Archives for October 2014

Instructional Design for the Real World

For several years now I’ve offered a class called Instructional Design for the Real World. It grew out of my experience in grad school, shortly after I’d taken a promotion to head up a government agency training department. I was spending a lot of time dealing with HR staff and subject-matter experts who believed that “presentation” was “training,” so I enrolled in a master’s program in training and development—mostly to help me learn to articulate rationale and ideas to those outside the field.

Good Intentions, Unrealistic Advice

The program required a number of instructional-design courses and I was often one of the only working training practitioners in class. Sometimes the sacred-story-version of our work made me laugh out loud. A couple of my favorite comments from textbooks:

  • “Increase the credibility of your program by insisting that a member of senior management be present in every session.”


  • “Do not rush the needs-assessment process. Managers wanting good solutions will give you all the time you need to explore problems and underlying issues with all stakeholders.”

More recently I’ve seen quick-bite infographic type items offering similar unrealistic advice. Like:

  • Don’t forget to get buy-in!


  • Ask subject matter experts to summarize content!

As if these were one-off short steps. For many of us these are matters that take far more energy and time than does actually designing anything. For instance, that magical goal to “Get buy-in!” might involve talking through years of history with a topic or attitudes toward the subject matter, or otherwise getting at the root of resistance to a new approach or technology, all while navigating the politics of the people involved.

And in the real world: You may not always get there. (An aside: The suggestion to “Get buy in!” as a single quick item reminds me a bit of the South Park Underpants Gnomes, whose business plan was: 1. Collect underpants. 2. ? 3. Profit.)

Better Tips for the Real World

A few tips I offer for “real world” work:

  • Before you design training, find out whether it’s even a training problem. Often it’s the manager who needs training in managing employee performance. And in a horrifying number of instances you’ll likely find it’s a hiring problem that could have been prevented in the first place.
    See for more.
  • Needs assessment: Managers and others who request development of a course often have no idea how employees actually spend their day. Try your best to assess the target audience before moving on to an instructional solution and find out what else is going on, what training they’ve already had, and whether they think they need training. See
  • Design: Don’t get so caught up in wordsmithing objectives that you forget what the experience is supposed to achieve. I once saw incredibly expensive custom “timesheet” training with a bunch of downright poetic, gloriously worded objectives—that covered everything except, oops, how to actually complete your time sheet.
  • Beware of academic objectives. Do you want your stockbroker to describe three types of investments, or prove that she can take a sum of money and make more money with it? This is a deviling problem, as academic objectives are so easy to write content for, and create bulleted slides about, and write multiple-choice questions on. Try to get past that to the often-harder matter of teaching, and assessing, actual performance.
  • Recognize constraints. Even the most creative organizations will make you work within budget, or stick to branding guidelines, or work with some particular software, or with staff who must be involved. Find out where the negotiable points are; if you need it, seek out some self-study in negotiation skills. The need for that across a career is something I find sorely apparent among many newly coming to the field.
  • Make evaluation iterative. Don’t wait until there’s a pilot to find out you need to go back and tweak. Test out activities as you go. Verify timing and resources needed. Stop and say: Will this solve the problem? Is this really relevant to the issue?
    Consider the expensive timesheet training mentioned above. Why didn’t anyone step back at that phase and just say, “The point of the training is for a worker to learn to complete the new time sheet. If the employee achieves these objectives, will she be able to do that?” The money and time and effort saved in taking a 10,000 foot view of the objectives in the aggregate—including that of the employees whose time was wasted on bad training—would have been well worth a 15-minute conversation before moving on to development.
  • There’s no such thing as fidelity. Know that you can build it specifically for experienced nurses, and someone somewhere will assign it as mandatory for all the custodial staff. Know that you can require prework and someone will waive it. Know that you will NOT require prework and someone will add it as a requirement even though what they include only repeats—or conflicts with—the program you created. Do your best to communicate to keep that from happening, but keep it in mind as you’re building the course.

I’m sure experienced practitioners will have more ideas to add, and I look forward to seeing comments about that. Newer folks still looking for “nuts and bolts”? Beware of advice that’s too good to be true and promises of steps that seem too convenient. It’s called “practice” for a reason.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

Happy People and Bottom-Line Results: ‘Bankable’ Leaders Deliver Both

Why won’t my employees just do what I tell them? Why am I struggling to motivate my team? Why aren’t they giving me the performance I need?

If any of these questions sound familiar to you, you’re not alone.

You probably were promoted because you’re a competent technical professional. You know how to build a bridge, negotiate a deal, or justify a capital expenditure. But whether you’re a middle manager or a CEO, your technical skills usually won’t help you be a better leader.

But effective leadership has an undeniable business value. In one study, Jack Zenger and colleagues (“How Extraordinary Leaders Double Profits”) examined the best (top 10 percent) and worst (bottom 10 percent) leaders at a large commercial bank.

On average, the worst leaders’ departments experienced net losses of $1.2 million, while the best leaders boasted profits of $4.5 million.

Sink or Swim Is Not a Plan

As any disgruntled employee will attest, exceptional leadership isn’t commonplace. One recent Center for Creative Leadership study reveals that up to 50 percent of managers are ineffective. And sadly, your company probably isn’t doing much to help you. First, they probably use the wrong criteria to select leaders by focusing on technical—rather than leadership—skills.

Second, most invest precious little to develop leaders, and training is often an isolated, one-size-fits-all event. Without follow-up, 90 percent of information from training programs disappears after three months!

Without organizational support, leaders wanting to improve are left to their own devices. But when they search on Amazon for “leadership books,” they’re assaulted with more than 100,000 options! No wonder leadership feels so complex and impossible.

Luckily, there’s good news. Though psychologists used to believe leaders were “born,” recent research tells a much different story—leadership is an acquirable skill. Recently, a study by Richard Arvey at Singapore’s NUS Business School revealed that a whopping 70 percent of leadership is learned. That means anyone can learn to become an effective leader.

Two Behaviors All Leaders Must Master

For decades, scientists have known everything we need to know about how successful leaders behave. It’s like finding your TV remote tucked under a couch cushion after hours of searching elsewhere: The secrets to leadership really have been here all along.

In 1945, a group Ohio State University researchers set out to disprove the notion that leadership was an inborn personality trait. With 70 International Harvester Company foremen as their subjects, they discovered that leadership effectiveness was related to the presence of two independent behaviors.

First, effective leaders showed consideration, displaying support, compassion, and friendliness to their team. Second, they initiated structure. They clearly defined the role each employee played and drove their performance. Let’s re-name these behaviors “People” and “Results,” respectively.

Indeed, you probably feel an inherent tension between People and Results. On one hand, you must build relationships by connecting with your team, earning trust and motivating them. On the other, you must drive top- and bottom-line results through their performance and productivity.

I can drive them to perform, leaders think, OR I can be their friend:

People <——————– X———————> Results

Left Side Leader or Right Side Leader?

Depending on your upbringing, culture, and role models, you’ll find a comfort position between them. For a select few, that position is in the middle, leveraging each outcome to support the other. The rest fall somewhere to the left or the right, and some to the extremes:

The Cool Parent: Left-side leaders act like the “Cool Parent.” Focusing on the happiness of their team at all costs, they don’t set expectations, give honest feedback, or make tough decisions. Working for a left-side leader might feel pleasant…at first. But as soon as you need tough—but true—feedback, he or she will freeze like a deer in headlights.

The Trail of Dead Bodies Creator: Right-side leaders drive results so aggressively that they leave a “Trail of Dead Bodies.” This leader requires grueling hours, is never satisfied, and withholds recognition lest employees become complacent.

Though right-side leaders help you “up your game” initially, in the long-term, you suffer both physically (from over-work) and mentally (from lack of appreciation).

The best leaders are able to move to the middle, focusing on people and results. These “bankable” leaders create prosperity in the form of achievement, health, happiness, and wealth for themselves, their team, and their organization. Think of the best manager you’ve ever had.

He or she might have been a walking contradiction, achieving all of these things at once:

1) Care for and understand team members AND set aggressive performance targets.
2) Help team members succeed AND expect responsibility for successes and failures.
3) Provide recognition AND push continuous improvement.
4) Help you enjoy your job AND ensure everyone maximally contributes.

3 Actions to Become More Bankable

Gather the facts. Just like you can’t start a weight-loss program without getting on a scale, you must begin your journey by learning the truth about yourself. We’re often the worst evaluators of our behavior. You may have placed yourself in the middle of the continuum, believing you place an equal emphasis on People and Results—but your team might say, “Are you kidding? You’re a total slave driver!”

Use your resources and gather the facts, whether it’s through an assessment or feedback in the form of conversations.

Be laser-focused. For executive teams, research by Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi of Booz & Company shows that as their quantity of goals increases, revenue declines. Similarly, leaders often choose too many development goals. Give yourself the greatest chance for victory by developing one thing at a time. It is far better to make progress in one area than to make little or none in five!

Practice Daily. It’s likely that you’ve had a development plan before—that gathered dust in a drawer. You probably were engaging in Delusional Development: the futile hope that just by wanting to get better at something and knowing enough to be dangerous, you’ll show improvement. The amount of deliberate practice you choose will be proportionate to your improvement.

The journey to Bankable Leadership is like learning a violin concerto: You have to learn the concepts (reading music) and behaviors (playing the violin). Then you practice every day to create beautiful music.

Bankable Leadership Happens Day By Day

From music to science to athletics, people with average talent have achieved extraordinary things. Scientists used to think that superior athletes achieved greatness because of biological differences. But we now know that the best marathon runners, for example, simply train more in the weeks leading up to the marathon.

The same is true for exceptional leaders. That’s why the “I just wasn’t born to be a leader” excuse doesn’t hold water. A person may not want to be a leader, which is entirely different. But with focus and commitment, anyone can become a more effective leader. The daily commitment it requires isn’t always sexy—but will make you a more bankable leader…guaranteed.

Excerpted from Bankable Leadership: Happy People, Bottom Line Results, and the Power to Deliver Both by Dr. Tasha Eurich. For more information, visit

A leadership geek, executive coach, speaker, and author, Dr. Tasha Eurich is the author of The New York Times bestselling book, Bankable Leadership: Happy People, Bottom Line Results, and the Power to Deliver Both. She also helps organizations succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders and teams.

Reprinted from Training Magazine

Teaching Collaboration at MasterCard

MasterCard Inc. is transforming itself from a credit card company to a broader technology enterprise to keep up with fast-paced changes within the payments industry and meet the ever-increasing need for security.

A desire to have a more entrepreneurial culture also requires a change in the company’s approach to learning. Janice Burns, with a background as a product manager skilled at launching products to meet specific consumer needs, was just the person to lead the revamp.

As chief learning officer and head of global talent development and organizational effectiveness, Burns is shepherding many collaborative initiatives in tandem with other senior leaders like Chief Innovation Officer Garry Lyons, the company’s communications leaders, and business resource groups within its diversity office.

Burns and her team are also revamping traditional learning programs to capture specific employee groups’ attention, particularly millennials.

That expansive, cross-functional collaboration is necessary. She said MasterCard’s new focus on innovation would flop if it were only top-down; it has to be grassroots to succeed. “Learning has to be about the culture, and it can’t only be driven or managed by the chief learning officer,” Burns said. “We’re building a culture of learning so it can happen anywhere, at any time.”

To foster creativity the company encourages employees to brainstorm ideas through innovation labs, peer-to-peer learning and reverse mentoring, and to bounce ideas off each other using MasterCard’s internal social learning platform. The brainstorming has yielded promising new ventures, such as contactless transactions at subway fare turnstiles, the ability to pay for items like cologne directly within ads in magazine apps and the launch of benefit cards for South Africans that identify recipients through fingerprints or voice recognition to minimize theft.

MasterCard is forging a new path within the risk-adverse financial services industry, said Daniel Latimore, senior vice president of the banking group at Celent, a Boston-based research and advisory firm. Trying to foster the necessary innovation without damaging the business can be a big challenge for financial services companies because most employees aren’t used to taking risks and have never been rewarded for doing so.

“Creating an environment where risk-taking is accepted and encouraged against this backdrop is extraordinarily difficult,” he said. “Leadership has to be seen to be rewarding employees who are trying new things.”

Product Management: It’s in the Blood

Burns and her team are also tailoring learning to specific employee segments, such as college new hires or veteran sales reps, by figuring out how they like to consume learning. The concept of learners as consumers grew out of Burns’ early history as a product manager, both at the former Chemical Bank in New York City and at her first position at MasterCard in the 1990s.

Her business acumen — particularly knowledge of MasterCard’s processes as she rose in the ranks within business units and then across the human resources lattice — landed her the CLO job, said Ron Garrow, MasterCard’s chief human resources officer. “She has watched the company evolve, and she understands the business very well. People who understand both sides of that equation can be very powerful HR leaders, as they understand all the levers to press.”

Burns said she still considers herself a product manager, and she expects those skills from her team when developing ideas for various employee “consumer” segments and then marketing to promote continued usage.

“This is a very different approach from that typically taken by other learning executives,” she said. “We always start with the business strategy, and we revisit it on an annual basis to see if our learning programs remain aligned with that strategy.”

For example, for time-constrained people managers, Burns and her team launched in July a pilot program, “Take 5 — Energize Your Mind.” The five-minute learning activity might be a video or a mini-case study that managers can access through daily email calendar invites. They can then chat with other managers about the topic within the social learning platform.

For the company’s various employee segments, talent development coaches reach out and remind employees to go on the social platform to check their guided learning journeys — a designated six-week period when employees engage in dialogue after reading posted items or videos. “We play the role of facilitators and motivators more than anything else,” Burns said.

MasterCard has been exemplary in using social media to get its employees to better understand its brand and to build opportunities, said Jeanne Meister, co-founder of Future Workplace and co-author of “The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today.”

The company has a Social Media 101 training program to teach employees “how to share in a safe, responsible and respectful manner as well as use social [media]to be become an ambassador for the firm globally,” Meister said. “Janice is a forward-thinking chief learning officer in using social collaboration in a holistic way to recruit, develop and engage employees.”

Connecting the Dots: Workforce, Learning and Business

While it builds products for businesses, transit authorities and governmental agencies, MasterCard is also shifting workforce priorities. For example, Burns and her team are tweaking the learning agenda to accommodate tech professionals from other industries, Garrow said. Also this year, the team launched a new onboarding video introducing new hires to the payments industry, MasterCard and its products.

The program is presented in a four-part challenge that incorporates videos and quizzes and mirrors a day in the life of MasterCard employees — who they may meet, environments they may encounter and questions they may be asked. This more organic way of presenting and then immediately testing understanding promotes comprehension for industry newcomers.

Burns and her team have launched other offerings in response to business demands. For instance, the team piloted The Art and Science of Business Modeling program for MasterCard’s global products and solutions organization in September 2013 to build project managers’ skills.

Burns said the course significantly improved product employees’ skills in value proposition development, hypothesis testing, prototyping new business models and communicating complex models. In January, the team expanded the launch to more than 500 product professionals and incorporated it into the full product management curriculum for next year.

Burns and her team are also crafting tools to better capture millennials’ attention, Garrow said. Some 38 percent of MasterCard’s current workforce are millennials compared with 10 percent four years ago. The demographic shift requires that learning programs be more entertaining to ensure they follow through with some of the more mundane aspects, such as compliance training.

For example, this year Burns launched an informal e-learning program that incorporates gaming and animation into information security compliance training. Employees act as “superheroes” to prevent security issues, such as not opening suspect emails that could contain malware and potentially get into MasterCard’s systems.

Within the animated interactive experience, employees become characters in the scenario, and they have to make critical decisions. If run-of-the-mill compliance training is more fun, millennials stand a greater chance of finishing the training, Burns said.

The superhero compliance training sits within the company’s learning management system, but Burns and her team push it out to all employees through emails to make it as easy as possible to access. Employees receive an email and click on a link to the LMS, or they can go to their learning transcript — selected courses that best fit their position and career development track — and take it later. They also can click directly into the email or access MasterCard’s intranet to get to the security compliance training.

Burns and her team are also exploring how to better measure the impact of the company’s social learning platform, Corp U, which is used to meet specific business needs. For example, in June Burns and her team offered Digital Marketing Academy on the platform to a select group of employees worldwide. The academy was a collaborative guided learning journey that explored emerging digital marketing trends and technologies, with specific discussion topics on website design, user experience, search engine optimization, online paid media, social media and digital measurement.

By the end of the program, participants were able to articulate the trends driving digital marketing tools and strategies; identify and describe the key elements of a complete and integrated digital marketing program; and evaluate key elements of a digital marketing plan’s strategy, design and execution. Burns and her team also measured participants’ engagement levels by tracking their involvement initiating responses to discussions, how often they accessed online content and completed individual assignments and the full six-week course.

Many of MasterCard’s employees also practice reverse mentoring within the company’s business resource groups. Burns introduced the strategy based on an experience during her stint as chief diversity officer from 2007 to 2010. The business resource group for young professionals came up with the idea of reverse mentoring, in which they collaborate on new concepts with the company’s corporate communications department. With Burns’ initial guidance, now the resource groups also host events such as informal lunch and learns, a speaker series and formal learning programs across the company’s global operations.

The Study of Behavior

Burns said there is a common thread to all of her various roles at MasterCard. Whether in her role as a product manager or as a learning leader, she loves to study behavior. She said studying why people do what they do better enables her to find ways to motivate them “to either buy a particular product or to learn.” With human behavior as an umbrella, HR and learning become a marriage of sorts between industrial psychology, analytics and high-impact learning.

Burns has spent most of her career at MasterCard. As her career path evolved, she not only picked up new business skills, but also she went back to school, earning a master’s degree in public administration at New York University in 1995, and then completing the advanced HR executive program at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Wesleyan University in 1986.

“I’ve been afforded opportunities I don’t think I would have had at other companies, particularly larger companies,” she said. “I’ve been able to build some great programs from the ground up in several different roles. It really feels like I’ve had many different career experiences over my 22 years.”

Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer

QA Test Strategies for Mobile Learning

Pity today’s mLearning developers. They already wear numerous hats just to do the essentials of their job. More hats than Don Draper. More hats than Pharrell Williams. More hats than TV shows on Netflix. Well, OK, that last one may be an exaggeration.

But the truth is that mLearning developers need to wear a lot of hats to do their jobs, and now they must wear a new hat, a QA engineer hat.

What is QA?

In some circles—particularly in the biopharmaceutical industry—quality assurance (QA) is defined as a verification of processes and quality control (QC) is a verification of products, which would make QA an inappropriate term for testing and verification of mLearning products.

However, in the software-development industry, QA engineers verify software products, and the software development world tracks very closely to the tasks and responsibilities for today’s mLearning developer. To ensure that their “product” works for their end-users, mLearning developers must QA test and validate their mLearning software applications.

While training professionals have always done “quality checks” of training courses through content reviews, dry runs, beta classes, and so on, the migration to eLearning and mLearning has increasingly changed this process to a software quality check. And the role that handles that task is now equivalent to that of a software QA engineer.

Why is this important?

The advent of eLearning pushed us into relatively simple QA testing because we needed to test for things such as multi-browser compatibility and proper behavior on a specific LMS. However, the landscape for today’s mLearning developer is much more complex, and testing needs to be much more thorough. Learners now have a plethora of hardware devices running many different operating systems and potential environments for mLearning applications, making it increasingly important to have a more formal QA testing and validation system.

How can an mLearning developer possibly hope to test and validate with all of the potential variables that will be used by their audience? The answer lies in an organized QA testing strategy, and that begins with an effective working knowledge of QA testing concepts.

The Quality Assurance Framework

Let’s start by examining categories of QA testing that will help to organize our test strategy. There are three commonly accepted categories that are focus areas for testing:

  • Functional testing: Tests that verify all technical functionality on all certified devices and platforms.
  • Non-functional testing: Tests for non-functional areas such as performance, security, and the user interface.
  • Acceptance testing: Tests and validation by subject-matter experts (SMEs) to determine whether the lesson meets content requirements for the target audience.

Functional Testing

Of the three categories of testing, functional testing is definitely the most crucial to ensure success for an mLearning lesson. The “old school” approach to functional testing was for the course developer to run through the course and ensure it behaved properly on their own workstation. This is clearly insufficient for mLearning development and you must include additional steps.

First, developers can no longer handle this task on their own. It may be reasonable to expect developers to test on one desktop environment, one tablet device, and one smartphone. However, if you need to validate on more devices than that, the best strategy is to establish a QA testing team, and you should establish that team before the development process begins, not just before the testing process begins.

In addition, a formal, written QA test plan should be moved up from a nice-to-have to a requirement. There are many excellent templates for QA test plans on the web, but if you want to avoid the formalities, you should at least include:

  • What features you are going to test
  • What platforms and devices you are going to validate

For example:

  • All clicks
  • All audio
  • All animations and transitions
  • All hyperlinks, including all branching pathways
  • All triggers, as applicable
  • All variables, as applicable
  • On current versions of Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari
  • On iPad 4 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.5
  • On iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy 5, and Windows Phone 8 or 8.1

You should also be aware of several other types of functional tests that you may need, depending on your content and audience. (And even if you never use these tests, it will help you as a professional to be familiar with what they are.)

  • Load testing: Performance testing that identifies areas in the application that may cause unacceptable wait times for learners. Sophisticated tools are available for this testing, but an online stopwatch can often do the trick.
  • Gorilla testing: Testing things that only a gorilla would do. For example, click the browser’s back and forward buttons to see what happens. Often requires a little creativity—but this can be a very fun exercise!
  • Regression testing: A repeatable test that you do after each new publishing. A good idea to do this at regular intervals during the development process.
  • Smoke testing: A high-level test to ensure nothing catches fire. OK, seriously, smoke testing is a set of tests that ensure that the most important functions work. If all of them work, the product is stable enough to proceed with further testing.

Non-functional Testing

For mLearning content, the most important non-functional test is readability. This is especially true on smartphone devices, where your goal should be to avoid the need for learners to have to use zoom-in gestures to view at least the core content. Optionally, you can add other non-functional tests such as user access, user security, conformance to marketing standards and product branding, etc.

But no matter what non-functional test you choose to include, make sure it gets added to the test plan!

Acceptance Testing

As with any type of training or learning content, it will help your SMEs if you define their responsibilities for reviewing and accepting your mLearning application. Unlike other types of training or learning content, it can be helpful to use a little creativity with the scope of the SME review.

For example, if you select your SMEs with consideration to the devices that they own and use, you can request or require that your SME test the content on more than one device, which could validate your application on additional devices.

Of course, it is important to note that the scope of an SME review is often much different than the scope you would use on functional testing validation. The typical scope for an SME review may include:

  • All written content
  • All narrated content
  • All assessments
  • All/any omissions

If you are going to validate your mLearning for a device based on an SME review, you should add at least a few key functional tests to their acceptance test requirements. And as with functional and non-functional tests, make sure to include the SME’s review tasks in your QA test plan.

Applying the QA testing framework

In addition to the aforementioned strategies, there are two other key areas that can make your QA testing tasks much easier.

First, the development tool that you select can dramatically impact the interface issues that you have to adjust to ensure that your content works properly on each device. Just about all development tools now have a checkbox for HTML5, but the capabilities are very different from tool to tool.

Before you start your project, test your tool on the devices that your learners will use. DO NOT simply select or use untested a tool that claims it outputs HTML5!

Next, the development process that you use can also have a big impact on your QA testing burden. For example, if you use the ADDIE development model with storyboarding reviews, you may have a mountain of surprises at the end of the development process when you finally put the lesson into mLearning mode.

As a result, you may wind up doing significant redesign at a point where you should be focusing on adding final content to the lesson.

On the other hand, a rapid prototyping development process such as Agile or SAM can help to identify design issues up front and can even foster creativity with other features that you may not have envisioned in the content outline or design spec phase. In addition, reviewers will be able to offer more meaningful suggestions for making your application a success.

Saved by a Disclaimer?

No matter how many devices you test and validate on, it is almost impossible to cover all possible device combinations. If nothing else, think about how many of your validated devices will be upgraded within 12 months of your mLearning go-live. (Answer = most?)

Whenever possible, create a disclaimer statement that is in the beginning of your mLearning content. For example:

“This content is designed for desktop and mobile devices. It is best viewed on Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Firefox browsers, iPad or Galaxy Tab tablets, and iPhone, Galaxy, or Windows smartphones.”

Even if a learner does not have one of those devices, they will appreciate the warning and will be more willing to accept minor issues as they navigate through the content.

Your New Hat

Congratulations! You’re now ready to wear your new hat.

The truth is that you have probably had this hat for quite a while but never thought about it as a QA hat. Perhaps it was simply a check-your-work hat or a be-meticulous hat. But now that you have a QA hat, it should help you in several areas:

  • You will be able to organize your lesson testing more effectively
  • You will have better assurance that you are testing your lesson in all key areas
  • You will have a new vocabulary that will help to convince people that you know your stuff
  • You may (with a little luck!) be able to gain resources to help you with the testing process

Wear it well, and prosper.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

A Health Care Benefits Evolution

Health care remains employees’ most valued benefit, but few give their health plans much thought except when they’re choosing one during annual enrollment. However, that is changing as employers make significant changes to their plans and employees dig deeper into their pockets to pay for them.

With the steady climb of health care costs and the increase in medical debt for employees, health benefits are critical to recruiting and retention and job satisfaction. More than half of employees recently surveyed by insurer Aflac Inc. said that they would likely take a job with lower pay but better benefits, and three-fourths believe that benefits are “extremely or very important” to job satisfaction.

And yet most employees seldom use their health benefits or understand why they value them, according to Tom Sondergeld, senior director of benefits and well-being at Walgreen Co.

“It’s amazing that something employees spend about 20 minutes a year thinking about is so highly valued,” he said. “There is a very interesting dynamic being created around health care benefits right now. People don’t leave because the benefits are bad, but they will come and stay if they are good.”

Health care benefits give employees a sense of financial and emotional security, Sondergeld said. So tampering with them is likely to trigger an outcry. Sondergeld would know. He helped lead the Deerfield, Illinois-based drugstore chain’s highly publicized move from traditional health benefit plans to a private exchange two years ago.

With 160,000 employees nationwide, Walgreen’s move to join Aon Hewitt’s private exchange was widely viewed as a major turning point in employer-provided health care. But not all of the publicity was positive.

“The press was going crazy saying that we were pushing employees out to Obamacare and people were bringing us newspapers saying, ‘Look what you’re doing to us,’ ” he said. “It was a huge fight, and we had to get out in front of it with HR and managers and really fight hard to gain the trust back.”

Evolution of Benefits

Health benefits are evolving rapidly as more employers adopt high-deductible health plans, scale back on plan choices, change coverage levels or drop coverage for part-time employees. And employees are being asked to pay a greater share of the costs and take more responsibility for their health care choices.

Many employers are easing workers into these changes in order to give them time to learn about new offerings and to ease the financial pinch that some employees will feel, said Julie Stone, a senior consultant with Towers Watson & Co.

“We’re seeing planning now in stages, so by the time employers get to 2018, they will have redesigned their plans,” she said. That is the year that the excise tax, also called the “Cadillac tax,” on costlier health plans takes effect and it’s a target date for employers who are making changes to avoid the penalty.

Much is being asked of employees these days, and that concerns Cheryl Larson, vice president of the Midwest Business Group on Health.

“What is the saturation point for the consumer?” Larson said. “This cost-shifting trend is going to backlash in terms of health outcomes, out-of-pocket costs and productivity. There’s a huge issue of people in high-deductible plans not going to get preventive care because they don’t know that it’s covered at 100 percent. Everyone is talking about consumerism, but the bigger story is helping people navigate the health care system and understanding their benefits.”

In fact, 80 percent of employees say that a well-communicated benefits plan would make them less likely to leave their jobs, according to the “2014 Aflac WorkForces Report,” compared with 44 percent in 2012.

The need for greater clarity around benefits led Glassdoor, the online career community website, to launch a benefits-comparison site in August that lets potential hires know exactly what kind of benefits and perks a company offers before taking the job. It also allows companies to tout their perks and benefits and respond to questions from users.

“Companies are now looking for new ways to highlight aspects of their culture, and benefits are one of the ways that highlight how an employer values its employees,” said Will Staney, head of global recruiting for Glassdoor. “Before employees couldn’t really see what a company offered, and employers didn’t have a way to communicate that on a granular level.”

The Sausalito, California-based company is known for its database of employee-written company reviews.

“Employers are figuring out that benefits and perks and the subtleties of working in a place are becoming really important in selling the full package of what a company offers,” he said. According to Aflac, 59 percent of employees are likely to accept a lower salary in exchange for better benefits, but Staney said most employees don’t find out what those benefits are until they’ve accepted the job, and recruiters normally don’t know what their competitors are offering.

“In the past, when employers talked about benefits, it was usually in the interview phase or employees found out about the benefits at orientation,” Staney said. “Knowing this stuff when going in to negotiate a compensation package can help both sides.”

The benefits comparison site is another tool that employers can use to better educate themselves about their benefits, Staney said. Users can click on a company profile and browse a checklist that includes health and wellness plans, financial and retirement benefits, work-life programs, vacation and time off, perks and discounts, and professional support programs. They also can read employee comments and see what benefits employees are talking about most. For example, at Hewlett-Packard Co., the health insurance, 401(k) plan and vacation and paid time off are the most talked about benefits.

Benefits and perks are especially important to younger workers, according to Staney. “I think millennials are pushing this transition toward transparency around benefits, beyond salary, bonuses and stock options,” he said. When employees’ children turn 26, “they drop off of their parents’ insurance and they’re on their own. They are coming out into a job market where you’re not getting great salary increases, so employers are getting more creative with benefits and perks to attract them. They really care about getting as much information as they can.”

While employee benefits are becoming more complex, employers and employees continue to see their value as a recruiting and retention tool.

“Employees value health benefits almost as much as pay,” said Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health. “That hasn’t changed. But whether or not employers will continue to offer health benefits for the foreseeable future is where it gets murky. There is a lack of confidence in their ability to control health care costs, and there’s only so much that they can do. The long-term question of the value proposition around benefits is going to take several years to prove out.”

He recommends that employers carefully examine the needs of their workforce and what kinds of benefits that they value most and plan their rewards strategy accordingly.

What Employees Want

For employees of Santa Barbara County in California, accident insurance and long-term-care insurance are the most-requested benefit plans, according to Andreas Pyper, the county’s benefits manager. Critical illness insurance also ranked high on employees’ wish lists, so the county introduced them this year.

During an open-enrollment meeting last year, Pyper said an employee told him that he was struggling to pay the bills for his son’s broken arm and his daughter’s treatment for a rare genetic disorder. His family used to be covered by an accident policy through his wife’s job but she no longer worked there, Pyper said.

“He said, ‘$1,800 for a broken arm may not sound like much, but given all the other expenses, it [accident insurance] was a lifesaver,” Pyper said. “So I did some research. It doesn’t cost anything, which means that we’re not spending any taxpayer money, and that’s important to us.”

Accident insurance covers a wide range of incidents and injuries; like other voluntary benefit plans, workers pay the full cost but at a lower rate than they could get on their own. However, costs for long-term-care insurance are extremely expensive, so it’s unlikely that the county will be offering that anytime soon, he said.

Offering employees the benefits they value is especially critical to recruiting and retention in the public sector, which must compete for talent with private employers who can offer more lucrative compensation packages, Pyper said.

But there is little doubt that for the vast majority of employers benefits are an important recruiting tool, and health care is the benefit that’s most important to employees.

“Employers have been offering health benefits for 70 years as a way to recruit and retain workers, and that hasn’t’ changed,” said Paul Fronstin, director of health and research at the Employee Benefits Research Institute. “Today we may be on the verge of change, but just about every employer offers health benefits. However, that doesn’t mean what they are offering hasn’t changed.”

And those changes will no doubt affect future workers who will face a different benefits landscape, said Towers Watson’s Stone.

“How will they approach the workforce in their lifetime?” she said. “There will be no pensions, and the value of their health care benefits will not be as high as those of older workers. Are they more likely to freelance, to work part-time? What will they value? And how will we attract and engage this next generation? And how does health care fit into that?”

The $50,000 a Year Retail Worker

Here at Talent Management, we often write about the invaluable importance of employee engagement. Engaged employees go above and beyond the call of duty and produce work that is exceptional compared to the work of employees simply looking to cash a paycheck.

Engagement is even more important, sources have often told me, when it comes to workers who commonly interact with customers — most notably retail, fast food or call center workers. If you make efforts to improve the work environment and create a culture to promote high levels of engagement — thus making frontline workers happier — that satisfaction will result in happier customers and increased sales.

For its part, The Container Store has discovered an innovative way to boost the engagement of its retail staff: Pay them more money. Amid the debate about the pros and cons of raising the federal minimum wage, The Container Store isn’t messing around — it pays its frontline retail staff nearly $50,000 annually.

A novel idea, I know. But that’s the strategy CEO and founder Kip Tindell is sticking with, as he outlined in this interview with The Wall Street Journal last week.

Why pay retail workers so much?

“One of our foundational principles is one equals three: one great person can easily do the business productivity of three good people,” Tindell told the Journal. “If you really believe that they can do three times the productivity then you can pay them 50 percent to 100 percent above industry average. The average salesperson makes $48,000 per year. [According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, median weekly earnings for retail sales people in 2013 was $598 or $31,096 per year.] We give big annual increases each year because we believe in keeping people mildly tickled about their rate of increase. We really and truly believe in paying according to contribution. So we want the 17th greatest contributor to get the 17th largest piece of the pie.”

This is certainly an interesting position — especially coming from a company that sits in the center of an incredibly volatile industry in retail. The company’s stock price, the Journal reports, dipped 25 percent this month after it lowered its sales forecast for the second time this year.

Talent managers love to talk about how engagement doesn’t necessarily equal more pay. Creating a positive work environment and providing employees with opportunities to learn and grow are other non-monetary forms of compensation that employees value. And to a point, I agree.

But ultimately money is a major engagement booster. People don’t work for fun (though some may find their work fun and enjoyable). They work because they have expenses and a life to provide for themselves and others. People want to feel valued for their work, and paying them is the ultimate sign of value.

Google employees enjoy fantastic perks and a work environment that appears exciting and full of energy. The company’s employees also work very long hours. And guess what: They’re compensated handsomely for that time and effort.

Now, this doesn’t mean all workers — retail or otherwise — should be blindly compensated like Google’s employees. But it is worth the reminder that money is still the ultimate way to show value when it comes to compensation.

Companies often talk about the importance of “investing in your people” when citing the significance of learning and development in organizations. Development is important, sure. But don’t overlook The Container Store’s strategy here. We live in an economy were frontline staff are paid the least, but then we rely on them to provide a lot of the value for customers.

If you want frontline workers to be more productive and if you want your customer-facing people to be more devoted to the company’s mission, give them a reason to be excited about their work. Pay them what they’re worth.

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