We’re all trying to learn from each other, to adapt, and to transform our cultures inside and out of workplaces. No one better to guide us through the process than Linda Grubbs. Welcome to the design of your learning episode.
Q. Let’s start with a story, how did you end up doing what you do?
I had the privilege of working at Kaiser Permanente for 16 years. I started as a learning consultant, specifically focused on technology, working on the Internet side. I had just left PC World Magazine and came to KP with a lot of that technical knowledge.
I have a master’s in Education with an emphasis in Instructional Technology, so a lot of what I’ve done there has been focused on technology with an instructional design bent. So I would create training on systems, or I would use technology to teach people about systems. I’ve done everything from website development on the internal Intranet –which is probably known as a Performance Support System these days—to mobile learning and systems training. In the latter years a lot of e-learning, which is being combined today with virtual learning –of which we also did a lot of in KP before it became the much-needed thing it is today because of the circumstances.
During the last three years, primarily, I was focused on work around DEI. We had a leader who was in the forefront, Bernard Tyson –unfortunately, we lost him last year–, and he implemented DEI practices within KP. I’m proud to have been a part of that effort.
Q. As adults who are part of organizations, how do we learn? What’s the best way?
It’s a really good question because a lot of what we are discovering today in education is that people don’t know how to learn. With adult learners, in particular, we learn by doing and by what’s called advance organizers. Based on our life experience we use and build training that builds on what you already know. For example, as someone who works in the education field, if someone wanted to teach me about a specific topic I would draw on the skills I acquired as an undergraduate student – experiential learning, trying, and trial and error.
As adult learners, particularly in corporate America, we learn on the job. That’s the best way to do it. But you structure that, create frameworks and processes around that. People in specific jobs have a certain set of knowledge, and as an instructional designer you find out what that knowledge base is and build from there. That way, it keeps people interested, motivated and wanting to continue to learn.
Q. As we promote ongoing learning, what are the challenges?
We should be prioritizing learning. We are so inundated with everything that’s going on in the environment, which is a huge part of learning. While you’re on the job and you’re trying to learn, you’re getting pulled into so many places, so it’s difficult to take the time to do it. When you come home you’re doing other things, regardless of your role in the family. It’s hard to take the time out to learn. Teachers are discovering now that they don’t just educate our kids, they babysit our kids.
The biggest challenge is all that there’s so much demand around us, so many people pulling us from different directions. Making learning a priority in the work environment takes a manager, a leader, a coach to make sure there is time being set aside to learn. On the other hand, learners also have a responsibility to find and take the time to do that. They need to ask their managers to help them prioritize learning.
Q. It has to come from leadership that learning is a priority, to enable those who want to continue learning.
It’s a top-down approach. At KP I was part of the National Learning Leaders team, and what we did was set the learning agenda for the entire organization. We worked with all the leaders of the organization and talked about what kinds of things were important to learn that year. Helping leaders with their respective areas, implementing those learning plans, creating strategies around that learning and helping them disseminate it throughout the organization. Staying on top of innovation –change management was a big piece, helping leaders and managers understand why it was important and what was in it for them if they took on these learning strategies.
When you model that kind of behavior and your staff sees that learning and development are important, everybody wants to get noticed. Everybody wants to “follow the leader” –cliché there. If you set the tone, people will follow.
Q. In your view, what is an inclusive leader? And what are the current challenges for leaders who want to become more inclusive?
I see Bernard Tyson as an example of an inclusive leader, and I like to think of myself as one as well. You don’t have to be a CEO, particularly in our times, to lead. You can lead from where you stand. An inclusive leader is someone who can galvanize people to work together, to see beyond what’s right in front of them, see what’s under the hood in terms of gender, race, and cultural humility. Helping people learn about one another. Inclusiveness is about learning to step outside of yourself.
Being a lifelong learner myself, I always try to look at my blind spots. They can prevent me from learning about you, or about someone on my team who might be a younger person or a disabled person. It’s about looking at all the ingredients in that pot and making sure we are all boiling and growing together, to become the best team, best individuals, best leaders and best organization we can be.
When you have more perspectives you have more people contributing to the process. People feel seen, heard –most people want to be seen and heard more than they want money, so it’s really about being recognized for your work. And the way you do that is to check your assumptions at the door, give people a place to be seen and heard and create an environment of trust, which means creating a safe environment, and there are several ways to do that.
Q. What does it take to change a culture, and create sustainable change?
For a culture to change you need to have buy-in at every level of the organization. Only top-down or bottom-up won’t work, it’s about everyone coming to the table, feeling they have a voice, and of course safety and trust. You can’t just say to people “here’s the new way of doing things” without getting input from them. Particularly because people who are closer to the ground are the ones who have the pulse of the organization in terms of what’s working and what’s not. Not just among themselves, but also with the costumers, products and the day to day things that are done in the organization. So it’s important to solicit information and hear from everyone.
DEI shouldn’t just be an HR function. It has to be engrained in the business. It has to be measured, you have to keep data, look at your hiring practices, look at where you are recruiting, how you are promoting people and giving performance reviews. All of those things taken together start to create culture. It’s important to have checks and balances, and it can’t be a lip service thing because your staff will see right through that. People will now if you’re serious about doing things or if you are only putting your money and your mouth.
[quote: “DEI shouldn’t just be an HR function. It has to be engrained in the business. It has to be measured”
We’re seeing a lot around Black Lives Matter (BLM), things on television like commercials that point to being more inclusive. But if you’re not doing in the work environment what you’re putting out to the world in your media, your staff will now and they’ll call you on it. It’s about including everyone and making it a business line item –a business goal, a strategic goal. All those things shaped together are what works to shift the culture, and it takes time.
Q. With everything that’s going on with BLM and everything else, there’s a lot of talk and “fuzziness” about inclusion. If a leader wants to take inclusion to heart and transform their culture, what do they need to do? There seems to be fatigue around the idea of inclusion. How do we get all the noise out of the way and do something effective?
Josh Bersin, a well-known person in the education space, does a poll every year. This year it was the Pulse of HR survey, where he asked what’s the main action that should be taken by organizations to deal with racial justice. The number one response was “to have an open dialogue” To have a real, transparent, open dialogue around racial justice. So it’s important to have those conversations so people –again—can feel heard and that they’re contributing to the process.
In terms of dealing with what we call “inclusion fatigue”, I’d like to reframe that. When I think about it as an African American and a lesbian, I ask people to consider that if they’re fatigued with having the conversation around inclusion, they try to imagine how I feel in terms of looking for, seeking and asking for racial justice. I don’t want to go back 400 years, [laughs] but it’s been long enough. People get fatigued just having the conversation for maybe six weeks, or two, three months tops.
Q. Is there anything you see in terms of trends that gives us hope in turning the page towards a more inclusive society, more inclusive workplaces?
Yes, I feel encouraged with what I’m seeing out there. You can’t watch TV or go online without seeing all kinds of people looking to do DEI training. Just look at the people that were marching in the streets –every color of the rainbow, every shape and size. The younger folk are picking up the mantle, they talk about wanting to work for organizations that are focused on inclusion, particularly as it relates to gender equality, trans rights, voter rights. People are starting to look not just within themselves, but also outside themselves, holding others accountable and having the hard conversations.
That’s what’s more encouraging to me, the dialogue. Some might call it fatigue, others might call it being on a learning journey –learning about other people, what it means to be inclusive. As long as we have that kind of energy of people willing to learn, practicing cultural humility, not just focusing on themselves, reading books—look at how much reading people are doing today, trying to learn about anti-racism and things they never knew about. So I see many encouraging trends happening. As someone who comes from an education background, I had never seen so many people genuinely trying to learn about others.