Shifting the mix: Classroom learning, virtual learning, toasters and ovens.

As new generations enter the workforce and options for learning continue to multiply, it is important to periodically look at our programs and make sure that we are giving the customer what they want. So what do toasters and ovens have to do with learning anyway? OK – bear with me for a moment. Imagine that you are the manager of a store that sells appliances. In order to make sure the store remains profitable, you will have to keep track of how much product you need at all times. You’ll track customer orders, monitor inventory levels, measure store sales, maintain quality and review sales forecasts. You will have to determine what to stock on the shelves, what to promote and what to discontinue. The key question will be how many of each product you should stock at one time. How many toasters, how many ovens, how many blenders, and how many dishwashers. What happens if you have 100 toasters, but only 3 orders? What if you have 50 orders for blenders but you don’t have any on the shelf? 

Now imagine if the lawyers and staff at your firm could walk into a store and place an order for exactly what kind of learning experience they prefer. Would they all order classroom? Or would some of them choose documentation they could review at their own pace? How many would want to send an Instant Message to a peer? Or just look it up on Google? How about eLearning?

In order to effectively manage a learning function, we need to offer the right mix of classroom sessions (toasters), webinars (ovens), eLearning (blenders) and other delivery mechanisms in order to align with customer demand. I recommend a 6 step approach to “shift the mix” and give the customer what they need.

Listen to the voice of the customer – what are their learning preferences?

You all know that there is a lot of variation in how adults prefer to learn. You understand adult learning theory enough to build programs that meet the needs of the auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners. You know about MBTI and DiSC and other personality style indicators. And you know about the 4-5 different generations in the workforce. When you try to factor all those variables into your learning programs, it is a real challenge. So one of the best ways to discover how your lawyers and staff like to learn is to simply ask them. You can use surveys or focus groups or interviews to find out*. Or perhaps there is an existing Customer Satisfaction Survey where you can add a question. It can be one simple question – how do you prefer to learn? Give options and a free field for “other” (classroom, webinar, documentation, eLearning, social, one on one, etc.) Ask them how they prefer to learn and find out how many toasters you need. 

Identify your baseline – where are you today?

Use the last 6-12 months to find out what you currently offer. Most learning organizations have some way to identify how many courses are taught, how many webinars are offered, how many hits on a reference guide or how many visits were made to lawyers. Many Learning Management Systems have reports where you can pull the data. If you don’t currently track your learning, then develop a process and measure for 3 months. Find out how many ovens and blenders you have on the shelf.

Perform a gap analysis – where do you need to shift the mix?

Once you know your baseline and the customer demand, you can look for areas where the numbers don’t match. Perhaps you deliver 85% of your learning in the classroom, but the customer only wants 30%. Or perhaps 75% of your lawyers want one-on-ones, but you don’t offer such a program. The key is to identify the opportunities where customer demand and your delivery “mix” do not match. Where do your orders differ from what’s on the shelf?

Brainstorm ways to close the gap – how can you give the customer what they want?

Share the data within your team and pick one or two measurable goals that can help better align programs with the customer demand. For example, double webinars in 2014 from 10% of our programs to 20%. Work collaboratively to solicit ideas for how to meet the goal. Jim Collins, author of Built to Last and Good to Great, has a new book called Great by Choice. He presents an idea he calls, “Fire bullets, then cannonballs.” In the context of learning, what this means is: try a lot of things on a small level (bullets), identify the ones that resonate with the customer and then roll them out as new services (cannonballs). Use pilots, early adopter groups, “friendly” practice groups to implement new ideas. Get input from the customer along the way and use sound communication and change management practices when launching something new. You’ll have to let them know that you now have new products in the store.

Measure your progress periodically – are you having success?

Continue to measure the learning you deliver and check your progress against the goals. Find a frequency that makes sense to your team and share the results. Plan to get the voice of the customer again at some point as preferences (and people) may have changed. Sometimes people stop buying toasters and ovens and now they only want toaster ovens.

Lather, rinse, and repeat – how do you sustain your progress?

Keep up the momentum! Be sure to celebrate the successes with the team, thank the customers for their feedback and recognize the individuals who help make the change happen. Change can take time and you may have more failures than successes early on. As long as the learning programs meet the needs of your lawyers and staff, you will eventually find the delivery mechanisms that resonate with them. Your lawyers and staff will engage with your learning programs in a way that meets their needs, improves their productivity and positively impacts the firm. You’ll sell out of toasters, ovens and blenders…at least until something new comes along!

*Note – Here are a couple things to consider when finding the voice of the customer. Be sure to take a representative sample of practices, offices, roles and tenure at the firm. Ask people to enter a bit of information about themselves so you can analyze the data a few different ways. Also, some people can learn in multiple ways, so ask them to check all that apply rather than asking them to choose on style of learning.

Traveling Coaches is here to help! We have programs that can help you elevate your learning programs, improve your communications and help your lawyers and staff embrace change. 

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