Episode 20

EmpowerED - A Bottom-Up Approach to Employee Development

Eva Manole shares her use of a product led mindset for developing new strategies for learning and development. She dives into how traditional models are not always agile or adaptive especially with the rise of AI, remote and hybrid work environments.

With a deep passion for scaffolding the development of others alongside her expertise in leadership development she has transformed the learning and development of the Fullscript team by transitioning from a traditional top down approach to using a bottom up approach.

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Don't treat employees like consumers of learning. Make it such that they are active participants in their growth journey, and then reward each milestone in that individual's path, just like a well-crafted video game, but for the real world. Give that positive reinforcement.

In this episode

Eva shares her use of a product led mindset for developing new strategies for learning and development at Fullscript with about 800 employees. She dives into new strategy she used to build community among teams in her current role. She shares the tools, resources, and approach used in developing opportunities that helped individuals blossom in their own way.

Time Stamps

7:37 Defining product led growth

8:49 Crafting the right systems

14:15 Traditional methods

19:17 Importance of alignment

24:52 Talent reviews and learning goals

26:49 Rewarding milestones

30:24 Employee mentorship programs

35:34 Employee workshops for skill development

42:52 Creating learning communities

46:11 Unlearning and adapting

47:25 Learning lessons on crafting the right system

50:38 Driving an understanding of self as a leader

Eva Manole

Organizational Development Director

Guest Bio

Eva Manole brings a dynamic yet balanced approach to both coaching and organizational development initiatives. Eva has experience across a variety of industries including SaaS, technology, professional services, retail, non-profit, mining, PR, personal development, health/wellness, consulting and advertising. With an emphasis on helping her clients move through discomfort and organizations function optimally, Eva employs a number of tools to complement her coaching style.

Eva has experience in a multitude of skills-based development areas such as emotional intelligence, communication, work performance, growth and development. Her aim is to leave organizations and clients feeling self-aware, self-sufficient and purpose-driven.


Eva (00:00):

I realized that what had worked before might not be the best approach for the dynamic landscape of a tech driven company growing really exponentially overnight. So I got on this journey of unlearning. I had to let go of some of these deeply ingrained beliefs methodologies, and instead I started learning about product-led approaches because that's exactly what we were doing at Fullscript.

Fahd (00:37):

Hello and welcome to the Unicorn Leadership Podcast. My name is Fahd Alhattab and I am your host. And this podcast is where we interview leaders on their journey of building high performing team, on building high performing cultures, on scaling startups. And our goal is to bring you the insights, the tools, the stories to help you not make the same mistakes that they have or learn through those trials and tribulations that you're currently also going through. This podcast is brought to you by Unicorn Labs, where we transform managers into leaders that create high performing teams that scale. And you can check more of it out on unicorn labs.ca. And in episode 20, Eva Manole shares her use of a product-led approach for developing new strategies for learning and development at fullscript with over 800 employees. And we love learning and development. I mean, it's the core of what Unicorn Labs does, and we obsess about leadership development programs, team development programs.

And Eva had some really interesting insights about what we create for this bottom up approach. But this also this product led approach. She dives into how traditional methods of learning and development are not always agile or adaptive enough, especially with the rise of ai, remote hybrid work environments. What's really interesting is that it really got me thinking about a quote that I've come across. Let me read it here for you. It's Alvin Toffler. It says, the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. And Eva takes us through her journey of having to unlearn some core elements of her training as an organizational psychologist, as an executive coach, what she had to unlearn about learning and development and where she had to change her approach and her framework of thinking about learning within organizations.

See, learning within organizations is a top priority as organizations continue to grow. So as you scale, it's absolutely necessary for innovation for your team to be at the edges of the technology that they are building and learning more about the new tools, the new systems that is going to allow them actually build for this next decade. And this takes me to one of the other quotes that I pulled up here specifically for this intro. It's a quote that I've heard a few times, and it looks like it's attributed to a few different authors, but in this case, Jo Chi Ito is the name, and it says that education is what people do to you, but learning is what you do to yourself. And this was the core insight that Eva gets  to in our episode, is that she had to create enough accountability around learning for the individual that it no longer was education that the company was doing to the employee, but that the individual employee themselves was doing for themselves, for their career, for their own growth. So Eva's going to dive into a new strategy that she used to build this community among teams for learning. And we're going to share some tools, some resources and approach in developing opportunities to help these individuals blossom. Let's hear another quote here from Eva.

Eva (04:04):

Don't treat employees like consumers of learning. Make it such that they are active participants in their growth journey, and then reward each milestone in that individual's path, just like a well-crafted video game, but for the real world, right? Give that positive reinforcement.

Fahd (04:24):

I absolutely love that idea of just like a video game that you're creating. One of the philosophy that we hold in our learning process at Unicorn Labs is that emotional engagement precedes logical agreement, which means that I have to emotionally actually want and engage and have fun either through the storytelling or the engagement to play with the idea before I can simply just logically agree to the concepts that are being taught. And so we need to make learning fun. We need to make learning engaging. We need to get people actually playing with the ideas and not just consuming the ideas. And one of the additional pieces here that Eva gets into that I really like and we share in our learning process is that learning happens through co-created models. And what I mean by that is that it's not simply me providing you a model of what makes high performing teams, but it's actually your team sort of digging into some of that research and creating their own model that is adapted to some of the existing ones.

And so you create these co-creative models, you actually create your own video game, you create your own learning path, and in creating it, then it sticks a little bit deeper and it becomes your own language. And no longer that was language that was given to you, but language that you came to your self. So without further ado, let's take us to this episode with Eva. If you enjoy it and if you like it, find us on any of our social media review, our podcast, let us know what you like. Let us know if you have any additional questions. Let's get started in interview. Eva. Eva, welcome to our Unicorn Leaders podcast. I'm super excited to have you on our episode. We've been trying to record for a little bit of time now, and we had a record. I'm going to totally tease you. We had a recording and then you had a birthday party

Eva (06:26):

Was the day after my birthday, and I had to be real with you. I was like, I want to deliver good content here.

Fahd (06:34):

I honestly loved it. I laughed and I totally told my team. I was like, I appreciate how real that was. It wasn't like a, oh, I can't make it. Something came up. It was like, no, I had a great birthday yesterday. And you probably can tell what that means. Eva, we've had a bit of some time together working together a little bit with the company that you're currently at. You're currently at Fullscript, and I'm really excited for you to share your whole journey in learning and development and sort of the insights, because today's episode is really about this concept that you came up with, so I'm using your words here, but it's using a product led mindset for learning and development. And I really liked it because we talk a lot about product led growth, product led customer service. It's become part of us, especially our product companies and our SaaS companies. And I want to sort of unpack what that means. So I'm going to give you space right now. When you say that product led mindset for learning and development, what does that mean? What are some of the insights, key insights? We always start with this big question and give people some of the nuggets right away.

Eva (07:37):

Yeah, absolutely. So let's define it as a whole. So product led growth is a strategy that increases revenue right through the use of a product rather than advertising or marketing. And us in l and d, we know a lot about internal marketing, internal communications, and taking a product-led approach to learning and development is a game changer. Instead of creating content that needs to be consumed, how do you build the right platform, scaffold individuals and communities to really blossom on their own accord and along the way, gather a lot of feedback, provide excellent customer service on the platforms that you've set up, and essentially continuously drive product improvement. And that means the learning ecosystem.

Fahd (08:26):

That's really cool. And so at Fullscript, you've had the capacity to really build these internal tools, build a really learning and development ecosystem. So you're talking communities, you're talking peer groups, you're talking mentorship, and you've sort of facilitated it through an online portal. Is that what I'm understanding to just color in some of these lines?

Eva (08:49):

Yeah, it's really about crafting the right systems that encourage people to take the reins of their own development. So we spent a lot of time in vendor analysis mode and really looking at what are the systems that are going to be most conducive to this hybrid and distributed environment. So what some of the ones we used are Degreed learn upon. So these two crafted the learning ecosystem. And when it comes to our performance development one, we leveraged Kazoo, which is now called Work Tango.

Fahd (09:21):

Okay, cool. Cool. That is super fascinating and I'm excited to dive into it because there are a lot of practices in learning and development. There's a lot of theories and principles and a lot claim best practices and different books and different methods, and there's a lot of research and you and I have both geeked out over a lot of this research. You kind of stuck our noses into it and have read and some of the stuff that you're suggesting feels contrary to some best practices, but also feels aligned to some best practices. And I think there's a bit of both, which is, and I think that's the tension point of innovation when you're trying to innovate at the margins of learning and development. So I think that's a really interesting space. So we're going to get more into those specific solutions. I think our audience is going to really want to hear that, but I like to kind of take our audience back and say, all right, weren't always this brilliant. You didn't always have the answer. Some kind of innovative answers to learning and development. Sure. Done the entire gambit of presentations, workshops, and everything in between. Tell me a little bit about yourself. Let's get started is that's always a tough question, but who is Eva and where do you get started? Where does your journey get started? Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Eva (10:40):

Yeah, great question. Where do I get started? Well, why don't I start way back when I immigrated to Canada. So being an immigrant, I was five years old, didn't speak English. And being an immigrant meant navigating a new culture, new way of life, sometimes feeling like a fish out of water where you didn't know the ropes, but the pressure was on. I mean, my parents wanted the best for us. So it was a fierce upbringing when it came.

Fahd (11:06):

And where did you immigrate from?

Eva (11:08):

Southern Europe.  

Eva (11:11):

So when it came to bringing home instead of a pluses, it just was that drive for more so the drive for academia that was instilled young in both my brother and I. But it also instilled that sense of adaptability, resilience, and I really learned the value of embracing change, embracing new perspectives, which played a big role later in my career.

Fahd (11:40):

I really like that. I think that's such a foundational answer to who are you? Because we share similar stories in that sense. Came when I was young, came to Canada and you're sort of the translator generation. You're translating cultures, and I often say immigrants are the best at holding two truths at the same time because you can see the multitudes of the existing world in front of you and the past world that you were in. And they're both real and they're both true simultaneously, but yet they compete in your mind a bit too. It's a little philosophical I'm getting.

Yeah, I think that's really cool and that really served the foundation for you. So high achiever, kind of go-getter, high achiever and still young. And there's double-edged sword that comes with that. Our go go life of trying to make everything happen and bend reality to our will because we have to. Or we've seen our parents do it for survival and we have all this opportunity. We want to make the most of it. And so you did go off and do that, right? You went off, you finished school, you finished your undergrad. Where'd you go to undergrad?

Eva (12:59):

Yeah, I went to McGill in Montreal.

Fahd (13:01):

Cool. And then what was the first job? Where did you go to a master's? What was that career journey like? For a few years after university

Eva (13:11):

I did, I just kept, I couldn't stop going to school. I did my master's in Chicago. I got some organizational psychology there. Then I continued on to get my certificate as an executive coach, my MBA, because of my upbringing, my background is really steeped in academia and traditional models of learning and development and in a lot of companies, including Fortune five, hundreds, it was effective in a lot of ways, but it wasn't always agile or adaptive, especially in this ai covid, this just exponentially changing landscape we're finding ourselves in.

Fahd (13:53):

Yeah. So take me through that. What were some of the traditional learning and development programs that you had a chance to go and implement and try out and some success with them, obviously, but they're evolving. But take me through that evolution. Where did you spend some time doing some of those? Where was that first act for you?

Eva (14:15):

Yeah, so that first act, a lot of it has to do with psychometric data, survey data, making sure that you're really taking a science perspective to all the programs you're implementing. So spending a lot of time upfront in needs analysis, kind of not necessarily working with MVPs as much or pilots trying to get it right the first time. And of course, always continuously improving and understanding how you can it better. That's part of the traditional approach. So when you say what are the similarities, that's one. That being said, there's a lot less tolerance for MVP state products leadership development program in previous companies. It was a beast. I mean, it was a well thought out from the beginning. Let's have a post measure, a 360 that's going to take two hours to debrief, three assessments for validity and reliability instead of one things that just aren't realistic when it comes to today's time. Poor

Fahd (15:28):

People. Yeah, that's so true. And these sort of beast learning and development programs, I find often they're sort of the thing that people look for, even when they're in small organizations, they sort of think, well, that's what a leadership development would look like. It sort of prevents companies who are smaller to engage, they think, well, it's got to be that, or where do I start? I don't have that.

Fahd (15:59):

It really prevents people from really diving into a more lean kind of practice because they see what the traditional companies are doing.

Eva (16:07):

Yes, I think that's really well said in the sense of, well, why even engage in it if it's not going to be a good program? So finding that balance and at Fullscript is really where I face this critical moment when I realized that what had worked before might not be the best approach for the dynamic landscape of a tech driven company growing really exponentially overnight. So I got on this journey of unlearning, I had to let go of some of these deeply ingrained beliefs methodologies, and instead I started learning about product-led approaches because that's exactly what we were doing at Fullscript. So how can I mirror emulate the success we're having externally to our internal environment?

Fahd (16:52):

Okay, so let me hold you on that. What unlearning, we all have these painful moments that it's pain that moves us, it's pain that forces us to have to change to face the reality of like, ah, maybe. So there's clearly a moment here with Fullscript. You're like, I had to unlearn some things. So maybe take us back to that moment. What were some of the insights around that? And then what did you have to unlearn? Maybe let's unpack that. So take me to the moment in Fullscript that you sort of maybe realized my traditional systems aren't working in where we need them and how you came to even realize that. Was it through the traditional evaluations or was it through conversation or, yeah. So how did you get your hand on the pulse quick? You're sharp, you see it, but walk us through it so that our folks that are listening, our CEOs, our VPs of talent that often listen to these episodes are also kind of maybe asking themselves the same question.

Eva (17:54):

So it was really about treating learning and performance like a product, continuously iterating, focusing on what actually is going to drive value and really trimming on what we think drives value but doesn't actually drive value for the organization and the people. And thinking about it in three, if you think about it as a funnel, you have the needs of the organization, what's the return on expectation at the executive level? What do we need from an industry perspective? Then it goes down to the departments and the teams really understanding what are the individual needs of those levels. But then we're also human, we're people. So each individual, regardless of whether they're in product and marketing and sales or in supply chain, is going to have their own individual career that they want to address. So making sure that we add that to the mix was important.

Fahd (18:54):

So there's a needs analysis that's done at an executive level, department level, individual level for their career. And are you pairing that needs analysis with a competency model often sort of the traditional approach. We've got to identify our competencies. Some people are starting to challenge some of that too. So where did that fit into your learning process here?

Eva (19:17):

It didn't fit in. That was one of the more traditional pieces that at fullscript for us, it was really about aligning learning with business goals and looking at what is our competitive edge? What is that defining feature that makes full scripters different than the rest? So we aligned to our guiding principles or values and above everything are business goals, which helped not only get that really targeted learning, but it also helped us create these experiences that people gravitated towards without an internal marketing campaign. They needed it. We offered exactly what we heard was needed.

Eva (20:02):

So, being able to measure the real impact of that on people and the organization was easy after the fact.

Fahd (20:10):

I think there's a good old saying, and I was about to Google here, that it's an education is done to you, but learning is something you do for yourself.

And I think that's the sort of chasm that you're trying to cross over with this product led learning and development previously in traditional models. It's sort of like we as the organization are going to educate our employees, and so the education is done for them. But what you're saying here is that, no, I need it to come ground up. I need them to identify where they want to learn with maybe a little bit of a push from a manager who is encouraging learning for sure, but we want to create a culture of learning where learning is seen as just part of our growth, part of our system, part of what we do and not sort of this, I got to go attend a seminar.

Eva (21:01):

Yes, yes, that's exactly it. We want to crowdsource, right? We want to bubble up. It's a bottom up rather than top down approach. And I have to mention that our efforts in going product led with learning. Were actually recently recognized with a gold level Brandon Hall, human Capital Excellence award of best use of performance to support learning. So another key piece of this, and that was obviously a very proud moment for everybody.

Eva (21:33):

It affirmed that. Okay, going product-led on the learning side was really making a difference and it was innovative and something other companies haven't necessarily done, but where the results really happened was in rewarding and recognizing the behavior. So when we saw higher engagement in the platforms, when we saw increased performance, we would send in-app notifications. So this is again speaking to the product led approach. We didn't do this outside on Slack. We did it in the platform in Learn Fs, in Grow Fs, and these are what our two platforms are called. And we rewarded with something we call script coin. So we would give script coin which had monetary value, almost like gamifying it. We would reward behaviors that involve learning or that involve setting objectives and really encouraging people to take control and take the reins of their own development because why wait around for your manager or the company to do it? This is your life. And so we rewarded them when they reach these milestones of taking ownership over their own career.

Fahd (22:52):

I really like where this is going. It's interesting. So one title that we've sort of given it here is this product led approach to learning and development, but we're also saying it's bottom led approach to learning and development. We're also saying it needs to be led from the individual themselves. We want them to identify their challenges and seek the learning and how do we solve for that? That's the kind of question. So I'm trying to map it out because I'm a bit of a visual person. So we start off with the business goals and we're aligning learning with business goals. So to do that, you do a bit of a needs assessment across the departments, the individuals, so on and so forth. And then you attach performance reviews to this too. You're also, am I correct in saying that, that sort of No, not really.

Eva (23:48):

No. We actually, we kind of abolished performance reviews at fullscript. We find those outdated, and what we really focused on was continuous setting of objectives and key results. And sure, we check in on these once a quarter, and of course we needed a talent review at least twice a year that connects to salary planning and promotions and such.

Fahd (24:12):

And so the talent review, how have you positioned the talent review different than a performance review as someone might do more traditionally?

Eva (24:20):

So the biggest difference is that there's a light link when it comes to promotions and salary increases, but really it's about development. So we want people to have psychological safety to get real with their leaders about what's going to bring them to the next level. And it's very development focused.

Fahd (24:40):

Yeah. Yeah. That's gold. That's gold. So you do tie in the talent review with sort of the learning goals that there is a bridge there, or am I making that bridge?

Eva (24:52):

So each person would tie that in, would bring it up at their one-on-one with their leader. But the system itself, the way we chose the system is that it does bring it up in the workflow. So you don't have to go back and pop up a different tab. It's right there in your talent review check-in workflow, and it pops up not only all of your objectives, which are connected to learning, but the things you have been given kudos on by others in the company, what you've been rewarded on, the reasons why you've gotten script coin, right? And in some cases it is for learning and that behavioral cue, but in other cases it's for being representing our values or guiding principles. And that's all pulled up actually in the same workflow.

Fahd (25:38):

Yeah. Now this is huge, and this is I think really innovative, but also maybe to throw in a caveat, I think it's super important. Fullscript is how many employees?

Eva (25:50):

So 800.

Fahd (25:51):

Yeah. So there is a certain, there's a mass that you need to reach to still small enough. We're not saying huge or not thousands and thousands of employees, but there's a certain mass you need to reach to develop that level of intricacy because that requires quite an investment. Now if we're talking to a smaller startup, often a hundred people, they're starting to scale and they're starting to feel the pain of leadership development, of team dynamics, of skills gaps, and they're trying to keep that scale. Where do you say they could start? You've got a complex system here, and there's a few more pieces I want to dive into it, but I think it's important. I think a lot of our listeners are in the earlier stages of 50 employees, a hundred employees really making that scale. They're not at the thousand employees yet. And there is, I think, a difference in the business needs in that case. So where would be a good place for some of them to start?

Eva (26:49):

Yeah, I'm so glad you brought that up. Because you don't need these platforms necessarily. You can emulate that with much more grassroots approaches. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that besides compliance, which depends on what industry you're in, some industries have more regulatory and compliance needs. Don't treat employees like consumers of learning, make it such that they are active participants in their growth journey, and then reward each milestone in that individual's path, just like a well-crafted video game, but for the real world, give that positive reinforcement. And in a lot of cases, these smaller companies don't have a team to support them. So leveraging external vendors where it's almost like your outsourced l and d department is one way, but the other way is to really get the managers together and aligned around how they're talking to their teams and teaching the managers what it takes to create this team of people who take ownership over their careers and what it means to innovate. They should know what innovation in their role means with AI creeping up on everybody's

Fahd (28:08):

Role, it comes back to it a lot. I feel like a broken record attempts, and I say it, but I totally agree with you, really leveraging the manager managers, your frontline. They are the unit that creates the teamwork and that creates the employee engagement, and that creates the space for learning and the culture of learning and empowering them to be able to have those conversations and get excited over it. I think there's a lot of simple things that they can do if the team identifies certain things like their own lunch and learns internal to their team, their own teaching, each other tools, having time to just play and creating a sandbox and sort of creating that. I say the culture of learning as humans, we're actually naturally curious and we want to learn. Learning gives us a sense of progress, which is really ties into the psychology of motivation, but often we don't give ourselves even space to play and it just feels so go, go, go. That we stop the learning because I just need to execute, right?

Eva (29:14):

Yeah. I say beware of any time you think you've reached a ceiling in your industry or career, because that's a real warning sign that your growth mindset has kind of dissipated. And to your point about building community, even Slack channels are huge for that. So how do you label them, create them, and attract people to these Slack channels? These are low cost, they're low maintenance, and it's building that guild, that learning community where people can start sharing with each other relevant links. They don't need to share them individually on Messenger. Why don't you share in a channel that is specific to whatever that department or that Subfunction needs to know about the industry and how powerful is that to share the learning together?

Fahd (30:07):

Yeah, I totally agree. You set up peer-to-peer learning. Do you set up mentorship? Some of the folks who've been there for a while mentoring some of the new employees? Do you let that be organic or do you add intentionality behind that? How are you setting that up?

Eva (30:24):

So we have two ways we do it. We have a paired mentorship program where we do spend time upfront with surveys, understanding what is the mentee after, what's the mentor after, and then we pair them on the backend. Most of the time they're quite successful. The pairings based on the questions we've asked once in a while, they'll request a switch or maybe a mentor gets busy. So sometimes we do have a couple backup mentors to replace, but for the most part, we've had resounding success in this and just really great for culture efforts too, because cross-functional bonds get built that way.

Eva (31:04):

The other way we do mentorship is through showcasing certain experts, if you will, internally. So let's say somebody is really good at personal branding, they have tons of followers on LinkedIn or whatever it is, we'll have them do TEACHBACKS on that particular topic. So really leveraging our knowledge internally and all the amazing brains to have internal guest speakers essentially, but also people who you know, can reach out to as a mentor on an as needed basis.

Fahd (31:36):

Yeah, yeah. I think Laslo B said it in his book that he wrote about people operations in Google. I loved it. He said, your best teachers.

Fahd (31:45):

Book rules. Yeah. He just said, your best teachers are sitting already in your organization. They're there and they want to teach and they'd love to share their experience and maybe a little nervous and need a little push, but they have such good wisdom, and so can you activate them and can you get them going?

Eva (32:04):

Right? Yeah. And that's the activation and then the scaffold. How do you position them again, either in the product or just through Slack in a channel where it's ask me anything to this particular person, how do you create the structure for those connections to happen more organically,

Fahd (32:23):

And how do you not overload the individual that does that? So when you use the word scaffold, that was immediately what came to mind too was like, okay, we also need to support the person who chooses to step up and say, I'm going to teach, but I've got my regular job. And it's already a lot, especially in our startups where I'm already overloaded, but you want me to teach a bit, and you've got a bit of reward system, so you're kind of choosing to do a little bit of the reward kind of helps it, but they're like, I don't get paid to teach. I don't get paid to facilitate. So there is that buy-in, which is good. Yeah. So how do you ensure the scaffold? How do you ensure they don't get overloaded?

Eva (33:00):

Two ways we've done that before. One is first come first serve signup sheet, essentially. So we cap it at a certain amount. And then the other way is that's the first kind of question we'll ask of the mentor and say, is this the right time? And if not, we'll come back to you in six months, see if your projects have calmed down. So even if they are, let's say the guru on X, Y, Z, some of them don't have the time, and we'll just call that out as is and make sure to respect their time. Yeah.

Fahd (33:31):

Yeah. Cool. Cool. That's awesome. Okay, so we've covered quite a bit, and I really like this. We're sort of building out a little bit of a model here on connecting business goals to needs and to learning how the talent development is a part of their platform, the rewarding the peer-to-peer learning, all of this, creating this culture of learning really, and this bottom up approach to culture of learning. So walk me through the biggest mistakes in, or I guess lessons experimenting a lot. So when you're doing the approach that you are, if you're going to say it's a product-led approach, then it's an experimentative approach. It's an iterative approach, it's a lean approach, which means you're going to throw a lot of crap on the wall and see what sticks. What did you think was a brilliant idea that fell flat? Or what's something your team's currently working on tweaking, like, ah, we just don't have the engagement we want on this. So maybe nothing flat out failed, but it's not hitting the engagement level that you thought it would.

Eva (34:31):

Yeah, sure. So one of the things we've done in the past is offer recurring lunch and learns and have these focused on the skills that we knew from our needs analysis people were really after. So giving and receiving feedback, difficult conversations, these really common things that all managers and employees are always craving. And we made sure to say, Hey, if you can't attend, we'll record it. You can watch it after. And what that did was really enable people to either not pay attention, not be involved and stay off camera, or people who were really interested in the topic took another meeting at the time, let's say, because they felt good about it being recorded. The truth is, and everybody admitted this eventually, and nobody watches recordings.

Eva (35:28):

Nobody watches recordings.

Speaker 1 (35:30):

Nobody does that. We just

Fahd (35:31):

Don't. Nobody goes back. No.

Eva (35:34):

So we changed our approach and rather than making it open to everybody, we really capped these also and we turned 'em into workshops. So we had three part series with a cohort of people. It was 10 people per workshop, broke down barriers in terms of layers. So you could have a VP and an entry level CSS agent at the same workshop, but they wanted to develop that skill, that skillset. And it worked phenomenally because not only was there that group accountability, we did a little intro and we did a little bit of this group bonding at the beginning to hold each other accountable, but there was time for discussion and the social etiquette to turn off your camera or be busy wasn't there with a smaller group. So this was a big learning and one that made a change in terms of how we offer this kind of critical skill development.

Fahd (36:30):

I really liked that. I really like that. I attend a number of different speaker conferences, so I get lucky sometimes I get to pick the brains of a few really good authors and speakers. And I was talking to a speaker friend of mine who does high performance and sports, and I was like, everyone always likes to use sort of sports analogies for high performing teams. I'm like, it's imperfect because in business, we're not playing finite games and sports are finite games, and there's winner and loser and there's a score. But sports feels right because everyone knows how it feels to be on a high performing team when you're on a sport. And I was sort of like, why? And he hit me with a really good thing he says, because everyone on the field, everyone on the court has skin in the game.

If you lose, you lose. If you win, you win. You feel it. There's so much accountability that you can't get away from half-assing. And when you were just talking about how you shifted the lunch and learns, we just pumped up the accountability. It's selective. You're chosen and smaller groups. So higher accountability camera's on, and it's not this, I'm going to watch it later. We just increase the skin in the game, which is, you will look bad if you don't participate. There's social shame and social shame is a driving force of human behavior. And in that moment, you created this engagement. And I think that's so powerful. Often we talk about empowerment in teams and empower, and it's about giving people skin in the game. It's about making sure that they lose when they lose and they win when they win, that your actions have consequences, but your actions also have rewards and creating that and the smaller groups. I really like that. Anyways, I'm riffing off on the side. No,

Eva (38:19):

You're really on point there. Because we shifted that when we shifted our strategy, and it came back to getting people to take the reins on their own development, get interested in what it takes for them to grow faster than the company and to thrive as people. So remove any barriers. And for us, at that time, before we switched our strategy, the barrier was enabling them essentially to just watch a recording, which

Fahd (38:50):

Yeah, yeah, you increase the skin of the game, you said, Nope, you're responsible now. The buck stops with you. And by the way, there's rewards and there's consequences. There's expectations. It's out there. There's a tracker, and it sort of shows what you've done and what you haven't done, which sort of pushes things along. That's why the scoreboard on the team works really well and your stats, and it's kind of like, okay, people are watching what I do and how I perform, and we don't want to get too deep down that route, but it creates this momentum, it creates this performance,

Eva (39:27):

And it works on the department level too. So with all the data we had from our two product, our Grow and Learn, we had dashboards where we could hold each VP accountable because all of a sudden we saw exactly like you said on a scoreboard. We saw these metrics and we could compare them between departments. So

Fahd (39:47):

Your department's not spending any time learning. We're going to fall behind. And so maybe, actually, let's talk about that for a second. Okay. I think it's often overlooked, but what's the risk of not doing learning and development and a learning culture in your organization?

Eva (40:06):

The risk really comes back to innovate or die. So at this point in time, I mean beside compliance and true, let's keep the lights on and leaders out of jail when it comes to

Fahd (40:23):

Compliance. There's some HR stuff, there's some legal stuff. Yeah.

Eva (40:30):

Then it's really about how do you ensure that you're staying on top of skills that are developing every month are different skills depending on the industry. So I would say there's no industry that is an exception to that. So even distribution is innovating at a rapid pace.

Speaker 2 (40:54):


Eva (40:55):

Is innovating. There's ways to work smarter that we don't often think of as skills, but they are skills to develop, right? Is how do you bring more time to your day by leveraging all the tools that you have out there,

Fahd (41:14):

Especially at the rate in which some of these things are moving. It's mind boggling. Cool, cool. That's the risk. And I think it's interesting that risk only becomes to founders after a certain level of growth. When you're still market product, you're still series A, series B, you're scaling perhaps still under a hundred employees, maybe even 150, 200. There's too much technical debt, financial debt, talent, debt that you're not really thinking about that sort of, I need to make sure everyone learns. And it's interesting.

Eva (41:57):

I think a reason for that might be because learning has traditionally been an HR function, and the minute we talk about it from an operational perspective or a competitor landscape perspective, which is a big theme of learning, also, it takes on a different flavor and it takes on a different clout in the company.

Fahd (42:19):

Yeah, that's a really good repositioning. So learning is an operations piece. It is how we create competitive advantage and how we grow. It's part of our business model

Fahd (42:32):

Interesting. I like that. More like that. So that was one of the mistakes that you learned around the lunch and learns. Any other kind of traps, I guess as people go through this to watch out for them to think about any other big mistake that you want to share with us?

Eva (42:52):

I'd say bring it back to community. When you think you know what the people, the company or the departments need to learn, validate that every step of the way. And people are busy. So you can't always get an hour of VP's time to understand the details, but you can get that in other ways through shorter surveys, through external associations that you follow related to that department. So just make sure that you are creating the space for learning to happen. And the structure aside from that, you don't need to get the content perfect, because if you've created the right learning community, they will drive that on their own.

Fahd (43:43):

That's interesting right there. Stop worrying about getting the content. How much time do we spend trying to get the content? What do they need to learn? How do they need to learn? How do we piece it all together? And there is benefit to that. It's not completely dismissed that, but it's sort of an order of operations. And I think it's sort of like you're over obsessing over the content when you should be obsessing over the community initially, and then the community will piece together the sort of learning paths because they will have experienced learning paths. And I think this is key too, because what happens here is it becomes a community led learning path versus an expert led learning path and a community led learning path has much better nuance and tacit understanding of the holes and gaps as someone, it's always the person that's one year ahead of you or two years ahead of you that's good at teaching you not the one that's 20 years because they don't know what you're going through anymore.

And then you get the work hard being nice just do, which are all too far removed truisms, right? Yeah. You get these truisms that lose nuance. And I think Ed Camel in his book, creativity Inc, I love it. He kind sort of says that over and over again. He's like, I hate trying to distill our culture to certain words because I feel it loses the tacit and implicit and the pieces of what it actually means. He's like, so instead we wrote longer things, but then nobody read them, and he's kind of fighting through this, how do I teach you something without,

Fahd (45:22):

Yeah. Yeah. And I think that's the piece is the community-led learning pathways allow for more tacit learning, kind of the implicit learning, which is really, really cool. So let's wrap this all together. Give me the principles. We're going to make 'em up on the fly, the principles of product led learning and development of bottom up learning and development of community led learning and development. Putting all these together, what would you say that tenets and the principles are that people can do? And then after the principles I want, we'll get into, get your mind going some action. Next steps. Here are two, three steps that people can start taking. I know we sprinkled some across, but I kind of want to wrap them all in together here at the end.

Eva (46:11):

Sure. So yeah, for the L and D leaders, I'd say embrace change new perspectives. Don't be afraid to unlearn and adapt what you've learned to be true in the world of l and d or OD or whatever it is that you call it at your company. Let's actually live what we preach, which is the true essence of growth mindset and keeping that beginner's mind and catch yourself and check yourself anytime you think you've reached the ceiling in terms of your own learning, it's a warning sign that limiting beliefs have been creeping in there. And when it comes to adjacent industries, let's learn from other industries that are doing really cool things in interesting ways and try to adapt some of these transferable skills to l and d. So that's what I did when it came to product-led growth, and some of these have to do with in-app experiences, drop the marketing campaign internally, right? No employee wants to be marketed to. So that's,

Fahd (47:17):

Wait, that's a good one, because that's a learning lesson. You likely learned that the hard way. I'm sure we all did internal marketing,

Eva (47:25):

It did increase. We got boosts when we did those. But again, when we talked to our teammates on a personal level versus when we sent the marketing email, it was like, what is that you, did you send me that? We want to get to know people on an individual team, department and person level and taking a product-led approach to learning and performance is about crafting the right system that scaffold people to basically take full control, full ownership of their own development, and really get interested in what it takes to grow faster than the company and thrive as people first. And so remove any barriers. If you as an L and d professional see barriers, how can you remove those or at least help soften them? And you don't have to get those platforms that helps support this. You can do it through Slack, you can do it through Google Meet. It's the same principles, and you can use much more cost effective ways to build community and to really inspire people to blossom in their own bottom up kind of way, not push this off the shelf content that they're going to need to consume from you.

Fahd (48:46):

Yeah. Yeah. No, I really like that. I like how you've broken down the tools and we do a lot of learning development. People ask us for tools, and I always say, use a spreadsheet. Okay, we're going to use a spreadsheet. We're going to use some tables. We're going to use Slack. I mean, slack has got a, there's an add-on. You can use Hey Taco, which is a great little rewards program. You don't need a full, just get it started and iterate it, right? I think you said use the Slack communities, add some of the bots as add-ons for rewards. If you want to do reward tracking, use a little for learning and development kind of spaces. You can use Google Drives, you can use notions. Great. There's a lot of very easy to use tools, as you've noted, without having to go. And then as you scale and as you grow, purchase and grow with it, I like that

Eva (49:38):

Systems are important for scale. You

Eva (49:40):

Can't deal with Slack, don't get me wrong, but you mentioned the a hundred person company, anything that Slack

Fahd (49:47):

I think there's also a message in your heart around leadership. So I usually like to give people a little bit for all the leaders that are listening to this who maybe are not talent professionals specifically on learning development, but they're managers, they're CEOs, they're founders. I often say a lot of us have a sort of message for leaders, a leadership philosophy. Let's end off with that. Sort of send off, what is your message to the world? What is your message to leaders in tech that are building and that are innovating and they've taken on this challenge and this world? What's your message for them? What's in your heart? And it doesn't have to be a tactical piece, but a philosophy, a principle, a guiding light.

Eva (50:38):

I would say drive an understanding of yourself first before you expected of your team. In this hybrid world, what we need is more humanizing, more being seen and not being afraid of being seen as a leader. And don't be cryptic, right? Don't kind of showcase some leadership style you think you should be because you took a quiz online or whatever it is, but showcase who you are. Be real about what your Achilles heels are, and if you're having a bad day that day, it's okay to show that vulnerable side. And it's actually much more conducive to trust always, but especially in a hybrid setting when we can't always see the micro body movements or the other pieces that you get in person. So lead with that. Don't, don't be cryptic, right? Don't make them guess what might be your Achilles heel. Just lead with that and trust that it's okay to show vulnerability as a leader.

Fahd (51:49):

I love that sort of call it the eight mile Eminem kind of way. Just call out all of the problems you already have. So you're like, listen, don't worry. I know I've got this and this and this, but here's what I can provide. And we spoke about this right before the episode started, but sort of learning to find your voice sometimes through this, it is uncomfortable when you're a new manager or even when you're, you're a co-founder and you're like, I was working with a co-founder, and he's like, FA, I have more employees than I have friends. I don't know what to do with all that, and that's real. And I was

Fahd (52:26):

Thank you for sharing that. That was real. And you're like, totally, that's right. And he's like, hear all these messages, and he's like, I don't know. I'm like, yeah, we have to help you just find your voice and staying true to that voice. You don't need to be the gregarious, charismatic leader. That's just not who you are, and that's not where you're going to lead from your effectiveness. I love

Eva (52:50):

Not the most effective leader results wise anyway. It's been show

Fahd (52:55):

Research clearly shows that in Western society, we like to sort of, and I say often we like the gregarious charismatically. We also tell the myth of leadership as if it's an individual act. Leadership is a team sport, it's a team sport, and it is groups of leaders that do phenomenal things. It is not individual leaders. It truly is that. On that note, Eva, thank you so much for your wisdom, for the brilliance, for the future of learning and development programs. That's sort of what I'm getting at too, is the product led, but also this is the future of learning and development programs, and you're at the edge of that innovation and you're sharing it with us freely and openly, and I hope we can do some more work with you to take these nuggets and share it across different organizations, because a lot can learn from the practice and the principles that you've now implemented through your journey at Fullscript and before that, unlearning all the traditional pieces. Thank you so much.

Eva (53:52):

Hey, this has been really fun. And yeah, I'm happy to share from any sort of failings, so

Fahd (54:03):

Thank you, Eva. No, that was fantastic. That was Eva folks, the Director of Organizational Development at Fullscript, and she truly has a passion for developing others for coaching and has a brilliant approach on looking at leadership development and just training as a whole from a bottom up approach. It was really cool to interview EVA and bounce ideas back and forth and challenge some pieces, and we got into concepts like skin in the game and increasing accountability, all of these pieces that really elevated the conversation and gave me some big takeaways in just going through it. But thank each and every one of you for being there as listeners listening all the way through and taking in the information. Let us know what you learned. Let us know what questions you have, what topics you're interested in. You can always email me at Unicorn Labs, but that's it.

Thank you so much for tuning in the episode of Unicorn Leadership podcast. That was episode 20. You can find the show notes in the transcript@unicornlabs.ca slash podcast. And if you like the content, be sure to read it, to review it, to subscribe, to hit the notifications so that you get the next episode and tell all of your friends. I'll leave you with this one last question. We talked about a product-led approach and a product-led mindset. We talked about a bottom-up mindset, the idea of increasing accountability on the individual for the actual result. I think this is a really interesting concept, not just an education within companies and learning and development, but education as a whole. Perhaps you have kids at home, perhaps you've got nieces and nephews, perhaps you're going through school. What could we do in our education system to increase the accountability, to make it so that not education is happening to our students, but that learning is happening for themselves, that they're choosing and are empowered in that path as they learn? Are there tweaks we can make in our homes, in our schools, in our everyday businesses? Maybe you are an educator and you have an education business, and how do you do that? This is the question that we're going to ponder at our Unicorn Labs team, but I throw it all to each of you.

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