High Performance Learning Journeys with Emma Stenman

Written by Robin Hoyle

Key points summary

Emma explains how an old manager helped her approach the existing training initiatives by asking different questions and how they discovered the barriers they needed to overcome.

The discussion turns to the process for uncovering an organisation’s training needs by having an initial conversation with the stakeholders, so they’re able to start the process with the end in mind.

Emma explains how training can’t fix everything, but how it can highlight issues that need to be addressed. She goes on to explain how working with clients over an extended period helps, as you discover more ways to help over time.

Emma discusses how the transfer of new skills can’t hang on just one person or manager but needs to be supported from many different perspectives. She goes on to explain why it’s important to utilise champions and share the good examples.

The discussion moves on to how managers are prepared for the training initiative and why this is important, including how managers are given guidance throughout the programme.

Stenman covers three things an organisation can do to begin the process of changing behaviour, including taking small steps toward change and using tools and resources to support you with the process.

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Conversation transcript

Robin Hoyle: Today, I'm joined by Emma Stenman from Promote International. Promote International are an organisation which help organisations develop and deliver learning journeys. Included within that, they have a platform which develops opportunities for people to collaborate with each other. And Emma's involved in the learning design side of the business. 

Emma, just tell me a little bit more about how you came to be involved in the learning design side of the business, because your trajectory to being in your current role is perhaps not similar to many other people's.

Emma Stenman: Thank you, Robin, for having me. It's a pleasure to be here. I have a background within nursing, as a nurse in the acute care hospital setting in one of the biggest hospitals here in Sweden. Fairly early, I started working with training initiatives and then starting within my scope of profession.

In the last seven years, I've transitioned more and more into working full time as an educational leader, implementing training initiatives for multiple professions within our hospitals.

Just to give a background to what that entails, it's working with diverse perspectives from education, training – not only from the professional side of things, but we also have students. So, a lot of work, integrated learning, overseen by the university, but mainly focused on coworkers and the training that they need.

Robin Hoyle: And your focus, around patient safety, and the work with people around, “How do we do no harm?”, which is kind of the big thing that you say about people working within medical environments as well. But I also know you were slightly frustrated by how you could impact behaviour within those healthcare settings with those colleagues with whom you were working.

What was the nature of that frustration that you had? Why wasn't it doing everything that you wanted it to do?

Emma Stenman: I think all of our initiatives, they still are very event-based. One of the things that I focused a lot on was simulation. We took a team in, we trained a simulation, a very specific setting and all of that was very good because we target the individuals and we target the team and we talked about leadership and everything – all the hard skills as well involved in that.

I always felt that I was lacking that thing that would help me support them in doing it on the job and knowing that what we were doing was actually making a difference when they came out doing it on the job. Were they using what we have learned? Did it work? Did they apply it? All of that was kind of a grey area to me that I didn't really know and I didn't have the tools to do it.

Robin Hoyle: I think your experience is similar for many people in many organisations completely outside of the healthcare setting, which we try to do things with people. We talk about current best practice or good practice, we talk about new procedures, we talk about regulation, we talk about ways in which people can work better together, and then we kind of just leave them to get on with it and hope that what we've said changes what they do.

How did you start to think, well, we could do this differently? What were the sorts of ideas that you had around taking that learning process into the point at which people were doing the job that they needed to do?

Emma Stenman: I would most credit my old manager, Anna, who kind of came in from the power industry. So, she came from Scania with the different mindset approaching learning and started to ask these difficult questions. How do you know that it worked? Really looking at the application bit and how can we work with that?

She started adding everything that I already felt I was missing, and she started to ask the questions and we started to work on this, but still we had so many barriers lined up. There is no time, and there is three shifts, and there is a lot of other areas that needs to be managed. 

And then, all of a sudden, I saw an ad speaking the language of everything that I wanted to do, saying it's possible. These guys are doing it, and I found Promote and High Performance Learning Journeys. So, I kind of found that piece, or there's several pieces in it, but the missing link to how we can support, what we need to do and have the tools to actually guide and support and talk in a way that makes it important.

Robin Hoyle: You're now advising your clients of Promote International around how they can best harness these approaches to create the high-performance learning journeys that you've talked about, which people who've listened to the podcast before will know, Robert Brinkerhoff is involved in that work, and really is a kind of core area of the focus that we've been looking at within this podcast series, which is how do we actually make it go beyond the day or few hours in a classroom or the opportunities to do the activity with a facilitator in a safe space? How do we make that really have an impact?

What is the role that you now play with those clients? How do you help them? What's the work involved in helping them to adopt the learning journey methodologies? What do they need to do to help you to help them, if you see what I mean? How does that work?

Emma Stenman: One of the first things that happens when the client reaches out as a number one, we have already scored there, because they are reaching out. They are asking for help to drive performance. They understand that they need something more. What they've tried doesn't work, so we already knocked in a couple of doors already there.

First of all, we need to really understand how we can help them, because there are so many, many ways to target depending on what kind of issue we do have. Always starting with the end in mind, understanding where do they want to go, what problem is it that they are having and how should we address it?

That might differ depending on the methodology. Is the High-Performance Learning Journey methodology something that they know? Otherwise, we might need to first secure that within their L&D or within their organisations to kind of help them get all the tools, and then we can take them from there in using them. If they already have the platform, it might be that they need just to start building. They need to design and do their programmes and then we help them do that.

Maybe they have a programme, but they haven't really had those initial stakeholder conversations to really target “Why is this important and what do we need to do differently?” Then we maybe do a PPP. We have a programme performance path, so a PPP workshop where we step by step, break it down to concretely, find these results, these behaviours, and then we look at the learning outcomes, like, what do we need to give the learner to be able to do that.

Robin Hoyle: One of the things that I notice when I speak with clients is that, quite frankly, training is not actually what they require. Sometimes it's part of the solution, it's rarely all of the solution. What are the things when you're doing that programme performance path? Presumably, there are opportunities there where you say, “Well, if you want to achieve here, this thing that you've said that's really important to you, some of this is about skills, some of it isn't.”

Some of it is about the way work is organised or the way teams are structured, or it's about the way that the manager sets the goals or the objectives for the particular period in which you're working.

So, how do you address all of those things? Is it just that we've got a workshop with all the interested parties involved so it's easy to resolve it on the day? Or does it require more in-depth work in some areas sometimes?

Emma Stenman: I wish I had the silver bullet. I wish that we could always solve this in one single sitting or in one conversation. Usually we have these initial conversations, it's not one, it’s several. It's not with one stakeholder, it's with several. It's also with the ones affected by the programme – the ones that we're actually going to take through. What does your work look like to find all of those things that you're talking about? What kind of culture do we have? What kind of potential barriers might be there as consultants or L&D?

We can't fix everything, we can't solve all the culture issues that are there, but we can kind of highlight them, put them on the table and value as a kind of grade, like, “How are we working with this?” and find strategies with the ones that we know. And this is why it's also fantastic to work over a period time with a client, because some things you will discover along the way, some things you don't know until you are halfway through.

Hopefully, if you've done a good job, you have kind of built a little bit of rapport, you have gotten some confidence and some trust in that we are actually achieving some results, because we start to see that things are moving, something is happening. We are tracking these changes, so they know something is going on. We are not trying to say that it's not going to be hard work working with behavioural changes. It's not easy. We all know that we shouldn't eat sweets. We do. There's a lot of things that we do, even though we know that there's a better and smarter way.

So, talking to a lot of people, trying to get everyone – or as many as possible – in line with why it's important, because if I don't understand the why, what's in it for me, what's in it for my organisation, we're not going to move anywhere. That is a crucial bit, but then also, be transparent about what we can affect with training and what we can't. Some things the organisation needs to deal with, but we can help by supporting with everything that needs to be supported. If it's unclarity, we can support with communication. If it's that we need more manager involvement, we can support by training the manager, supporting the manager, so they know what they are supposed to do. Make it as easy as possible.

Robin Hoyle: And I guess that kind of setting of the expectation, particularly around managers, because we know that they play a great role within the success or otherwise of a particular intervention. So, if we design a programme where the manager gives it no credence, doesn't support it, doesn't make time and space, doesn't create opportunities for people to practise new skills or to apply new skills or to change the ways that they're working, then we know that we're kind of struggling.

It doesn't matter how good what we've done up to that point is, it hits that barrier of indifference, if you like and we get no real traction. What is it that you do in that what we would call workplace transfer phase? When you're designing or helping people to design the high performance learning journey, what are the kind of activities that you're asking people to do which highlight some of those issues where maybe there's other things that we need to do to make things work, but also get that traction because you're able to show, look, this is happening. This is moving. We've created that momentum that you mentioned earlier for the change. What are the sorts of things that you're asking people to do within that phase?

So, we're not talking about classroom sessions, we're not talking about consuming learning resources or learning materials. We're talking about going and doing something not as a wish list, not as an extra, but as an actual integrated component of the learning journey that you're talking about. What do those bits look like?

Emma Stenman: I'm going to try to see if I'm understanding you correctly. But one of the things that we always try to really put a light on in every learning journey is relations. We can't have everything hanging on one individual or hanging on one manager. We need to get that support system in place from many different perspectives. The facilitator has one part being there, supporting, answering questions, helping the learner when they are starting to use their knowledge and skills on the job. But I'm not on the job, I'm not there when they need me to be, usually. But their peer might be, or their mentor might be, or they have an SME (subject matter expert) that they can reach out their hand.

We help them – guide them to use their own organisation to know who to ask and to ask. Very often they are afraid of looking dumb or not being as proficient as they should be, but that's not going to help them. We kind of try to lower the threshold of “try it”. 
There should be no blame in failing, because failing, you learn, you will do better next time. Try to get everyone on board that we want to succeed together and that you are not alone. There's very little work you can do in Silo and be successful for everyone and for yourself.

I think trying to really target situations where we kind of guide them into talking to a peer, guide them into peer groups, where they have lab group discussions, working on a task directly correlating with what they are doing on the job. Have a mentor, on top of the coach, different perspectives, different venues of ventilating, asking. And then of course, since we use our platform, after reporting back and like sharing good practice, get that sharing good practice.

Get your champions, the ones that have really done and tried. Show the good examples, show that it has been done, that someone has tried and succeeded. Put the guiding star, where we are heading, and that someone has actually tried before me, and it can be done.

Robin Hoyle: And I guess one of the things, I mean, you talked there about this idea about asking questions and feeling anxious about that. The old phrase isn't that “there's no stupid questions, apart from the one that you don’t ask”. But the reality is in practise, people do feel nervous about showing that they don't know something that perhaps they ought to know or taking somebody's time who's very busy and they don't want to feel like they're intruding on their workflow, et cetera. I kind of get that.

To what extent do you encourage those managers to be proactive in seeking the question? To what extent do you engage with coaches, mentors, line managers and others to say well actually, don't wait for your people to come to you, go to them and here's your job. Because I think that feels to me like something that makes a big difference.

Emma Stenman: Yeah. As always, when we work with these bigger programmes that really like we know that we have heavy behavioural change that we are doing. We always spend a lot of time “pre” with the managers. We quite often have a pre-kickoff, before the kickoff for the participants.

In the pre-kickoff with the managers, we’re actually really explaining – showing them the programme performance path, talking about what this person is going to go through, what we are we looking for, and what is the result? And the result should be very interesting for the manager because it should actually affect their own business targets. Why is it important, why are we doing this and what do we need from you? Also, be as targeted and as clear with the manager, not wasting their time, but really guiding them into different parts of the programme where their participation is more critical.

And in the platform as well, we have sections targeted for the coach. Say that you're going to have a coach conversation. You are a participant and you're going to have your meeting with your coach in the next week. Then the coach will have a guided section in the platform explaining, “Okay, so your participant has been doing this for the last couple of weeks, so they should have been doing this and this and that.”

Then, we might guide them with a couple of questions. We help them – nudge them – to make it easy. That's one of the things I think we try to really focus on.

Robin Hoyle: I think it's really important and I think that idea of saying to the managers that they are not being reactive. They're not saying, “Oh well, nobody came to ask me.” Well, maybe go and find them and ask them, “Need any help?” That approach is really important. In a way, one of the things that you talked about was this idea of the programme performance path delivering change which will impact the organisation, this idea of differentiating between performance metrics and learning metrics.

I still see lots and lots of L&D teams where they go and speak to line managers or functional heads or even the board and talk about how many people watched the video, or how many people turned up at an event, or how many people downloaded a particular infographic. And I'm thinking, “Well, if I were a senior person within the organisation – if I were a line manager – do I care, really, how many people watch something? I want to care about what they did as a result of the input. I'm not interested in how popular it was.

Do you find that organisations are ready for that?

Emma Stenman: Depends. I would say that there's a lot of barriers in the way for people to even get there, in thought. You want to have that delivered because otherwise you wouldn't be doing training initiatives in the first place, I think, because you kind of want to contribute to something better, but to really take that step to secure that you get the performance focus and something that actually happens on the job, I think that there are still a few steps to go.

But I've seen, just like after the pandemic, that something has happened within many organisations – that they are starting to talk in a different way, which is super exciting.

Robin Hoyle: I think that's right. And we've certainly noticed it in terms of the way that people interact with each other. There's much more consciousness about how they are interacting, because in the past, when we were all in one building or we're all in the same location and people would turn up for meetings, that became almost an intrusion into when you're trying to get your work done. The fact that you've got to physically go to this place and have a conversation with someone. Now people have to be more thoughtful about, well, who am I going to talk to and why am I going to talk to them? And what's the outcome of this? Because we recognise that we've got much more clarity about how and when we communicate with people.

Emma, just in terms of the kind of advice that you would give other people, I think what you've said has been really insightful for people who are starting that process of thinking about how do we actually make progress beyond the kind of learning intervention, beyond the course or the event or the E-learning module or whatever it is. What's the kind of advice that you give people who are in the position, maybe like you were when you were working within healthcare, to say, how do I actually shift the dial in terms of what people do differently in the workplace? What sort of advice and guidance would you give to say, look, here's two or three things that doesn't matter what the barriers are that you're facing, but you can start to address them if you do these two or three things. What are those things that you would say to people? “Just try this and see what happens.”

Emma Stenman: If I would say three. I would say be gentle and do small steps but start with these stakeholder conversations to really target the most important programmes where you really need to do the shift and start having these conversations. Why is it important? What results? Because when you start to actually ask the questions of the results, some organisations haven't even really thought about the results. They just say that we need this training. And when you ask, “Why do you need this training?” They can't really always answer. They just know that they need the training. And to try to crystallise why this is important for this company. We're actually spending time and resources on important things, so that would be one.

And then using a tool like the Programme Performance Path to guide you in those conversations, I think can be very good, because it's not easy. It's not easy to break this down into something concrete. Talking about behaviours – what actual situations on the job have the most leverage to create results, because we know a lot of stuff that we do on the job, but which ones are the most critical ones? Because if we can find those ones and you try on a pilot or a smaller programme, then you will get results. You can show that it actually works to build rapport, to build trust and to continue to work on that and learn from that, because every organisation is a little bit different, and we need to kind of adjust to that. That’s another thing I would say.

And then, you need your managers involved. I would say that that is a crucial, crucial thing, because you need that kind of follow up. You need that interest. They need to be curious; they need to ask the person that's doing the training. They need to feel that someone is looking, that someone is interested, that they’re actually going to use it. I think that's very important. Supporting your managers on that journey to make it easy for them.

Robin Hoyle: I think we spend an awful lot of money and time and effort and resource and thinking time around how are we going to train people to coach? How are we going to help them support their learners, when in actual fact, the first thing that we need them to do is just to say, “How's it going?” And to actually start that conversation, “You've been on a course, how's that working for you? What are you doing differently? Tell me about it, give me some information about how that's affected what you do.”

Until people are in that mindset of, actually, I've got a role to play here, the tips, tricks, techniques, strategies for coaching, for supporting behaviour change for all the rest of it are a little bit premature until people think, this is actually my job. This is part of my role; this is why I'm here. I think that's really interesting.

Emma, that has been a really interesting conversation. Thank you ever so much for joining me on the Workplace Learning Matters podcast. I'm sure there's a lot that people will get from that. So thank you again, thank you for your time, and thank you for sharing your experiences with the rest of the audience for the Workplace Learning Matters podcast. Cheers.

Emma Stenman: Oh, thank you, Robin. Thank you for having me.

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