Micro Learning Fosters Employee Retention and Delivers Value

By Miguel Caraballo

One of the main focuses for brokers, carriers, and advisors alike is to make sure they’re providing the best services to their clients. Helping HR departments administer a benefits strategy is a wise move. The truth is, a benefits program is only one of several key HR priorities. Other HR functions include executing retention, performance and engagement programs. The right plan can help tackle all three concerns by improving the employee experience, which begins with onboarding and continues through development programs.

HR departments are desperate for solutions that foster learning. You probably see it in your own workplace. The lack of leadership programs, the need for a revamp of learning techniques and the scarcity of resources available to improve skill sets are common concerns. Now, consider your clients. They face the same challenges. To have an impact in this area as a broker you must understand HR’s needs in the learning arena and the advantages your advice and solutions can bring to the table.  Time is limited, so deliver solutions that impact the range of HR priorities, including learning and development.

Let’s examine this through the lens of the employee. You are an employee who is an eager learner in the prime of your career. An invitation arrives marketing the “premier learning event of the season”. Perfect! Here is an opportunity to really get ahead. On the day of the event you arrive at a large lecture hall.  In the front of the room is a stage followed by row after row of seating. You find a seat and settle in for what you expect will be a thrilling 90-minute presentation. Does this description align with your learning expectations? Stop for a moment and consider: when is the event occurring? This lecture could have taken place last week in any company or college across the globe or it could have taken place in the Roman Forum 2,000 years ago. How is it that the expectations around learning have changed so little after so much time? And here’s the better question. Does it still work? Can of worms – open.

Think about what it means to be an ancient Roman employee who needs to learn something. The pace of development is relatively slow, and the same farming, manufacturing or design technique can span a lifetime without changing. Now compare our Roman example to modern business processes where multiple systems-disrupting evolutions occur every decade.  And it is only getting faster.  In fact, the pace of information is moving so quickly that by the time you identify the learning need, align resources to build the training, and implement the solution, the need may have changed.  When considering today’s reality, does a 90-minute lecture really sound like a reasonable solution?  Moreover, what impact does this perpetual churn and pace have on employees?

The Roman example may seem a bit extreme, but it’s necessary to show a clear difference. Times are changing, time is of the essence, and time is money! HR departments need more time to:

  1. Focus on other initiatives including employee learning
  2. Keep up with the trends to communicate, educate, and engage their employees and
  3. Make sure the content and learning options support rather than interfere with their job responsibilities.

This is not a call to eliminate traditional classroom training, but classroom learning events can no longer be the default learning option for companies. Forget 90 minutes, when was the last time you watched a 45-minute presentation?  According to Chris Anderson (TED.com), the sweet spot is 18 minutes. But even this is too long. Because the key to corporate training in the 21st century is “performance support”. It is providing learning resources to your employees at the moment of need. Companies like Hodges-Mace have taken the concept of a learning management system and reimagined its function to one of accessing in-the-moment targeted job skills training and delivering those resources on the micro level.  Our average time per knowledge topic is 4 minutes. We call our system SmartPath, but any company can deploy a similar learning strategy.

Think of the concept like filling a bucket with a cup. One cup may not seem like much but as the employee learns and applies new skills, the bucket fills and he or she gains two valuable take-aways. First, is a strong foundation of the concept. The cup analogy works another way if you think about it from the learner’s perspective. You may be able to consume a bucket of water; however, it is easiest in small portions. Try to drink the entire bucket at once and the likelihood of waste is higher. Second, the system becomes a performance support resource in the event your employee forgets something or needs remediation. Consider the forgetting curve. Discovered in 1885 by Hermann Ebbinghaus, the forgetting curve tells us that humans forget between 60-70% of anything learned within 24 hours unless reinforced. This idea is more than chunking existing content into 4-minute modules.  The best examples align learning activities to real world work all executed through a structured development plan.

What did engagement look like for our Roman employee?  Each day was a struggle to survive in a world where a small cut could end your life. “Marco, you survived – che grande!” Today, the bar is much higher. According to the Gallup group much of employee engagement is rooted in performance, development, and support. Now consider our approach again. Just in time micro-modules focused on performance helping the learner gain confidence and master his or her role.  Learners access tools at the moment of need and are aided by a manager executing a structured development plan tailored to the role and the employee’s specific strengths or gaps. Knowing and focusing employees around development sounds like a no-brainer but the best efforts take time and attention. At Hodges-Mace the formula is clear: engagement and performance are driven through development and support. So how do HR departments create the time to get it done?

Apply the concept of performance support as you communicate with your clients or within your own organization.  Begin by having a conversation with HR about how they are training new and existing employees.  Today’s HR departments have a variety of tools available from learning management systems to apps that deliver guided walk-throughs, but the best place to start is a focus on intention. Deliberate planning and execution are keys to building learning and development programs that attract and retain top talent – HR’s primary challenge today. At the end of the day you are creating a stimulating work environment where employees feel valued and supported.  What better way for you as a broker to deliver value then by helping HR achieve their organizational goals? And that is “fantastico”!

Miguel Caraballo is director of learning and development for Hodges-Mace.  In this role he develops and delivers performance-oriented training programs focusing on supporting the learner’s moment of need to drive business success. Key areas include strategic planning, associate development and engagement, and vendor management. Contact Miguel via email or LinkedIn.