“If you build it, they will come.”
This chestnut may work for baseball, but it’s rarely true for training launches. A more common scenario is: We post our latest and greatest training and… crickets.
To overcome this problem, L&D managers should take a few lessons for successful new product launches: Approach your launch as a dynamic campaign, rather than a one-time event. Does this mean you need to be a showman like Steve Jobs or earn 50 million YouTube views like the Old Spice Guy? Not really. But having a plan can improve your project’s visibility within your organization and increase its credibility—both necessary attributes of a mind-changing learning experience.
How do you increase visibility and interest? Here are 3 steps.
1. Seed program information with influencers and learners. Just as Apple gets bloggers and thought leaders on board before their products launch by seeding or “leaking” information, L&D professionals should make information about their training available early to leaders and company influencers.
According to McKinsey, “Outcomes are much better when business leaders participate in the design and delivery of training programs and connect them to the new ways of working.” When leaders are excited and invested in the training, the project benefits from increased resources and consistent messaging across the organization.
What can leaders and influencers do to get the project started off right?
- Facilitate webinar or classroom sessions
- Serve as role models and mentors to reinforce the skills and content
- Feature in testimonials or marketing videos for the program.
- Participate in a program pilot or early rollout (see #2 below) and offer feedback. (Be sure you show them how you’ve incorporated their feedback into the program and how it improved the program’s quality.)
Influencers are essential to program success. It is also important to seed program updates with the target learning audience. Internal marketing techniques can inform learners and build curiosity, excitement, momentum and even suspense for the program.
David Lavenda at FastCompany recommends doing something unusual during this process, such as creating a funny video, publishing a survey that supports the value of the training or creating an interesting infographic that describes the need for the training. Then use these communications to ensure learners’ understand the benefits the training brings them. Justin Jackson at Tiny Marketing Wins suggests you think about the super powers your solution gives learners. For example, include stories of how the program impacted learners’ on-the-job performance, testimonials from influential learners or details about how the program is impacting the company’s bottom line.
2. Cascade the rollout. In his FastCompany article, David Lavenda adds “a rolling launch is a great way to keep the conversation going.” This allows your training to gain momentum in the organization over time, rather than becoming the flavor of the day. There are several ways to cascade a rollout. Here are a couple of examples.
- Roll the content out in small chunks that build on each other over time. This approach works best when content is segmented into discrete topics. A new course on digital marketing may include short modules on SEO, content, conversion and email. Roll out a single topic each week with a short knowledge-building segment with a real-world practice activity. The following week’s topic could then begin with a quiz on the previous week’s topic, to help learners consolidate and retain that skill. Learning theorists such as Roddy Roediger have shown the benefit of the “testing effect” for long-term retention: “We don’t get information into memory just to have it sit there. We get it in to be able to use it later… And the actual act of retrieving the information over and over, that’s what makes it retrievable when you need it.”
- Roll the content out in waves to specific audiences. Another cascading approach is introducing the training to different audiences in waves. These waves could align with business units, roles or regions within your organization. Initially introduce the training to key influencers or the core group who needs it, then launch the training for other groups. This approach allows you to test the training in a small region or with a small, but influential audience, then refine it before unveiling it to the next audience.
3. Position the training as part of something bigger. Inc.com offers this reminder for L&D professionals: “You’re not just rolling out a new training program; you’re creating (or extending) a culture that values continued development of employees and constant knowledge sharing.” Infuse this sense of mission and purpose in your communications throughout the rollout.
As the McKinsey article points out, corporate training often neglects this question and assumes that employees know why training is necessary. This is a mistake because “it allows normal patterns of skepticism to become barriers to learning.” Instead, L&D’s communications about the training should paint a picture of the future, showing learners what the world would look like without the training, and how much more enjoyable it is with the training.
The bottom line is plan your training rollout.
Plan your rollout with as much care as the training itself so it receives the visibility and credibility it deserves. Although you don’t need to be Steve Jobs, you should ensure that every component of the rollout, from timing to communications, tells the same story and supports the project’s overall business objectives. However, be flexible enough to pivot your plan based on the feedback you receive from learners and influencers.