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Class May Be Cancelled But Learning Doesn't Have to Stop

Jennifer Fox is an experienced organizational development consultant, coach and employee development professional. She has a passion for helping organizations develop their employees without requiring time intensive workshops and training classes which is especially valuable now that groups aren't convening like they used to.

In this week's In My Network interview, Jennifer shares ways organizations and leaders can still develop their people and facilitate learning without the constraints of a classroom. Enjoy!

How and when did we first meet?

At Starbucks sometime around 2008.

You have a passion for the idea of "training without training". What do you mean by that?

In our lives outside of work, we learn on-the-go, based on our needs and interests. If we need to learn something, we seek out the latest information or app to help us. We're lucky if we watch an intro video or have the patience to scroll through a set of screen tips. Yet for some reason, once we walk through the doors of a corporate office, we take a "what have they done for me lately?" approach and wait for the company to serve up our learning opportunities. Training in its traditional sense still has its place, but employee-driven, technology-enabled learning solutions are much more relevant. I firmly believe that an employee struggling with meeting deadlines can learn more from watching the right influencer on YouTube or reading a book summary than they can in a 4-hour time management workshop. 

What's changed in traditional organizational approaches to learning and development for their employees especially amid COVID-19?

Everything. We need to meet people where they are. I provide clients with lists of blogs to read, newsletters to subscribe to, TED talks to watch, influencers to follow, podcasts to listen to and books to read. A growth mindset is the key. An employee who wants to be successful will love getting some career wisdom as they scroll their Instagram feed. Those who prefer to segment "work and life" are probably not the growth-oriented people who will get a company where it needs to go anyway. And coaching. It feels self-serving for me to sing the praises of getting a coach, but there is no way the most influential people in the world could do what they do without outside perspective and support. 

With all the access to technology in times of isolation, people are craving personal connection even more. How can we create community in a virtual world?

Connection and community are essential. When I learn a new skill or am practicing a new approach, it's so helpful to have a safe place to talk about my challenges and successes. Building community tends to happen organically when we provide the tools. Instead of mandatory virtual get togethers, think opt-in manager meet-ups and book clubs. Rather than lengthy conference calls, try an aptly-named Slack channel to connect people on a certain topic. And always support people who self-organize based on interest.

No matter how much training you provide someone, they are still not performing. What could be some of the root causes?

It's rarely a training issue. I like to look at multiple levels, starting by seeing if their core needs are being met at work. Do they feel safe and included at work? Do they have the compensation they need to be able to take care of themselves and their family? Do they have the tools and equipment they need to perform? Next, look at their role. Do they have clear expectations? Are they receiving useful feedback, positive and corrective, on a consistent basis? And lastly, are they motivated? Does their work bring meaning to their life? Do they feel like they are able to make a difference? There are absolutely learning opportunities that go along with each of these questions, but going through them in this order will help to avoid training for training's sake. How would you advise a small business that wants to invest in their employee development but doesn't have a lot of money?

There are so many tools that are free or low-cost. First, I would compile a list of the most relevant leaders in their industry and have people subscribe and follow them (free!). Next, mentor. The amount of knowledge already in the company is usually astonishing, it just needs to be uncovered. Provide an open forum for people to know one another's background and outside interests so they can broaden their knowledge just by sharing (free!). Favorite low-cost apps: Blinkist, Audible, Udemy, Coursera and LinkedIn Learning.

I noticed you are certified in DiSC.  I love these types of personality assessments.  How can they help individual and team performance?

Self-awareness is everything. When things are going well, it's easy to chock it up to a 'great team' or 'star players.' But when times are tough, tensions run high and miscommunications are common, having awareness of your and others' work preferences can provide the common language to work through any challenge. Fast-paced people need to keep things moving and can benefit from understanding how not to railroad over their slower-paced colleagues. The conflict-averse people can benefit from seeing how a healthy debate can lead to new and innovative solutions. And the data junkie who loves to identify all of the potential flaws in a project plan can grow by learning to take calculated risks. I like to say, "If everyone stretches a little, no one has to stretch a lot."

Thank you Jennifer! It's your rapid fire round time now!

  • Your DiSC profile: Strong Di

  • Most proud of in 2019: Doubling my consulting business but not doubling my work time

  • Your BHAG: To end the isolation epidemic in our country

  • What you love about living in NY: The diversity, the skyline and the food

  • What you are reading now: Professionally: Brave New Work (Aaron Dignan); Personally: Can't Hurt Me (David Goggins)

  • Favorite past time: Anything in nature with my kids

In a field often dominated by theory, Jennifer Fox developed her leadership, coaching and facilitation style based on a gap she observed that was preventing people from achieving results: using real-world speak, practical application and personal accountability. She has been endorsed as “One of the most practical, no-nonsense Learning & Development professionals on the planet.” Learn more about Jennifer at her website by clicking HERE.

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