Training Employees From the Inside Out: Q&A With Cornerstone's Jeff Miller
October 14, 2019
Creating a company culture that encourages employees to develop new skills doesn’t just involve bringing in outside experts — it requires tapping into the existing knowledge base among employees. This approach, called the inside-out model, encourages employees inside the company to teach one another instead of relying on outside presenters. Jeff Miller, manager of learning and development at Cornerstone, suggests that a successful approach to an inside-out model results from being flexible, starting slow and making it fun. Here, Miller shares how Cornerstone created Development Days to do just that.
How have you implemented the inside-out approach at Cornerstone?
At Cornerstone we have targeted training and learning opportunities called Development Days that are flexible to employee and organization-wide needs. Live and virtual training is delivered in corporate offices and remotely one day every other month.
We identified areas of interest and need in the organization through surveys and interviews. We identified internal employees who excel in various areas through self and manager-nominations. Rather than do an outside-in approach, where companies solely focus on externalizing training and bringing it "in," we find and train the folks who have exemplary skills to share with their colleagues on, for example, managing a remote workforce. Once someone is nominated we don’t just say, ’Great, you want to do a session on management, let’s put you in front of a group of 50 people. Good luck.’ We verify with their manager that they’re the right person to be doing this. Then we support them from design through delivery.
Globally we have anywhere from 25 to 60 sessions on each Development Day, but we leave it up to the employees as to which ones they attend. We set an organizational expectation that employees try to attend at least two sessions. That means we need the right sessions delivered in the right medium. Over the five Development Days thus far, our over 1,000 employees have done over 10,000 hours of training! We stream and record the sessions and load them onto our internal portal, so we don’t have to reteach these things because they’re sitting on our portal. We’re building this massive library of resources that’s all employee-designed and delivered. We are trying to eat our own dogfood.
How do you make sure that there’s a learning opportunity for everyone?
We have different strands based around a diverse range of opportunities. We have Leadership Lessons where the C-suite delivers leadership talks and has informal conversations with employees. On occasion, we may have a guest speaker from outside come in but our focus is employees delivering sessions.
Another strand is Understanding Cornerstone to learn more about our own product. We may have department updates, product updates, or product demos from our sales or service teams.
We also have Skill Sessions, which could include anything from how to use Photoshop to how to use Python programming language. Ninety-nine percent of these sessions are delivered by employees.
We're always looking to build teams and create fun opportunities to connect, learn and just have fun. Hence classes like cake pop making, Scotch tasting, ceramic pot making, creating coasters from Instagram pictures and meditation.
By having these diverse strands, nobody in the organization can say, ’I have nothing to contribute.’ For some people, the presentations are all about getting over their fear of public speaking. It’s really serving multiple purposes. The inherent value of understanding that expertise resides in every corner of your organization is an incredibly empowering concept for people and organizations to understand.
What do you recommend for companies that want to adopt an inside-out model?
The key is to start small and slow with low expectations but have fun and remember "it’s about the people." It’s about empowering others to do great work. Start by getting a creative minority of people who are fired up to do this. Once they get excited and you get internal partners (marketing joined this effort), start moving from a creative minority to a critical mass, where people are tuning in, giving each other feedback and looking for ways to engage in ways that previously didn’t exist. Create an environment where people feel comfortable to try something new and different. What’s beautiful is people meet someone that they’ve seen in the elevator 20 times but they’ve never gotten to know. Don’t forget your remote workforce. Consider them when you are scheduling sessions and have sessions for them and by them.
Find out what the organization needs and what people can do. Invest time in doing some sort of data capture prior to getting started, whether that’s having an open focus group or using Survey Monkey. People need to ask that question, 'What do you want and what do you need?’
Get executive sponsorship. If you have the CEO or president leading a session first, that sets the expectation that the company leadership is engaged. I was hesitant to have our Talent team deliver the majority of the initial sessions because I didn’t want this to be seen as a HR initiative — it’s an organizational initiative.