By Oded Ilan
Applying New Technological Paradigms to 21st-Century Employee Training
Quietly and almost unnoticeably, employee training practices which had been in use for decades have become obsolete. While existing practices may still be relevant to some employees, for a growing percentage of our workforce—Millennials—they have become less relevant and even a hindrance. By 2014, 36% of the workforce was comprised of Millennials. This means that over a third of your workforce grew up in a world where instant communication and accessible, affordable technology were a given, a thing to be taken for granted.
When it comes to work culture, Millennials are different. Being constantly connected and used to immediate feedback, they bring a quick and vibrant rhythm to professional environments. They are digitally native, often preferring to communicate via Hangouts, chats, and instant messaging over emails or phones. Chats are actually a good example of the Millennial pace—short, laconic, and efficient (i.e., bite-sized).
In addition, their world is part of the attention economy, just like their use of instant messaging solutions which allow them to chat with several people at the same time, to accomplish more, despite being unable to fully dedicate their full attention to one single task. In 2011, the CDC diagnosed 11% of children between the ages of 7-14 with ADHD. In 2016, this number will have increased and now includes a substantial part of our work force.
Navigating the Digital Terrain
How do these demographic and technological changes affect employee training practices? To fully understand the implications, we must analyze the digital habits of our target audience:
- Information Overload: Millennials are used to consuming massive amounts of data on an hourly basis. Whether it is from multiple social channels, app notifications, content sources, or the data that drives their business decisions.
- UI Standardization: User interfaces for websites, Web applications, and apps have been adapted to fit an easy, intuitive norm, to the point of standardizing icon format and product features. In an increasingly competitive digital market, the only way to ensure a user’s quick adoption is to provide them with a product which doesn’t make them think (see Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think). Millennials, probably more than other generations, have been conditioned to certain UI trends that are friendly, intuitively familiar, and easy to navigate.
- Immediate Response: In this hyper-informative environment, medium-term memory is a luxury Millennials simply can’t afford. They develop micro-methods, work with productivity apps and checklists, and generally outsource their medium-term memory to apps like Trello. This means accessing information only when you need it and ignoring it when you don’t.
What does this imply about employee training methods in 2016 and onward?
Catering to the training needs of Millennial employees requires a paradigm shift. For starters, we need to understand and respond to these needs more attentively. In today’s employment ecosystem, when employee churn rate in the United States is pushing 15%, employers are working full force to engage employees during the onboarding stage. Training is a significant aspect of that.
In a world where one doesn’t actually need to learn how to use new software, because it is designed to appeal to your intuition and familiarly recognized patterns, we cannot afford to waste resources on complex, in-depth instructive courses. PDF documentation and knowledge bases begin gathering dust while quicker, more agile solutions are gaining momentum. Our new training and learning methods have to be quick, up to date, flexible, and—above all—they have to provide exactly what the users need, when they need it, even before they are aware that they need it.
Why You Should Invest in Your Millennial Employees
Apart from being your major work force, Millennials, it must be noted, are very stable employees. Despite living very ADD lives, they are very much “here to stay” once they join your workforce. If you remove the hurdles to their entry and ongoing activity at work, you will find them among the most dedicated employees who wish to better their environment and move the business forward. Millennials are a generation that thinks quickly, responds quickly, is productivity driven, and its members seek to grow with you.
What’s more, in an “employee market,” where quality employees are hunted by recruiters, Millennials are usually your best evangelists (as there are very few boundaries between their “work” and their “life”). They will drive your business forward and drag anyone who refuses to come with them, kicking and screaming, into the digitalized future. These are the people you want at the helm, so invest in them, and start with investing in their training.
From Instructive Training to Supportive Training
How can we manage this profound change in training methods? We need to understand that Millennial users are “conditioned” to approach new software interfaces in a natural way, rather than having to learn its use. They don’t feel a need to be trained in using software, and we waste valuable time (theirs and their colleagues’) by making them study it. What we need to provide them with is an agile, transparent experience for mastering new software, without actually teaching them how to use it. Rather than explaining how to use a new product, we should provide them with a platform that helps them to navigate such a product and pick it up as they go along, as part of their work schedule, when they actually need to use each feature.
Our guidelines for this change of approach should be quick, flexible, and relevant. With that in mind, employers should commission a dynamic, visually communicative, and easy-to-handle training plan focusing on the following elements.
Interactivity: Users in 2016 expect software to talk back to them, at least enough to understand their specific needs and preferences. Interactivity is a critical element in keeping users engaged and allowing them to learn at their own pace.
Contextuality: Context in training is important, not only in terms of the software, but with regard to the user. More and more software is built on algorithms that learn user behavior and actions in order to customize the experience accordingly. Training programs can’t be any different. Context is also important for helping users manage their training navigation, by telling them where they are in the process and assisting with time management and productivity.
Proactivity: The shift from passive training to proactive training is also a product of technological advancement. Many software implementations are less successful than they could be, because users don’t always activate the support mechanism. A proactive approach that identifies weak spots and offers assistance bypasses this challenge.
Measurablity: Data-driven, analytics, business intelligence—these are the elements that are at the core of every business that survived the 2008 financial crisis. The data from training—how successful an implementation is, how much resources are being invested, etc.—is immensely valuable to the big picture and should be aggregated wisely and segmented even more wisely.
Bite-sized: Returning to the work culture and attention span of our target employees—the Millennials—training should be regarded like chat conversations: concise, efficient, and accurate. Supportive training content can contain only “so much information.” There is no use in overwhelming users with stuff they won’t use instantaneously.
Invest in the Right Software
Remember when we made the leap from the Stone Age corporate methods to a digital world? (We no longer use a rolodex to manage contacts, you’ve replaced your filing system with a CRM, and email has replaced the sticky notes on your desk.) For your Millennials employees, you need to make a new leap. Applying new technology, just as in the previous leap, is not just “nice to have” but a necessity.
Organizations need to change their training methodology to include new interactive training solutions with rich content; don’t expect your employee to remember their initial training (when they joined the firm) or to seek guidance in a PDF manual. Rather give them “how-to” movies which can be accessed when needed. Organizations need to make sure content is relevant and always available to their workforce; don’t expect an employee to dig through training material that includes content that is irrelevant to them or to their current needs, rather provide them with support that is user specific and relevant to their “here and now.”
Using products such as Iridize to provide your employees with short, to-the-point, relevant, and interactive training will not only substantially reduce time spent on training and allow you real, factual feedback and measurement of the training worth, but it will actually keep your employees happy and sure of their positions by providing an assistive work environment that answers to their needs, when they need it, with answers that are relevant to them and their roles.
Looking to the Future
In an interview for CLO Magazine, Kelly Palmer, CLO of LinkedIn, stated that “Learners today are overwhelmed by content. Learning technology should reduce their stress by curating, personalizing features to get them what they need exactly when they need it.” Kelly also stated that while LMS platforms can manage training, they are no longer sufficient as the platform which delivers the content itself. The market is responding in queue by delivering more and more adequate solutions. We see a rapid growth in training technologies which offer richer content, product specific guidance, and personalized training material.
Organizations, to remain competitive and to reduce the time and cost spent on onboarding their workforce, have started to implement these new solutions, not only to increase profit, but also to be attractive employers and to ensure employees remain happy in their day-to-day tasks.
Even before ODED ILAN (firstname.lastname@example.org) had graduated from the university in 1999, he spent four years as a high school teacher. Following graduation, Oded worked in various high-tech industries as a business developer. He still believes that his hardest “sell” to date was convincing children to “purchase” education. Getting the message across, creating appealing yet meaningful content and delivering the correct story to the customers, has always been a passion of Oded’s. As Iridize’s Chief Marketing Officer, he gets to see, first hand, how technology helps the training and documentation landscape with a new approach.