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Building an Internal L&D Team in an Organization (Part 1)

Tim Barnosky on building an L&D team

Tim Barnosky was a lot of things (including a news anchor at a local television station) before he became an instructional designer. We were also on the same track team in high school, but that’s a story for a different day.

Recently, Tim moved from his role with Amazon Web Services to a newly created position with Rochester, NY-based Innovative Solutions. He was hired to build out a training team within Innovative Solutions, a function that will exist at the company for the very first time.

Today’s podcast offers a bit of a preview to Tim’s work, the challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead. It’s also a bit of an unfinished story as Tim is just now beginning to build out his team. What follows are some of his initial thoughts about what’s possible. Come back in November(ish) where we’ll have a chance to talk with Tim once again to hear how it’s going, and what lessons he’s learned along the way.

Introduction 

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn. I am the Co-founder of a company called Endurance Learning, and I’m also your host. And today I’m joined by a high school friend of mine, Tim Barnosky, who is the Manager of Training and Development at Innovative Solutions. We’ll get to Tim in just a second. 

Today’s podcast is really part one in what we hope to be a two-part series with Tim that is going to follow his path as he builds out an internal learning and development function from scratch at his organization. Today we’re gonna talk about his hopes and dreams and his vision for that function, and we’ll check back in with him toward the end of the year to compare what he has to say with how things actually go over the next few months.

Before we get to any of that, I do need to share that we are brought to you by Soapbox, an online tool that can be used for 5 or 10 minutes by you, and you can take care of about 50 or 60% of the work when it comes to developing live, instructor-led training. You basically go in and tell the computer how long your presentation is, how many people will attend, whether it’s in-person or virtual, what your learning objectives are, and then Soapbox will instantly generate a training plan for you with clusters of training activities that are designed to help you accomplish your learning outcomes. If you wanna try it out for free for two weeks, or just get more information, you can visit www.soapboxify.com.

Six-word Biography

Brian Washburn: Okay, Tim, we’re through all the formalities. I’d love to introduce you to the world here, and how we normally do is we let our guests introduce themselves using exactly six words. So how would you introduce yourself in six words?

Tim Barnosky: I would say for that, “I have a unique set of skills.”

Brian Washburn: And it sounds very Liam Neeson from Taken.

Tim Barnosky: Yeah.

Brian Washburn: “I have a very, you know, a unique skill set.” So I’m curious, before we get into the actual questions here, what are some of those– what’s been your career path to getting you to designing a training program internally?

The Winding Path To Designing an Internal Training Program

This unusual or unique set of skills has really been helpful the entire way.

Tim Barnosky: Yeah, sure. So you know, it’s an unusual pathway for sure. The high level, the 10,000-foot view as I went from live concert production to broadcast journalism to instructional design certification/exam development. And now I am building out an entire L&D program from the ground up. And, you know, I fully understand that that’s atypical – it’s actually a favorite SME story at our dinners during development workshops. But the audio production work very much fed into shooting your own video and tracking your own audio as a backpack journalist. And, you know, using that technology to help tell your story, right? Deliver really important information in a way that makes sense to people and in a way that lets them know why it’s important to them and how it affects them. And that experience rolled into eLearning development quite nicely. You know, you’re writing for the ear, you’re delivering content, you’re delivering the WIIFM – the what’s in it for me – and why this matters. And you know, from there I really kind of took hold with just the content development side of things moved into ILT development, custom courseware development, and then, you know, kind of got pulled sideways into certification. And you know, this unusual or unique set of skills has really been helpful the entire way.

Brian Washburn: And so now you’ve been brought into an organization to build out the learning function. Before we get into that, can you tell us a little bit more about what Innovative Solutions does?

Tim Barnosky: Yeah, sure. So Innovative Solutions – a Rochester-based company – we’ve been here for around 34 years. Effectively we are a managed services provider and an IT consultancy. Our main focus is in the areas of cloud migration, managed services, so you know, up to anything including fully managing the IT infrastructure for our customers, and we do a lot of software development. Our big focus now is of course the cloud, migrations are a huge part of that.

And through our partnership with AWS and a strategic agreement we have with them, we are pursuing a pretty bold goal of bringing hundreds and hundreds of new customers onto the AWS cloud from a consulting perspective. So in a nutshell, that’s what we do. They started literally with phone systems and mainframes and have sort of grown and evolved with the technology over the years, and you know, again, now very heavily focused in the cloud.

Brian Washburn: And the training that you’re building out, will it be customer facing or will it be internal, or will it be both?

Tim Barnosky: So for now it’s entirely internal training, right? With this collaborative agreement we have with AWS, we are going to experience a lot of growth over the next three years. We have to build out our service delivery teams, our technical teams. Obviously have to build out entering the sales teams on pretty complex technology, as well as structure a formal onboarding program that’s gonna touch every department in the organization. So for now, it’s entirely internally focused, but we support customers and one of the ways you do that is helping them learn these technologies as well. So I certainly anticipate that’s going to evolve into a part of this program over time.

Brian Washburn: And so– and I think you’re starting to answer this a little bit- but let’s answer it more completely- based on what you know so far, why did the company decide now was the time to build out an internal learning function? Is the company growing, doubling, tripling in size? And are you designing learning for the entire organization or is it just one specific part of the organization? Like is it specifically for leadership development or sales enablement or something specific like that?

When is the Right Time to Build a Training Program?

Tim Barnosky: Yeah, sure. So the reason why now is the right time is because of the anticipated growth, right? This strategic agreement has some pretty lofty goals, some pretty ambitious, bold goals, and that will effectively more than double– I don’t think it will triple the size of the organization- in the next couple of years, but it’s certainly going to more than double it. And the training, the learning and development, has just been organic so far. It’s a small enough organization, currently around 120 people, but if that grows closer to 300 just that sort of ad hoc one-to-one interaction or you know, occasional meetings where a more senior person will get two or three other folks up to speed or help them prep for a certification exam or something like that isn’t gonna cut it. It’s not gonna be scalable, it’s not gonna be consistent across delivery teams, across the technical teams.

The need is very clearly there and I think now really is the right time to build a more formal structured program.

And so the need is very clearly there and I think now really is the right time to build a more formal structured program. And this will touch everybody in the company, right? Like I already mentioned a formal onboarding program. You know, it shouldn’t matter if you work in finance or IT or sales.

That first introduction to the company and the “who we are” and “what we do”, you know, right from that first day, that should be consistent, right? And that should be delivered in an engaging manner that's gonna help get people excited about the journey that they're on.

That first introduction to the company and the “who we are” and “what we do”, you know, right from that first day, that should be consistent, right? And that should be delivered in an engaging manner that’s gonna help get people excited about the journey that they’re on, right? The path that they just started. But it also has to be really informative, and there is a lot to learn when you come on board somewhere. So just making that consistent and getting people familiar with where to go, where the tools are, what they use, will be a really important part of it too.

And then I’ll just continue to work with all of the managers of the various functional teams throughout the organization to support them in any way that they need. And one of the first things we’re gonna do with that is define really clear development paths, career journeys, career paths, regardless of role. And so that’s very clearly– that’s gonna be touching every single department pretty regularly.

Brian Washburn: Absolutely. So if you think about what you’re doing right now and kind of the vision that you have, and then if you put yourself into a time machine that goes to a year from now or two years from now. What would indicate, “Yep. The organization made the right call in building out an internal learning function, and it’s been successful because….” How would you finish that sentence?

Measuring the Success of a Training Program

And we're promoting people and we're growing the number of skills that we have in order to support our customers. I think those are going to be the key indicators for us that it was the right thing to do to bring this in-house.

Tim Barnosky: Yeah, so that I think is pretty straightforward, right? If we are achieving our strategic goals and we are reducing ramp-up time for service delivery teams or team members or folks on the sales team to the point where they’re really productive and can jump in and help push us in the same direction with these projects. If we establish KPIs, you know, for these timelines and productivity levels and sales numbers and we’re hitting the goals that we’ve established for ourselves, I think it’s gonna be pretty fair to say that you know, it was a successful program. And honestly, I think feedback from the teams, from the folks I work with is gonna be important too. “Yes, I now see a future that’s clearly delineated and I know what I have to do to work toward either moving into a different type of role or advancing in mine,” and they’re able to do that. And we’re promoting people and we’re growing the number of skills that we have in order to support our customers. I think those are going to be the key indicators for us that it was the right thing to do to bring this in-house.

The Excitement of Building Training from Scratch

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And now you have a blank slate in front of you. What are you most excited about when it comes to this opportunity?

It's really freeing, right? There isn't anything to fix or revise or kind of the momentum that something existing has. If you wanna pivot, if you wanna shift, you have to nudge it, you know, in more to the direction that you want that heading.

Tim Barnosky: Yeah, so the blank slate is the most exciting part of it for me. I’ve really been fortunate enough multiple times to either build something from scratch as a one-man band, really just by myself, or getting in really early on a team that’s about to rebuild a program and grow it. And that’s incredibly energizing. So just in and of itself, the opportunity to do it again is wonderful. But you know, beyond that, it’s really freeing, right? There isn’t anything to fix or revise or kind of the momentum that something existing has. If you wanna pivot, if you wanna shift, you have to nudge it, you know, in more to the direction that you want that heading. So not having anything there to fix is really refreshing.

Being able to design an instructional design model in a way that’s gonna be super effective for this company and focus for the various teams. That’s really exciting. That’s really interesting. Getting to pick the tooling, you know, deciding how we’re gonna do rapid eLearning development, how we’re gonna host this content, how we’re gonna track people, and being able to pick something that, again, is really gonna work for the organization and ultimately our customers because that’s the end goal is, you know, we’re there to help them transform their businesses through technology. And I get to play a pretty big part in picking the tooling and the instruction and how we’re gonna deliver that and we’re gonna incentivize it, how we’re going to really be able to make every decision or influence that, it is an incredibly energizing thing.

The Challenges of Building Training from Scratch

Brian Washburn: How about on the flip side of it when you think of challenges? What do you think are gonna be some of the biggest challenges? For me, I know that when I have a blank slate, it is exciting, but it’s also intimidating, right? It’s just that blank piece of paper and then I sit there and stare at it, and then I start scrolling through social media because I’m not sure what to do with this blank slate. What do you think are gonna be some of your biggest challenges as you build with an eye towards showing the organization that they made the right call by investing in training?

the blank slate really can elicit a sort of paralysis response...And that will be part of what's tricky here, but we have some pretty clear priorities around what we need first, what we need second, and so there's a little bit of direction there.

Tim Barnosky: Sure, sure. No, great question. So yeah, the blank slate really can elicit a sort of paralysis response, right? I mean, where do you start first? And it is a challenge, right? And that will be part of what’s tricky here, but we have some pretty clear priorities around what we need first, what we need second, and so there’s a little bit of direction there. I think the real challenges are going to be that I really do need to start building in parallel content for a pretty disparate group of teams that do very, very different things. So managing the balance of prioritizing the top one or two things that we need to work on – the training programs that really need to push forward first – with not leaving anybody out or behind and building in parallel with some of these really, really big priorities what we really need to have a smooth, you know, from day one, onboarding to proficient kind of process and ramp up in timeline. So that’s gonna be one of the challenges.

There is, you know, some balance that you have to find when everybody is very, very busy all of the time. And so I think the challenge there is in how we decide to structure the content...

But you know, this is IT and this is the cloud, things change quickly. We want to grow quickly, and the people that we need to train are very, very busy supporting customers and selling and keeping the rest of the operations going, including internal IT folks who may not directly be supporting customers. And to take them off of the floor for any period of time has a consequence, right? It’s a trade-off. There is, you know, some balance that you have to find when everybody is very, very busy all of the time. And so I think the challenge there is in how we decide to structure the content, to chunk it into really, really digestible, manageable bites that still leave the learner with something they don’t forget because they were only in an eLearning or watching a video or reading something for 10 minutes and then they get right back on the floor and start helping a customer or making calls. So that part of the strategic design is gonna be very, very important for a company like ours.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, I mean, from somebody who just takes a look and reads through all of the stuff when it comes to learning and development, I’m jealous because I mean, you have this blank slate and you’re talking about doing all the right things. I’m really excited to see how this goes. I think that we should check back in maybe in November or so once it actually starts to get off the ground and see how it goes.

Tim Barnosky: Yeah, absolutely. I’d be honored to come back.

Brian Washburn: Well, Tim, good luck with this. Thank you everyone for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen. If you know of somebody who might find today’s topic about building out an organizational learning function to be helpful and important, go ahead and pass along a link to this podcast. If you are interested in learning more about a broad range of learning and development strategies, some of which Tim even touched on in this podcast, you can pick up a copy of What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training written by yours truly. You can find that at www.amazon.com.

And until next time, happy training everyone.

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