Delivering great learning and development experiences is all about matching content and resources to the circumstances of each one of your learners. You need to deliver training in a way that enhances their work environment and reflects their daily needs.
In service industries where your teams are on-call to help clients, you need flexible learning that can be completed in the flow of work. But how should companies design these experiences? And how can businesses deliver training across a large number of locations?
Recently, I chatted with Lyn Wright, Senior Director of Learning and Development at Extra Space Storage, about some of her creative approaches to delivering workflow learning across the company’s 1,900 locations. Lyn had a lot of great tips and suggestions for how to build learning experiences that match the unique nature of every workplace.
We got started with a discussion of Extra Space Storage’s switch from traditional learning to workflow learning, and how this helps them deliver against company goals.
For customer service companies like Extra Space Storage, learning experiences have to be designed with flexibility and creativity in mind.
“If the phone rings in the middle of a training session, people have to answer it,” says Lyn. “They have to engage when people come into the store, and they don’t have the luxury of free learning time. This means we have to get creative with how we deliver things.”
More and more companies - particularly those in the customer service industry - are making the move from traditional workplace learning, where individuals take scheduled time out of their usual tasks to focus on training, to workflow learning—training that helps employees efficiently meet immediate needs and solve problems without slowing their productivity.
"When it’s done well, it makes our employees’ lives a lot easier, because training is at their fingertips, which gives them more energy to focus on customers. It’s a win-win all around.”
For Lyn, the switch to workflow learning reflects Extra Space Storage’s overarching goal.
“We’re obsessed with creating great employee and customer experiences,” she says. “This is why we’ve shifted to workflow learning. When it’s done well, it makes our employees’ lives a lot easier, because training is at their fingertips, which gives them more energy to focus on customers. It’s a win-win all around.”
Workflow learning also gives Lyn the ability to design learning experiences in response to the company’s unique workforce needs.
“We also have some unique workforce challenges which make workflow learning a good fit,” she says. “The majority of our employees are frontline, meaning they’re spread across almost 1,900 locations nationwide. But there are only one or two retail employees per location. Because a lot of people work alone, they don’t have anyone there to give them feedback or observe their interactions with customers.”
“This really shakes up our traditional methods of delivery, because they can’t dedicate as much consecutive time for training.”
Another benefit of workflow learning? Building self-directed feedback loops into everyday working experiences.
“Because our people work alone, we have to build self-directed feedback loops into the training,” explains Lyn. “Workflow learning helps us to put those directly into the work that they do every day. It’s very practical, but it’s very employee-centric, too. That’s why we love it.”
As Lyn explains, the shift from traditional learning to workflow learning required some real planning and commitment from the L&D team.
“It’s a big shift to go from traditional learning to workflow learning,” says Lyn. “You have to dispel what you know about traditional training methods to really get on board with it.”
“The first thing you have to do is to convince your internal stakeholders within the company that workflow learning is the right solution,” she says. “People think of training as a discrete course or a module, and workflow learning is the opposite of that. It’s a real process to convince the organization to change their mindsets. It involves a number of steps, and it’s something we’re still working on.”
The other big piece of the puzzle? Building the right skills and capability.
“We also had to enable our L&D team,” says Lyn. “The way we’ve implemented workflow learning, it requires skills that many people in our L&D team didn’t have a couple of years ago. In order to work directly with the environment that our store professionals are using every day, we had to get familiar with their tools.”
“People think of training as a discrete course or a module, and workflow learning is the opposite of that. It’s a real process to convince the organization to change their mindsets."
For Extra Space Storage, rising to the challenge of workflow learning meant bringing in some specialist support, too.
“Earlier this year, we hired our first L&D programmer,” says Lyn. “We needed someone with the skills to build training directly into the software our people use every day. We’ve also reorganized our team so that we now have a branch dedicated to learning technology and design. It’s almost like a spinoff of our instructional design team.”
As Lyn explains, this new focus of the L&D team is only expected to grow over time.
“Right now, we have about 25% of our team dedicated to workflow technology,” she says. “In the next couple of years, I would expect that to grow about 50% or more.”
“It’s a different form of training. You’re not executing training in a traditional way, or relying on trainers. You’re relying on all of those solutions that happen behind the scenes. It’s a totally different approach to what we’ve had in the past.”
So, how does this approach work in practice? Lyn has a great example.
“We’ve had a few really great experiences, but one that I’m happy to brag about is our new point-of-sale training,” says Lyn. “We rolled this out across 1,900 sites, and across thousands of employees, all without having a single training class, call, or meeting.”
“That’s because we built our training within the point-of-sale software. We used digital walkthroughs to show people how to complete their tasks and how to use the system. We even used it to help point out what had changed from the old system.”
“The really cool thing is that it’s permanently embedded in the system,” says Lyn. “All of our employees, whether they’re hired today or ten years ago, can use the training as little or as much as they like. It’s truly customized. For us, this is a learning win, an organizational win, and a really cool way to prove our strategy.”
According to Lyn, this switch to workflow learning has contributed to some amazing impacts. “We’ve really increased the value of our customer experiences, and we’re now able to get our employees adopted quickly into the system,” she says. “Our new hires are telling us how easy it is to complete their onboarding, and they have no wish-list of extra software training.”
“For us, that’s a huge efficiency. We used to spend a lot of time on these processes, and now we have time to do more for our employees in other ways.”
“Our new hires are telling us how easy it is to complete their onboarding, and they have no wish-list of extra software training. For us, that’s a huge efficiency. Now we have time to do more for our employees in other ways.”
Alongside using workflow learning, Lyn also applies the concept of ‘minimum viable learning’ in her work at Extra Space Storage. We finished up with a brief discussion of how this works.
“It’s something I’ve taken from Julie Dozier at Tangram Learning,” says Lyn. “It’s an idea similar to programming tech products, where you’re asking, ‘what’s the most streamlined thing we can design in order to launch’? This has a lot of resonance for L&D, because we’re always asking ourselves whether we should commit to high production, and make dedicated videos.”
“With minimum viable learning, we focus on what’s the quickest way we can get the training out effectively,” Lyn explains. “Sometimes that means deciding between shooting a video or building a job aid. It’s about focusing on the needs of the audience rather than the wants.”
Fortunately, this approach dovetails nicely with workflow learning. “By nature, workflow learning needs to be simple,” says Lyn. “Rather than stepping aside and watching a video, our people just need the exact text to help them accomplish the task. It forces us to think about exactly what people need, and to start with the basics and build up from there.”
Our huge thanks again to Lyn for taking the time to share her tips and experiences!
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