Learning Leaps Part 1: Tips for creating a culture of learning in the workplace

16 months ago, I made the decision to make a huge leap in my learning career and move into Product Management. With the transition, I’ve discovered that one of my favorite parts of the role is speaking directly with technology and learning leaders, in addition to learners themselves.

I’ve conducted hundreds of research interviews over the past year and one of the major themes I’ve heard from tech and learning leaders is about their desire to create a culture of learning inside of their organization. This should come as no surprise to many practitioners in the field as the phrase culture of learning has become synonymous with increased employee retention and engagement inside of today’s organizations.

That’s why for this weeks Learning Leaps, I’ll be taking a deeper look to identify what exactly a culture of learning is and provide some tips you can take to get started creating one inside of your organization.

A Culture of Learning: Defined

It’s no secret that technology has had a major impact on today’s workforce. It has changed everything from the way we work, how we work, and where we work; inevitability impacting how we learn and perform on the job. Gone are the days that learning takes place in the form of a single training event. The paradigm has shifted to supporting employees during the flow of work. Thats why it’s more important than ever that organizations support a culture of learning for their employees. A culture of learning is one where employees continuously seek, share, and apply new knowledge and skills to improve their individual and organizational performance. Ideally, an organization should have values, practices, and processes that supports this for their employees.

A culture of learning can look different depending upon the type of organization. Despite this, I’ve noticed some reoccurring trends that have come up in my conversations with customers during my time at Pluralsight. Below are a few tips to help get you started creating a culture of learning inside of your organization.

Tips for Creating a Culture of Learning

Build a foundation of trust

The foundation to any great culture depends on the basis of trust. If you don’t have trust, all other efforts are fruitless. That’s why if you’re building a culture of learning inside of your organization, the first step is to ensure that it’s safe for all your employees (regardless of rank) to make mistakes.

One of the main company values at The Predictive Index, is errors of action are better than errors of inaction. During my 3.5 years there, hearing this phrase empowered employees like myself to dive steadfast into challenges no matter how large the size. If mistakes we’re made along the way, we celebrated them and shared lessons learned with others. I frequently witnessed executive level employees get in front of the entire company and share stories about how projects went awry and how they might approach things differently moving forward. This cultural value of trust and vulnerability is one key element to building a culture of learning and should be embodied at every level of the organization.

Empower learners to take control of their professional development journey.

I’m a big advocate of the belief that career ladders are becoming somewhat obsolete. Employees are no longer staying in traditional career paths for 20-30 years. Rather, it’s more common to see employees do career pivots. Take me for example, after 8 years as a learning experience designer, I decided to take a leap and move into a Product Management role. I was able to bring skills from my previous role and apply them to my new position. I also had many skills I’ve had to pick up along the way.

During my time at Pluralsight, I’ve spoken to many learners looking to expand their technology skills in hope of transitioning into a new career. Thats why it’s important for organizations to empower their employees to take control of their personal learning paths. The employees themselves are the ones who know what skills they’re looking to expand and grow. As learning practitioners and managers, we can learn these by simply speaking directly with learners, either through 1:1 conversations or surveys.

Arm managers with coaching skills

Managers are often on the front lines helping their employees learn the skills they need in order to perform on the job. In organizations where there is a culture of learning, managers have the opportunity to adopt a coaching approach to managing. A coaching approach means enabling employees to identify problems, brainstorming solutions, and empowering them to success. This means that as learning practitioners, we need to equip managers with techniques on how to provide feedback. This could be in the form of discussion guides or reflective questions to help guide their conversations with employees.

Encourage expertise and mentorship

One of the biggest challenges organizations experience related to learning experiences is creating actual content and materials. One of the biggest untapped resources are subject matter experts (SMEs). SMEs are often passionate about a skill or topic area and enjoy sharing their experiences with others. Pull these individuals into your initiatives and empower them to share their knowledge with others. At Pluralsight, we actually rely on our network of Authors to create content for learners looking to expand their technology skills. I’ve also talked to many organizations that have even created mentorship programs where experts are paired with beginners as they begin developing skills in a particular subject area.

Set aside time to learn

One of the biggest struggles I’ve heard from many of Pluralsight’s customers is their inability to find time to learn. With an increase on their demand for time and growing responsibilities on the job, who can really blame them? If you’re a part of an organization, developing a learning culture, you must be an advocate for learning time. Your employees should feel empowered and encouraged to take time out of their day to brush up on their skills. My team at Pluralsight blocks off 4 hours of learning time at the same time each week to do just this. This ensures that everyone knows they have the time they need to continue skilling up in areas that matter to them.

Make learning accessible

Modern workplace learning means recognizing that learning is a continuous process that happens in the flow of work. As learning practitioners, this means that we need to make learning content as accessible as possible to meet learners where they are, rather than making them to come to us. This might mean adopting an on-demand learning platform that allows employees to engage in learning experiences when they want to.

If you have a learning technology platform, it might mean choosing a solution that optimizes the learner experience like mobile access and single sign on. This could also mean supporting informal learning methods like learners sharing articles or chatting about new topics or skills. Overall, the learning experience should be intuitive, not arduous.

Support social learning

By our very nature, humans are social creatures. We naturally love to chat about our ideas, share resources, and hear other perspectives. As learning practitioners, we should nurture these qualities inside of our organizations. One of my favorite examples of social learning is being carried out by my favorite supermarket chain, Wegmans. During Pluralsight Live 2019, Scott Root shared insights about how Wegmans hosts monthly challenges, hackathons, and coffee hours with employees who engage in their Developer Fitness program. These social learning experiences led to increased employee satisfaction and skills acquisition across those involved in the program.

Encourage stretch opportunities for employees

One great practice that organizations with a culture of learning often do is provide stretch opportunities for employees. This means providing employees with a safe environment to fail or test out their new skills. In many of the organizations I’ve worked at, I’ve often been placed on a tiger team where I’m able to attack a large business problem for the organization. These projects have always provided me the opportunity to stretch myself and become more confident in my new found skills. This approach could also be formalized in the form of supporting career transitions and allowing internal mobility for employees inside of your organization.

Do you have any tips for others on how to encourage a culture of learning inside of their organization? Post them in the comments below!

Be sure to check out next week’s Learning Leaps where we’ll be diving into what collaboration looks like when creating learning products.

The Introvert’s Guide to Creating Learning Products: The First 60 days

I say it all the time, but I cannot believe how fast time flies! I started my new role as Product Manager of Pluralsight’s newest product, Role IQ, over 60 days ago!

The move to product management was a very meticulous decision on my part. It took over 6 months of research, networking, interviewing, and a lot of introspection before finally deciding to take the leap to an official PM role. Now with 60 days in the bag, I’m so happy that I decided to make the move. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner, but then I remember that things always happen in the time they’re meant to.

 

Off to a rough start

The transition to Product Manager didn’t happen as smoothly as I would’ve liked. A week before my start date, I was scheduled to head into the office to meet some of my new team members. On the way out of the house, I ended up falling down 6 stairs. After falling, I lifted up my leg and noticed my ankle facing the opposite direction. OUCH! A trip to the ER and a dozen X-rays later, I found out my prognosis: a fractured ankle and  3 torn ligaments.

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Left: Immediately after the fall, Right: 2 weeks post-op cast removal

 

The first 60 days in a new role would be a challenge for almost anyone. But throw a broken ankle into the mix and things get taken to a whole other level. To say that I’ve grown personally and professionally while working and recovering over the past 60 days is an understatement. I wanted to take some time to share some lessons I’ve learned while starting my journey creating learning products:

 

Get your hands on the product!

One of the things I did within my first week, was complete a product teardown for Role IQ. A product teardown is when you investigate and reverse engineer the thinking and experience behind a product. This activity gave me a first hand look into the existing functionality of my product before I got too familiar with it’s ins and outs. It also allowed me to open up a more productive dialogue about the product with my team from the very beginning.

 

Start building relationships with all of your stakeholders

I am the absolute epitome of an introvert, so I knew going into my new role that I would have to make an extra effort to meet everyone. Over the first month, I ended up have 30+ virtual 1:1 sessions. I did them based on order of priority starting with my immediate team including developers and UX designer. I then starting meeting with other key stakeholders including other PMs, product marketing, support, and customer success. Once all the initial meet and greets we’re done, I made sure to put reoccurring meetings with stakeholders on my calendar so I’d never have to think twice about who to talk to and when. Due to the size of Pluralsight, I’m still discovering people that would be great connect with about my product. Thats why forming relationships early with folks is so important; whoever you meet with will likely refer you to others.

 

Get aquatinted with your OKRs and performance metrics

My second week on the job was the first week of Q4 and I was lucky enough to have perfectly crafted OKRs (objectives and key results) all ready to go. After reviewing the OKRs with my manager and getting my mind wrapped around them, I set up some time with my team. I held a deep dive session with the Role IQ team to discuss what we planned on accomplishing for the quarter and brainstorm some possible approaches to problems. The time spent discussing the OKRs was invaluable. It made each of us aware of how the product would be measured and what success would look like.

 

Talk to the customer ASAP

Almost all companies these days tout about the importance of “voice of the customer”, but not all practice it. At the end of the day product management is all about solving problems for your customers. How can anyone solve their customer’s problems if they’re not talking to them? Thats why I made it a point to kick off customer calls as soon as possible. Since my product encompasses B2B and B2C markets, that meant hopping on calls with learning and tech leaders inside of enterprise organizations, as well as connecting with the learners themselves.

I followed Pluralsight’s Directed Discovery process which included doing voice of the customer (VOC) exploration calls. I also did some customer confirmation testing (CCT) which included looking at qualitative and quantitative feedback from customers who were already interacting with the product.

In addition to conducting my own research, I listened to customer recordings that took place before I inherited the product. I also sat in on client calls that others we’re conducting. I can honestly say, there really is nothing like hearing feedback directly from the customer. Some of the best insights I’ve heard, have come straight from these sessions and they’ve immediately impacted the future of the product.

 

Have your first win

I knew going into my new role that I wanted to have my first win as soon as possible to prove that I was bringing value to the team. One of my favorite moments was leading my product into an Open Beta where managers and admins could opt into our experience via a banner in the UI. It took a ton of wrangling for it to go live – including our team  finishing up some amazing work on analytics features, working collaboratively with another product team, and leading demos for our product marketing, sales, and presales team. It was the moment that really proved to me that I could be a Product Manager, I was doing it, remotely, and with a broken ankle to-boot!

 

Ask Questions

One of the most powerful things a product manager can do is ask questions. If you hear someone talking about a process or procedure that you’ve never heard of – ask a question. If someone says why they built or do something a certain way – ask a question. You will learn so much about whats going on, how things work, and how someone thinks the way they do about something. Ask anyone and everything – it’s important to soak up as much knowledge as possible.

 

Be patient and take care of yourself

One of the most important things I’ve learned since getting injured is the power of patience. For the past few years, I’ve ran as fast as humanly possible to every goal that I set out for myself. I’ve had mentors and friends tell me to slow down, have more fun, and make time for myself but I never listened. The injury forced me to slow down and be patient with myself and my body. I’ve learned to listen to the signs that I need rest and not feel guilty about sitting on the couch and sleeping on the weekends. At the end of the day, it’s completely impacted my working style and made me a well rounded product manager.

 

 

 

Transforming the future of technology learning: 10 years in the making

Ten years ago, I sat in the passengers seat of my fathers Honda Ridgeline as we drove by the Niagara River in Buffalo, NY. My father, a machinist of over 20 years, shared his regrets about how he wished he continued his education. “Education is the only thing that someone can never take away from you” he said, as I listened intently.  He shared his hopes about how I would continue school and chase my dreams despite any obstacles that may get into my way. This conversation has always stayed with me and I frequently think back to it during moments of self reflection.

It should come as no surprise that since then, education and learning have become ingrained into every ounce of my being. My core philosophy in life is that learning is the basis for growth and change. I believe that every experience you have and person you encounter has something to teach you as long as you’re willing to listen. I believe that learning is a fundamental right regardless of gender, race, income level, or where you were born. This belief has guided me through constantly juggling reading at least 3 books at all times (true story – check my goodreads account), undergraduate and graduate degrees, and now the next step in my career.

Thats why, I am absolutely thrilled to announce that I will be joining Pluralsight as a Product Manager.

 

Why Product at Puralsight?

When I began my job search, I knew I wanted a role that would challenge me, align with my learning philosophy, and allow me to make a profound impact on the world.

Product Manager – The epitome of a challenging role

Never in a million years could I have imagined that the next step in my career would be a Product Manager! I’ve worked in tandem with product managers for the past 3.5 years at The Predictive Index and I’ve seen first hand how challenging of a position it can be. So when a good friend of mine actually recommended it to me over 6 months ago, I practically laughed in his face. But as things often do, the idea began to spread through my mind. After countless conversations with those in the SaaS industry, a ton of research (books, conferences, etc), and coaching with my manager; I found myself ready to take on the product manager role. I recognized that a lot of the skills I’ve been utilizing in Learning and UX and all the skills I’m looking to grow we’re encapsulated within a PM role.

 

An aligned mission driven learning philosophy

This past March, I attended UX Fest in Boston and was fortunate enough to see Gilbert Lee, Head of Product @ Pluralsight present. His presentation immediately resonated with me as he talked about the future of workplace technical learning. I remember sitting in the audience thinking “This is why I started in learning!!!”.

The future of workplace education has fascinated me since I began my career in the learning industry nearly 6 years ago. It’s what drove me to pursue my masters in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning with Boise State and is now what led me to my new role at Pluralsight.

The moment I began talking to the team at Pluralsight, I knew that learning was something that the organization was fundamentally committed to. From considering learning theories during the product development process to their iterative testing culture; learning is truly a shared philosophy across the entire organization.

Overall, I believe that providing just in time digital training is something that is necessary for workers to perform their best on the job. I have always been committed to making that happen for my learners and am grateful to be within an organization that is committed and driven to do the same.

 

Ready for takeoff

I’m so humbled and thrilled to be joining the Pluralsight team! I am so excited to see where this next chapter takes me.