Jennifer Thornton talks about team success with Aruna Krishnan on Lead That Thing podcast.
00:03 S1: On this episode of Lead That Thing, I talk to Jen Thornton, talent strategist and leadership development coach.
00:15 S2: Welcome back, everyone. Today, my guest is Jen Thornton. Jen has developed her expertise in talent strategy and leadership professional development over her exciting 20-plus year career as an HR professional, she’s led international teams across Greater China, Mexico, the UK and the US. The rapid growth of her consulting firms for four coaching has been largely due to Jennifer’s unconventional approach to building innovative workforce development solutions for companies who are facing breakthrough growth and accelerated hiring patterns. She assists her clients and building talent strategies that complement their business strategies to ensure exponential growth. Welcome, Jen. Thank you for having me. No problem. Pleasure is mine. So tell us about what topic you are bringing the audience today, and tell us a little bit about how you learned about it.
01:16 S1: So when I thought about your audience and what I thought might be of interest in them, I thought it would be great to talk about how do we actually create behavior change in individuals within our organizations. I know that we’ve all gone to seminars or gone through a training course, and you know we’ve done all these things, and in the moment we had some really big expectations of ourselves, we took great notes, and when we went back, we were gonna be this whole new person and nothing changed. And that bothers me, and I, for years, when I was leading HR departments having to crack that, that how do we actually get people to change their behaviors and grow… I spent a lot of time doing research and looking into it, and that’s how I came up with the learning model that we use here at 304 coaching.
02:09 S2: Yeah, that’s really cool. And it’s so true, and we were just talking about this before we started recording is, if you take it back to school days, there are certain topics where you were really just expected to memorize the material and there was no application necessarily, and those are the first things that you forget and you just don’t even remember, What did I have on Learn about… So this sounds very similar. Now, this is more like in your career phase, like you go to some man artists, you take all these notes and it’s great, but yeah, I didn’t use that in my job and now I don’t remember… That’s exactly what you’re talking about. Yeah, that I can totally relate to that. So how did you recognize that, Hey, this is something really big that we need to expand and build a way of providing that education, of taking knowledge and being able to translate that knowledge into something we’re able to use… How did that journey progress for you?
03:14 S1: So I love reverse engineering things, and so sometimes if I don’t know what I should do, I spend time figuring out what I shouldn’t do, and that leads me on a path, and so one afternoon and I was trying to solve a problem for a client, they were a fast growing organization, we knew that they were going to triple their size in a very short time period, and we needed to have leaders who were ready to be promoted very quickly and probably before their experience level matched up, and we had to get creative and so I was brought in to find a solution and I thought, Well, you know, I’ve seen this done a few times, and that usually doesn’t work. Now I’ve gotta figure out a solution. Oh my goodness. And so what I did is I sat down and I made a list of everything of why group training or individual training doesn’t work, what are the challenges of it? Why does it not work? What did I not like about it as a learner or someone bringing a vendor and like myself to develop people, and so basically I made a list of all the reasons why it doesn’t work and looked at how often those reasons are used really every day, and simple things like…
04:25 S1: So often we’ll put people in a room for three whole days and we expect them to come out, these new people… Well, the adult brain doesn’t learn that way, that’s way too much in a short period of time, and you’re not applying as you learn, and so I looked at things like we shouldn’t take people out of the business because that’s expensive to take people out of their jobs for long periods of time. And so when I sat down and kind of then said, Alright, what doesn’t work? How does this work? I first looked at the adult learner’s mind, and how does the adult learner learn and they learn and bits and pieces to drip content, they also learn when they physically do something with it. And so with our model we have… It’s all drip content, but there’s four key pieces, and that first piece is what competencies does an organization or an individual need to learn to develop, and a competency is something you use across many skill sets, so maybe communication, you use communication through giving, direction and delegation, use communication, when you’re setting vision, and so competency is something you use across most multiple skills, a skill…
05:34 S1: As a skill, it’s something that, Here are the steps, or, here’s what you need to do. And so we have to have competencies, we have to have skills, the other piece of it, which is one that I am probably the most passionate about, is we have to do the mindset work, what’s on the other side of our development, if we work really hard and we develop ourselves and we grow into these new leaders, what’s on the other side and what’s affordable to us, and so we have self-coaching questions built into all of our training, and that can be something like if your team’s engagement went up 10% this year, what goals could you hit? What KPIS could you excel at? What would that mean for you in your future career? So we do the mind work, then the fourth piece of it is we actually do something with it, and so with all of the education at the end of learning something, where you learn some new skills, you learn some competencies, you learn the mindset work, then you physically go and do something with it. We have really great exercises to immediately go and apply with your teams, and so we rip that out over a course of time depending on the design for that organization, and that is how we create behavior change because it’s a little at a time…
06:54 S1: We do the physical work, the mental work, and it all comes together for change. I love that model, and that’s a new word for me, drip.
07:04 S2: So tell me a little bit about that term, I’ve never heard of that. So
07:08 S1: When we go into that room for three days, it’s kind of like a fire hose, right, and it’s just shoving all this information and your brain can only take in so much before it needs to kind of rest with it and settle with it, so with drip content or drip learning, what we do is we strategically look at things over time, so most of our leadership academies are anywhere from seven to 12 months long, and so we have a very clear journey of what that individual will learn over time, but every single month we release a piece of it, and then they practice that piece and then the next month something builds on top of that, and so then they practice what they’ve been learning over the last few months, but then we add something to it, and so it’s not this overwhelmed… Its gotta learn 10 new things. It’s every month I’m learning a few things that I’m building my toolkit that I can have a use…
08:01 S2: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I’ve heard Drinking from the fire hose and that it’s quite a challenge and… Definitely that works for some people. Some people can be successful with that model, but some people find that extremely overwhelming, but I do like the strategic approach and very intentional approach of, Hey, this is what you need right now, let’s make sure you have grasped this skill and competency, let’s apply it and really setting people up for success, right. And wanting more, as they get successful in one, it’s this craving like, Yeah, I’m ready. I’m ready to learn more. So I wanna ask that it brings up a question in my mind, everybody learns at different pieces, so how do you account for that? Can people go ahead and learn the next skill? Or are they all at the same pace? So when we do an Academy, those that are in that cohort are usually at the same pace, and
09:06 S1: We have it designed, so it has some different techniques for different types of learners, so we have videos, explainer videos that show how to use something, model a behavior, talks about the program, we then also offer actual implementation work, not homework implementations we need to implement, so they’re working on very specific implementation work, oftentimes they’ll meet with their coach during that time period, and that’s where that individualization comes in and they can work with our coach very specifically on what’s important to them and where are they succeeding, where do they maybe need a little little bit more help, then we come together as a group in that same module and we share experiences, and so when you’re done with your implementation work and we come together as a group, we talk about it, what worked, what didn’t work, what did you learn? We’ve worked through some of those self-coaching questions in a group format, and so because there’s a lot of different touch points, in different varieties of touch points, we hit on multiple learners and that’s a very much purposely driven.
10:15 S2: Okay, yeah, that makes sense. I like that aspect of peer-to-peer learning, when you learn from a coach, it’s one thing and you have that as well working with a coach, but learning from your peers is something that is always so valuable because your peers are your peers, you can relate to them… And I think that’s a great way to do it. And not only that, now you’re building relationships, better relationships between these teams, ’cause now they’re talking to each other, so from all this training you’ve… This must be really rewarding, but what are some of the things you feel that you have personally learned from sharing this message or gained as someone who has implemented these type of changes… You know.
11:05 S1: I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot around applying great ideas, I think that often as entrepreneurs, we… Or as business owners, we have a lot of ideas, but then we have to actually do something with those. So I use that model when I read a book and I’m like, I really like these concepts, I stop and think, Okay, how could I do something with this now, because so often we read a book and we set it to the side and we think it’s all great, and we do… Again, we do nothing with it. I work, I always work with a coach, but I also work through self-coaching for myself, it’s one of those things that I think is a skill that if everyone had it, where could we all be in life and when I bump up against something that doesn’t feel quite right. Or awkward, or I experience fear, I go through questions. What’s on the other side of this is why is this being presented to me, how can I grow? And so I think that I’ve gotten a lot more intentional with my personal growth, and I look at it in a very different way, and I apply a lot more today than I’ve ever applied before.
12:16 S2: That makes so much sense. And Power of mindset, I can’t emphasize that enough. Just as you do, because it’s something I’ve learned to where a lot of it, a lot of your success, it starts with having the right mindset, whether it be your relationship or whether it be problem solving, right. Until you have that clear mind and the mind to be calm and look at things in a methodical way, you need to have that right mindset, and I like that you’re bringing that into your training because I don’t think that’s something natural that people think about… It has to be something that… Emphasize more and more these days that that’s a big part of it. So yeah, that’s great, that makes a lot of sense. And definitely, there’s so much growth once you do have that self, self-leadership on self-mastery in that sense, where it almost becomes like you basically are responsible for your own success at that point… Right.
13:28 S1: Yeah, and what we find is people who are in the program, when they start to really ask themselves really good questions, questions that inspire growth, they also ask better questions to their team, and though they are learning how to self-coach or work with a coach, they’re becoming better coaches because they start to see the power of these questions and it’s kind of a by-product that’s in there, but it’s always so fun at the end of it, when we do our surveys and we get feedback, one of the things we always hear is, I ask better questions today than I’ve ever asked before, and I love that, ’cause that’s not part of the training, but yet it’s a skill and a competency, and they pick up because they applied it every month are going through self-coaching, and so then it becomes a habit. And they become better leaders.
14:21 S2: Right, right. Once you’ve experienced it and you’ve seen the effect of it, then you really believe in it, and it’s easier for you to teach it to people… Perfectly, perfectly said. So tell us about a success story that you can share with us. From using this method.
14:42 S1: Gosh, I think one of my biggest success stories as a client, actually the client I spoke of earlier, where I was called in to solve what we knew was gonna be a problem, and that is rapid expansion, and organizations have this issue all of the time. And what I find is people with rapid expansion, they’re really worried about the business plan and they don’t always put a talent strategy to go along with that business plan, and that’s why our business plans fail because we didn’t have the right people in the right skills in place to make it come true. And so working with the specific organization, in fact, I did a full case study on them, and we knew they were gonna triple in size, and we knew we were gonna be hiring individual contributors who would be promoted to fleet small teams and those leaders then being promoted to run divisions very quickly in a very compressed time, and we knew that going outside of the organization would be very costly, so we could not 100% go outside the organization, plus, and we’re trying to teach them culture, and so we thought, Well, let’s…
15:51 S1: Instead of investing in future recruitment, let’s invest in our current team and get them ready for our future expansions, and that’s what we did, we use this method, we created a program, we knew what competencies they were gonna need, we knew what skills they were gonna need, we knew where the company was going, so we really manage the questions around expansion and growth and taking on additional and that kind of compressing and flexing of markets because we knew their markets would change a lot. And so we looked at all of that, created their seven-month academy based on where we knew we were going, not where we are, because where we are is already history, but where are we going? And we deployed that, and what we found is individuals who were in the program, our turnover was a single digit, those outside of the program, they had a double digit turnover, and so we were able to equate 16 million in savings and turnover cost for those individuals that were actually in the program and we actually had it dialed into how many dollars a day per store they would have lost if they had had turnover and it was something like 20 some dollars a day, and when you don’t have the right leaders, it’s a very easy to assume that, yeah, you’re gonna maybe lose 20 a day per store, but it’s really hard sometimes for the mind to wrap around, well, did that program really saved me 16 million did it really…
17:26 S1: Well, when you break down the numbers, it did, and I think that was really eye-opening for the CEO, and that was our first year and we on… ’cause he continues to grow, we continue to buy more units, and we are on our third year of this program, and it just gets better and better, but it’s saving him a ton of money, and he’s really proud of the work his team is doing, and I think that’s almost worth more than the money, is being really proud of that what you provide your team and seeing your team grow really rapidly, and knowing when you hire someone, they have a future and that you’re giving them the runway to be successful in that future. Yeah.
18:05 S2: That’s wonderful. And I think you touched on life, perfect points relating to Leadership is wanting to see your team successful, and a lot of that is giving them things that they wanna do that might challenge them, empowering them and helping them, giving them those learning opportunity, which is what your program does, and… Wow. And that’s great. Those numbers are astounding. I think that’s a craton… That I think that’s a great achievement. So then, talking about leaders then, what would be your one word of advice, if you could give aspiring leaders and current leaders a word of advice, what would that be?
18:50 S1: It would be to never end your day without asking a form of the question, what did I not learn today that I should have learned? Or what question did I not ask that I should have asked today? As a leader, ask a form of that question every single day because there is something we should have heard, there’s something we should have listened to more closely, there’s something we should have seen, noticed, learned. And if you were to ask that question at least once a day, a form of it for an entire year, can you imagine just how much more knowledge we would have about our business, about our team, and think about how our team would feel how… Every day they know they can contribute to your growth as a leader, and they’re gonna sign up and be a lot more involved and be excited to tell you when you ask those questions. So I think that’s one of the best things you can do as a leader is never go home without learning something new.
19:48 S2: Wow, I love that. Like a leader’s job is to constantly learn, right, and it’s to be… That comes from number one, awareness, and so to be able to ask yourself that question, number one is aware of what’s all around you, and number two, it’s awareness of yourself, so I like that because that’s not just self-reflection or introspection, it’s also just being aware of your surroundings of your people and your interactions, which you cannot be a successful leader unless you know that… Yeah, so that’s a great point. Yeah.
20:25 S1: You’re absolutely right ear. I love that you said that the job of a leader is to keep learning… That’s
20:30 S2: Great, thanks. So you give it us great information, I love this. So if people want to learn more about your programs or more about you, how can they reach you?
20:51 S2: Okay, that’s great, I’ll put that in the notes so people can get a hold of you and I so appreciate you spending the time with me today, Jim, thanks so much for coming on the show.
21:03 S1: Thank you for having me, it was a pleasure. Beta thing
21:08 S2: Is a production of optimal helping businesses to find strategies for growth, strategize energies, optimize, join me next season in lead that thing, to hear about how people are going out there to make a difference in their lives and for others, until then the bathing