’s okay. You didn’t fail because you performed exactly as you should have.
That’s a problem we have in law enforcement too, is that we assume that because there was a use of force incident, that cop didn’t de escalate correctly. But so you’re saying that the only way that we know that cops are doing their jobs is by body count, which is not accurate. Law enforcement interactions are overwhelmingly successful throughout the country all the time, throughout every country. Throughout, you know, any country that has quality training, law enforcement interactions are overwhelmingly successful, by the lack of, of body count that we have. But we only measure people for when there’s a failure. And we forget that the people that we’re interacting with, whether it’s sales, whether it’s the, or the, whether it’s sales people, whether it’s tech support, or whether it’s people, the general public, they have choice, they have the option of making decisions, and we have to prepare people for being able to perform correctly regardless what the result is.
If they perform incorrectly and they get a bad result, now we can hold them accountable. If they perform correctly everything, and that person still makes a bad decision, we can’t hold the person who did everything right accountable for someone else’s bad decision, whether it’s a failure to sell, or use of force incidents.
Do you have any recommendations or experience around how to measure and show the outcomes of training?
To start with, I think that unless you have quality, well-designed training materials, and those materials become the, are the codified knowledge of the business, and those materials are delivered consistently across the board, you’re measuring, you’re measuring behaviour, you’re measuring independent will and behaviour, not measuring training.
So for instance, I developed a course called Instructional Design for Law Enforcement Instructors, because it was shocking to me after having been a cop for seven years, and training people on how to develop training based on my experience, not knowing that there was thing called instructional design, how much I got right, but how much I actually got wrong, too. And so one of the things I teach in my course, it’s a 40-hour course. And the participant guide is 130 pages.
Now think about the last time you were in a 40-hour course we got a 130-page participant guide. That’s my point is that my participant guide, my instructor guide is a mirror of the of the of the participant guide. I don’t my participant guide is a textbook. So training should be everything that they should need to know in order to do the business, to do the job, right. And the participant guide should have everything that they need to be in there. It shouldn’t be on slide decks. It shouldn’t, it—slide decks are just three-by-five cards for keeping track of information.
But I come from this, I come to this from a position based on my military and law enforcement experience, is that you hold people accountable. In law enforcement, if you’re training, there are Supreme Court cases, there are, there is a Court precedent for vicarious liability, which means that an instructor can be held liable for the failures of their, of their participants, of their students. We don’t do that in business. But how many businesses are regulated? How many businesses are audited? And if they ever went into the training materials, and they saw that a 40-hour course was taught with an eight-page bullet list, how do you how do you validate that you trained anything? You’re, what you’re doing is all that, that line between each bullet is made up by the instructor. So, the first place to start before you can have anything really measurable, is quality training materials that document everything.
Now, once you have consistent documented materials that have been validated, I do a three-part validation. I learned this from the military, where I train it three times and I adjusted before I consider it validated and accurate. But once I have that, now I can start collecting data. If, if I’m collecting data, and I have a scattergram and my materials haven’t changed, but I start seeing the assessments drop or the success drop of participants, was it a failure of the instructor or was it a failure of the participant? Or did something change in the materials? Now you have something research.
“If people don’t know what they’re measuring, the measuring of training isn’t effective. If you don’t have a baseline, then your measurements are no better than pixie dust or unicorn dreams.
A lot of, a lot of statistics and a lot of measurement that’s done in business now is based off of KPIs that don’t have any meaning. I, I had a friend who worked for a bank, who one of their KPIs was how many phone calls they made. And one guy on their team, who is, who is succeeding the most, who was succeeding, was making three times as many phone calls as anybody else. And he was, you know, he’s the best employee, he’s been doing it right. And I asked my, my friend who was always mediocre and was being, was being counselled on a regular basis, I asked her, how many—I said, out of your phone calls, how many people are you actually closing with products? And she said, probably eight out of 10 I’m closing. And I said, how many is he? He might get three a week.
So they’re measuring how many phone calls he makes, but they’re not measuring how successful or the quality of those phone calls. He’s making the most phone calls, but he’s also the lowest producer. He’s producing the fewest amount of closings, what, what’s going to make the business money: How many phone calls he makes, or how many calls are closed? So she was actually the highest producer, if you looked at how many calls she was closing, which tells you that their KPI is crap. It didn’t give them any information. But he was also spending, you know, how much time was he wasting on all these calls?
So that’s part of the problem that we have is that, if people don’t know what they’re measuring, the measuring of training isn’t effective. If they don’t have quality materials, that they don’t have a baseline of something that they can rely on and say, okay, we know that this is the right thing. If you don’t have a baseline, then your measurements are no better than pixie dust or unicorn dreams.
Do you have any advice for around that process of how to diagnose and put together a proposal to get buy in from the broader business?
The experience that I’ve had so far is it’s almost like a chicken/egg thing. The few times, so I was able to do the training the way that training should be done, even after they saw the—there’s one project I work on, that was so wildly successful, that they increased, the increased the people, they increased our hiring, from 15 to 300 by the time I left, in order to support this one, this one project that I re-designed a training for. They still, the company still didn’t listen to me on all the other projects.
“Even if [L&D is] not a profit generator, it’s a profit magnifier.”
So, it’s, you can, you can have wild success and you can say, it’s because of this thing. But if if the company leadership is unwilling to listen, if they’ve already decided that learning and training is a necessary evil, converting that mindset is, is really difficult. You have to get it down to the dollars. And even then, there is another project, even with the same company, where I pointed out that if they didn’t make this $110,000 or $120,000 change now, who had ultimately cost him $7 million a year to support it with personnel later. They didn’t buy it, they didn’t listen. And then eight months later, like holy crap, we have to hire a bunch of people in order to do that. And I said, this is exactly what I was talking about.
They still wouldn’t listen. And it’s one of the things that when I talk about, I did some research on what I’m learning strategy. And I realised that even even in our industry, there’s not a really good definition of it. When I Googled “learning strategy”, it came up with how to get students to do certain things. And to me—’ve been calling myself a learning strategist to me—it’s understanding the entire environment of how an L&D department is not just something to churn training out, but it’s actually your lessons learned department. It’s your, it’s your institutional knowledge department. It’s your, you know, it’s your, your foundation for succession.
So when somebody else comes in, you’re not having to reinvent everything because you already have this historical evidence and process. It’s like, well, I’ve got this idea to do this thing. So it’s hard to quantify, you know, the value of it. But if you look at very successful industries like US military, one of the things that makes the US military super successful is because they have a training, they have a training doctrine. Their training is every bit of much—every bit as much of their strategic plan, their international, their national strategic plan—as any other part of the strategic plan. Because they understand that without training, you’re not gonna be able to get your missions done. So they have departments dedicated to just lessons learned after every operation. They have people who are trained to analyse what exactly happened on that operation, to look for the wins, the losses, the—you know, they do a SWOT analysis on every single mission. And they take that, they take that SWOT analysis, and they immediately implement it into all their training schools where it applies.
Until businesses are willing to commit to something like that, they’re going to be they’re going to be fighting the good idea fairy every three years when they have a complete succession turnover. But I have seen, and I’ve talked to some people who’ve been able to do that, but they don’t realise how expensive it is to do it right. It is expensive, but there’s no reason—you know, one of the things I say is that learning and development can be a profit generator, if it’s utilised correctly.
“If they’re allowed to the analysis, the planning and be involved with other departments… your L&D group becomes a third party independent consultant, because they’re not beholden to anyone, but they’re touching every aspect of the business.
But even if it’s not a profit generator utilised the way I can see it being utilised, it’s a, it’s a profit magnifier. It will magnify the profit if training is done, if training is allowed to be done correctly. If it’s not seen as a bandaid on an amputated, on a, you know, an amputated limb. You know, if they’re allowed to do the the analysis, the planning, if they’re allowed to interact with and be involved with other departments. Because the, the areas I’ve seen training succeed, training was, was allowed to work with people on the ground, in the trenches, to see what’s going on, work within different divisions, within the different departments and become the systems and process analysis department. So you don’t need a third party consultant to come in. Your L&D group becomes a third party independent consultant, because they’re not beholden to anyone, but they’re touching every aspect of the business.
I know I didn’t really give you a solid answer to it. But when I—if I was, when I was hired at a brand new business, and they said we want to build an L&D team, I said, okay, this is what it’s going to cost. This is the amount of people that we’re going to, we’re going to need, here’s the salaries, we’re going to need that put together a five-year plan, strategic plan for training people into new roles, how we could turn it into a profit generator, by training people, for other people within the industry, because they all hop around and poach from one another. So we’ll train people to do it, knowing that we’re going to get the best people, but we can’t get other people to pay us to train their people. You know, so I created a profit centre for it. And when they saw the expense, and they saw the outline of it, they’re like, well, that’s really complicated. And I was laid off several months later. So, yeah. So there’s a right way of doing it. It’s just finding the right people who are willing to see the vision and willing to do the investment.
Is there an underlying methodology that you’ve used to analyse correlation versus causation in training?
Yeah, it’s, it’s—so one of the things I think about is that, when I was doing that one group that I told you that they, they’d grown the team they were shooting to grow the team to 300 because of the success of the training, I was tasked with redesigning the onboarding training for this team.
And I insisted on doing it my way. I said I need to do a task analysis because they want me to design it a certain way. They’re like, okay, we want to do this, we want to do this, we want to do this. Fortunately for me, I had a little experience on that team, so I knew that what they were asking me to do is not going to be wholly effective. So I at I did a task analysis. I did a task analysis that are A-performers, B-performers and C-performers.
But I also asked to look at their cancellation data. I looked at the read—so I got 2500 lines of code. And I, I looked at the cancellation data, saw when people were most likely to quit. You know, their target was to get two people to stay on for six months, because that will make them profitable. And the cancellation data showed that most people were quitting after 30 days for a subscription-based product. And I looked at why were people cancelling. And I looked at the A, B, and C-performers.
And I said, okay, here’s the problem. So when I went to when we had the results meeting, and I had, I had all my data, I had spreadsheets, I had graphics, and all that stuff that nobody is going to read. Nobody cares about that stuff. But I have the evidence. So if they want to challenge me, plot, there’s your evidence. After I listened to the, the primary, go on about what he thought needs to be done, and he looks to me, and is like am I right? I said, the one thing that I was told that this person could never hear. I said no. And he was aghast. He’s like, confused. And I waited. And he knew me well enough to know that I’m telling him no, there’s a reason. He said, okay, why?
And then I explain exactly what the problem was, how they needed to be training. And I said, okay, your KPIs show that most people in the current training can take up to six weeks to hit their KPIs. And what they’re not, what—it’s not that they don’t know the system, it’s that they’re not setting expectations. When they get people on the phone, you have an expectation of how long it’s going to take them for them to get proficient to continue their subscription. No one’s telling him that. So we need to set expectations right up front: It’s going to take you this much time to get proficient in this product.
So when we redesigned the training, we had a sudden discovery that I hadn’t anticipated, which was super exciting for me, is that we learned that the KPIs—when we adjusted the KPIs what they should be—instead of six weeks to hit their metrics, it was taking them a week. Most people were hitting three. Within three days, they were hitting their KPIs based on the new training. And we found over time, because we had consistent training—and I wrote, I wrote the materials using the style and methods that I do so that it didn’t matter, the instructor, they were getting the same training, doing the same activities, that were doing the thing that they were expecting other people to do—that if they weren’t hitting their KPIs, within a week, they would quit.
And it turned into a predictive model, which is what you want your KPIs to do is to become predictive, not just historical. So within two years, that, that group who had been losing money, and only had 15 people on staff grew to over almost 300, going 24 hours a day. And, and still maintaining the KPIs. If they weren’t hitting their KPIs within a week, they’re probably going to quit because they didn’t want to do the job. So I, I answered your question, right?
Have you had much success changing the expectations of training, and how have you gone about doing that?
Yeah, absolutely. You know, I talk a lot about the three whys of training. Why, why this and why this this way? Those three whys is what I give a participant so they can see that there’s—they’re not just being trained for the sake of training and to tick a box.
Why are you being trained? Because these are the things that we need. Why this? Because based on our research and analysis, this is what we found is what we need to have done. Why this this way? Having taken those series and applied it and doing rigorous, rigorous evaluation of the process afterwards, has shown that this is the best way to do those things. If you follow these processes, you’ll have a higher likelihood of success. And I’ve, anytime I’ve been able to implement that, they’ve had higher retention and they’ve had, they’ve had growth, they’ve been able to grow their business.
“Why, why this and why this this way? Those three whys [are] what I give a participant so they can see that… they’re not just being trained for the sake of training and to tick a box.”
One of the—I was really surprised when I went into an organisation I was analysing their, I was analysing their training for a large institution, international institution, and they had been having a lot of failures that were becoming public. I went in and I looked at it I was hired as a contractor. And I said, you realise that you’re hiring people who can spell the job title, and people who have 20 years of experience doing the job title, and they’re all being lumped in the same thing and your training is essentially sit with them for two weeks, watch what they do, here’s your caseload. I said you’re not, you can’t expect people with no experience and people with a, with a tonne of experience to be able to perform the same way.
So we had to boil it down to teaching critical thinking skills, teaching case management skills, things like that, in order for them to get to the, to the position that they need to be. And the people who are going through the training were excited, because they were learning something, but they’re learning why they were doing it this way and why it was so important. So, by setting expectations, whether it’s with the, with the participants, or training the participants to set expectations with the customers and the clientele, people want to know what to expect. Nobody likes going into a vacuum. Nobody likes to likes feeling they’re wandering to a chaotic world, especially if somebody doesn’t know something.
If you sit down, you say, look, it’s going to take some time to do this, I’m going to be with you while we go through this, this is my whole job is to walk you through and get you ready, people are infinitely happy. I’ve tested in life. If I go into, if I go into a business, if I have a problem with something, or if I call somebody, I set the expectation with that person. I was like, look, I know you’re really busy. I’m not upset with you. Here’s the problem I have, you know, I’m going to be completely patient.
It’s amazing how much easier I have in solving problems than going and screaming at people, right? Even if somebody comes in screaming, I was like you know, having been a cop, I go into a lot of calls where people are screaming and pissed off and angry. I have to set expectations. So I set expectations, say, look, I’m here to help you resolve this problem. I’m just trying to find out what’s going on. I’m not making—I’m not coming in with any kind of judgments. I’m here to listen to you and de-escalate the problem. It applies everywhere. It applies everywhere.
When you’re setting those expectations, have you found that the use of data has been really helpful with showing that there’s a certain sort of outcome that you’re looking for?
Um, I—just like my unpopular positions, I don’t like having opinions. Anybody can hold an opinion. I like to hold position. So my positions are based on reason and facts. I guess I’m Vulcan that way.
But it’s, if I don’t know something, I’ve learned early on in life that I tell people, I don’t know if I will find out. And so if I say I’m going to do something, if I say that I believe that a certain thing needs to be a certain way, I’m going in with that data, I’m going in with that information, I’m going in with a vision. So I want to have data, I need to be backed up. If I don’t know, I’m gonna go in and say I don’t know. I’m gonna go in and say based on my experience, which is anecdotal, it’s not fact or reason. And either people trust me or they don’t.
“Anybody can hold an opinion. I like to hold position. I want to have data, I need to be backed up. But oftentimes, I’ve found the best data is to let somebody stand on the hill. And when it starts to crumble, come back and say, can I do it the right way now and get it fixed?”
To that, though, I have to be willing to recognise and process counterfactual data. So I, I’m fine for being wrong if you can tell me how I’m wrong and how to be right. But if somebody just wants to challenge me, because they don’t believe it, that’s, that’s a different argument altogether. But I, oftentimes, I’ve found the best data is to let somebody stand on the hill. And when it starts to crumble, come back and say, can I do it the right way now and get it fixed? I have plenty of—that, that’s been primarily the most, the most likely times I’ve been able to show the value of using the science and process of instructional design, and learning and development, is by, by putting up saying, well, the best way to do this—nope, I want you to do it this way. Okay, we’ll do it your way. And then I do it their way and when it starts crumbling and they’re confused, I say this is why it’s not working. You can’t train people on Salesforce with a 40-minute PowerPoint presentation. They need to actually go in and and play with it. They need to they need to work it. So now will you let me build the simulator? Oh, yeah, build a simulator. And suddenly KPI time to adoption is you know, 10 times faster.
So oftentimes, it takes— you have to be willing to battle. You have to be willing to face, you know, face the firing squad, essentially. And if there’s anything I’ve gotten out of all the experiences in my life is my willingness to take the heat. Especially if I know that the data is right. Not me, I don’t know if I’m ever right 100%. I need to know that the data, the research, the analysis is on point. But I also want to be challenged. Please challenge me! Because if you can find the hole, then you’re gonna make it a heck of a lot better than if I, if everyone just assumes that I’m right and move on.
My last question for you would be, where can people find you?
Well, I have, I’m on LinkedIn. Rick Jacobs APC on LinkedIn. And I have my website jacobsetal.com. And those are probably the two best ways to find me.
And I’m willing to talk to anybody. I enjoy helping people develop and move forward. There are a lot of mentors that have paid it forward for me, so I want to pay it forward for others. And I do have some—I have every Thursday and every Friday, I have on Thursdays, I have an instructional design process chat. I have that for $10 because I found a paywall filters out to the the lurkers. I ran into that last, a couple of weeks ago with my Friday was learning and development group therapy, which is a free chat for everybody to bounce in and just complain and talk together and brainstorm. But it was punked by a couple of kids on spring, on Thanksgiving break, so I’ve had to hide a little more.
I just, I enjoy helping people learn. It’s, it’s if you stopped learning, if you’re not willing to learn, then you don’t belong in this industry. So anything I can do to help other people learn, I’m happy to.
This is a transcript from the Strategic L&D Podcast, where we venture through what key L&D opinion leaders are doing today to ensure they’re delivering a strategically impactful L&D function. If you want to stay up to date with our latest releases, subscribe to our learning and development podcast. We’re on most common podcast platforms, including Spotify and Apple. You’ll also find us in video form on our YouTube channel.
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