No matter how good your training is, the learning won’t stick without support from leadership. Jennifer Recla, Director of Organizational Learning and Development at the healthcare company Colorado Access, shares how her organization supports employees throughout their learning journeys to make training more impactful and the business outcomes better.
Jennifer Recla offers best practices that L&D professionals can implement to leverage leadership to support learning. Her key takeaways include:
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Learn more about d'Vinci at www.dvinci.com.
Susan Cort: [00:00:00] This is Powered by Learning, a podcast designed for learning leaders to hear the latest approaches to creating learning experiences that engage learners and achieve improved performance for individuals and organizations.
Speaker 2: Powered by Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at dvinci.com.
Susan: Hello, and welcome to Powered By Learning. I'm your host, Susan Cort. Today, I am joined by d'Vinci Director of Learning experience, Jenny Fedullo, and our guest, Jen Recla, Director of Organizational Learning and Development at Colorado Access. Today, we're going to talk to Jen about how her organization supports their employees throughout their learning [00:01:00] journeys to make training more impactful and business outcomes better. Thanks for joining us, Jen.
Jenny Fedullo: Good morning, Jen, great to have you.
Susan: Jen, when we talked at the Training Industry Conference & Expo, I was so impressed with how your organization reinforces learning. I just knew that we had to get you on as a guest. Before we jump into the discussion, tell us a little bit about Colorado Access. What is it?
Jen Recla: Sure. We're in the state of Colorado, as the title suggests, and we are a nonprofit health plan focused on really improving the lives of the members that we serve, making sure that they have the best member experience possible, better health outcomes, health equity. Those are all big focus areas for us. It's just very much a mission-driven organization, and I have felt very grateful to be with them for the past three years.
Jenny: Wonderful. Jen, just to get started, the state of the world and how things are shifting, we've really noticed that many companies are really putting a greater focus [00:02:00] on employee development, and as such, really creating L&D departments or expanding them to support that renewed focus. When you first joined Colorado Access three years ago, tell us what you did to develop your strategic plan to really grow your department and the services you provide.
Jen: Yes. The company in general has been around for about 26 years, and when I came on board three years ago, the learning and development team was relatively new. I think they were just starting their fifth year as a team and providing employee development for the organization. When I came in, it really was about assessing current state. Where are we? What are people's wants and needs and wish list items? I came from an organization with thousands and thousands of people, to about 400, 500, at the time, and I thought, I'd really like a chance to dig in.
It's a smaller company, I'd like to meet with as many people as possible one-on-one. [00:03:00] So that's where I started, was conducting interviews with the entire executive team and everyone that was at the director level. It was probably about 40, 45 interviews.
Jenny: Wow. Yes.
Jen: In the beginning, that's when you want to capitalize on your empty calendar. That's really what I wanted to fill the calendar with, was opportunities to understand what the needs are and build relationships. I think so much of what our job is, is making connections with people and building trust and building those relationships. It was a dual approach of understanding what the needs are, understanding what individual's goals are, and then starting to build that rapport and that relationship.
In addition to that, we wanted an opportunity to hear everyone's voice, and what everyone's needs are, and where we were as an organization. So the team and I, we were three people at the time, we developed a needs assessment to gauge organizationally, where's our proficiency level at the different competencies that the organization had already had in place? What's our proficiency level [00:04:00] in those spaces, and then what are people interested in learning about? What programming do we maybe not have that they'd be interested in? And are there opportunities within the current programming that we have as well?
Conducting those interviews, looking at the learning needs assessment, understanding what the strategic priorities are for the organization, what are those buckets? What are those goals? Then crafting our own vision and mission. We knew what the organization's vision and mission was, but we wanted to tie what we focused on in learning to that. So we created a vision statement around creating a positive culture at Colorado Access. We look at that vision statement every year to see if we want to change it, or evolve it, but that has stayed pretty close to it. All of those things together is what helped us build out our three-year strategic plan.
Jenny: Got you.
Jen: Those focus areas. Then we recently updated it. That needs assessment, we do every year, so we can continue to gauge where the organization is at, [00:05:00] and where we need to go.
Jenny: Make sure you're on track.
Jenny: I would venture to guess that you probably looked at a good bit of data also in your analysis. Tell us what data analytics you rely on that are really key to your success that you looked at then, that you look at regularly.
Jen: We wanted to figure out, at the time, we didn't have a lot of data. We had a learning management system and we were switching over to a new system. We had some very basic data around how many classes are we offering? What's the number of individuals that are coming up? Part of those initial conversations, when we were figuring out our strategies, what are our true north metrics? What are those top items that are really going to drive the organization forward, the performance of the organization? Learning those programmings that we were coming up with, that's just the means to the end.
Ultimately, we want better performance [00:06:00] for individuals, for teams, we want to make sure that we're getting to our results. As we sat down and started figuring that out, we said, "Well, the amount of people that are coming to our workshops, definitely, participation is something that we want to look at." And we have that data right now. We also looked at engagement. We do an engagement survey, and we looked at questions that were specific to professional development. The engagement was an area. Then one of the things that we weren't measuring at the time was around application. Are people taking what they learn and actually applying it back into the workplace? Because that's where the real magic-
Jen: - is going to happen. It's not in the classroom, it's afterwards. So we started collecting data around application. Those were kind of the main ones we were looking at first. We have a satisfaction around learning and development question, that's part of our learning needs assessment. That's where we started, three years ago. Then more recently, we said, you know, that data point [00:07:00] where we're looking at the number of participants that are coming to our classes only tells part of our story. Those open enrollment courses, that's just one aspect of what we do, but we also have cohort programs. We do team learning, that we weren't really capturing there. We have coaching, we have on-demand learning.
There was just so much other programming that wasn't captured in that. Then we said, "Well, instead of looking at the number of participants on average per workshop, let's look overall." What's the saturation rate of elective learning? How many people across our organization are participating in any type of programming? We now look at that. What percent of our organization is participating in elective learning? That now we can capture that through our mentorship program, we can capture that through the leadership academy cohort, any individual coaching we're doing, and so on. [00:08:00]
Saturation rate is something that we exchanged for the workshop average. Another new area that we've been looking at the past I think about year and a half, is NPS. That Net Promoter Score. The other metrics, we've continued to use the one around engagement, application, and then overall satisfaction as well. But those five are our true north.
Jenny: Got you.
Jen: That really helps us prioritize.
Jenny: Yes. Tell me a little bit about how you use the Net Promoter Score in the context of learning. I know we use it at d'Vinci with our clients. I'm curious how you use it in the context of learning.
Jen: It's still pretty new for us. We've used it through the level one evaluation that we do through our workshop. Right now it's centered on the workshops that we offer, and there's a question that we use around whether individuals would recommend the workshop to others. That's what we use to capture that NPS, [00:09:00] and then we benchmark it against healthcare industry, against insurance industry, because we're a little bit of both.
That helps us gauge where we want to be. Now, I'll say with this, this is something we're exploring on how we get more participation in that level one evaluation. When we used to do level one evaluations in the classroom and give people papers, you'd get almost a 100% return on those. Now, with a lot of virtual, we send the link afterwards, we're just not getting that high rate of return on those. So it's hard to know if that metric is truly capturing how people feel. That's something that is going to be part of our strategy moving forward, is really more of a focus on the collection of data, too. We're getting a really good sample size.
Jenny: Understood. Yes, good approach. I know in talking to you earlier, you had shared leadership connection [00:10:00] to your strategy. We all know, as learning professionals, it's so important to get leadership buy-in, but it sounds like you've taken it to a whole new level. Not only do you have buy-in, you really have that direct engagement. Before you share what you've done to make that happen, can you share why? What was, in your analysis, all those conversations you had with leaders, what led you to the point to say, "I'm going to take this a step further, not just get leadership buy-in, I'm going to get them directly involved?"
Jen: For many, many years, I've been trying to figure out what is the right formula for getting individuals to take the learning that they get from any kind of programming that we have and implement it, execute on it, because we have all experienced, as learning professionals, even ourselves as participants, you go to an event, or some kind of experience and you walk away excited, [00:11:00] you feel inspired at the end, and then you go back to work the next day and there's 50 emails that you're responding to, and you get sucked into the whirlwind. Then you're like, "Okay, next week I'm going to put time on my calendar and we are going to do this."
Then next week there's another fire that comes up, or another meeting that comes on your calendar. Just slowly, you just get sucked back into the whirlwind and you don't apply, unless maybe there's a reminder, or something comes up. Perhaps there is a challenge that comes up and you say, "Oh, I just learned this. I can plug it in here." But that doesn't always happen. So, trying to figure out how we help with learning transfer and learning reinforcement, in a lot of the research that I've done, the leader keeps coming up as that key person. That key person that's going to make that learning transfer successful.
Many participants that I've talked to over the years, it's their manager, when they go back to the workplace, that's going to make or break what they learned. They're either [00:12:00] going to role model it, continue to role model and support and give space for that, or they might go back to a place where they feel stilted because the person is not role modeling it, or not giving them space to be able to grow and utilize what they learned back in the workplace.
Time and time again, based on the research and based on conversations with participants, we've just found that the leader is so key to that success, that that's where the learner is going to walk away with the most. You tend to learn the most from who that direct leader is. In all of that, we try to figure out, well, what do we do about it? What are some interventions? Right?
Jen: We don't have control, but we have lots of influence. In order to influence, we also want to make this easier for leaders, and create material for them, guides, support that can really help them be able to take this forward. [00:13:00] Some of the things that we've done in this space, we create learning reinforcement plans for all of the workshops that we have in a lot of the program we have, too. In these learning reinforcement plans, we have stuff specific for the learners, where we're sending them tips and challenges. Then we have something specific for the direct leader, to say, "Hey, one of your employees participated in this session, and here's a few bullet points about what they learned."
It could be the learning objectives, it could be a model, a visual model of what they learned in the session. We use crucial conversations, and so that's a great example of one of those models that's plugged in. Then the bottom section is a guide for how you can continue the conversation. Here are some tips on how can, as the supervisor, can best support them. Is there a way that they can do a teach-back to other people in the group? We typically have action items that people walk away with in sessions. What are those action items? [00:14:00] Where do they want to start? Then sometimes we have some concepts that we'll ask them to refresh.
This has evolved over time as well. More recently, we got feedback from supervisors that said, "That's a long list. We might have had 8 to 10 bullet points. It's a long list and I thought I had to do all of them, so I just did none of them."
Jenny: Oh, yes.
Jen: Right? We said, "Okay, this is really great feedback. We can fix this. Let's shorten that list." Now we only have about four bullet points. They're all action-based. They're all about, this is something specific that the learner can apply it back into the workplace, and this is how you can support them, and just choose at least one. Just choose one to have that follow-up conversation with the employee. We just started that, so we don't know how successful it is just yet. We're maybe in our third month of doing that.
That's one way that we've helped our supervisors. We have toolkits and classes that are tied to [00:15:00] how to best develop and coach your employees. How do you really create a culture of learning within your team as well?
Jenny: Sounds great, that sounds great. In a prior job that I had had, one of the things we did in the training department was create what we called the-- I think it was the learning transfer triangle. It was the employee and the trainer, but then the third piece of the triangle was the manager. It's so critical for that to all work together for that transfer, so it sounds like you're doing some pretty cool things.
Jen: There's some great research. It's Bob Pike. He had a chart of before the learning, during the learning, and after the learning.
Jenny: I've seen it. I probably used that to inspire the transfer triangle.
Jen: The triangle.
Jenny: Yes. I'm sure I did.
Jen: What's so fascinating about that is the [00:16:00] number one, time, is before the training happens and it's with the manager. Actually, we started experimenting a little bit with that, and it's just a small change that we made, but it's had some interesting benefits with it as well. The small change we made is, when we send reminders to participants about a week ahead of time, we usually have some kind of prep, like, "Think about a challenge you want to go through."
Now we CC the supervisors on that. We added in a couple of lines to just call out the supervisor and say, "Thank you so much for creating space for your employees to learn and grow. Here are a couple of questions you can ask to help prep them for this session." One of the unintended benefits is that some supervisors have responded to say, "Hey, is there still space in this class?" Then they join the learner in the class, which-
Jenny: That's wonderful.
Jen: - talk about reinforcing learning. Now you have a partner. [00:17:00] The two of you can go on this journey together, which is great.
Jenny: Yes. It just shows the employee how they're supported, which is so important in their learning.
Jenny: How's this impacted their performance? Having the direct leadership involvement, what results are you seeing? Any stories you can share?
Jen: Yes. I actually have two quick stories. The first story I was just thinking about recently. There's a team that I've been working with for about three years now. Just doing some intact team building, team learning, it's been just such a fun journey. In our second year of working together, we do these big staff awards, where you have individuals that get value awards for representing one of our values. Then there's the most collaborative team award, and they won that year.
Jenny: Oh, wow.
Jen: I know that learning is not the only piece why they were successful, [00:18:00] but it was just really cool to see them come together over the first couple of years and really build that team focus and collaboration and trust. To see them get that award was just very exciting.
Jenny: Yes. Rewarding, for sure.
Jen: So rewarding. Then this other quick story I have is, an individual that participated in a public speaking class and we're sending out these weekly tips. One of the tips she responded to, and said, "I used the advice from the session, I updated my presentation, I just completed it with our IT team, and now I feel like this." She sent us a link to the Staying Alive strut that John Travolta does at the end of the movie. It was just that, again, another rewarding, this is why we do this.
Jenny: That's great. Love those stories. Thank you.
Jenny: With the expansion, I think how we started the conversation with a renewed focus on learning and development, there's a lot of learning professionals out there that are either new to their role [00:19:00] or they've been there a while, but feel this added pressure to really get results and be successful. We know a part of that is the leadership buy-in. What advice would you give to someone to be successful in that regard?
Jen: That's a great question. Influence is so much of what we do. We are influencers. Finding different strategies and creative ways to influence people, that has been something we've really honed in on these past few years. What are the results that we're looking for? What are those moments where people are not doing the things that we want them to do? What are those moments when they're not having the conversations with the employee, or they're choosing not to participate in a program? What are those crucial moments, and then what are the behaviors that we're trying to drive?
After figuring that out it's, why aren't they doing that? Why aren't they having the conversations? Could be [00:20:00] there's too many things on the list, and so I just choose not to do any of them, or it's not interesting to me, or someone else went to a session and they didn't have a great experience, or there's no reward for it. We reward people getting things done. We don't reward growth and development. Just trying to figure out, what are the gaps there? Then coming up with strategies to help alleviate those gaps. Some of the strategies that we've come up with, one is trying to find champions across the organization.
People that really, embrace learning, they show up, and people will listen to them. So, who are those other influencers that we can build relationships with that can help champion the work? That's been one strategy. I'd mentioned the relationship piece, that is just so important. Building that trust and credibility with people, and it's taken time, but continuing to do that. [00:221:00] And with our team, it's almost like a divide and conquer. For me, I'm going to focus more on the executive level and the director level, and then someone else on the team, they're going to focus more at the manager level. Then someone else, it's the supervisor, or someone else, it might be these departments and these departments.
You're helping to build those one-on-one relationships with people as well. Some of the other things have really been focusing on getting curious. Just really get in there and asking lots of questions-
Jenny: Ask questions.
Jen: - and being agile. If anything, the last couple of years have really taught us that we need to flex, we need to adapt, and while we have our strategic plan, it can change. It is a living, breathing document, and being open to changing that as well. Those are just some of the things, and I would say patience. We are trying to change a culture with this, that it takes many, many years. [00:22:00]
Susan: That's not overnight. Right?
Jen: Five to seven years, and embrace those small wins because it's the small wins, it's celebrating those small wins that keeps the momentum and drive going, I believe. Those are just a few things.
Jenny: Right. No, those are great pieces of advice. I know to change a culture, it's about, anything with change, you've got to change their experience, right? It sounds like you're doing all the right things to get at that level. I love the champion has really evolved to influencer. We think about influencers in social media, it's now influencers in training and finding those people and those… Using them can really have an impact on your culture and the results.
Susan: Jen, such great advice. You've given a roadmap for so many organizations. It's really nice to hear from an organization that emphasizes and values learning and supports the learner along the way. Thank you for sharing your thoughts this morning.
Jen: You're welcome, and thank you for having me. [00:23:00] I love having these types of conversations because this is challenging work, and let's beg, borrow, and steal from each other. Right? That's how we-
Jen: - can continue to enhance what we're doing.
Susan: Jenny, what a great chat with Jen from Colorado Access. I'm really impressed with how leadership supports the learners at every step of the journey. What are some of your takeaways from the conversation?
Jenny: Yes, I absolutely agree Susan. It really does make a difference on the success of your programs, and as learning professionals, we're always taught early on, get leadership buy-in. At Colorado Access, they really not only have that buy-in, but they have the engagement and then the results to prove it. The main takeaway, which has a lot of different components, is really that they have a model for how it's done and how it's done right. It was the data-driven roadmap. First, they had the leadership buy-in, then they had that direct manager engagement, and they [00:24:00] had that feedback loop.
They were talking to their managers and saying, "Why are you not doing this? Let's talk about it and make it work for you." Then they used the data analysis to really continue to monitor and make adjustments to keep them on the right path.
Susan: They're not only getting better results for their company, the organization, but that's also making learning that much more meaningful for all of their team members.
Jenny: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's what we're in it for. That's what our profession is all about, is-
Jenny: - the results for your employees. Absolutely.
Susan: Anything new at d'Vinci you'd like to share?
Jenny: Yes, absolutely. We are actually finishing up a project similar in nature to what Colorado Access is doing, in that we developed a process and a tool to measure the skill level of the sales representatives at this company. They used this assessment to serve as a roadmap for their development plan. Through a self-assessment, a manager assessment, and then a skill assessment, [00:25:00] we were able to really pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of each employee down to the individual level, then the region level, and then the org level, and really, the leadership team is so pleased that they have this data and these results to really drive improvement right at the employee level.
We just worked with them to share the results and they're working through them and working with each employee to develop an individual plan, and they're just really excited. We can't wait a couple of months down the road to see what the end result is.
Susan: Oh, that's so exciting for them to have that kind of a roadmap to really inform their learning because then you know out of the gate, what you're doing is going to have an impact. That's exciting.
Jenny: Exactly right. Yes.
Susan: Thanks, Jenny. If anyone has any questions about what we talked about today, you can reach out to us on our social channels, on our website, or by emailing us at Powered by Learning at dvinci.com.
Speaker 2: Powered by Learning is brought [00:26:00] to you by d'Vinci Interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at dvinci.com.