L&D Podcast recap - Alexis Burbul
Training & Learning

When L&D Meets Customer Enablement: A Lesson in Leveraging Internal Expertise from Flexport's Alexis Burbul

When the role of learning and development–and customer enablement–is linked to employees’ performance it is critical that solutions work and demonstrably prepare people to perform. Shipping learning programs is easy. But shipping programs that translate into real improvements to learner performance is a different story.

This week I spoke to Alexis Burbul (checkout the full podcast episode here), Senior Manager of Customer Enablement at Flexport, about how the focus on preparation and performance led her to upskill from within by seeking an efficient way of leveraging internal expertise. We also explored how a product management approach helps to achieve desired outcomes alongside this enablement L&D mindset. 

Let’s take a dive into how Alexis is applying an enablement lens to L&D and leveraging subject matter experts to focus on preparation and performance.

What L&D and enablement looks like at Flexport

Flexport is a company that coordinates the complexity required to move freight across a diverse network of logistics, improving the user experience for their customers.

“Customer enablement at Flexport is a combination of training, change management, and scalable communications,” explains Alexis. “And in 2020, we went from being very hyper-focused on what we needed to do in one region to how we could connect and help people suceed in their roles when everyone was working from home.”

Similar to L&D, explains Alexis, enablement is about understanding learning priorities and figuring out the context of a group. “When I joined Flexport,” she says, “enablement and L&D were two separate teams. L&D was focused on the skills employees needed for their careers and enablement was specific training to do their roles.”

In 2020, we went from being very hyper-focused on what we needed to do in one region to how we could connect and help people succeed in their roles when everyone was working from home.

On Flexport’s onboarding journey, the L&D team handled the Flexport Academy which was an introduction to the company and organizational structure. From week two and beyond, the team was assisted by an enablement group that helped sustain that learning. “Enablement became more of a role focused on learning scope,” says Alexis.

Next up? Alexis went on to explain how product management influences her approach to enablement. 

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How does product management influence learning at Flexport?

Diving deeper into designing and implementing an enablement program, Alexis applies a product management approach as a foundation for how she and her team operate today. 

“With product management,” she says, “there are similar ties to L&D and enablement in terms of reducing pain points and helping someone accomplish a goal.”

Product management is a combination of core frameworks and mental models which adds a new perspective and competitive advantage to the conversation. “Product management is a translator between our engineers and the outside world,” she says. “Engineers have deep specialization and they know how to build what we need.”

There are similar ties to L&D and enablement in terms of reducing pain points and helping someone accomplish a goal.

In this case, product management helps Alexis and her team have the right context and information before shipping content out to customers. “My team builds personas which are based on the product management methodology. We take a collection of characteristics, pain points, and goals, and build archetypes of people that we want to support. The process of building these personas requires substantial team collaboration and is a fundamental exercise for the team.

So, that’s how product management influences Alexis’ approach to enablement, but how does the L&D team at Flexport solve problems through a collaborative approach? Read on to hear more.

Related: Is Agile L&D Right for You? A Discussion with Tracey Waters

3 steps to implementing collaborative learning in onboarding

Alexis and her team started planning how they could implement collaborative learning to solve the onboarding problems facing the company from 2020 onwards.

1. Create context for the whole company

First, the team built up a curriculum focused on how they could create a context for the whole company to understand the end-to-end of their industry. 

“So, we put together a 20-course curriculum that we ended up developing, and through that,” she says, “we leveraged over 30 subject-matter experts (SMEs) across the organization.” The curriculum was successful thanks to the deep expertise and interconnected discipline of Flexport’s SMEs.

2. Connect subject-matter expertise

Next, Alexis set her mind to solving the problem of people within the organization not really understanding what others were working on or the impacts of something they were doing upstream.

“So the collaborative learning piece that went into that first and foremost,” she explains, “was to pull together a bunch of SMEs from across the organization and teach them how to create and share content with their peers. And we actually did that through 360Learning.”

We pulled together a bunch of SMEs from across the organization and taught them how to create and share content with their peers.

3. Explain the SME commitment required 

When developing their onboarding program, Alexis and the team considered the community-building aspects of collaborative learning.

Today, their onboarding program is in part on-demand and automated for all to participate. However, when educating in response to questions, it is often challenging to scale because of the maintenance that accompanies those processes.

“When we're working with SMEs,” says Alexis, “we needed to make it as easy as possible for them to share their expertise and answer people’s questions on the 360Learning platform.”

Related: L&D Collective Recap: 10 Pro Tips From Our Learning Community on Engaging Subject-Matter Experts

We needed to make it as easy as possible for SMEs to share their expertise and answer people’s questions on the 360Learning platform.

3 tips for sourcing and engaging SMEs

With SMEs being such a critical part of Alexis and her teams’ approach to enablement and learning, I asked her if she had any tips for both approaching and keeping SMEs engaged. 

1. Understand why SMEs are important to the organization

Before engaging SMEs, Alexis states the importance of understanding why SMEs are critical to the organization and how they can fit into the company’s priorities.  

“This understanding is important,” she says, “because when you're sitting in a team that is more internally facing, sometimes you might not understand why executives will care about leveraging SMEs and how they will contribute to the organizational goals.” Having this understanding helps you build relevance for your talking points when you're trying to engage SMEs.

2. Set expectations around time and commitment

Alexis explains that a big part of engaging SMEs is being transparent about what’s required of them and setting expectations around time and commitment. 

“I coach my team to approach people on different teams with different priorities and be upfront about the investment SMEs will need to make to create content and respond to learners. This transparency helps to source and engage SMEs.”

3. Draw a clear connection between expert input and learning priorities

“To engage SMEs,” Alexis says, “you need to ensure that the collaboration is just as much a priority for them as it is for you.” For example, at the moment Alexis and her team have a stacked rank of priorities that they have been asked to roll out.

During this time, Alexis can ask the subject-matter expert if the collaboration is within their prioritization and if they have enough time to do it. “It's just understanding what they're trying to accomplish and then making sure that what you're trying to accomplish with them is aligned.”

Thank you Alexis for sharing your insights and experience! Keen to hear more interesting L&D stories? Check out my session with a panel of leading experts where we answered the one question driving the pivot towards performance-driven L&D.

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