Tom Griffiths: This is Learning Works, a podcast presented by Hone. It's a series of in depth conversations with L& D experts, HR leaders, and executives on how they've built game changing learning and development strategies, unleashed business growth through talent development, and scaled their global L& D teams. Tune in for the wisdom and actionable insights, the best in the industry.
I'm Tom Griffiths, CEO of Hone. Welcome to Learning Works.
Today, we're joined by Jess Yuen, an advisor and executive coach who has served as Gusto's chief people officer, Khan Academy's head of international growth and strategy, a McKinsey expert on operations and organization, and as the people advisor for Y Combinator's growth program. Last but not least in her long and impressive resume, Jess has a master's degree in electrical engineering from Stanford university.
We're thrilled to have Jess join us on the Learning Works podcast. Jess, welcome to the show.
Jess Yuen: Thanks for having me, Tom. I'm excited to be here.
Tom Griffiths: Absolutely. It's great to have you. And I've appreciated very much over the years, our conversations and your help and input on many aspects of Hone. You're often doing many different things at the same time.
I would love to know what are you working on right now and what is most exciting to you?
Jess Yuen: Currently I have three things that I'm spending my energies on and The first is my family and just helping them to learn and grow and figure out how to navigate this crazy world. I have two kids who I keep saying little ones, but they're not so little.
They're now four and six years old and they're just sponges right now and so curious and thankfully still cuddly. So I'm really trying to savor this time with them. 2nd, I'm working on my 1 on 1 work with clients who are just amazing, incredible leaders. Many of them at VC backed companies. And the focus of my work is as an executive coach and advisor to them and helping them to navigate the ups and downs of what's been going on in the VC world, economically and the broader landscape and.
Just come through it and with more confidence and clarity and care and trying to do that both at the individual level as well as at the team and company level. And then last, the thing that I've been focusing on is myself and most investing in my own growth and self care, and it still feels a little selfish to say that and perhaps it should even be like, it's something I'm working on.
So perhaps it should have been number 1 to start with, but, I spend a lot of time caring for those around me and. Trying to think about how to have care for me on equal footing. And so one of the things I've been doing lately is just being coached by other coaches. It's been something I've done since I started my coaching practice.
And I really love experiencing different coaching styles and the insights that come out of it. And it's great reminder too, of how I can even better serve my clients.
Tom Griffiths: Yeah, it's great. Be on both sides. I think of the conversation to see how best to engage in those conversations. And you're right.
Being coached and coaching at the same time has that symbiotic relationship. So that's great that you're doing both and credit to you for spending time on all those things. I would say you probably got one of the most diverse backgrounds of any guests we've had on the show. Startup advisor, chief people officer, strategy leader.
Khan Academy, Product Manager at Yahoo, McKinsey, Electrical Engineer. I'd love to know, as you reflect on all of that, how do you think these different experiences have shaped your current worldview and how you work with your clients?
Jess Yuen: Yeah when you list it all together like that, it is a lot. And I think You know, diversity of experiences, it really leads to just having that breadth of being able to see different perspectives and from my experiences, there's some specific skills that I've pulled from each, like I'll talk about 80, 20 and problems and how to speak in groups of three, because that's, those are very consultant things to do, I tend to just did
Tom Griffiths: that in the first question.
Very good. Yeah, it's
Jess Yuen: a habit, it's almost like I can't help myself. I break down problems like an engineer and. I tend to align data and people like a product manager and I, get to know people like a business development person, which was actually what I was hired to do at gusto back in the day.
And I'm really trying to maintain the mindset of an executive given my in house experience there. And the work that I do now. But, moreover, I think these. Different experiences allows for different facets of thinking and perspective, and each of us, each person is so fascinating because we have our own worldview, and those are the things that help us to empathize and learn and grow and stay curious and recognize the value of each of the things that others bring to the table and help us operate in the world.
One thing I love about the breadth of what all of this brings together is how do we connect ideas and thoughts and patterns across what we see? And so the broader, the experience base, the more that you can have these really cool connections coming across it. And my late friend, Eric son, who's who was an engineering leader at meta.
He used to say leadership is all about dock connecting. And it's because from that perspective. You're in a set of meetings or privy to information that only leaders see. And I think the same is true at any level that, the experiences that you have in the workplace, the meetings that you're in, the people that you're interfacing with the customers that you're speaking to, they're unique to you and to your role.
And so we each have something really incredible to be able to. To bear and bring to the table on that. And so all of these breadth of experiences I think is this doc connecting is really about systems thinking. And I think that the breadth of experiences for me has supercharged the systems thinking for me.
Tom Griffiths: Yeah. It's so interesting you say that because I totally agree on the dot connecting as a manager, as a leader on what you need to bring together. And oftentimes as you're connecting the dots, you need to bring people on a journey so that they can understand how you're connecting those dots and, explain the why, explain what, why you didn't go certain pathways.
You mentioned a few mental models there or. Thinking techniques, and that was one of the things I noticed when I worked with a couple of McKinsey consultants earlier in my career, just had these frameworks or ways of thinking that were extremely powerful, and believe it or not, part of that experience was a motivation for Hone because, they've been so well trained at McKinsey.
To have these frameworks that really anyone can learn and use, but it was just so powerful in solving problems and having influence that I felt like everybody should have access to that kind of learning. And so that formed part of the basis for Hone, but good for you for getting that so early in your career.
Jess Yuen: Thank you. Yeah. And I think systems thinking is really something that's so valuable in the people space because so much is interrelated and interconnected. It's if someone asks, hey, should someone came to me and ask for a raise? Should we give it to them? It's not just this simple yes or no answer.
I think all of us recognize, maybe there's some questions about that specific employee, but there's a whole broader set of questions like. What's our compensation philosophy? How does this relate to performance? What are the operating cadences upon which we make these decisions?
What are the expectations of this level? What are our company value support? And as you pull up the thread, you start to realize Hey, it doesn't just touch maybe our total rewards person, but it's also touching maybe our HR business partners and maybe, some other parts of the people space.
And then as you pull and pull and pull further, it's all connected. And so rarely is a people decision made in isolation of other parts of the organization. So I think it's a really powerful way of thinking that lends itself really well in the people space.
Tom Griffiths: Yeah, totally agree.
Like you say, those point decisions are rarely just that decision. So you can pull on the thread and get into broader issues, but at the same time, you want to not boil the ocean. And so knowing how far to go or what problem to scope right now is also really important. You mentioned systems thinking there, I think it'd be really great to dig into to help people think through, how they approach problems.
How would you define the elements of systems thinking?
Jess Yuen: I love that we're coming back to what is this thing and how do we break it down? And so I start with definitions. And so for me, systems thinking is about understanding a system and a system could be a complex organization or a process or a series of connected actions.
And so thinking in systems means thinking about the inputs and outputs of that system, the dynamics of how those things work together, or the synthesis of it all together. And so I think when you ask, how can somebody become better at systems thinking? I do break it down into a couple of big components.
The first is first principles thinking. So coming back to what are the things that this is that we know to be fundamentally true. And so if I'm talking about an issue with company or trying to tackle a problem, what I might start with is what are these fundamental truths? And they might be something like our company values, or maybe their criteria we agreed to be optimizing on for this issue.
And if it doesn't exist. We either pause to create it, or sometimes we're like, we're moving so quickly. I still encourage a quick straw man, a quick draft of what we can loosely agree on at that time to ensure that we have our system calibrated, so to speak, that we are aligned. And so questions that I might ask might look like.
Which of our values does this relate to? Or what is the criteria we'll use to make a decision at the end? And if you ever get pushback like, Ah, that's not an important question. Or, we'll figure it out at the end. I would encourage leaders to take a moment and just nudge a little further.
I know it might not seem like a worthwhile investment at this moment in time, but I really encourage us to consider it. Because when we get to the end, we'll have much more clarity that we're making a decision that relates to what's really important to us. So first principles thinking, I think it's really helpful to make sure that we understand the outline and the boundaries and that like fundamental truths of what we're trying to do together.
The second type of thinking related to systems thinking that's fundamental to it is what I call level up thinking. And when I was at McKinsey and management consulting, we, they talked a lot about learning to level up. So when you shift from being like an associate or an analyst into a manager role, they talk a lot about leveling up your thinking and the idea is to get to a different perspective.
By going one step broader or one step higher than the current plane of thinking. And so if I'm trying to influence a VP, I might actually think about what's the CEO's perspective, because most likely the VP is actually trying to optimize for what's important to the CEO, which is oftentimes what's important for the company, or if, I'm looking at a slide deck and I'm not sure about the details of it, I might step back and instead of focusing on the details, I might consider what's the purpose of this.
This slide deck or the presentation or what's the structure of it. And so I might take that 1 level higher view before I focus on the details. Another example is if I'm observing challenges with 1 customer, I'm going to look to see if there's a pattern of challenges across multiple customers.
So leveling up really allows to understand the broader system at work. And so sometimes I get the follow up question around like. Is this similar to strategic thinking or, how does this relate to strategic thinking? And it is similar and strategic thinking is also very important in our field.
And I think 1 important lever that I work on with my clients. That's an easy proxy for strategic thinking is. To shift timeframes or to extend them. So if you tend to think day to day, try thinking week to week, or if you're thinking month to month, maybe go quarter to quarter. In, in practice, what this looks like often for managers or directors is that they have a really strong grasp of.
Here's what my team needs to do this quarter and here's what we need to do next quarter, but starting to encourage them to think about what about the quarter after that? Let's, what's the six to 12 month timeframe. And at the CEO level, I'm often pushing my clients to be thinking additional kind of 12 to 18 months out.
And that's just a way to be able to see beyond. So like just yesterday I was having a conversation with a CEO. They have a leader who likely will exit in the next three months. And so they were having a conversation with me what do I do? How do I handle it? And what we realized is they had a very strong grasp of how to approach the conversations that were happening right now.
But when we level up our thinking and extended our time frame, we realized, this person was likely going to exit regardless of. How much convincing to keep them to stay? And so we needed to think about the skills and the role that would come 6 to 12 months from now. And so starting to even articulate that in a job description today, so that we can have the conversation with existing employee, but also keep an eye towards how do we backfill or what's the succession plan coming out of it?
And that was something that wasn't yet on their radar. And so that little nudge actually brought up a really important point that changed what they were going to be able to do this week and be able to plan for that future.
Tom Griffiths: That's great. Yeah. And again, just shows the power of partnering with a coach who can help you shift your frame of what you're thinking about.
So I think I heard three things there and in line with the rule of threes. Love it. First principle of thinking. Then leveling up your thinking to a higher plane and then getting strategic by shifting your timeframe further out. I think that's all super actionable and helpful to people. I was just thinking as we were going through for a learning program, if we were designing something for the company, how would you apply those three things to that learning program?
Jess Yuen: So I think for a learning program, first principles thinking is. Why are we doing this program, what's the outcome that we're hoping for, how are we going to measure if it's successful or not? And so asking some of those fundamental questions at its core, I think the 2nd piece around leveling up is maybe taking the view of, we're maybe designing it with the manager of the team.
What would the director of the VP be thinking about of their perspective? Maybe that level up might actually allow us to think of things like, oh, we've been focusing on doing it with this 1 team, but there's actually another team over here that might benefit from it. And should we actually.
Design it in conjunction with them, or maybe there is an opportunity to be partnering with another resource from a different team to be able to come in on the design aspects of it. And so it just leads to if we can level up our thinking. Maybe there's opportunities. We're not currently thinking about that would.
Make it more rich in the design and the execution of what we're doing there. And then the third is extending timeframe. So a great example of this that's coming up really often now is like, how is AI going to be influencing what our company's doing in 2024, a year ago, it was like murmurings of AI.
I feel like this year is really if your company's not thinking about AI. What's going on in so 2024, I think it's really where we'll start to see it come into play. And so that's a great example of, okay, if I think out 6 to 12 months, I can start to see trends like that start to influence what our company's focused on.
And therefore, let's take AI as the example. If AI is going to be a really big part of our strategy in 2024. What should I, as a learning leader, be thinking about AI with respect to my organization, whether it's, how does my, how do my employees learn how to use AI, or is it, do we even leverage AI in how we are allowing our employees to learn?
And so I think that can be another wonderful way just to be thinking, okay, if I put myself in the shoes of strategy thinking next year, what are those big trends and then how do they influence when I might. Think about or prioritize for today.
Tom Griffiths: Yeah, that's so helpful. And you can contrast that with just the opposite approach, which would be a much more kind of do it as we've always done it.
We're just going to do what everybody else does as a point solution of a learning program or learning tool. And I was just. I was thinking in my mind as you were going through those three points of how to apply this framework to learning leaders about how much more influence you can have with the senior team and with C level executives and CEOs, if your thinking is first framed that way so that you're thinking about things in the right way and covering more angles than you would otherwise but also forms a great foundation to tell a story.
More executive level story when you're focused on the outcome first and it's leveling up your thinking and you're thinking in a more strategic timeframe. And it's just helpful because so often we hear either the feedback or the advice, you need to be more strategic. You need to get a seat at the table.
And everyone's yes, I need to be more strategic, but that's a really helpful, actionable way that you can firstly be more strategic and then, sound and lead more strategically. So it's super helpful.
Jess Yuen: Yeah. I think strategy is one of those terms that sounds like big and lofty.
And I like to actually come back to the origins of the word of strategy and actually comes from, interestingly enough, from war. Like it is rooted in war and thinking about, okay, what are all the potential actions that our enemies going to take? And for each of those actions, how do we prepare for it?
And thinking about, okay, What are the weather conditions and what are our resources and how much food do we have? And, where can we hide things? Or what are our routes? And what are the trade offs around it? And, I think many of us don't want to be thinking about war in the regular day to day.
There is some real value and understanding that when we talk about strategy, we're really thinking about. What are our options? And how do we think about the resourcing around it? What are competitive threats? What are our strengths? And how to balance that all. And for anybody who wants to practice more kind of strategic thinking the SWOT analysis is a great kind of straightforward, easy one.
And SWOT is an acronym that stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. And you literally have four boxes on a page and you list out, what are our strengths? What are our weaknesses as an organization? What are the opportunities and what are the threats? And that often highlights areas that you can start to think about or gaps to close that you would fold into your strategic planning.
Tom Griffiths: Love that. I think SWOT analysis around the place in. business textbooks like, Oh, that seems so simple. How could you really base one of a really sophisticated strategy on that? But if you actually take the time to go through it, you'll surface guaranteed something that you weren't thinking about before.
And again, if you're grounding in those first principles of what you do well and not so well, and what the world has as an opportunity and a threat, then you'll be able to come up with a richer, better informed strategy and use those insights as the basis for the storytelling that you're going to need to sell it to other people.
So yeah, I love that. The last point you mentioned there was around just taking a longer term view and some organizations get quite extreme about that. I know you're at Khan Academy. I've heard Amazon thinking, very long term what anecdotes or stories have you seen from other companies that, that do that well?
Jess Yuen: It's funny at at Khan Academy Sal used to ask, where will Khan Academy be 500 years from now? What was crazy, but also so helpful about that thought exercise is just. What all is still true about that world? And I think a lot of the things that we get mired in or bogged down in our day to day thinking is that there are a lot of assumptions that we wouldn't get it get around an education will common core is still going to exist next year.
So we're trying to work around it in 500 years from now. There's probably going to be a different system and what could that system be. And so I think sometimes there's like long term view or evolution actually helps us to get out of the present day. And be able to really open up our minds.
I think the Amazon example is really interesting because Bezos said, he runs the thought ran the thought exercise 10 years ago. 10 years from now, what will still be true? Like it was actually the opposite. And in that case, he realized, Hey, customers are still going to be asking us for lower prices.
I highly doubt there's going to be a customer coming to me saying, Hey, can you make this stuff more expensive, please? And they're still going to want faster shipping. No, one's going to be like, Hey, could you slow that down? Like a little too fast for me. I need more time to, for my products.
And so then he heavily invested knowing lower prices and faster shipping. We're going to be still critical. He heavily invested in the infrastructure to be able to make that happen. And that's why we have such kind of incredible. Shopping experience. Prime Day, we're recording this like very close after Prime Day finishing.
And so it's like Prime Day is this like crazy experience that I think for those of us who are adults are like, this is magical because as kids, like that was just such a foreign thing, like we used to go to the store and maybe buy it. Or if it shipped, it was like weeks upon weeks to arriving at our doorstep.
So I love this idea of how do you break out of your current forms of thinking? Because when you're doing strategy planning or long term planning. It's so easy to get mired in the assumptions that we make around the business. And so these thought processes of take it extra long term or what are the things that will definitely be true or definitely not true, help us to highlight the assumptions that we make and allow us to then build our business model in a way that.
We have to take bets, whether we want to or not businesses about making decisions that require us to have some risk associated with it. And in these cases with Sal and with Jeff Bezos, what they were doing was trying to get the organization to figure out what were like, some of the craziest things.
But also not right. It wasn't actually crazy for Bezos to say, yeah, of course, we're going to want lower prices, faster shipping. Now let's put a ton of money into the infrastructure for that. And that's partially how he got a lot of investors to buy into, we're not going to worry about quarter to quarter earnings, but we're going to invest for the long term.
Tom Griffiths: Yeah, it was a great example. And I think he's also famous for saying, we have this vision could be a 10 year vision. And that's firm. That's where we're headed, but we're flexible on execution. So how we get there will depend on what we learn and what the environmental conditions are as we go.
I think that's a nice segue to, the flip side of kind of nice. Crisp strategic planning, which is, no plan survives contact with the enemy or whatever the quote is. And as we live through what seem like increasingly uncertain conditions in many ways some people call them kind of VUCA conditions.
What advice do you have for leaders who find themselves operating under that that kind of VUCA condition?
Jess Yuen: I feel like the last few years has just been Ever evolving list of VUCA conditions, lots of volatility, uncertainty what's happening in Israel . And between the pandemic and January 6th, it's just one thing after another inflation rising and the collapse of Silicon Valley bank, there's like a huge list of things that I continually feel like.
I cannot even believe or fathom and that I think many leaders are having the same. So I think when facing, volatility and ambiguity and complexity, I think the 1st is to take a breath. It sounds so simple and yet so important and maybe not even just 1 breath, but take a few breaths and. And maybe take a walk around the block or do something active, but really what you're trying to do is calm down your system and assess where you're at, because taking care of your body and your brain is foundational to being an effective leader.
And so think about your mindset, your well being, am I sleeping? Am I eating? And can I do things to help set myself up for success? I think this is a world where especially in VC backed startup world where we've. Gotten to a point where not sleeping or being too busy is almost as we take it as just, okay, like the steady state.
And I think the shift to come back from that is really important. So I spent a long time talking about that. But I think as a leader, you're probably wondering. What about in the organization? Okay, I've taken my breaths. I've got myself in order. What about the rest of the organization?
So I would say step back and step up your perspective because when we're too close to the issues at hand, we might miss that kind of fire coming across the forest. And so I would start with the core question, which is the business itself at risk? And the reason why I say this is because sometimes as leaders, if we're not the CEO and we're another leader in the organization, we sometimes miss that really important fundamental piece of like, how imminent is shut down of the business or a merger or something crazy big happening.
And so I was talking to an executive who's has a CEO who's heads down and fundraising right now. And if this company doesn't raise funds in the next 6 months, the business effectively shuts down and when there's an, you just make different decisions under kind of understanding circumstances like that.
And so we went from this executive thinking about, okay, should I ask for an incremental head count? Or should I ask for budgeting for a new tool to understanding? Hey. My leader is fighting for the business's survival, and so maybe I should understand that piece, and that might affect what I'm , actually asking for and how I frame it to him.
The next thing I would do is, okay, say the business is not under imminent threat. I would assess what's happening across the field. Where are the fires and which ones are most pressing? And so I might think about how do I prioritize those different elements and what criteria I'm using to assess that prioritization.
So is that the same prioritization as my peers are aligning to or not is actually a really important thing to step back and understand as well as I'm and executing based off a certain set of criteria, but is that the same as my colleagues? And so if they're different, if those alignments are different, I might stop and try to get to that alignment and understand where's the optimization starting to differ.
And can we come back to agreement?
Tom Griffiths: That's great. And again, super helpful and actionable. It's often hard to know where to start when we're in these VUCA conditions, which is, volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity, but just... Taking care of yourself, stepping aside to, take a breath, get some perspective and prioritize sounds like the way to go.
If we could make that real for a moment for a learning leader, who's sitting in their role maybe the company's gone through a layoff. They've still got a budget, but the budget's smaller. They've still got all these things that they want to do in terms of supporting their broader team in their learning objectives.
That can be quite a stressful situation, especially if they've lost people from their own team. So how would you apply those steps or what advice would you give to them?
Jess Yuen: In stepping back and stepping up like one of the things That's challenging in those times is how do we rethink our approach and with learning one of the things that's interesting is I've been at organizations like McKinsey that actually spends tens of thousands of dollars on each individual employees learning and I've also been at early stage startups where there is no budget put towards learning, but they're, reading free articles and watching Ted talks and things that are all can be done on a very.
Limited budget. And so there's a whole spectrum in between that. So I think one of the things is to come back to maybe not being attached to how much money I have necessarily, but thinking creatively of, okay, what are the skills that we want to focus on or the topics that are going to be most critical in this time?
And how do I help my employees through that? And also rethinking some of the models is You know, maybe we've been doing training programs that have been very high touch and I no longer have a team that can help to run those. So how do I take some of those core concepts and maybe do them in a different way?
I think one of the incredible things about programs like Hone is it's taking what used to be really expensive programs and putting them into the budgets of and hands of people where they can do it much more affordably, but still with a lot of care and high touch and customization to it.
But I think also for those who maybe are like really strapped and thinking, Ooh, like I, I don't even have that. It's, I remember the thing I used to do in super early stage startups is I would have a Google doc and I would throw in, okay, here are the most common things I'm hearing come up is like, how to be a strategic leader.
How do I run one on ones? How do I run a team meeting? Come up with that list of sort of five to 10 topics that you hear over and over again. And then I would throw in links to free articles and videos, and I would send it out to everybody in the company or to the managers and basically say, hey, if you're looking for learning opportunities, here are some of the most popular things that we're hearing about and some great places to start.
And if you need more, come talk to me and that is like an incredible band aid solution until you can do things that are more developed or more evolved. I Think just allowing yourself to be more creative in those moments, but it's hard to be creative when you're under stress. And I think that's part of.
Why? It's starting with those breaths can help bring us back into a space where we can actually think creatively.
Tom Griffiths: Part of that is, of course, that leveling up your thinking is about getting in sync with the executive team and hopefully shifting the perception that, L& D or HR people, departments order takers and cost centers to being more thought partners with folks on the executive team.
So be curious what other advice you have for leaders in those spaces to change this perception and become more of a thought partner to executives.
Jess Yuen: I love this questioning because I think what's so challenging about our space is that it's easy to be an order taker because. Everybody has an opinion about what we should be doing and they have a thought on it.
And the challenge is that's not what strategic leaders do or thought partners do. And sometimes, other people have great ideas and they absolutely can be taken into consideration. But we should be really making sure that we're asking the right questions. And so I think one parallel example from the people space is in recruiting.
Oftentimes I find Hiring managers are asking for more sourcing. We need more candidates because we haven't found the right one yet. So obviously we need to have more sourcing happen and, sometimes that's right. But more often than not, it's actually something else in the process, whether it's, are we targeting the right profile or asking the right interview questions?
Or are we not aligned as an interview team? Or are we not prepared? So there's a ton of other reasons that usually leads to that, and in learning, there's an analogous thing that happens, which is oftentimes I hear the solution is training. If we have training, then that solves everything.
And, what I learned early on is starting to ask what the real questions of. Why do you think we need this training? Tell me more about what's the evidence that you're seeing around this. Give me the context around it. And there's a great quote from Abraham Lincoln. That's classic, right?
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I'll spend the first four sharpening the ax. And in our case, spending more time sharpening our questions allows us to more swiftly help our organizations chop down those learning challenges. And so I think just coming back to our leadership and being that thought partner and saying, I hear you're excited around this training.
Catch me up on your context. What have you observed? And, a lot of times we do have managers who are spot on, correct? And we need a training. But there are also a lot of times where they're trying to solve for something else, and we want to make sure that we're helping them get to the right solution, not necessarily feel that we can just execute .
There's another example that came up recently with a perspective client, and I had an HR leader asked me to run a 360 for their executive team. And as an order taker, I could have said. Great. Here's how I run 360s and here's how much it costs. And let's get going. But instead I stepped back and just said, essentially the context question, tell me more about why we want to run a 360 and, how have they been used in your organization and has this team run one before?
So just trying to get a little bit more color around it. And what I ended up uncovering was. They had never run a 360 before the organization doesn't really give feedback to each other. The leadership in particular has never given feedback to each other. So it's a rare thing in the organization and the ask was actually coming from the CEO, but the CEO was being asked by his board, how was the team performing?
And so the 360s were actually not a. Tool for growth, or it was actually, Hey, which executives deserve a raise or should be fired? And we need an answer on that. And so the 360 was being put out there for that. Immediately I had some concerns and I was like, precarious, right? It's the first time feedback is being given and it's essentially behind people's backs instead of directly and huge implications to the outcome of it.
And so we pulled back. And instead of saying let's run the 360, we actually said let's figure out how can we accomplish what the CEO needs, which is input to the board on who's performing and not, but separately setting clear expectations with our leadership team around what is performance, what are the expectations of, strong performance, good performance and not okay performance so that they have a chance to actually understand where they're performing and not performing and have time to do something about it.
And then separately start to build out and grow a culture of feedback in a safe space that didn't have these crazy implications around their longevity at the firm. And so I ended up telling that HR leader, Hey, you don't need me for 360s. And I gave them a couple of action plans that they could do internally in their organization.
And so this is coming back to. If you are a leader trying to help figure out a learning leader trying to figure out how to help your leaders one is. Understand the business's actual needs, right? What are their goals, their constraints, their challenges, their strengths, really get in there with them and understanding it from the business perspective, not even from the learning perspective, but just the business perspective, because that'll help you get that view of the fuller system to make sure you're solving the right problem.
And then 2nd, Help your leaders to think strategically about what they will need in the coming stretch. So in this case with the 360, I was saying, okay once we get this and we get the results from it, so what happens with it? And then what happens with it? And so you're trying to play forward.
What's coming and what are the options that you see in the pros and cons of that path forward? And then the 3rd part is then once you have understanding the business needs, helping them think strategically with that sort of longer term options and view is making sure that they can make a case for it.
So we can be there to help augment or level up. How they're thinking about it, whether it's helping to collect some data to support it or helping them to better understand what their teams need, but thinking about how do you get insights and put those into their hands to make it easier to make those decisions?
Tom Griffiths: Yeah. And it's a clear illustration or situation in which you can use the framework or the thinking principles we were talking about earlier of getting down to first principles. Like, why are we hiring for this role? What does good look like? Or why are you asking me to do these 360s or run this training program?
Just to get to the essence of it. I think also in a budget constrained environment, if you've been running a program for a while, And it's just been the thing you've always done, but now you suddenly haven't got a budget for it. Going back to the first principles, like, why are we doing that in the first place?
What else? To your example, could we be doing this lower budget, more creative that addresses the same first principles as a nice application of that earlier idea and then shifting the timeframe as well. So from that situation that you find yourself in of the order taker, because someone has assumed you're an order taker, you're both digging for the first principles and trying to shift at least part of the conversation to a longer term timeframe.
That's going to really, I would say. Benefit the outcome and the solution that you jointly get to with your executive and also, improve their perception of how useful a partner you can be. And that sets you up well for. Those kinds of conversations in the future. So you're a really nice example of applying what we talked about earlier to this, the scenario that often learning leaders find themselves in, which is taking the order.
Jess Yuen: Absolutely. And I think getting in there, really understanding the business is so critical to being that strategic partner because it allows you to really understand the broader system. It's like, how do we make money? How do we lose money? How do we retain our customers? What are the levers around that?
And. Yeah, I think sometimes it can feel intimidating at first, especially for if you haven't been somebody who's been immersed in it. I was lucky I started my career on the business side. So from it wasn't as big as a stretch, but I, even when I started in consulting, I remember being really intimidated and just starting with small questions here and there wait, why, what affects this number that we're seeing on this chart?
What makes it go up? It makes it go down. It allows your business leaders to see you're curious. We're people involved in learning. So we would like to be able to exhibit our growth mindset being okay with, being curious and vulnerable and making mistakes. And so sometimes that question asking.
Puts us in that position of showing that growth mindset and is great for role modeling for the team. But also, frankly, for ourselves, it's yeah, we are growth mindset around this. And so embracing that flexibility and that mindset and in these times in particular of, a lot of change happening is really helpful.
And so I think whether it's applying it to how do I become more business minded or, How do I rethink how we're approaching learning in this environment? I think it can be applicable in multiple situations.
Tom Griffiths: Speaking of growth mindset, I know that you have shared some of your wisdom in an online course on Udemy around onboarding called the ultimate guide to employee onboarding.
So thank you for doing that. If people want to go deep on that, they should go check out the course, but. Was wondering if you could just give us a high level of where you think onboarding programs tend to go wrong and how we can address that.
Jess Yuen: I think onboarding is, it tends to often be an afterthought for many organizations, not purposely, but it just slips through the cracks.
And so I think. The two biggest challenges, though, outside of just a time investment in it is one, misunderstanding the purpose of onboarding. I think there's often this assumption that someone signed their offer letter they're fully committed and fully sold on being a part of this team. But it's like when someone says yes to a first date, yes, the company was able to woo them and show them how amazing they are on the outside. But the other person is are you the real deal? And so it's not just one date, we'll do it. And so in the same way, it's not just day one to get off on the right foot, that you need to actually have a much longer term kind of showing of multiple dates and a relationship to be able to lead to that longer term loyalty and commitment.
And so I think that's one big misunderstanding in onboarding. And then the second is. Because of that, onboarding is actually a much longer process that many people realize. It starts as soon as the offer is accepted and then ends when an employee is fully productive. And so oftentimes that's months.
And so it's not just a quick couple hour orientation and the support and engagement to really get people ramped up and fully productive is much longer than it often is understood to be. Yeah.
Tom Griffiths: Cause Sometimes companies default to it's your first day. Here's your Slack login and your Google apps logging and you should meet with these people and good luck.
Jess Yuen: I had one job where I literally was handed a stack of things from a person who owns the responsibilities and was like. Okay, this is now yours. Good luck. Okay, I guess I'll start reading this stack.
Tom Griffiths: Yeah, totally. And so if it's not, here's your logins and here's a stack of things to learn and do what does a good onboarding sequence look like?
Starting with before the first day and then for those first few months as they get productive.
Jess Yuen: I tend to think about onboarding in four phases. And so one is. Pre onboarding like what's all the stuff between? The offer letter being signed and day 1, we're still trying to make sure that the employees like super excited.
And how do we make that 1st week a little bit more efficient? Just because there's tons of information. Oftentimes coming at them as they're learning the organization and all the new systems plus their team and their role and so to the extent we can piece it out over time. The easier it is because they'll have, it'll be more digestible for them.
We're also still in that wooing phase of let's still make sure that they stay excited. Ghosting has happened. It's happening with employees. It's still happening from, they signed the offer, not everyone's showing up on day one. So we're still in that mode of we're excited about you.
Are you still excited about us? And then in week one, it's really thinking about how do we make sure, we can pay you and we can, make sure that you have all the system logins that you need. There's a lot of logistics involved. There's also a very big psychological component of is everything that this candidate heard about us through the recruiting phase coming to be true in that week one?
My manager said they were really excited about me. But, oh, they didn't show up for lunch to meet me on the first day. Are they actually still excited about me? So trying to make sure that there's a match between what I heard and what I'm actually experiencing. And then in month one, you're really trying to make sure there's an opportunity.
I think one of the biggest opportunities in month one is that there's touch points. To understand what's still what still hasn't been answered or what's blocking your way to being able to fully understand what's going on. It's a chance for managers to reset on roles and responsibilities and expectations and what success is going to look like.
And a chance for HR or the people team to really be able to check in and make sure that we can both iterate for future employees to have even more positive experiences, but also for these employees to make sure. Blockages are being unblocked as fast as possible and serve as a, an extra data point or sounding board point for that employee to be able to facilitate the relationship and the conversation between that employee and their manager and the team.
And then across the next few months beyond month one is really thinking about how do we make sure that they're ramped up and onboarding and fully productive of all the things required for their role. So those are the four big. Phases of it. But I think for an effective onboarding program, I would say there's kind of 3 things that I would heavily emphasize 1 align your stakeholders.
That example of the manager not showing up for lunch. That's just 1 of a couple dozen stakeholders that are involved in making an onboarding process smooth. So figuring out how do you really allow people to understand? Who are involved in the process, the importance of onboarding and the impact of if they get pulled out.
I had a manager back in the day at one of my companies. Halfway through onboarding, I got pulled out because they thought, Oh, it'll be much more important for you to sit in this meeting to help you get ramped up on your job. And to be honest, I like had no idea what was going on in the meeting.
And still to this day, I'm wondering, wait, what did they do in onboarding? Because I missed out on, so I think getting alignment on what's more important with your stakeholders and that it can work seamlessly is really important. I've seen companies where. An employee will start and benefits don't get started on time or payroll isn't happening.
And so there's a lot of different stakeholders to make sure it's seamless. The second thing I would recommend is create a journey map. So on the customer experience side, this gets done a lot. And it's getting done more and more on the people's side of the house, which is great, but create a journey map of the key moments in a new employee's experience.
And highlight at each of those points or those milestones, what is that new employee thinking? What are they feeling? What are they doing at each step? And so being able to understand across those phases and those touch points where are their gaps? And are we actually creating that, that thinking and feeling and doing that we actually want them to based off of what we're giving them at those moments in time?
And then the third and final thing I would encourage is just consistency and more consistency on what this experience is. And so it should be an iterative process, but consistent. I myself experienced an experience where I started a new job and. I didn't have anybody, I didn't have lunch set up with anybody on the first day.
And yeah, I just took it as okay, fine. Like it's not amazing, but it's good enough and it's fine. But then the next week, a new employee started and my manager same manager was waiting for the next new employee outside the elevator. And he had a special song playing for them, like a soundtrack going.
And then he had ordered lunch for that employee and had like special meetings set up for the whole first week. And I was looking at it going. Something is a miss, like what is going on? And so consistency and this goes for a lot of things in the people space. Like when you talk about compensation is like people care actually much more about consistency and fairness across employees than necessarily if it's the best thing or the most impressive thing that they've ever seen.
And so that's the third point that I would highlight. But thank you for mentioning the Udemy course. And there's a lot more in there of like tips and tricks and frameworks that people can leverage.
Tom Griffiths: And I like how you analogized it to the customer experience that we often create.
I was thinking of it from your product management background of mapping out a user experience and at some points through that journey, you'd want to be measuring. So just curious if there's, if you've seen any benchmarks or way of understanding How well are we doing? We might be thinking we're doing great, but our newest cohort thought that there was some challenges.
So how would folks measure that? Like you would a product?
Jess Yuen: I think what's a couple of things is the fact that more and more people leaders are thinking about the employee experience as a product is really cool. And Colleen McCreary, who was at Credit Karma and. A number of incredible companies and somebody I look up to, she talks about this a lot and has a really great blog post on this if anybody wants to look it up.
But I think measuring are we running an effective onboarding program or any program? Basically, I actually think a lot less about external benchmarks. They can be helpful to a degree, but I discovered early on in my consulting days, anytime you put a benchmark in front of somebody, it's like, they're already.
Love benchmarks and are already bought into the fact that the benchmark is going to be great or they hate benchmarks and they're going to like Then nitpick at it and why it's like not exactly their sector for the size of company or exactly the same thing. And so I sparingly use benchmarks when it's helpful.
But what I'm more so is try to measure things that we can see internally and progress and measure against ourselves. So if I'm looking at onboarding, for example, I might be sending out surveys that the. Day 1 week, 1 month, 1, 3 months in marks and trying to understand, do employees have what they need in their job?
Do they understand what their job is supposed to be? Do they understand how they're going to be set up for success? Do they feel like their managers are supporting them? And so asking questions that can be answered in a way that it's a relatively qualitative assessment, but it's put into quantitative measures.
So you can see progress. Over time, so I think about quantitative and qualitative measures. I like to collect both verbal and written what could be better? What would you like to see types of things? But it's essentially that over time, are we seeing that there are different questions that are being asked because the more fundamental or foundation ones are getting answered?
Is it are we seeing employees more engaged? Are they getting ramped up faster? And so thinking about. Elements like that. I think there's also longer term metrics for onboarding that are really interesting to look at, which is the correlation. And hopefully there's some causation, but correlation, at least between retention are these folks staying for longer?
Are they performing better and trying to understand? I think with recruiting, there's always a partnership too, of what was our expectation of this person coming in and how does that compare to how they actually do and how much of that was dependent on how we set them up for success during that onboarding phase?
Tom Griffiths: Thanks so much for all of that. I've just got one last question for you. It's a rapid fire segment. Stop, start, continue. So given the trends in the industry, what do you think the average learning leader should stop doing?
Jess Yuen: Instead of Start stop continue. One thing I like to do is I like I wish I wonder. So I think instead of stop, I would say I wish learning leaders would think about or stop being learning leaders 1st and business leaders 2nd. And start thinking about being that business minded thought partner and understand the business really deeply understand the business because we care.
So get curious about their business metrics and their business fundamentals and really dive into how's the business earning money and retaining customers get in there with them because I think it'll lead to even better insights and even better programs for helping your employees learn.
Tom Griffiths: Love it. What should they start doing? Or wonder what they could start doing?
Jess Yuen: I wonder if learning leaders could, start making even more significant time for learning. This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately is even for my own learning. Even though I love learning, it's hard to make time for it, and I think sometimes when we do it in our day jobs, we don't prioritize it as much as we would like to, and so I wonder if learning leaders could spend even more time learning about newer approaches and the tools.
These are rapidly shifting in our space, and so whether it's amazing programs like Hone's or, playing with AI tools, I think major changes are afoot. And it'll really benefit to be investing even more into learning.
Tom Griffiths: And finally, what should learning leaders continue doing?
Jess Yuen: I would say, what I love about learning leaders, what I like about it and want them to continue doing is continuing to be so caring and willing to experiment with new ways of approaching learning.
I think learning leaders are some of the most creative and kind people and such a supportive community. So I think also continuing to tap into each other as well.
Tom Griffiths: Fantastic. Jess, thanks so much for a wide ranging and super helpful conversation. I think it's just awesome how actionable the approaches to strategic and systems thinking that you shared are and how we can apply that immediately to being an HR or learning leader.
So really enjoyed it. Thank you so much.
Jess Yuen: Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure, Tom.
Tom Griffiths: Thanks for listening to Learning Works. If you've enjoyed today's conversation, we encourage you to subscribe to the podcast for our exciting lineup of future episodes. Learning Works is presented by Hone. Hone helps busy L& D leaders easily scale power skills training through tech powered live cohort learning experiences that drive real ROI and lasting behavior change.
If you want even more resources, you can head to our website, honehq. com. That's H O N E H Q dot com for upcoming workshops, articles, and to learn more about Hone.