“This is my web home. If you were in my real home, I’d ask you to sit down, relax, and I’d offer you a cold drink. Until then, all I can offer you is this humble web space.”
This is the greeting waiting for you when you first enter Brandon’s website. Just as his warm opener suggests, he agreed to an interview for Training Station. Don’t miss the awesome insights Brandon has to share!
Brandon Carson is an award winning, innovative, and highly focused leader with a progressive track record of learning strategy and execution. He is the author of the upcoming book from ATD Press, “Learning In The Age of Immediacy: Five Factors for How We Connect, Communicate, and Get Work Done.” Brandon is a Director of Learning at The Home Depot, the world’s #1 home improvement retailer. He resides in Atlanta, GA.
Jason Silver: Where do you think the field of employee training is headed? Which innovative trends do you recognize nowadays?
Brandon Carson: Historically, training organizations have been order takers, waiting for the business to request new training. However, we are in the midst of a wholesale transformation in how business is conducted; a change driven by emerging technology, consumer desire for better and more personalized choices, and the effects of globalization.
Many of us in learning are recognizing that we need to move from being a reactive shared service to a proactive organization focused on driving performance, and becoming a connector in the overall value chain. Every employee must be able to relate their tasks to the overall business goals, know how to create and foster an environment of trust, and know what their overall contribution means to the bottom line.
The capability a modern Learning organization brings and its ability to affect these behaviors is being recognized and required by more business executives. For example, one of this year’s key imperatives for the CEO of Yum Brands is talent development, and Learning has a seat at the table helping to devise the overall TM strategy.
To tactically execute, the training organization needs to develop new skills, embrace new technology, and uncover new approaches to ensure the business has a workforce that can deliver on its imperatives. In my upcoming book for ATD Press, “Learning in the Age of Immediacy: Five Factors for How We Connect, Communicate, and Get Work Done,” I discuss what I think are key focus areas for Learning organizations to be future-proofed and properly support the business and workforce of tomorrow.
Jason: What are the biggest mistakes training managers still make nowadays?
Brandon: Training managers need the courage to push back on the business. Rarely does the business have a thoughtful and accurate perspective on what really drives performance and behavior change — and usually that’s not their domain — that’s why there’s a Learning organization at the company. But we must take the lead in driving the right experiences that really provide value with measurable results as the foundation driving the solution choice.
It’s imperative that learning people at every level feel comfortable challenging each request for new training. The Learning team must have a deep understanding of the business needs and the end user’s context.
Another miss for many training managers is the lack of a practical and operationally sound content strategy. A useful content strategy should be grounded in determining a way to solve for the performance challenges based on where your team is now.
The most effective learning content strategies rely less on technology and more on the vocabulary of your end users. Speak their language first, and then let the other pieces fall into place.
Jason: One of the biggest challenges training managers face nowadays is getting two very different generations on board and providing them with the best training program. How do you overcome the generational gap between Millennial employees and Baby-Boomers?
Brandon: I’m not a big adherent to the concept of “generational differences.” As far as I’m concerned, the human brain hasn’t changed how it learns just because a new technological device has been brought to market. So when I hear “overcome the gap between…,” all I really hear is anecdotal musings designed to segment humans into categories that make it easier for training folks to do our jobs.
The fact is, it’s a very complex job to design a learning experience for adult humans, moving them from one level of capability to another.
Whenever I hear about “the death of instructional design” because of automation or easily available information, I get frustrated. Successful transfer of information that leads to new capability is a herculean feat that requires a scientific mashup of context, data, information, engagement, motivation, and emotional uplift.
That requires advanced skills, and as business becomes more complex, we will need more instructional designers. But let us all understand that part of our job is to filter through the hype – a brain that’s aged 30 versus a brain that’s aged 60 is not that different.
Stop segmenting humans into groups with the thought that you need to construct a different learning strategy based on their age. It’s fake news.
Jason: What are the top qualities a great training manager should have?
Brandon: First, leadership.
We are in a transformational age for what it means to be in training, and we need leaders that respect, inspire, develop, and celebrate people. Coaching and mentoring folks get them to the next level is a must. The ability to transparently recognize where your team’s skill levels are now and where they need to be is critical.
Second is digital literacy.
The complexity in our business is not the technology or the tools; it lies in our ability to focus on the right things for the business and our audiences, and to gather the data that provides evidence of that value. Learning leaders need to stop trying to derive an ROI from their efforts, and instead look at what I call ROLE: a return on learning effectiveness.
Prove to the business that you are in fact moving the performance needle forward. Do this with the data from your learning interventions that tell you yes or no. This matters more than anything today. A Learning organization for almost any size of enterprise should have learning analytics expertise.
Jason: If you could give one advice to your younger self on your first day managing employees, what would it be?
Brandon: Don’t walk into the room thinking you know all the answers. Learn to listen, lean in, and be present when collaborating and communicating.
Jason: Describe your professional philosophy in 5 words.
Brandon: I can do it in three: “Innovative, yet actionable” describes my basic philosophy to what we do in training.
Throughout my career I have focused on designing learning interventions that engage participants across multiple dimensions — intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, and at times physically because I believe that crafting an authentic learning experience that is relevant, contextual, and meaningful will lead to higher retention and, hopefully, improved performance.