Posted by Caveo Learning ● October 18, 2016

IT Training Director on VILT Challenges, 'YouTube-ization' of Learning

This is part of our ongoing series, Interviews with Learning Leaders.chad_venable.jpg

Chad Venable is director of enterprise IT training for AmerisourceBergen. For the past 18 years, he has performed training and technology consulting across multiple industries, with a special focus on SAP training and support. He has a master's in economics from the University of Missouri at Columbia. His bachelor's degree, also in economics, is from Truman State University.

Can you share tips for rolling out new technologies and tools, particularly around training and adoption?

As far as overcoming resistance, I’ve always felt that it was less the methodology, and more the nature or culture of the audience you’re attempting to deploy to, that tends to affect adoption the most. It’s really their willingness to adopt, as much as any kind of methodology or strategy for successful adoption.

When it comes to rolling out something new, I’m always very honest with people. I say, "You’re absolutely right," when faced with their objections or frustrations. I tell them, “Yes, this particular feature makes your life more difficult.”

Very early in my career, I was training the trainers on SAP implementation for a large public utility, and the audience was accountants and stockroom mangers. They were going from a very simple transaction—one screen, four fields, and a button press, to now five screens, and they were required to know all sorts of new data. You can imagine their reaction. We’d written this 30-page procedure that walked them through a number of different options and how to perform this, and that very first day, one of the trainers being trained literally threw the document at me and said, "I don’t know how you expect me train this with these poor materials that you’re providing.” Resistance to change. So I stood my ground. I didn’t aggressively try to refute it; I let it happen. I said, "You and everyone here has to recognize that this isn’t about you." And that became the mantra. By the end of the week, everyone was converted: They had dog-ears in their documentation, so it certainly wasn’t a problem with the documentation. It was just pure resistance to change. And I think my openness… I didn’t try to explain to them how this was somehow better. I said, "Yes, this is absolutely worse in this particular instance. There’s no doubt. And that’s how you have to describe it. But you need to understand the broader picture and what this is feeding in to and what it’s doing for the company."

Don’t try to sugarcoat it; don’t try to make people feel better. If it’s worse, it’s worse. That’s resistance to change.

In terms of systems and educational materials, the real key is finding that sweet spot—when your development of materials can proceed without fear of significant rework due to changes in the system, but not so late that you’re rushed and produce poor materials. That’s more art than science. In general, you want it to be somewhere after at least two rounds of testing. Usually we like to time it after a round of user-acceptance testing, because if anything comes out of that, we want it to be integrated into whatever we’re capturing—the theory being that you’re 80% of the way to what the finished app’s going to look like.

How can one be successful when moving from individual contributor to manager?

There are two primary things I always do. The first is to trust the people who work for me to do what they’re supposed to do. Your job as a manager is to help them do the job that they’re supposed to do, and not do it for them and not tell them how to do it. If they can’t do it, you continue to help them, or force-correct. The other thing is to listen to them, because in general, they know more than you do, whether it be about specific technologies or specific projects. Whatever it may be, they probably have greater expertise.

What is your advice for organizations looking to move some facilitation from ILT to VILT?

Watch the On-Demand Webinar: VILT: Tips and Tactics for Taking Your Training Don’t cross the streams, meaning don’t allow the business, or the customer, or whomever, to force you into a situation where you simultaneously conduct ILT with people virtually. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a facilitated show-and-tell-type session, but do not try to have a true hands-on, instructor-led, learning-type session with both people locally and distant in the same event. I’ve found that that’s a bad experience and leads to bad outcomes for both the live participants and the remote participants. Either the people live are sitting around, waiting for you to fix or work with people remotely, or the people remotely check out because they can’t follow what you’re doing live. There are so many times when we end up in those types of situations: We need to get this training out, these people need to be trained, and I’ve got 15 remote associates and 20 that are local, and we only have time to do one session, so it is easy to cave and do it. But don’t. Stand your ground, because no one’s going to learn anything.

Tell us about a training initiative that succeeded in improving performance.

My success stories are always numbers of participants (trained 40,000 customers) or dollars saved (saved $1.2 million per annum using a new technology), etc. Performance? That’s harder, and it requires evaluation levels that most companies, especially when hiring consultants, are not willing to do. Everyone is happy to do a Kirkpatrick Level 1 and be told that the training was good, the snacks were adequate, and the room was cold, but rarely does anyone do that Level 2 or, especially, Level 3 analysis to determine long-term performance or return on investment. It's also difficult to do a proper Level 2 or Level 3 eval on an initial system implementation, since you have no baseline or control group. 

What are specific training challenges in your industry?

Global is a big one, especially as we continue to grow and have a global footprint. As we get more global, we have different languages and cultures to assimilate. I do a lot of financial systems training, which means I’m relatively lucky in that I have a lot of highly educated people that I train, which means they speak English, often quite well, sometimes even better than me. But the challenge there becomes: If I’m going to train them to use a finance system, we have to start talking about accounting, and I personally have to start dealing with regulatory and accounting issues across multiple countries, across multiple regions of the world. As a systems trainer, do I have to become a chartered accountant? Do I need a CPA? No, but having some rudimentary knowledge of the differences between U.S. GAAP and IFRS is helpful. And local regulatory requirements have different taxation methodologies, which leads to very different ways of using the system. Those are challenges.

And global adoption is always an issue. Be honest and listen to people. Listen to the people who do the job in the local area explain their problem. And you may not always have the answer, but don’t feed them a line, because either they’ll take that as gospel and it’ll be wrong and it’ll filter back up, or they’ll know you’re full of it and will react accordingly. The most difficult trainees I’ve ever had have always appreciated the fact that I listen to them, and that’s just the way it is, or I’ll find out an answer for you. And they appreciate that you listen. You don’t just squash it down and say, "We’ll deal with that later." They want to be heard. Within reason, give them their time to do so. It works wonders for people around the globe just as much as it does for difficult participants in the U.S.

In terms of change management, the single most important thing you can do is get business partner management buy-in early on. Keep them informed. Make sure you provide some kind of forum for them to speak up and for their concerns to be heard and hopefully incorporated. The best environments I’ve been in had that, which tends to filter down, and then your participants don’t come to training either knowing nothing or in a combative mood. But regardless of how well it’s done, very often training becomes the absolute first time people see a new system. It’s their first time touching it, it’s their first time seeing it, it’s their first time visualizing how their work life is going to change based on what you’re showing them.

Training is as much about perception and the open—it’s a sales job. We’re selling people on what we’re training them on. We want them to be happy about it. We want them to be avid consumers of whatever systems we’re putting in place, just as much as we want them to be able to perform.

Are there trends in learning and performance that you love or that concern you?

Everyone these days wants to learn from a video. I call it the "YouTube-ization" of learning. So many people now go watch a YouTube video on how to repair their clothes dryer. You’ll see them post on their Facebook page, "I watched a five-minute YouTube video, and I saved myself $100 by changing some part out of my dryer!" And I personally have done it with simple auto repair. People have really become conditioned to this, "I can watch this, and I can do this myself." And I find it interesting because it’s not a screen-cam technology. My focus is always systems. Screen cams have been around almost as long as I’ve been doing trainings: 18 years. I knew people that liked it, and a lot of places used it. Deployment was challenging because the videos themselves can be sizeable, especially if they have any kind of fidelity and decent audio. So how do you get it to the users? Where do you store it? Do we have the network infrastructure to allow it to be played back? I think the increased use and reliance on cloud-based technologies over the past few years has really helped with adoption of video training.

The push in systems training was always hands-on, or simulations. Simulations are always supposed to be the holy grail, because we didn’t need a live system stacked with data that had to be maintained alongside our productive and test systems just to train people in, which placed its own set of burdens on the process and technology infrastructure teams. If I could create a simulated environment and teach 90% of what I need to teach in a live system, then great. And it has the benefit of being hands-on, so active learning. But the real push lately has been, "Just make a three-minute video of yourself walking through this." I find it interesting that we’ve come full circle, that people are embracing this—again. The idea being that they can be recorded and created very rapidly, and simulations take time, at least as much time as it takes to write a step-by-step procedure, if not a little more, depending on the technology used, etc. And of course, they present their own challenges in deployment playback, etc.

If people like it and they feel like they’re learning, that’s at least half the battle.

Download the White Paper: Guidelines for Developing Simulation-Based Learning

Topics: Interviews with Learning Leaders, VILT