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Microsoft L&D Specialist Talks Training and Onboarding Techniques

Posted by Renie McClay on March 7, 2017

GARDNER Feb 2017.jpgThis is part of our ongoing series, Interviews with Learning Leaders.

Stacey Gardner is a senior L&D specialist with Microsoft. She has been involved with learning and development dating back to her days as a Pizza Hut shift manager 17 years ago, training every new employee on how to ready the pizza dough, make delicious pizzas, and deliver successfully for customers. With Microsoft since 2011, she considers it an honor to help sales teams, marketers, consultants, and more. Stacey has two bachelor's degrees from Central Washington University, in anthropology and psychology. She achieved her PMP and CPLP certifications, and loves talking about and building all kinds of training. She's on Twitter at @learnwithstacey.


What are your strategies for raising the effectiveness of training programs?

The number one reason learning programs fail is the lack of engaged learners. When learning transfer fails, it is not usually because the training is bad—it is easy to design a decent class or eLearning course. When people aren’t doing what they were supposed to learn to do, it is natural (and even expected!) to get right on iterating and refining a course. We can ask ourselves as learning professionals:

  • What happened before the learners took the training?
  • Do we know they were engaged? Curious? Interested? Excited?
  • What happened during the training? Did we use multiple methods to teach and practice? Were the learners challenged? Bored? Frustrated?
  • What happened when they learners returned to the environment in which they were implementing the knowledge or skill?
  • Were they supported? Did their manager expect something different? Were they motiviated to do something differently?

With multiple ways to teach and learn, the number one thing I look for in any situation is the way we engage our learners.

In the future, what do you see as the role of formal education?

First, I will tell you that I am biased. I come from a long line of teachers—two grandmothers, two aunts, and my mom. I have great respect and love for teachers and formal education. I see societal and individual benefits with the democratization of learning. Informal channels of learning are incredibly powerful and to be championed! When I consider three key ways people learn (imitative, instructed, or collaborative), I see a role for all kinds of learning for all kinds of people. A lifelong learner, I’m eight credits and a thesis away from earning a master of science in psychology of education from Kaplan University. I’ve got a few Ph.D. programs I’m considering next, and will always look to be instructed by experts, as I also learn collaboratively and all kinds of other ways.

I saw one of those Facebook ad videos this weekend that warmed my education-loving soul: a brilliant man was talking about how learning from mentors is a key to success. One of the problems with getting great mentors is that, well… some of the ones we may have chosen are no longer with us, and access to others may be extremely difficult. We can still learn tons from them through the writings they left or what others wrote about them. I try to read a book a week (I’m super-addicted to Audible during housework) and think that’s another source of formalized informal learning. So I see that the future of formal education is important as a building block, though not the only building block, of an individual's successful education.

What are some keys to success with onboarding projects?

I was brought into a huge business challenge around onboarding. Microsoft did some analysis that looked at how long it took salespeople and others to get up to speed and achieve revenue quota after they started in a role. There was no consistent global onboarding program. I was brought in to be the learning architect supporting the business in defining the skills and capabilities needed, then building the learning experiences and assessments to onboard new individuals and help them be productive in their roles.

Watch the Webinar: An Inside Look at Outsourcing in Learning & DevelopmentThe strategic goal for onboarding was to speed up the time it took to be productive. First, we had to define what that meant. What does success mean at 30 days? At 60? At 90? To be proficient in a role, does that mean being able to sell a product? Or have customer conversations? To demo products "the Microsoft way"? Defining proficiency with the business was key to getting started.

We have upgraded the onboarding for several audiences, including managers. When onboarding managers, we want to enable them in a practical and useful way. We want to include people figuring out why they are how they are. And then, we explore how they want to change and provide skills and knowledge of how to make that change.

A note about partnering with the other groups across Microsoft: we had to work closely across HR, the functional business, and with folks currently experienced and successful in role. Without any one of those contributions, new employees would not be set up for success. There is a lot of defining and aligning up front; I’m convinced that if teams skip that step, their programs are less effective and their people don’t have the help they need.

Are there any L&D trends that either excite or concern you?

One thing I’ve been watching the last several years is the use of brain-based techniques in designing and delivering training. I notice lots of neuromyths, speculations, generalizations, and popularized concepts, many of which aren’t actually grounded in neuroscience, cognitive science, or any kind of psychology. It’s super-fun to think about how the brain works, what we know of cognitive processes, and what the latest research is demonstrating… but I worry when one piece of knowledge about the brain or a particular thing that isn’t rationalized is adopted, often at the expense of the tried and true. I have been learning more about what “neuro-educator” programs are looking like at several top universities. We have access to incredible information. We will be wise to stay up to date, but not jump to conclusions as we translate what we learn about the brain and our educational programs.

In a new role, what is the first thing you do or focus on?

I’ve been lucky to get to start new roles several times in my career. I think being new is the best way to be awesome at something. Admittedly, I’m biased by many things on this topic, including Liz Wiseman’s book "Rookie Smarts." "The First 90 Days" by Michael Watkins is my other favorite book on the subject. Give me any subject and a listening ear, and I’ll tell you a book that comes to mind.

Outside of their fantastic advice that I couldn’t possibly duplicate in a few words, I’d say the first thing I focus on is getting to clarity. Clarity for me includes all of the standard questions—who is involved, what are the success metrics and feelings, why was I hired, what is expected, how do I blow everyone’s socks off? I typically start a log/journal and do a bit of a brain dump at the end of every day for 15–30 minutes about anything and everything. Often an extrovert, I gotta get it out! I have also found several times those logs to be a useful source material in ramping someone into my role when I move on down the road.

Watch the On-Demand Webinar: Innovation in L&D: Building a Modern Learning  Culture

Topics: Interviews with Learning Leaders

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