Matt Gjertsen is a former instructor pilot for the US Air Force, former Head of Learning and Development at SpaceX and current Chief Learning Officer at Better Every Day Studios. He joins Blake Proberts to talk about flipping your learning management cycle to start with strategic impact, why your learning budget doesn’t dictate results (sometimes lean budgets drive the best innovation) and when self-directed learning is actually impeding strategic impact.
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Matt, you’ve got a very interesting and unique background in the L&D world. Can you just give us a little bit about you and what’s brought you to where you are today?
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much for having me, really looking forward to the discussion. Yeah, so my background is I started in the the US Air Force as an instructor pilot. So I did that for about, but did that for eight or nine years, had a lot of got a lot of experience teaching people, you know, very practical skills, how to how to fly all over the world flew, I was an instructor in two different aircraft had a lot of fun. While I was an instructor pilot, I also spent a lot of time getting really into fitness. And so I also started training people how to like run half marathons. So so that was a lot of fun.
After about nine years after—I actually I joined the Air Force, because I wanted to go to space, I wanted to be an astronaut. And so I had been really keen on watching SpaceX’s rise early on. And so when the opportunity presented itself for me to bow to my active duty service, I took it and wanted to find my way into SpaceX. I didn’t know how I was going to make it there. I always like to say, I jumped out of the plane and just hoped I would find a parachute on the way down. And sure enough, I did. I managed to connect with a person who was running one of their launch sites, and is just kind of, you know, the typical, like, I’ll do anything, what do you need any help? What What can I do for you? And he said, Well, you know, we’re really looking for some help with training. Have you ever done anything like that? And I was like, sure, like, Yeah, I think I can do that.
You know, I never thought in a million years that the the like instructor title of all the things that I had done would ever be what I would continue to do. So that was kind of my entry into corporate learning and development.
Fast forward about 14 months, and I moved down to LA from one of their launch sites and took over the training development team in HR and headquarters here in LA. And I mean, I just, I just fell into the into the rabbit hole. I just completely fell in love with, with all things learning and development. I can’t, you know, can’t express enough how, how important I think it is and how critical I think it is for, for organisational success. So I, I was at SpaceX and got to get to do a little bit everything in L&D: orientation, content creation, live facilitation, just the whole, the whole thing. I was at SpaceX for four years. Left SpaceX for another startup.
And then relatively recently started my own L&D consultancy, Better Every Day Studios, where we now—we like to say we, we help build learning solutions that deliver business results. So we work with our clients, rather than on a project basis, one like a long term agreement, month to month agreements, where we really try to dig in understand the challenges that they’re having, and help them solve them.
You mentioned that you to create your own startup focusing on driving business results and business outcomes. How do you align that learning?
Yeah, I think I mean, classically, you know, I think most people or a lot of people have have probably heard of the, you know, traditional like Kirkpatrick levels of analysis where, when you’re, when you’re analysing learning results, and you know, level one is, did they enjoy it? How was the engagement? Level two is about learning, level three is behaviour change, level four is the, is the business impact.
And I think it’s critical to just take that from the very beginning and do it in reverse, you start by identifying the business impact that you’re trying to achieve, then you work backwards and say, okay, to achieve that business impact, what behaviour do we need to change in order to get that business impact? Then okay, what knowledge do people need? What learning do we need to provide for them to change their behaviour? And then what? How do we create an engaging situation so that they achieve that learning? Right? Like, I think that, you know, that, that backwards approach is one of the ways that I kind of approach it.
“The biggest thing is trying to make sure you’re not taking on things that learning can’t change.”
I think, I think the biggest thing, honestly, is really trying to make sure you’re not taking on things that learning can’t change. You know, doing that proper analysis, not just assuming that there’s a problem. I think very often in plenty of organisations, you know, learning is like the go to thing, oh, we need training, we need this thing. And really, it’s a mask for often either, you know, not great management or leadership practices, or improper resourcing, you know, those are probably two of the big ones. Probably the third one is, is poor documentation. You know, but I think it’s, you know, going, going through it and reverse of starting with the business outcome, and then working backwards, and then really trying to make sure, you know, honestly, looking at the problem and yourself in the mirror and kind of saying, like, Can we do anything about this? Is this a learning problem? That’s how, some of the ways I like to approach it.
Is there a big difference between finding those business results and driving that in the large organisations and the small orgs? Or is it that those fundamental truths are fundamental truths?
I don’t know if it’s, if it’s so much organisational size, as it is just differences in individual personalities.
But then, but then very often, you know, different personalities kind of migrate to different sizes, or types of organisations probably, you know, there’s certainly going to be very scrappy, and you know, forward leaning people in very large organisations, but you’re probably just going to get more of them in a smaller organisation. You know, but I think it has, if anything, I would say it has a lot to do with, you know, the where people are coming from, what their background is. You know, if you come from, honestly, HR, and you know, environmental health and safety, very often like very regulatory-driven kinds of systems where there’s lots of rules that say what you can and can’t do. And so it’s a lot easier for somebody to come up in those in, that environment, and be thinking much more programmatically—just like we just give them the information, they have to abide by the information. This is the way it’s been done, kind of thing.
And then there’s other, other places where they’re much more open to experimentation. You know, SpaceX was very open to experimentation, I think, in large part, because that’s what they do that they’re very, they’re very, they do a lot of experimentation. I also think, you know, the startup world tends to have to face up to the fact that they often don’t have a lot of money. You know, it’s it’s a very brutal reality of like, look, we got to achieve, we got to do things. And so sometimes that can help people focus on things a little bit.
Between those types of organisations, do you find there’s a different method of prototyping to sort of work out, hey, maybe we don’t have a budget?
Yes, I do think so. I mean, I think, you know, if you’re a big organisation with a big budget that’s used to operating slowly, then it’s like, why not shoot all video in 4k? And why not? You know, go with the, you know, $35,000 custom video commercial thing, you know, I mean, it’s just, it’s kind of like, the why not?
Well, when you take that off the table, I mean, I always I remember, I’ve had this discussion before, around, you know, the, like budgets and government and I often say that, like, budget cutting is where, is where the magic happens from an innovation perspective. Because as long as you have increasing budgets and growing budgets, it’s always why not, you know, like, why not do more? Why not do what we did plus more? And when your budgets are cutting, then you really have to just be like, Ooh, okay, we need to do different things.
“When you take [budgets] off the table… [that’s] where the magic happens from an innovation perspective. When your budgets are cutting, you have to really be like, Okay, we need to do different things.”
So, I mean, I think especially, that was what I wanted to start with, you know, when I when I was at SpaceX, we were very a small team that had to be very scrappy, we were making a lot of content. And so we had to look very closely at like, Okay, how do we make content as fast as possible, as cheap as possible that is achieving some desired result? And the great news is, is there’s lots of neat tools out there today, you know, things like Vyond for animated videos blow away timelines when it comes to animate—making, making an animation, maybe it’s not quite as precise as if you’re in Premiere or After Effects and all that, kind of the Adobe world. But it’s, it’s what you need. It’s good. And it’s good enough for what you need.
And so I think, you know, when I, when I first started thinking about creating content for others—because honestly, I start I started doing content creation on the side, while I was still a full-time employee at places. And it was really with that focus. It’s like, how do we you know, Pareto Principle 80/20 rule this thing when it comes to content, so that we, I can show people that even if you don’t have a big budget, even if you don’t have a big timeline, you can still get what you want, you can still make, make stuff for yourself. And so certainly in the startup, kind of scrappy world, it’s a lot easier to have that discussion, because they’re already in that space of scarcity.
When when you’re doing that, have you found that you’ve had to produce a business case to get some of those those things approved?
Yeah, I think when it comes to creating business cases, the key is to not try and not try to reinvent the wheel. You know, you’re if you gotta go with what the organisation already cares about. So what is the language that your organisation speaks, and your leaders speak, and then you need to figure out their language, even if it’s not your background, that’s what you have to figure out.
And, you know, so if your company, which has generally been my experience, is about efficiency, and, you know, saving time, saving money so that we can get the mission done, then that’s what you need to focus on, you know. And so I spent a lot of time showcasing how, you know, revising these trainings is going to save X hours per year, or, you know, getting a new learning management system that’s going to be better able to target who needs to take what, you know, it’s honestly, flipping on its head, what a lot of organisation learning organisations do, where rather than focusing on how much time are we spending learning, it’s like, how are we going to reduce time spent learning, you know, if you can, if you can, especially on compliance stuff, you know, if you can cut your time spent learning in half, and there is no visible change in the business, then that was probably a success. And especially, and we all, we’ve all seen, even the courses that we create, and we know that, you know, if you go back and look at something you’ve created you created a couple years ago, and you’re just like, Oh man, that that didn’t need to be there, or I could like cut this here, I didn’t need to do this. So this could have been a little bit more streamlined. And so especially in larger organisations, there’s, there’s so much opportunity for, for cutting that time.
And then I think the other place where I’ve had the most effect, being able to make the most effective kind of ROI and business case that ever, that’s gonna be true kind of anywhere, is around onboarding and on-ramping. And even if it’s not specifically onboarding, it’s, it’s the same thing for promotions and, or, you know, taking on a new role—just ways that you can try to show that you are limiting the time to fluency, if you will. You know if you can speed up that process for getting somebody to be kind of like a minimum viable employee, if you will, or maximum.
You know, if you can go, if you go—go on more, you know, I think for a lot of people, a lot of organisations, let’s be honest, like you’re, you’re, what you’re trying to do is just get somebody so they can do the job, you know, like they’ve signed in to everything, they’ve got access to everything they need. That in and of itself is a big feat because as we continue to onboard more systems and get and coordinate more, just teaching people what systems to use, how to talk to one another is a pretty big feat. So if you can say, we do that in the first day instead of the first three weeks, then that that’s huge. And then you can move on to like, Okay, how do we make these people maximally effective as fast as possible? Which are all great, great ROIs.
What are the best examples of learning activities that you’ve produced or seen somebody produce?
I think, I think it really depends on, you know, when—if we, if we break out of learning modalities. I mean, I think one of the, one of the key things that I would say, that I, that I’ve seen work really effectively when it comes to taking like eLearning and making it more effective and minimising that time, the thing that you want to do is, you know—because like compliance training, or really any knowledge training, is one of the things that we do, especially as we talk about micro learning, is we like break things up into their individual components, right?
And so, you know, if you think of safety training, the classic thing is, you have a course on like, slips, trips, and falls, and you have a course on personal protective equipment, and you have a course on, you know, climbing ladders, and whatnot. And when you look at the whole suite of those things, and you take a step back, you can see through lines from the mall, you know, like quality courses is an example, you know, in space, you know, obviously, in aerospace quality control isn’t a huge issue.
And there’ll be different kinds of it. There’ll be a course on foreign object debris and damage. There’ll be a course on electrostatic discharge and damage. There’ll be just like a quality policy course. And they’ll all be separate courses because they’re touching on different people. But strangely enough, like, all of those courses will all start with, like the same video of a rocket blowing up because of poor quality, you know. And so everybody’s seen it, like seeing that same video, like four or five times, and that’s your clue of, hey, if I’m see—if I’m, if I’m using like the same intro, every time or, you know, there’s probably some kind of through-line here that gives you that chance to, to condense and bring, bring things together.
You know, that being said, since I mentioned eLearning, I think you really want to understand, you know, what are you trying to do. I love eLearning. It’s like what we do, but you need to understand what it can and can’t do, right? You know, eLearning, the traditional eLearning really is still about knowledge transfer. And I like to think in an ideal world, it’s almost always purely preparatory. Right? It’s so that before someone goes into the classroom, it’s, you know, they, they already have the vocabulary, they already have some of the basics down and so then the instructor doesn’t have to waste time going through all that all that stuff.
“I love eLearning, but you need to understand what it can and can’t do. Ultimately… the most effective medium is going to depend on where someone is actually doing the job, where they’re applying the knowledge context.”
Because I think ultimately, like what’s the most effective medium? It’s going to depend a lot on on where someone is actually doing the job, where they’re applying the knowledge context is incredibly important for, for effective learning. And so I think it really kind of goes back to the beginning of just like we’re spending a lot of time in the business learning, what are the outcomes are trying to achieve, and really under understanding that kind of stuff, figuring out how to speak their language—the same thing with the learners that we’re trying to serve. Right? And I think people talk about that a lot of really, you know, keeping the learner in mind when you’re designing it and trying to design stuff that can be consumed wherever they’re at.
How do you find the best ways to get some of that context in training and, how important do you see that context for the learner?
Yeah, it’s critical. Like it’s so so critical. You know, I think when I think about behaviour change, I always think about three principles of specificity connection and context as being really important. And actually, after we had a discussion in the day, we were talking you asked me about habit forming. And so I went to look up JamesClear, you know, the author of Atomic Habits and, and he has these four stages of habit forming.
The first stage of any habit is always the cue, right? It’s the cue to performing the behaviour. And that’s really what context is, what are the things in the surroundings that are going to get somebody to do it you know, we are evolved to, to remember things and act differently depending on the our environment, right? That’s, that’s how we’re evolved. And so that can be everything from, you know, making sure the colours and logos match—although that’s pretty that’s a light one—to more importantly, I think is making sure like the language is real. That’s one of the things that I think is most what we’re losing in a lot of—though plenty of people are getting better at, when you see AR and VR solutions for practising, for practising feedback and stuff like that. So many of these things, because it’s still not that, necessarily, that easy to produce, they’re pre-produced kinds of things. I think I’ve seen, I know some where there’s like Tony Dungy, or you have relatively famous people on the other side talking to you, that you’re, that you’re giving, you’re giving feedback to. It’s like, well, I’m, I mean, I’m not going to be giving feedback to Tony Dungy, or an NFL coach or somebody, you know, like, that’s not who it’s going to be. And they’re certainly not going to be speaking the same language.
And so that was one of the benefits that I’ve seen in the past when, you know, in most of the workplaces that I’ve been at, where we, you know, some people would see as the hindrance that we had no budget, we couldn’t go outside and get in everything. And then we had to make everything ourselves. That meant everything was true to us, you know, when we were give, teaching managers how to get performance reviews, and we were creating, like, fake performance reviews for them to talk through and give feedback on. It was like a real looking performance review, that was true to SpaceX, that had our language in it. You know, so look and feel is important, language is really important, and then environment is really important.
You know, I think we need to stop taking people to offsites to do all their learning, you know. They get really good at giving feedback out in a hotel conference room, but then they’re, they’re a production supervisor, and they’re on the factory floor, and everybody’s yelling and cussing, and it’s loud. And, of course, they’re not going to be good at giving feedback. You know, so let’s, let’s be real and put it where it needs to be.
When you made that training, because of the breadth and the scope of it, and the resourcing, it really would’ve felt like it didn’t come from off the shelf.
And it’s—and the crazy thing is, is that it probably gets great reviews, right? When you—if you, if you have a survey afterwards: This was so, oh, my gosh, this was so amazing.
But I remember years ago, there was a study that was done, where they took—I forget where the study came from—but they took a couple two different cohorts of math students.
And they use two different approaches to teaching the math students, one group of students, and these were like, grade school—I forget, you know, like, like sixth through eighth grade or something. And one group of students, they taught them in a very linear fashion where they would teach, you know, some, you know, addition for a half hour, then subtraction for a half hour, and then something, you know, they would block it out and teach it very linearly.
And then in the other cohort, they would mix it up, every question was different, every scenario is different. So they really had to bounce back and forth. And the key thing is that afterwards, the group that was taught linearly rated the course way better. Like, oh, they had more fun, they were more they could understand everything. The other group said how there it was, you know, it was hard to follow. Sometimes it was confusing, it was really difficult. But then when they got put on the test, the group that had rated the course lower, scored better.
Which, which makes sense, you know, if you, if you think about, you know, physiology and training—you know, you know, anybody who’s trained and tried to work out, you know, it knows that, like, it’s hard if it’s not hard, you’re not improving, and the same is true up here. Right?
And so I think it’s, after that study, it made me kind of rethink, like, maybe we shouldn’t be going for five-star reviews on everything. And then I would suggest, especially in like in-person or, really, encounters that are meant to be engaging and pushing people. If you’re getting five stars, you’re probably not pushing enough, you’d like you should have some people that were like, I felt a little uncomfortable. This one a little too fast, maybe maybe as long as you have a way to catch people up, you know, but I think it’s something to think about.
Being in the software world, we’ve heard it’s okay for some people not to like stuff because that means you’re actually experimenting. Like, you know if it’s all perfect that means that it’s not as good as you can be. And perfection isn’t going to happen anyway.
Nope. Yep, Yep, absolutely. And there was, since, you know, I came from SpaceX, I’m still a huge SpaceX fan. I follow a lot of videos of Elon online, he does these great tours of Starbase, where they’re building their next their next rocket. In a recent video, he talked about how, just how zealously they try to simplify and, like, remove components from systems that they’re designing. And he has this tenant, it’s like, if you’re not adding back in at least 10% of what you remove, then you’re not removing enough. Kind of saying, like, like, you should err on moving too much and having to correct yourself, you know.
So in learning situations, probably a little bit different, because we’re dealing with people. And you know, we don’t want to push anybody too far. We want to make sure we’re bringing everybody along. But I think it highlights that, like you said in all realms where, like, you know, we want to be pushing things forward.
How have you found getting that knowledge out of people who maybe don’t come from an L&D background?
Yeah, I think and that’s been a big thing that I’ve worked at companies on and like with clients on is, you know, I think about it, like, how do you create that content pipeline? Because I think most companies already have people internally that do really well. And like, how you how do you create that knowledge pipeline, really, of current employees to new, to new employees? How do you—you know, so often, learning development teams, you know, we just get stuck in this kind of order taker, just like there’s so much to do, there’s so many courses create all these people are creating content, we want to create these cool programs?
Well, the answer is to empower people to create their own content for that baseline stuff. Like, for the knowledge transfer stuff, the goal should be for us to kind of get out of the game of creating that knowledge transfer stuff, so that we can create the next level of stuff that sits on top of that. I think a lot of that has to do with tools and templates, right? You know, like—so don’t just publish in Storyline, because nobody wants to use Storyline, you know, nobody outside of eLearning wants to wants to use Storyline. You know, find simpler tools. You know, a big one that I that I’ve always loved is iSpring, you know—I think, I think and you know, which really all it is it’s like a PowerPoint converter, right? It’s like you take PowerPoint and turn it into it, turn it into a SCORM file. And I think for most eLearning professionals, like we were like, push that away, like no, well, that’s what we did in like the early 2000s. We don’t do that anymore. It’s like exactly, so help other people kind of do that, again for that for that baseline stuff, because there are those people who have so much knowledge up in their heads. And you do actually need some, some time you need new employees to spend some time purely absorbing some information before they can go do more, more elaborate things.
And so templates, I think, are key for that. Creating, you know, slide decks or documents that really highlight: This is how you want to design a course, this is how you have the points, you know, describe what good questions are, you know. Because, because a lot of people have either not been exposed to eLearning before, or they’ve had really bad exposure to eLearning. And so, you know, making people realise that the goal isn’t to ask really obvious questions, right? Because so many eLearning courses have very obvious questions. You know, that’s not the goal. Sometimes we do it just because we don’t know what else to do. But that’s not the goal. And so teach them how to structure a course how to break it into different sections.
And then I honestly spend a lot of time talking to people about storytelling. You know, because especially for people who are incredibly knowledgeable very often they aren’t they are so focused on the knowledge that is so in the books, and maybe that’s how they learn.
But the truth is, most people learn through stories, right? That’s how we learn. That’s how we remember things. I had the pleasure several years ago to listen to Joe Rody talk who was the he was the head of Disney Imagineering, and he designed Alani and the world of Pandora at Disney World. And he talks a lot about narrative design. How do you create a space and environment that’s so intuitive that you don’t need directional signs to like, say, you know, go this way for this ride. You just kind of walk and you flow and you everything makes sense, right? It’s, it’s, it’s in the right place.
And you know, the same is true with with eLearning. If you need to start your course with directions on how to use the course, you should probably pause for a second just be like, Is this, is this the right thing? But I think even when it gets to that knowledge, talking people through, you know, what have kind of like a hero and a villain, where’s the problem? What knowledge solves that problem? What do we get once we’ve solved that problem? So that you can create a course that’s not just a bunch of bullet points, but actually has kind of like a narrative arc to it.
“You need to be able to hold in your head where you’re at, where you want to be, and what ‘ideal’ is. Those can be very far apart… but as long as you have some vision… that’s what matters.”
And now granted, sometimes, you know, sometimes you got to do things. Sometimes, sometimes things—you know, but, but I think it’s… And I think one thing that’s really important for all of us in L&D, since we’re all in different places, and so many people are so into resources, like, you need to be able to hold in your head, like, where you’re at, where you want to be, and like what ‘ideal’ is, and those can be very far apart. And that’s, and that’s fine. But as long as you have some vision, and you’re slowly trying to get there, then I think that’s what matters.
Do you find it hard to manage the expectations of the people around you once you’ve extracted that knowledge?
Again, kind of like we talked about the beginning, I think that’s gonna be very dependent on who, who you’re working with. I do think there is a level of, if anything, the expectation management, the two places where expectation management, I found are most critical, is on the one side, I think people tend to, you know—there’s some things that you have to learn how to do, right, you just have to, you have to learn how to weld, you have to learn how to fly a plane. And so because you don’t just normally pick it up, like it’s seen as some different thing.
But for things that you can, everybody generally can do, it’s sometimes hard for people to differentiate between be able to do something and be able to do something well. You know, and so I think expectation management, kind of on the flip side of it, is there are some people where you, you, you know—the expectation is, anybody can do this. So any subject matter expert, just put them in front of the room. The subject matter expert, like, they can just take care of it. They can just, they can just do it. And so getting people to realise, talking them through, you know, the difference between good learning and bad learning and what effect it can have, so that they understand the reason why you want to take a beat, and like, have that Train the Trainer Course, or have that discussion or not approve everybody to just give a, give a presentation. I think, I think that’s, that’s, that’s one side.
And then what was the other side of expectation management? I think I got lost—I was, I was talking so much on that point, I think sometimes there’s a little bit and just kind of the speed at which things can happen. I think that, that’s the other side of the expectation management. Because I think it’s—I think in most cases, it’s not as if people genuinely think that like, one course is going to change the world. I think people realise that, that’s not going to be the case. And so I don’t necessarily, at least in my experience, I have had to do a lot managing expectations in terms of, hey, now this isn’t going to solve it all because people generally, at least in my experience, have understood that.
I remember the other point I was going to make an expectation management. I think this is one of the most often confused points for people who haven’t interacted with corporate L&D before, is they think they think learning, so they think school, so they think teacher, so think training, you’re here to teach us. Like they kind of treat sometimes they can treat the learning team or the learning professionals as the subject matter experts, or they’re looking to you to be that person.
And I think that’s a really important discussion to have early on, is clearly identifying any project, who is the subject matter expert, where is the knowledge coming from. That it actually doesn’t come from learning and development, that it comes from other people. We’re the ones that help take that information, and translate it into something that can be easily digestible, so that it can have an impact on people. But we aren’t the sources of that information. And that’s honestly one of the biggest kind of things that you have to work with stakeholders on to understand like the part that we play in the process.
Would you then take your part and go and work with a subject matter expert, or maybe someone in the C suite, to try and align that training with a business outcome or business strategy?
Yeah, I think this is a big one, where it’s just like, you can’t—you should never have, you know… people will ask the question like, how do you get people to buy into your learning strategy? And it’s like, they shouldn’t, they should be bought into the business strategy. And it’s your job to align your learning strategy with the business strategy, you know.
And, and that means it can go in many ways, you know, you—if, if the business goal is to, you know, get people to think they’re getting to get people to have more benefits, you know, enjoy the benefits that the organisation is offering them, they’re trying to, you know, say they’re trying to raise retention. And a, there was a survey that they did that said, you can’t, you know, we’re not getting enough employee benefits are a lot more employee benefits. And so we decide, hey, there’s going to be a subscription to this giant library of courses, there’s going to be an employee benefit. Hey, that could be a reason to buy a giant library of courses to achieve a business outcome. Could be. But more often, you’re going to be much more targeted in the goals that you’re trying to achieve measuring success by changing the business outcome, not by kind of creating your own measure of success.
“You’re going to be much more targeted in the goals that you’re trying to achieve measuring success by changing the business outcome, not by… creating your own measure of success.”
How important do you see the role of data being within the L&D landscape and L&D environment?
Yeah, it really is, is supercritical on a on many, many levels. I think, you know, at the very beginning, I often say, you know, if you’re a new learning professional in an organisation, the first people you want to go get to know, in my opinion, are whoever runs the HRIS. You know, whether that’s working out whatever—you need to go get to know them, just so that you get to know the people data that you have available to you. Because that’s going to be so critical to your implementation of, of your learnings, of any learning strategy of any, you know—you’re trying to enrol people you’re trying to do that stuff. You need to know, do do we actually have good tracking of job titles and departments? Do we know all that kind of stuff, you know. So the people data is like, the foundational layer of it all, I think.
And then the next level is getting the business data, who hopefully you work at a organisation where there’s kind of like a business ops team or something that’s already managing a lot of stuff. And so in a perfect world, you can go see, there’s already people out there who are trying to track, you know, retention information, they’re trying to track quality information, they’re trying to track production information, so they already kind of have that stuff.
Without that, you are left potentially kind of shooting in the dark, you know, just like imagine if, if you’re trying to assign a course to a certain segment of the business, and you don’t have job titles, or like, I don’t know, I guess I’ll just assign it to everybody. It’s the same way in trying to figure out the outcomes that you’re trying to achieve. If you don’t have numbers out there, then then there’s nothing really to go off of.
Obviously, not, not everybody, none of us live in a perfect world. There’s lots of in-betweens that you need to get at and there’s lots of things that you can do, you know regarding, you know, surveying different, different groups of people, whether that’s the learners, the managers, the peers, kind of the stakeholders, whoever you need to survey. When it comes to surveys, I think the number one thing that we skipped over so often is baselining, or benchmarking. You know, the the moment we identify what the true objectives are that we’re trying to achieve, we should be pushing out some kind of survey. If we don’t, if we know there’s no data out there already pushing out some kind of survey to gather a baseline that we can then try to move, you know, because maybe you push out a course, everybody says, you know, you’re putting out a course on company culture.
Or maybe, maybe you’re even holding like a weekend event or, you know, several day offsite on company culture. And everybody comes back saying, Yeah, and like, you know, 90% of the company’s bought in. Well, if before the event, it was 95, well, then the event actually did negative because everybody was angry that you took them away from their family for the weekend or something. You know, so baseline is, I think, really, really important. You got to know where you’re starting from.
And yeah, and I think it you know, there’s those realities, like, like, like, I often say, you know, I’ve actually, I’ve talked with people where I was, I was, I was really excited about this sales training that I was making, and I was so jazzed about it, we were making several different videos online, there was virtual virtual in person, all kinds of stuff that we were doing.
And so it’s like, here’s what we got to do. This is what we got to do! We know we’re trying to improve the sales pipeline. So we, we got tonnes of salespeople all over the place, let’s A/B test this thing. Let’s put this group through it and not this group through it. It’s only a two week course, these are all new hires. So we can wait like we’ll have data in like a month as to whether or not this is effective. And it was just like, No, we can’t wait that long. You know, we should believe in our product. And we should put it out because we believe it’s good. So we just got to put it everybody, just like what, what are the worlds when people do that? Like, are you kidding me? Like we have no, no one should feel that confident in their product, let alone us.
I was listening to someone at Atlassian talk and someone asked him about digital transformations and said, We don’t transform, because we’re never that far enough behind that we need to transform. And the reason is because we’re just slowly making small variations. And I feel like A/B testing is the absolute crux of that.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that that allows you to go—you can take, take it the other way too, of like, we’re never going to transform because we were never, you know, we’re never audacious enough to think that we can see that far into the future. Right, and we’re going to transform to this thing, you know, and, you know, I listened to Mark Randolph’s podcast a lot, That Will Never Work. He was one of the co-founders of Netflix.
And he always the thing he always says is, every idea is a bad idea. You know, it’s like, they’re all bad. Like, you know, when you don’t know the answer, like it’s all bad. The only way to make a good idea is to put it out there, and then see and get feedback and iterate. It’s, it’s the only way. And to your point, you know, I mean, I think most of the successful digital companies of our age—where it’s everything from, you know, Facebook to Netflix—they were successful, because they spent an incredible amount of time very early on engine engineering, a testing platform.
You know, it’s famously in Facebook, at Facebook, there is no Facebook that exists. You know, at any given time, there’s hundreds of difference—of slightly different versions of Facebook that are being tested all over the world. Netflix did the same thing early on. And so, are we all digital companies? No. Especially in HR people are very scared of testing sometimes because so much of what we do is so core, you know. You don’t, you don’t want to test out, you don’t want, you don’t want to experiment with people’s pay, or their or their employee benefits necessarily. But we got to find ways within some constraints to, to test so that we can iterate and make it better.
Would you say their technology stack is important for that process, or that the technology that you’re using is something that HR should really be focused on?
I mean, it’s like asking if the car is important for a racecar driver, you know. It’s like, you know, there’s so much, there’s so many tactics, there’s so much skill, there’s so much training, but the car is important.
But similarly, to take that, you know, metaphor a little bit farther—it’s not clear, which is the best one, you know, the car is critically important. But there’s probably half a dozen, a dozen different cars that could get it done. And I think that’s very true in technology as well with that with our tech stack, it’s, it’s critically important to the success. Understanding what you want it to do, and making sure it can do it, being able to practically do it is really important. I always say, you know, like, when I’m looking at learning management systems, I honestly look at the administration side before I look at the learner side. One, because I figure if you can make the backend administration easy, then you’ve probably got the learner experience on lock.
“When I’m looking at learning management systems, I honestly look at the administration side before I look at the learner side… you don’t know what constraints the system is going to put on your learning strategy unless you understand the administrative side.”
But then also, that’s where your constraints are, you don’t know what constraints the system is going to put on you for your learning strategy, unless you understand the administrative side really, really well. So you know, figuring out, you know, so figuring out the mechanics of truly, how is this going to work? How can we deploy stuff through it? And then how are people going to meaningfully engage with it is really important.
And that is one thing I think that you can get away with on the on the on the administrative side—is you care much more about just the function rather than the look, you know, is it intuitive? Is it you know, that kind of thing? Yeah.
There’s been a push in recent years towards self-directed learning. But we find that we actually don’t want to do that, because we think there’s too many choices out there. So how important do you see guided versus self-directed training?
Yeah, I think, you know, the key thing, the phrase that everybody wants, or says, you know, I want Netflix for learning, or I want YouTube for learning. And I always say like, no matter how big your organisation, you are never going to have enough data points to create that. You know, billions of probably on, like, trillions of hours of views. God knows how many clicks of selecting this video versus that video. Those algorithms have so much information to pull from to say, no, really, this is the video that this person wants to see. We’re just never going to get that inside of our inside of our learning systems. And so yeah, it’s always gonna be the paradox of choice where there’s just so much, and so we just don’t do.
And more than just there being a lot there for people to find, I actually think in some ways, it can be a little bit of a mental tax on employees to know that there is so much opportunity out there to constantly be told, Go learn, you never know what you’re going to achieve. It’s, it’s all out there. It’s it’s, it’s really outsourcing a lot of work to them and potentially a lot of stress to them, when they’re when they’re already super busy. Where really, again, what we should be doing is we should be saying okay, here’s the thing that we want to do that we need people to be able to do. Here’s the curated path in order, in order to get there. If people want to go discover, great.
“I actually think in some ways, [self-directed learning] can be a little bit of a mental tax on employees. What we should be doing is saying… here’s the curated path in order to get there.”
If we want to—now, we may outsource some of that curation. We don’t want to say like we in learning know exactly what needs to be there. Maybe we, we, you know, if you have a big a big library of learning, and you’re kind of monitoring, you know, what do people like, what people don’t like, and pull stuff in or go talk to subject matter experts and, and bring us their information and bring people in.
But yeah, I agree with you in that. Simply saying, like, here’s, here’s the world, go get it, is not a fully formed solution.
Over your entire career, are there any key things that you want to leave people with?
I mean, I think for me, this this comes from, you know, my background in in flying and fitness, where it’s very tactile, it’s very, like real and like, behavioural is focusing more on behaviour. You know, we talk a lot about business outcomes and getting closer to the business and figuring out what they need. But my favourite favourite favourite question is, What behaviour are you trying to change?
You know, you sit down with that subject matter expert, and just be like, what do you need people to do differently? Because when you focus on that behaviour, you know—and so this is what I started focusing on early in my career. And that got me starting to question like, what, what is behaviour? You know. And it’s all neurons, it’s all, it’s all neurons, it’s all myelination. And so how, you know, I like to—you know, the book Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner. Like, you got to read that book, if you, if you want to really be effective at teaching people and driving new behaviours to drive outcomes, because it really talks a lot about how the brain works and all the shortcuts that are in here, and there’s lots of really unintuitive things.
Like if you think about your, your visual cortex, most people when they’re looking out and looking out in the world, you assume that what you’re seeing is the real world. But in fact, if you look at the neural connections coming into your visual cortex, 90% of it is coming from your memory—like your prefrontal cortex—and only 10% is coming from your eyes. And so 90, so 90% of what you are seeing is actually just your brain making stuff up.
Like it uses a couple of visual cues, and then it fills in everything else based on what what it knows is there, you know, or what assumes is there. And, you know, that’s why we’ve all probably had those instances where when you’re driving, like you’ll just be driving along kind of on autopilot. And you could go back and forth from home to work on autopilot, you know, for weeks and weeks and weeks. And then it’s just one day when there’s like, all of a sudden, there’s a dog in the middle of the street, you’re like, Whoa! Because your brain triggered because there was something different. And it like shocked you out of that autopilot mode.
And so understanding how the brain works, how people—how that drives people’s behaviour. And thinking about behaviour, I personally think is just so critical to effective learning and development—of really what we’re trying to do is change neural pathways. That’s what we’re trying to do. And if we don’t know how to do that, then we’re, we’re not being as effective as we could be.
Before you go, where can people find out more about you?
Yeah, definitely check out our website, bettereverydaystudios.com is our website. So we’re always keeping that up to date. We have a blog there. I’m super active on LinkedIn, trying to be more active trying to get really trying to get a lot of stuff on there. So definitely check me out there.
You know, reach out to me. I love talking to L&D professionals. I want to hear what you agree with. I desperately want to hear what you disagree with me on if anybody watches this video is like he is wrong about this thing. I really like—I’m actually I always hear people are arguments that say like, oh, like we shouldn’t try to give as much feedback as we give out in organisations that it can sometimes be negative. I like I really want feedback like I love… the thing I hate more in the world is being wrong and not being told. Like that’s that’s the worst thing. So I would love if you disagree with anything, anybody disagrees anything I said, please reach out to me. I’d love to have a discussion.
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 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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