How To Run A 'Resources-First' Initiative In Digital Learning And Development
‘Resources-first’ describes the approach of tackling employee performance and capability issues with digital resources, addressing specific work challenges for distinct employee groups, accompanied by supplementary activities (which may include a face-to-face or educational element… or not).
The central premise of the ‘resources-first’ approach is that employees want easy-to-find, just-in-time support to overcome their real-life challenges, so they can both do their current jobs better and faster, as well as improve their prospects for the future. This is not achieved with ‘learning’ but with ‘access’ to what experienced employees know and do in their shared organization. The aim is to increase competence and confidence, and the goal is better ‘doing‘ for better results.
But before any resources are created, let’s take a step back to the beginning of when a performance or capability issue is recognized.
- The first step is to articulate the business priority that needs to be addressed. In other words: "What is the business aiming to achieve with your help?". This could be a huge strategic imperative, such as digital transformation. Or, it could be a more targeted objective for a specific area, i.e. to increase sales of product X.
- The next step is to recognize "who needs the help?": "Who exactly are the target audience responsible for delivering on the business priority?". Be specific in terms of their level, job function, and maturity in the organization, i.e. "new managers who have recently started in Comms". If you don’t know who your audience is, then you’re likely to be throwing content at the problem, rather than valuable resources.
- Next, validate the ‘assumptions’ you’ve made in the previous 2 steps with your stakeholder(s). Assumptions could be anything to do with the "Who?", "What?", and "How?" of your project.
- Finally, in the project scoping stage, agree your timelines for ‘go live’. This will be when your ‘resources-first’ initiative will be launched to the entire target group. The following stages will help you to gauge this.
Once you’ve scoped your project, you will need to find a team to help you deliver it. The key roles to get help with are:
- Product owner
This is the person who will lead the initiative through to ‘go-live’, keeping everybody else involved and on track. This could well be you.
- Subject Matter Experts/Knowledge champions
These are the internal experts who will provide answers, insights, and know-how for your resources. Work with them at every stage to inform accurate scoping, planning, and building.
- The team
Your helpers in scoping, validation, resource building, and testing—whatever needs to be done to successfully run the ‘experiments’ that will precede go-live. It’s not important to have the same people present throughout, it’s more important to have people with the right skills and insights for the right stage.
- Test group
These will be members of your target audience who will road-test your resources. They will use them in the context of their jobs and let you know how useful they are; how they can be made more useful; and what is missing/what comes next.
‘Resources-First’ And The Principles Of ‘Lean’
Resources can be built quickly to address specific performance and capability gaps, but to ensure that no time or effort is wasted in doing so small ‘experiments’ should be run in the lead up to ‘go-live’ based on the ‘Lean Methodology’. The core principles of Lean are to ‘maximize customer value while minimizing waste’.
The 3 stages of Lean are: Learn, Measure, Build (and repeat). In relation to ‘resources-first’, the stages incorporate these activities:
1. Learn About The Challenges Of Your Target Audience
Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience, and find out the answers to these 3 questions:
- What are they required to do and what do they need to know in order to do that?
- What questions do they have while they navigate their way?
- What guidance will they need in order to become competent and confident to do what is required?
Explore their challenges with representatives of your target group to find out what they really need help with. There are many ways you can do this from informal conversations to big group events, and you should choose the most appropriate approach in relation to the size of the priority and makeup of the group.
It’s absolutely essential that you engage your test group, which will be made up of members of your target audience, to inform your ‘Learn’ phase and to road-test your resources to ensure that you maximize customer value and minimize waste.
2. Build Resources
Resources should help your target audience to do what they want to do, better. They know their jobs and what they are aiming to achieve so, to appeal to them, you should be helping them with that.
If your business priority involves changing an element of their job, then the ‘will’ to want to do their job in the new altered way must be leveraged. This can be done as simply as an announcement or with a change to how performance is rewarded (monetarily or otherwise). The ‘resources-first’ approach will certainly help you to identify when you have an issue with ‘skill’ (capability) or ‘will’ —and if your target audience is not engaging with your resources, then more work needs to be done on the ‘will’ levers.
If your resources don’t help your target audience to do what they want to do better, then more time could be spent on wedding the outcomes of the desired activities or approach to the work itself. For example, if you want people managers to have quality conversations with their team, it’s important to wed your desired outcomes (quality conversations) to their desired outcomes (Better results? Less wasted time?). However, it is recommended that you identify ‘needs’ from within by recognizing what your target audience is trying to achieve and influencing the way they do that (which in this example, may or may not be quality conversations ).
There are 3 different types of resources: instruct, inform, and inspire. The format should be dictated by what it is meant to convey:
When there is one recognized (or efficient) way of doing (x), e.g. "here is how to do it here"
When there are many ways of achieving (x), e.g. "here are some things that generally work here"
When there are many ways of achieving (x), e.g. "here’s how I have done it and achieved good results here"
Building An Instruct Resource
The power of instruct resources is showing users what they need to do when there is one efficient way of doing it. The best way to do this is often with a screen-recording. Precede the screen-recording with ‘why this is important to me’ and follow up with tips for an application or what to do next:
Building An Inform Resource
The power of an inform topic is its applicability. Once they’ve experienced it, the user should have more tools to apply to their situation. As with instruct resources, proceed with ‘why this is important to me’ and follow up with tips for the application or what to do next:
Building An Inspire Resource
The power of inspire resources are the stories within them—nothing more and nothing less. A video is usually the best way to convey these stories. Again, precede your videos with ‘why this is important to me’ and follow up with tips for applying what was shared or what to do next:
3. Measure - Testing Your Resources Before ‘Go-Live’
The third stage in the Lean Cycle is Measure. This stage will involve asking your test group to road-test your resources. Ask them to actually use the resources, not to critique them, and then answer these questions:
- Did the target audience engage? Why did/didn’t they?
- Are your resources useful to your target audience in helping them to do what they want to do, better?
- How could they be more useful?
- What else do they need in order to do what they need to do?
Use whatever methods of communication it takes to reach and engage your test group. Do what you find works: ask them to comment on the resource; send them a survey; give them a call; get them all together. If you are helping them to do what they want to do then they are more likely to engage.
After acting on your learnings (from the Measure stage), plan your Go-Live.
Context is critical, so use appropriate communication channels that work for your company to run campaigns. Continue to Learn, Build, and Measure after Go-Live and engage your Communications and Marketing teams to help plan and execute awareness campaigns.
You can see that ‘resources-first’ is much more than just eLearning in bite-sized chunks or microlearning. Resources are targeted support and guidance to help workers overcome their actual work and career challenges, in the workflow, on-demand, and for the benefit of both the employee and the company.
Technology is the enabler, but only in answering age-old questions such as "how do I do this here?".
Of course, ‘resources-first’ doesn’t mean ‘resources-only’ and in the next article, we explore the role of face-to-face with this approach.