Everyone learns differently. No matter the size of your organization — from 10 people to 100,000 — you’re faced with the same dilemma, how do you ensure your learning solutions can work for everyone? That’s why Cornerstone Studios creates a variety of series types. The more options you have, the more people you can serve. And their great work of providing outstanding learning options to our customers was just recognized with three Telly Awards!
The Cornerstone Studios' original series “The H Files” and “DNA" took home three Telly Awards this year.
The Telly Awards honor exceptional video work from advertisements, TV stations, production companies, publishers and more. “The H Files” offers workplace insights through the lens of history while “DNA” — Digital Native Advancement — teaches necessary skills to Gen Z as they enter the workforce.
We spoke with Doug Segers, senior director of original content for Cornerstone Studios, about how these two learning content projects improved our customer’s workplaces and why nano learning and episodic storytelling connect with learners at any organization.
Cornerstone Editors: What were your goals when your team created these two now award-winning content series? How were you hoping learners could benefit in the workplace from this content?
Doug Segers: “DNA: DEI” represents the third and fourth release of our Digital Native Advancement, or DNA, content. DNA was our first original series built around teaching interpersonal skills to Gen Z, often referred to as a generation of digital natives. This most recent release is 14 lessons on various diversity, equity and inclusion topics. Lessons answer questions learners might have about how to handle specific scenarios at work, but each has broader implications and is also applicable to managers and leaders who work with Gen Z employees.
“The H Files: Leading With Uncertainty” is the second season of “The H Files,” which teaches modern workplace learning by examining historical events and people. We were creating this season in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. It seemed like a natural opportunity for us to look at the flu pandemic of 1918 to see if we could use stories from that outbreak to learn about the one that we’re in. We looked for inspirational success stories to create a program about leading and practicing crisis management through uncertainty.
Cornerstone: What lessons from the 1918 flu pandemic can people apply when leading during periods of uncertainty?
Doug: There was a lot to take away from these individuals’ stories about how people survived a similar situation a hundred years ago. When we were researching, we found so much similarity between the ways people were behaving and what’s happening now. The rollout of misinformation, having to continue on with your daily life while in the midst of a life-and-death global pandemic, so much echoed our own environment.
In most of the stories we tell in the course, compassion and empathy are a huge part of why these people were able to be successful during this incredibly challenging and scary time. There really was a throughline of empathy and resilience being a major driver as to why people succeeded.
Cornerstone: The DNA series is a collection of nano learning courses. Why are short episodes an important format for learning content?
Doug: Certainly, in the last five years, people's viewing habits have changed. They will move on quickly if they don't feel like the time that's being spent with any piece of content, learning or otherwise, is going to be valuable for them. Spend some time on Netflix or YouTube or TikTok — if you're not engaged, you're just going to click “next.”
Shorter, episodic learning does become an easier ask than longer-form content when people’s lives are busy. The longest “The H Files” lesson is under 5 minutes; the shortest “DNA” lesson is under two. It’s about meeting people where they’re at when competing for their time. It’s important for us to make a variety of types of learning available, taking into consideration which formats and genres are popular and how people are consuming content across devices.
Cornerstone: What adjustments did you have to make to produce original learning content remotely during a pandemic?
Doug: I think lockdown actually, in some ways, fueled our productivity and allowed us to be agile and move quickly as it related to content development. For “The H Files,” we had to rely more on pre-existing materials — so historical content, B-roll, reenactments, photographs, illustrations, that sort of thing — instead of doing live shoots. We decided to use voiceover instead of a host, which was easier to produce remotely because it didn't require in-studio recording or on-location recording.
When you're in production, it tends to be hectic, whether it's physical or remote. It requires us to tap into some different tools and skillsets in order to move the creative process forward and deliver a completed piece of content or a series that satisfies all of the variables that we have to hit in order to produce successful original content.
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Taking A Company-Wide Approach to Learning & Development
There’s a lot of coordination that goes into a company’s learning and development programming, from identifying skills gaps and creating engaging content to scaling initiatives company-wide. And because there’s so much complex planning involved, organizations can sometimes get caught up in the details, and overlook how L&D fits into broader organizational goals. A recent survey—titled "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change"—from Cornerstone People Research Lab (CPRL) and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) found that only 55% of organizations believe their L&D programs are well-aligned with their company’s overarching strategy. But CPRL and HCI’s survey reveals two logical ways to overcome this challenge. First, there’s a need for L&D executives to participate in strategic conversations around organizational goals to ensure that L&D planning aligns with broader business plans. And second, it’s important to share responsibility for learning effectiveness. If facilitating continuous learning is a part of everyone’s role, it becomes easier to integrate it organization-wide. Promote Cross-Departmental Collaboration and Responsibility To better align L&D efforts with overarching business goals, learning executives have to participate in strategic conversations about organizational direction. For instance, when business leaders gather to discuss goals and KPIs for the coming year or quarter, HR and L&D leaders should be involved in those conversations. And the opposite is also true: Business leaders need to help direct the learning outcomes framed against those goals. According to the "Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey from CPRL and HCI, only about half (51%) of learning leaders report being involved in these discussions. During these business planning discussions, it’s important to establish accountability, especially among people managers. CPRL and HCI found 67% of people managers report being involved in the creation of content, but only 47% are involved in the accountability for the results. By holding more people accountable to the success of L&D programs, it can be easier for a company to spot pitfalls or opportunities for improvement. It creates shared goals for measuring effectiveness, and establishes a process for making changes. For example, by getting people managers involved in L&D initiatives, L&D leaders can work with them to get a better understanding of a specific team’s skill gaps or what reskilling or new skilling solutions will work best for them. All leaders in an organization, in fact, should be eager to participate and own their team’s newskilling, reskilling or upskilling efforts. Ask a people manager in the IT department to reiterate the importance of learning to their team, and track the amount of time their employees spend on learning content. This approach will not only create a shared commitment to continuous learning, but can also help leaders outside of L&D and HR get a better idea of what content or formats work best for their teams and recommend adjustments accordingly. Continuous Learning Is Everyone’s Responsibility Aligning overarching business plans and strategy with learning and development efforts can improve each’s efficacy. The more cross-departmental collaboration that exists, the more information that HR and L&D leaders have about their workforce and its needs, strengths and weaknesses. And with more accountability, all stakeholders in an organization can become more involved in ensuring the successful partnership between L&D and a company’s overall strategy. To learn more about the findings from Cornerstone’s "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey and its recommendations for using cross-departmental collaboration and accountability to help with L&D efforts, click here to download and read the full report.
Why supporting neurodiversity is essential for any successful workforce today
When we think of diversity in the workforce, we typically think of it along the lines of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. But focusing only on those four is its own sort of constraint. To truly create a successful and diverse workplace, you need to ensure you're also embracing neurodiversity too. Understanding neurodiversity In the late 1990s, a single mother in Australia named Judy Singer began studying Disability Studies at University of Technology Sydney. Her daughter had recently been diagnosed with what was then known as “Asperger’s Syndrome,” a form of autism spectrum disorder. As she read more and more about autism as part of her studies, Singer also suspected that her mother, and she herself, may have had some form of autism spectrum disorder. Singer describes crying as she realized that her mother, with whom she'd had a tumultuous relationship throughout her childhood, wasn’t purposefully cold or neurotic as she had thought. She just had a different kind of mind. In her honors thesis, Singer coined the term “neurodiversity.” For Singer, people with neurological differences like autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or dyslexia were a social class of their own and should be treated as such. If we are going to embrace diversity of race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc., then we must embrace a diversity of the mind. The following video is an excerpt from the "Neurodiversity" Grovo program, which is available in the Cornerstone Content Anytime Professional Skills subscription. Neurodiversity in today's workplace Recently, neurodiversity has become a trendy term in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging spaces. And many organizations are working to hire more neurodivergent people, as well as give them opportunities to thrive at work. That’s why, at Cornerstone, we recently produced a series of lessons on neurodiversity. If your organization hasn’t prioritized neurodiverse inclusion yet, here are some reasons why it both supports your people and organization. 1) Neurodivergent people are underemployed Neurodivergent people, especially people with autism, are widely under-employed, regardless of their competence. In the United States, 85% of college graduates with autism are unemployed. According to a 2006 study, individuals with ADHD have higher rates of unemployment than individuals without. However, there is no evidence that neurodivergent people are less competent or less intelligent than neurotypical people. Organizations are missing out on talented people. 2) Neurodivergent people are more common than you may think Neurodiversity manifests in many different ways. It can encompass autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette syndrome, and many other conditions. And as scientists have learned more about what makes someone neurodivergent, they're identifying more and more people. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 160 children have some form of autism spectrum disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in every 162 children have Tourette Syndrome, and roughly 8 percent of children under 18 have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. And that's just children. How many adults, like Judy Singer's mother, have struggled their whole lives without a diagnosis? People who are neurodivergent are everywhere. Diverse organizations are stronger Diverse organizations and teams not only have better financial returns than less-diverse ones, but they also perform better. Having the different perspectives presented by people who are neurodivergent can help your team solve more difficult problems. Different perspectives and different ways of thinking lead to creativity and innovation.
Why Selecting a Leadership Development Program Is Way Too Complicated
Many organizations face a leadership gap and cannot find the talent needed to grow. We could blame the retiring baby boomer phenomenon, the free agent nation, or the lack of investment made in developing leaders. But since blame is a lazy man’s wage, I will not entertain that debate because there are too many options out there for developing leaders. There are many leadership development programs in the market. In minutes, with a simple Internet search or over coffee with your head of human resources, you can discover myriad high-quality leadership development programs that you could use in your organization to develop leaders. The problem is not finding a good program, but in choosing one. Answer the Right Questions So how does one choose? The problem we face in evaluating leadership development programs is that we get caught up in evaluating the content rather than asking a simple question, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Each organization is unique in how it answers this question. And that is where the secret lies. If an organization can select a program that matches the answer to the question above, the selected program will likely be the right one. After all, each leadership development program is very good in some way. It is not so important which one you select. It is important that you use the one you select. In other words, the key is to not let it become another un-opened binder on the bookshelves of your management team. Be An Effective Leader Let me give you an example: If an organization’s answer to the question above is, "We want our leaders to be proactive and focused on the things that drive results," your choices are narrowed down to only a few programs that would deliver on that answer. And if I had to pick one program that would deliver on that answer, without hesitation, I would choose, "The Effective Executive" by Peter F. Drucker. It is a classic, and all five of the behaviors of effective executives taught in the book remain vital skills that any leader should practice if he or she wants to be effective in his or her organization. In the book, Drucker teaches that effective executives: Know where their time goes Focus on contribution and results Build on strengths Concentrate on first things first Make effective decisions This is not a book review or a plug for "The Effective Executive," though I do believe if you had to choose one set of skills to teach your leadership, it would be the five from Drucker’s book. This is a challenge for every organization to simplify the selection of leadership development programs, and ask, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Answering this question clearly will help you choose the right program. After all, many programs are excellent. The secret to success is not in which program you choose, but that you get people to apply the program you choose. Photo: Can Stock