Many organizations have prioritized the hiring of military veterans in recent years. This is commendable, as military hiring requires a different strategy than civilian hiring because veterans do not have exactly the same needs as traditional hires. For instance, they are often attracted by different things during the recruitment process, and sometimes respond better to alternative training and development approaches.
The Talent Activation, the Employee Experience, and Skill Development survey, conducted online within the United States by DeVry University on behalf of the Career Advisory Board in August 2018 examined how organizations are currently designing and executing specific employee experiences at the recruitment, onboarding, learning and development, and performance evaluation stages.
Survey respondents included 505 US-based individuals (53 percent male, 47 percent female) with full-time positions at the supervisor level or above, in companies with more than 500 employees (mean company size was large at 15,000). Our respondents’ primary job responsibilities include the hiring, development, and management of employees.
In parts of the survey, we looked specifically at military hiring and development practices. Specifically, we asked our respondents how much they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: My company has implemented a successful military veteran hiring strategy. Sixty-four percent agreed, confirming that not only do such strategies exist, but also that they have been honed in a majority of organizations.
We also asked the participants how much they agreed or disagreed with this statement: My company has implemented a comprehensive talent development program that capitalizes on the professional strengths military veterans bring to the workplace. Refreshingly, 67 percent agreed. And, according to our respondents’ verbatim responses, material is often customized to resonate with veterans’ unique perspectives.
On the subject of the verbatim responses, the survey inquired about where respondents were focusing their thoughts and energies with respect to military veteran hiring and onboarding. Some of the initiatives they cited in the verbatims included:
Hiring talent acquisition staff with military backgrounds
Matching current employee veterans with new hires
Engaging with Military Transition Centers
Using regional military outplacement centers effectively
Performing outreach to veteran groups in relevant locations
Maintaining strong relationships with local VAs
Holding veteran-specific job fairs
Partnering with military recruiters
Sourcing talent from military leaders who have commanded troops
Participating in military-sponsored job events
Offering interview and hiring preference to veteran candidates
Creating onsite affinity groups for military
Providing tuition assistance and educational incentives
Emphasizing how military experience translates to work experience
Understanding and communicating about PTSD and other symptoms veterans experience
Placing veterans into supervisory or leadership jobs
Developing veteran-specific onboarding programs to ease the transition to civilian work
In my almost 15 years as a workshop speaker and facilitator, I’ve learned a lot. The most valuable lesson of all? Be interactive.
I’ve observed that you can be presenting the most intriguing topic of all time, but it’s only a matter of time before you audience tunes out the sound of you droning on and on. If you want to keep your participants’ attention and prevent them from checking their phones or falling asleep, I recommend sticking to no more than five minutes of instructional content at once, followed immediately by an interactive component that surprises the audience out of any stupors or daydreams.
The good news is, there are more choices for engagement than ever before. The following six techniques are my go-to standards. Depending on how long your next training is, mixing and matching them is likely to liven up the session, and hopefully, increase overall learning and results!
Technique #1: Storytelling
Funny or self-deprecating stories and anecdotes are always a hit, but early in most trainings, I like to share a specific story called The Hero’s Journey. Based on the famous narrative concept, the Hero’s Journey describes all the obstacles I faced while becoming an expert in the topic. Much of the time, the audience isn’t expecting to hear something like this, and participants are fascinated. I increase the engagement by asking for a show of hands if the audience has personally experienced something like what I’m relating (e.g. “Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a boss you thought really hated you”).
Technique #2: Surveying and Polling
The best type of survey takes place in advance, so you can ask participants about their experiences in detail, and customize your content to address what you learned. Given that this isn’t always possible, you might want to familiarize yourself with online polling technology that allows the audience to answer simple questions on their phones in real time – with answers appearing on your presentation screen. Both approaches pique the interest of audience members who are curious what their fellow participants answered.
In my work as a business and workforce consultant, I’ve observed that in times of change and uncertainty, some organizations stop spending money – and especially money that goes to employee training and development. However, given the future work trends of cross-functional teaming, workforce-wide digital fluency, and an emphasis on uniquely human skills, this may be a short-sighted approach. Let’s look at these one by one.
I’ve noticed that employees are starting to move around organizations with greater speed, and so they may need to know more skills than were required in the past. Even if they received a solid university education, employees might well be moved to a role in which nothing they learned in their degree program applies. For instance, it’s not unusual for someone trained in finance to end up in marketing, and vice versa. And, even those schooled and working in marketing often find it beneficial to have cross-functional expertise in finance.
My hunch is that employer training might not be able to keep up with the reskilling and upskilling requirements of cross functional teams, and this is why there are gaps. And, in the Career Advisory Board’s 2018 survey, Talent Activation, the Employee Experience, and Skill Development, 77 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: In my organization as a whole, I am concerned about employee skills gaps.
In the study, the greatest skills gaps were observed in the areas of technology/digital fluency (cited by 62 percent of respondents), communication (56 percent), business acumen (48 percent), diversity and cultural awareness (46 percent), and customer service (42 percent), and skills gaps affect employees at all levels. And, when asked about barriers to closing skills gaps, our respondents cited a too-small training budget most frequently.
If anything, it’s my opinion that cross-functional teaming requires larger training budgets, not smaller ones.
Workforce-Wide Digital Fluency
In the Career Advisory Board’s 2017 Job Preparedness Indicator survey, we defined an applied technology skill as a skill that is needed by employees to leverage the right technology to do their jobs. It’s another way to talk about digital fluency, and the research indicated that a majority of employers is now looking for these skills in new and existing employees.
Training existing employees in applied technology skills is a major challenge, in part because current professionals did not receive this type of instruction via traditional education paths. In response, many survey respondents are ensuring that their workforces continuously train and retrain on applied technology skills through the development of internal courses (40 percent), internal trainings (38 percent), tuition reimbursement (35 percent), and external trainings (31 percent). Only one-fourth said their organizations are taking no actions to develop this skillset.
As discussed above, however, developing skillsets can be expensive – especially when one round of training isn’t enough. So, in my recommendation, employers should have a specific and ongoing budget set aside for applied technology skills alone – in addition to other training requirements.
In my work as a human resources and leadership consultant, I’ve observed that many organizations have dedicated spaces where employees come together to receive training. Most of the time, these locations are basic conference rooms, which led me to wonder: what if companies could build facilities uniquely equipped to meet the needs of the human learner?
Seeking to find out what such spaces might look like and what best practices organizations would be smart to integrate, I spoke with Jonathan Webb, VP of workplace strategy for KI, a designer of 21st century interior furnishings.
Alexandra: Jonathan, how should companies go about designing the right physical space for corporate training?
Jonathan: In some ways, the key to creating corporate training spaces is the same as designing offices: flexibility. Just as employees have different work styles throughout their 9-to-5 day, new hires in corporate training have different learning styles. So recruiters have to design training spaces not only to enable the variety of tasks or lessons at hand, but to support the variety of learners they're training in a given session.
What physical design concepts best facilitate human learning and why?
Jonathan: I think it entirely depends on what the goals are within each learning session. That's why it's important to align a company's training goals with the physical learning environment. Designing a flexible training space is vital to facilitating human learning. For example, if one training task requires an individual assessment, new hires may need walled-in spaces or privacy screens to focus. But if another goal of the training program is to build relationships among teams that will soon work together, trainees may move to larger, shared work surfaces.
If an organization doesn't have a big budget for renovation, what tweaks can it make help improve its training spaces?
Jonathan: Training facilities are often overlooked within organizations, but an organization can make some effective changes without knocking down any walls. When space is at a premium, designing workspaces that can be reconfigured to accommodate various learning styles and types is paramount. Flexible furniture on casters can be reconfigured quickly. Mobile whiteboards can double as space dividers and learning surfaces to provide excellent teaming environments. A mix of high and low tables, along with several pieces of lounge furniture, can often be assembled to allow various types of group work.
Product development is one of the most challenging aspects of running a business, because it’s a rare situation in which your offering is already so perfect you don’t need to improve or evolve with the market. You can vastly save a great deal of time and stress in your efforts to create new products and services, or expand on or enhance your existing ones, with five specific strategies.
Put Yourself in Your Customers’ Shoes
Product development is most successful when it is directly connected to an unmet customer need. “If you can create a smooth, flawless experience with no interference or frustrations, it’s likely that people will enjoy using your product. Solve a problem and make lives easier,” said Ali Mahvan, CEO of social shopping company Sharebert. “You're not starting a company to build a product for yourself. You're starting a company to build a product for your customers. Customer feedback has driven every major design and experience decision throughout the building of the Sharebert app and is our number one metric for design.”
Iron Out a Process
Torrey Tayenaka, CEO of video production company Sparkhouse, wanted to create animated explainer videos to market customers’ businesses, products, and services. Explainer videos are useful because you can produce them without actors and cameras, and while a product is still in the concepting stage. However, the idea is a relatively new one, so Tayenaka needed to build a process that could be easily understood and followed by his team and customers alike. “We took our time in developing a 12-step animation process that we always strive to communicate clearly,” he said.
Take the Airplane Window View
To excel at product development, you must be willing to take a step back and look around you even as you have the urge to charge forward. “We are constantly looking at the big picture, asking ourselves: do we know what we are creating, who we are creating it for and why we are creating it?” said Tayenaka. “If we understand those key points, we can always make sure the ship is headed in the right direction. But on the other hand, if we get too excited about features and specifics, we can lose sight of what’s really important.”
For more where this came from, check out the full piece at the AMEX OpenForum.
When writing my brand new book Humanity Works: Merging People and Technology for the Workforce of the Future, I found a business world in the process of rapid transformation. I learned that one way to have a sustainable competitive advantage in a constantly evolving, virtual, global and automated environment is to master how to lead a team. Leaders who do this may well find that running their organizations at this time in history will be rewarding and full of opportunity.
But what exactly will the future look like? In order to be in a good position to take advantage of pending developments, owners may want to understand what's coming and master how to lead a team.
I asked Jeff Epstein, owner of referral software company Ambassador Software and Nathan Klarer, founder and chief operating officer at IT talent provider Datyra to weigh in on a few of the more pervasive trends and how leaders can go beyond them to cope successfully with the coming changes.
Flexible and Distributed Workplaces
The average employee in the 2030s probably won't be work in a single physical environment, but where and when it's most convenient and impactful.
“The idea of offices is already changing, with a switch to more 'WeWork-style' workplaces," says Epstein. “Shorter-term teams will be assembled to solve specific business problems, and will operate virtually."
Epstein is referring to what is known as a distributed workforce, which reaches beyond the restrictions of a traditional office environment and is often dispersed geographically over a wide area.“Teams are becoming more multi-disciplinary as distributed workplaces allow for talent to specialize," says Klarer.
In considering how to lead a team in the future, owners may have to account for changes in workplace dynamics.
“The most fundamental change is that real-time communication is commonplace," says Epstein. "Today, with a litany of communication tools, teams have access to information—and people—immediately, and people expect to chat with team members at any time."
This means that leaders will need to open their literal and metaphorical doors and devise ways to be more accessible to team members, providing guidance and direction outside the confines of traditional business hours without losing their own sense of balance and privacy.
Driving culture involves reinforcing beliefs and behaviors that determine how that organization's leaders and employees interact internally and externally.
Is there a formula for it?
There are, however, certain best practices that I've learned along the way as an entrepreneur, and also by consulting two fellow business owners: Jacqueline Marrano, owner of accounting firm Marrano Solutions and Reuben Yonatan, founder and CEO of customer relationship software company GetCRM.
1. Focus on recruitment and onboarding.
Driving culture starts with your people. And if you are clear about your mission, vision and values, you can attract potential employees with similar sensibilities.“We position our culture at the forefront within all our hiring materials and spend lots of time searching for the most motivated and driven individuals to join our company, because the quality of our employees has a direct impact on customer satisfaction, product output and brand reputation," says Yonatan.“And, when new hires come aboard," he continues, "we make very clear what's expected of them and how their role is meaningful not just in the office, but meaningful in the real world, so they can be proud of where they work and what they do."
2. Foster a meaningful employee experience.
Employees now expect an experience at work that is comparable to the experience they have at home via services like Netflix and Amazon. You choose what you want to do when you want to do it, and interactions are easy and convenient.
Your unique employee experience should cover all facets of the employment lifecycle, including recruitment, onboarding, learning, performance and transition. This involves understanding and promoting the activities employees undertake at each stage that can help immerse them in the culture while also reaching maximum productivity and potential.
Yonatan believes he has created a culture for his employees to thrive, be themselves, have fun and do their best on every project.
“Our team members stay with us because we offer a flexible experience that develops and captivates them," he says. "We provide an exciting in-house culture with a lot of perks, but we also share how employees' roles are meaningful in the real world, and how they can do them from home, for example."
It's important to realize, however, that customized experiences are key: a one-size-fits-all approach may not be effective in driving culture, even for employees in the same location and role.