Archives for January 2013

Workers’ Wellness Goes Wireless With Activity Trackers

For many benefits managers, the challenge is not just how to educate employees about wellness but how to change behavior for the better and then make those changes permanent.

One strategy gaining popularity is to give workers personal devices that track their physical activity and help them meet their fitness goals. These devices, called accelerometers, or wireless activity trackers, also are increasingly tied to broader wellness campaigns and workplace fitness challenges.

Unlike its predecessor the pedometer, which tracked only steps and whose data couldn’t be uploaded or easily shared, the accelerometer monitors steps, distance, calories burned and even sleep. Statistics are synched to computers and smartphones and often also have a social networking capacity.

“This is one of the most financially impactful of all the investments, even in the short term, that we’ve seen,” says Renya Spak, principal of the total health management practice at consultancy Mercer, of the devices. “We’ve seen very compelling findings.”

Fitness firms Fitbit, Jawbone and Fitlinxx and shoe giant Nike are among the leaders in this category. Fitness-tech firm Withings joined the competition this month by unveiling its own product, the Smart Activity Tracker.

“It’s definitely a crowded and growing space,” Spak says.

One happy client is Box, a cloud-based content sharing platform company. The Los Altos, California-based firm last fall purchased Fitbit Zips for all 700 employees. The Fitbit Zip retails for $59.95.

Box kicked off a 30-day challenge in mid-November, during which employees participated in groups to see who could average the most steps per person.

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The challenge required at least 75 percent participation in each group to qualify.

About half of the company participated in the contest. On average, there was a 42.2 percent increase in steps taken over the month. The winning group took close to 7,700 steps and had an 81 percent participation rate. The prize was a group dinner out on the town.

Evan Wittenberg, vice president of people operations at Box and a former Google employee, says he considers the results a success and that he plans to do more challenges using Fitbit devices.

“For knowledge workers, exercise and physical fitness are extremely, extremely important,” Wittenberg says. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had a regular way to get feedback on how they are doing with their fitness.’ “

He says Fitbit shares Box’s values of just-in-time, access-anywhere information, making the partnership a “no-brainer.”

Two computer engineers, Eric Friedman and James Park, founded Fitbit in 2007 as a way to use technology to help themselves and their colleagues get up from their desks during the workday.

Amy McDonough, director of business development at Fitbit, says the products are for everyday people and that Fitbit tries to make the experience “straightforward for employers.”

“We take a consultative approach on

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what would work best for individual employers,” McDonough says.

Fitbit also has partnerships with health plans and corporate wellness vendors such as Healthways and RedBrick Health to incorporate the devices into their wellness offerings, she says.

“We find the challenges are most successful when they are integrated into the workplace culture,” she says.

Team challenges can keep employees from losing interest in the devices once the initial novelty has worn off, says Spak of Mercer.

“It’s the social, team aspect of it that makes it stay fresh,” she says.

Wittenberg of Box says the goal is to get employees to adopt healthier habits, and the wireless activity tracker is simply the catalyst to make change. He says research suggests it takes 30 to 40 repetitions to make a new activity become habit.

As for the winning team on Box’s first Fitbit challenge, members haven’t decided yet where to have their victory dinner.

“I’m hoping they don’t choose beer and pizza because that would defeat the purpose,” Wittenberg jokes. “But of course they can choose where they want to go.”

Guidelines for selecting a wireless activity tracker

1. Have a great partner that can tap into the social connectivity aspect of the device.
2. Choose a device that won’t break easily or give inaccurate results to keep user frustration to a minimum.
3. Ensure users can view results in real time on the device itself and don’t have to visit their computer to see how they performed on a particular activity.
4. Integrate the program into other wellness solutions.
5. Make sure data privacy agreements are in place.

Source: Renya Spak, Mercer

About the Author:

Rebecca Vesely is a writer based in San Francisco. Reprinted from Workforce Management

Research for Practitioners: How to Improve Knowledge Retention

In academic approaches to learning that focus on knowledge rather than skill, the activities often involve what is known as “elaborative studying”: traditional studying that involves repetition of the content. There are other methods that may also support learning, but it is difficult to find information about the relative effectiveness between the methods.

The question: If you are going to study for a test, what do you think the best way to study would be?

The options are:

1. Traditional studying, with repetition
2. Creating a visual concept map of the material
3. Retrieval practice

I’ve asked this question in class a number of times and usually the favorite answer is b) creating a visual concept map. Well, learners aren’t always the best judges of how they learn best!

A study by Jeffrey D. Karpicke and Janell R. Blunt suggests that retrieval practice may actually be a significantly better method for learning. Typically, learning inventions focus on encoding memory, but practicing retrieval of memories in addition to encoding may be a critical component of learning. (Editor’s Note: Please see the sidebar at the end of the article for brief explanations of some terms that may be unfamiliar to you.)

The study,  “Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping,” by Jeffrey D. Karpicke and Janell R. Blunt  is available at (free, but requires registration).


Karpicke and Blunt had groups of students use four different methods of studying. The first group spent time reviewing a science text in a single study session. The second group also reviewed the same text in multiple consecutive study sessions. The third group was taught a concept mapping technique and studied by creating concept maps of the science material.

The fourth group studied the text in an initial study period and then practiced retrieval by recalling as much of the information as they could on a free recall test. After recalling once, the fourth group restudied the text and recalled again. The groups spent the same amount of learning time overall in the third and fourth conditions.


While most students in the study predicted that performance would be better in the mapping condition versus the retrieval condition, the retrieval practice group (the fourth group) actually did significantly better (up to 50 percent better in some instances) on retention tests given a week later.

While there’s no way to say exactly why retrieval practice produced superior results, some possible explanations include:

•Retrieval practice allowed the students to identify and correct gaps in their knowledge.

•The retrieval practice was replicating the test condition, in that students were practicing the same activity (test taking) that they were going to use for performance

Implications for eLearning

While this study didn’t involve eLearning, there are several interesting implications for the design of eLearning.

•Creating opportunities for retrieval practice—most eLearning tends towards presentation of information, which focuses on encoding information into memory. But eLearning designers may need to look for opportunities to build in retrieval practice, so learners can see where they have or have not retained information.

•Recognition versus recall—one of the biggest limitations of eLearning environments is that the activities are almost always recognition-based (e.g., multiple choice), but there may be value to figuring out recall-based, to increase the rigor of retrieval practice.

•Not all interactivity is created equally—there’s frequently discussion of adding interactivity to eLearning, and in many cases that is likely to have a positive impact on learning and memory, but some interactive formats are likely to produce better results. Hopefully, future research can start to look at the question of most effective types of eLearning interactivity.

Sidebar 1:  Defining Terms in this article

Retrieval practice: Retrieval practice in this study involved students studying a science text and then practicing recalling as much as they could from it. Afterward, they studied again and practiced recalling a second time. This strategy requires students to retrieve concepts from long-term memory, thus the name retrieval practice.

Concept mapping: Concept mapping involves drawing a diagram in which nodes are used to represent concepts and links connecting the nodes represent relationships among the concepts. Concept mapping is considered an active learning task, and a concept map has the purpose of supporting learning. It is similar to, but not the same thing as, mind mapping or topic mapping (ISO/IEC 13250:2003).

Mind maps are a visual outline for information, using either a radial layout or a tree-like structure originating in a single word, text, or idea. Topic maps emphasize facilitating finding information and are a semantic approach to knowledge.

Recall versus recognition: Recognition tasks involve choosing the right option from a list of choices, while recall tasks involve recalling or constructing a right answer from memory.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

Get Talent Fit in 2013

The last of the holiday cookies have disappeared, as have visiting relatives, and the time has come to focus on New Year’s resolutions. For many people, a post-holiday visit to the bathroom scale sparks a pledge to hit the gym.

This scenario also can be applied to an organization’s well-being. Mercer’s “2012 Attraction and Retention Survey” of HR practitioners at 470 North American companies, for example, showed that 24 percent reported a drop in their employees’ engagement in 2012, compared to 13 percent in 2010. Further, almost 60 percent of organizations indicated they foresee an increase in voluntary turnover, particularly in high-demand roles, in the next year.

To keep companies healthy in this fast-paced working world, many talent leaders have resolved to shape up their talent management processes. For example, Lorna Hagen, vice president of human resources for retailer Ann Inc., said her major focus in 2013 will be succession planning and taking a hard look at talent pools.

“In terms of innovation, in terms of product development, in terms of social media and how companies are going to be doing business in the future, you just don’t know who that talent is going to be, so you need to find those curious and motivated people and start to apply some very personalized opportunities to them,” she said.

Understanding Body Types

Robb Webb, chief human resources officer for Hyatt, agreed it is time for organizations to take an overview of their pipelines.

“The pipeline that you have in an organization needs to be as deep, broad and diverse as it possibly can be, so it’s time for organizations to look at their workforce and to determine if this is the type of workforce that will sustain them for the future,” he said.

The millennial conversation will be important this year, as statistics show this group will make up roughly half of the workforce by 2015. Hagen said this generation is “clicking,” consuming, collaborating, concerned about things and also curating. “They want everything curated: their entertainment experiences, their educational experiences and now they want their work experiences curated,” she said.

Further, Hagen said because millennials are so rapidly infiltrating the workforce, for 2013 she is considering how to incorporate their digitally driven tendencies into a succession planning model. Doing so may prove to be an especially important exercise in light of the data in the “2012 Candidate Behavior Study” from CareerBuilder and Inavero. The study indicates that 69 percent of full-time workers search for new job opportunities regularly — of these, millennials were much more likely than baby boomers to seek greener pastures.

Webb, however, cautioned against painting all millennials as job hoppers. Instead, organizations should focus on how to retain this large future workforce group. Webb said the reason millennials might be moving around so much is they have not found a company that has fully engaged them. Offering development opportunities can help.

Tim Russell, manager, learning and development, organizational development for Nintendo of America, said to properly develop, engage and retain the best and brightest young talent, companies ought to consider the right blended learning approach, such as utilizing the technology millennials favor and emphasizing interpersonal connections.

He said it can help to provide content in shorter, more digestible “learning snacks” because millennials learn differently than the baby boomers and Gen Xers.

“We will absolutely have to find a way to balance what the millennials need versus what the baby boomers need,” he said. “The millennials are probably more on the side of the new technology, so companies are exploring ways to use social media. Try to get millennials into a four-day classroom experience, [they will tire of it quickly].”

This tech-centered approach to development does not mean abandoning classroom training completely. Russell said he has had some interesting conversations with talent leaders who have said moving too far away from classroom learning can mean neglecting the interpersonal interaction that happens when employees get together in a formal learning event.

Instead, Russell said to honor the new technology — “let’s explore what’s new and sexy out there” — but also get back to basics because interpersonal connections are critical for employee engagement.

Fit to Lead

Turnover and leadership development also could use a reboot in the new year. Kelly Wojda, director of talent for Caterpillar, said connecting with millennials means answering the question, “What’s in it for me?” She said this group is also interested in sustainability and feeling like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. This is important because millennials will have to assume leadership roles more rapidly than they might anticipate.

“In the next five to 10 years baby boomers are retiring, and these millennials and Xers are going to have to step up into leadership roles. So part of the opportunity for companies like Nintendo will be, how do we ready them for roles that perhaps in the past they would have had another 10 years to train for?” Russell said.

With this in mind, as global manufacturer Caterpillar grows in new industries and regions, it is accelerating its leadership development focus. In 2011, the company launched its global Leadership Excellence and Development program, which focuses on four levels of leadership in all countries where it operates. Each level of leadership engages in learning programs tailored to employees’ specific needs with a focus on the company’s strategic needs.

“It’s a great opportunity to encourage diversity, so local leaders around the world foster the program,” Wojda said.

The global approach to leadership development should enable leaders to successfully handle cross-cultural situations. “How do you actually train a leader to have cultural agility, so they’re really able to work in a global environment? Those are things that every company needs to start thinking about right now,” Hagen said.

Being agile means that traditional ways of measuring performance will likely give way to more dynamic approaches. Nick Howe, vice president, learning and collaboration for Hitachi Data Systems, said talent leaders should rethink the annual performance review and adopt a more continuous, real-time approach. This can be done with the help of social networks.

According to research released in March by Bersin & Associates titled “Going Global With High-Impact Learning,” organizations with strong informal learning capabilities — such as social learning tools and a global learning culture — are three times more likely to excel at global talent development than organizations without those competencies.

Hitachi has embraced networking and collaboration, which has allowed it to identify and recognize individuals across the company for their contributions via “likes” or “follows” within a platform. “We have folks in Australia who are helping folks in the U.S. or the U.K., and a lot of that used to go completely unnoticed, but because that is now being captured in a system that is very visible, [we can] both identify and reward individuals for advancing the strategy in a way that we never have before,” Howe said.

Social connection also will be a major trend in 2013 for Ann Inc. “The notion of grading has expired for certain companies,” Hagen said. Instead, the company is embracing social networks and considering alternative methods for employees to become involved in and elevate each other’s performance.

New measurement methods evaluate employees’ ability to influence what’s happening, which introduces the concept of behavioral metrics into performance conversations. Hagen said this could take talent managers away from the usual yearly performance review toward a more organic, in-the-moment type of event.

“Let’s say I wanted to get in shape,” Nintendo’s Russell said. “I could hire a personal trainer — an expert on weight loss and sculpting my body — and I could rely on my relationship with that personal trainer. Or, I could get some buddies together, we could find a race that we could run together, and we act as our own motivational peers. We train together. We shop for the right foods together. We learn from each other.”

An Integrated Routine

The future of talent management largely will depend on collaboration, and that has to happen within the HR function itself.

Caterpillar’s Wojda said today’s talent leader can’t work solely in recruiting, leadership development or compensation. “If all of us aren’t working together as a system, it’s not going to work. … For us, [the new year] is about really integrating our talent management to help maximize the potential of our current people [and] to be better talent scouts for the people out there who we want to come to our team.”

Recruiting is another area talent managers have targeted for improvement in 2013. In the search for the best talent it is no longer OK for companies to use a post-and-pray strategy and hope the right candidates will walk through the door.

Caterpillar is proactively sourcing for talent using every referral channel it can, including getting its own internal base of employees excited and passionate about what it’s like to work there. Social media can help.

Howe said Facebook has “been huge” for Hitachi’s recruiting efforts, but at the end of the day, engagement is key.

The situation can be likened to failed New Year’s resolutions. One of the top reasons why so many New Year’s resolutions fail is because people forget why they were important in the first place. Webb said the same can be said of short-lived talent management initiatives such as a well-intentioned survey that only creates momentary impact.

“[It’s like if I would say], ‘I’m going to go to the gym every other day,’” Webb said. “I do that for three weeks after Jan. 1; and after that, I find reasons not to go to the gym … [I heard a joke] that said, ‘Gee, it’s already June; engagement survey time is August — I’d better start being nice to people.’”

Engagement also has to be top driven. As demand for talent grows, talent leaders should apply the same level of importance and accountability to their employee engagement surveys as they do to their customer surveys.

“New employees who come into the company have higher expectations than they ever had about the way they’re going to be treated, the systems that they’re going to have access to and flexibility from a work location perspective,” Howe said. “It’s our responsibility to respond to that … If we don’t, they will be very quick to leave. There is so much opportunity out there today.”

About the Author:

Elizabeth Lisican is a freelance writer based in Chicago. Reprinted from Talent Management Magazine


Keep Your Tuition Assistance Costs in Check

Tuition costs in the U.S. continue to rise on an annual basis, making it increasingly more expensive for employers to offer tuition assistance programs aimed at developing their workforce.  A recent report by the College Board found that tuition and fees at public four-year institutions increased 4.2 percent from 2011-2012.

That puts the average cost for full-time undergraduate institutions at $8,655 at public four-year institutions, $29,056 at private nonprofit institutions and $15,172 at private for-profit institutions, according to the College Board. Part-time students, such as working adults, are equally affected by these rising costs.

EdLink, a tuition assistance benefits company, outlines a few methods companies can use to mitigate much of the tuition increases in its August 2012 report, “Innovative Approaches to Manage Your Tuition Program.” These methods allow employers to both reduce expenses and get more value from their existing tuition program investment. Further, these alternatives can create viable pathways to credit while reducing the overall price tag and debt to employers and employees.

Listed below are some of the methods included in the study:

Leverage prior learning assessments. Companies are able to allow an individual to receive credit for nontraditional learning achieved through work and life experience. Through portfolio reviews and examinations, individuals are offered an opportunity to formally earn credit for subject matter expertise gained through workforce development and job training, independent reading, the military, volunteerism and other hands-on experiential learning.

The average cost of a portfolio through, a learning assessment provider, is $379 for one to 12 credit hours. Prior learning assessment is also offered at all types of undergraduate institutions, including private for-profit and nonprofit institutions, as well as public institutions. Costs will vary.

Use examinations for college credit. Individuals can earn college credit through subject matter exams. Some examples: College Level Examination Program (CLEP), DSST Exams, Advanced Placement (AP) and UExcel. These exams cover a variety of subjects — literature, science, math, humanities and foreign languages —are accepted at more than 2,000 colleges and cover anywhere from eight to 38 subjects. The average cost per examination ranges from $85 to $95.

Take courses at public, two-year community colleges. While not new, this method provides an affordable option for general studies courses. Most four-year institutions in the U.S. allow students to transfer and apply credit toward a degree. The average cost per course is $303.

Seek out specialized course providers. This method allows individuals to take general education courses that will transfer for college credit. Starbucks, for instance, covers specialized course providers in its tuition policy as a way to help its workforce save money on general coursework.

By applying these methods, there is a potential for significant cost savings. For example, an employer with 3,000 employees with an average 5 percent tuition benefit utilization can expect to save anywhere from $116,000 to $328,000 in tuition costs per year, according to EdLink.

The following strategies can help employers leverage the benefits of these alternatives:

Examine corporate policy to ensure inclusion of alternative methods in tuition assistance programs and advancement policies. Create specific allowances for credible course and PLA providers that allow students to transfer credits to accredited colleges.

Communicate and promote the advantages for alternative methods to employees. This can not only add up to big savings but it can help employees to get on a fast track to degree completion.

Align tuition assistance with learning and development. Most learning and development functions are sponsoring efforts to ensure training programs create paths to credit for employees.

Submit corporate training programs for review by the ACE CREDIT recommendation service. This service connects workplace learning with colleges and universities by helping adults gain academic credit for formal courses and examinations taken outside of traditional degree programs.

About the Author:

John Zappa is CEO of EdLink, a provider of corporate tuition assistance management services. Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer magazine

4 Ways to Use QR Codes in Training

QR codes are rapidly growing as a valuable interactive technology tool that organizations can use to communicate with clients, colleagues, and employees to share information rapidly. They also can be used by training professionals to support learning initiatives. When used appropriately in training, QR codes increase conversion optimization and participant engagement, as well as enable participants to find information, learn in teams, and access organizational resources just-in-time.

“QR codes also are a great way to increase interactivity in a fun way, and increase the likelihood of the individual taking a recommended action,” writes Kella Price, author of the January Infoline, “QR Codes for Trainers.” QR codes connect people to one another and to digital content, Price says.

Here are four ways to think about using QR Codes:

For tours and orientations. As new employees tour a facility during onboarding, include QR Codes throughout stops on the tour to provide employees with information about each of the various departments and its role. The QR Code could open document files or a video or audio file.

To explore stories in problem-solving activities. Learners can scan a QR Code to watch a film, and then solve a problem. The QR Code can provide questions, and learners can use

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polling, survey, or text methods to submit their individual responses.

To link to modules or performance support tools and job aids. For example, if an employee needs help processing a return at the checkout, he can scan the code at the register for a step-by-step job aid.

To get attendees to interact with each other. For example, you may have a slide or graph in your training session that you want participants to analyze. Post a QR Code in the corner of the visual that loads a discussion board where participants can comment or give their opinions.

About the Author:

Adapted from the January 2013 Infoline, “QR Codes for Trainers,” by Kella Price.

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