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Building the Business Case for Learning & Development

March 26th, 2014 by Janine Carlson
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“Prove it.” Every learning and development professional has heard this from their management team. What used to be a request has now become a mandate — and while it is not always easy, it is a shift we thoroughly embrace.

In a recent Australian Training & Development magazine article*, Forum Asia Pacific managing director, Cynthia Stuckey, discusses the ways for L&D to win over management through measurable results.

“Senior management buy-in remains one of the biggest challenges when it comes to learning and development initiatives. The tough economic climate is making it even harder to justify budgets for learning and development, as cost reduction strategies take precedence in today’s boardrooms.

To gain management’s commitment to learning and development, professionals have to strongly demonstrate the impact of learning investments on the bottom line. The problem is, while the majority of companies investing heavily in learning and development recognise the benefits of measuring results, many of them have yet to formalise their measurement process.”

The article goes on to highlight recent research findings, best practices for aligning learning to the business, and suggestions for what you measure with examples of metrics and accountabilities. You can read the full article here.

For more information on measurement best practices and building a business case for L&D, check out our Asia Pacific on-demand webinar, Using Measurement to Drive Impact & Effectiveness of Your Leadership Development Programmes. To discuss learning and development measurement strategies in Australia with Forum, email, call +61.2.9080.4160 or visit


*This article originally appeared in Training & Development magazine February 2014 Vol 41 No 1, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development.

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You’re Not Listening To Me!

March 20th, 2014 by Claudette Chagnon
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Can you please put down that phone and talk to me? I feel like I am not being listened to when you are constantly on your phone while we are talking.” “But Mom, I’m listening.  I am an expert at multitasking. You just said…”  And he “parrots” back what I said.  I have this conversation with my son a few times per week.  Sigh. (Research has shown that multitasking is a myth, but that is another blog…). He’s listening maybe…but surely he is not hearing me.


This is a growing problem in the workplace, as well. People are listening, but are they hearing? Recently, I went to a meeting, and there were four of us seated around a small table in a conference room. One person was on his laptop and another placed her smart phone in front of her and checked it constantly. Are these behaviors simply about device etiquette? Or, are devices actually preventing authentic communications both in the home and in the workplace?   And, what are the implications for leaders? Read the rest of this entry »

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All your Questions about Employee Engagement Answered – Part 2

March 14th, 2014 by Janine Carlson
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Nearly 2,000 people registered for our global series of Employee Engagement webinars. If you missed these lively sessions, I encourage you to watch one of the on-demand webinar replays. This blog post answers the remaining audience questions from the sessions that we didn’t have time to address in the live sessions or in our first post here.

1. How is climate different from culture?

Great question, and an important distinction that should be made clear.  Litwin and Stringer’s research found that culture and climate both exist in organizations, but they operate at different levels.  Culture is made up of foundational elements like shared beliefs, values, and norms of behavior.  Culture is deeply embedded in the organization and is slow to change.

In contrast, climate operates at the level of the day-to-day workplace, and the factors that influence climate – clarity, commitment, standards, responsibility, recognition, and teamwork – are more accessible and manageable by leaders.  This makes climate easier to change in the workplace

2. I work for a company with international presence, what similarities and differences are there when it comes to employee engagement across cultures?

Our research found that our definition of high engagement – a deep sense of ownership for the organization and strong feelings of involvement, commitment, and absorption in one’s work, which is motivating.  It looks like a strong contribution of discretionary energy, which translates into productivity, and it results in improved personal and business performance – holds true for employees and organizations around the globe.

Where we see variation is in employees’ behaviours or the expression of their engagement or non-engagement, which might be more discrete than explicit.  For example, an employee with low engagement or satisfaction in Singapore might never voice those concerns to his manager because of cultural norms, and thus he appears on the surface to be more engaged than he really is.  But in this situation, he may not be as productive or stay with the organization as long as an engaged employee.

The culture of a country or region is deeply embedded in employees, and they bring those patterns of behaviour and expectations into the workplace.  For example, in Asia cultures, employees tend to be deferential to authority and may not even expect to have a voice in how work gets done; therefore, they may not equate being able to speak up as a factor in being engaged.  Contrast that with North American or Australian cultures where employees tend not to defer to authority, are often quick to speak up and expect to have a voice – for these employees having a voice would be a factor in being engaged. Bottom line, the best way to understand how to employees is to focus on the individual employee and understand what engages them.

3. Any differences in engagement factors for an aging group of employees vs. younger generations?

Our research found the five employee engagement needs – accomplishment, recognition, enjoyment, belonging, and advancement – were represented though all generations.  That said, as the Millennials (born 1982-2000) take their place in the workplace, there is a growing body of research and opinions on how to engage them.  Some of these findings show Millennials respond to personalised work experiences, regular (more than twice/year) feedback on performance, and want to be able to contribute to society through their work, to name just a few. There are many resources/books/etc dedicated to helping people understanding generational differences and you can apply this information to addressing engagement needs within your organisation.

4. Do you have data on how to “engage” part time employees and volunteers

This is an interesting question.  Although we do not have specific data regarding how to engage part-time or contingent workers, we do have an opinion.  We believe, despite the boundaries that can separate these workers that from your full-time workforce, to be highly engaged, a part-time or variable worker needs the same things a full-time worker needs.  In a nutshell that is, they need understand the connection their work has to the strategy of the company, to the success of the team, and to their success as an individual.  And they to be understood and appealed to as individuals in terms of their own engagement needs.

It’s easy, and dangerous, to make assumptions about contingent workers engagement needs, or lack thereof.  The best leaders treat their contingent workers as they do their full-timers.  That is, by their actions the leader builds a strong positive climate, shows they are trustworthy, and they take the time to get to know the worker and their specific engagement needs, and treat them according to those needs.  It can take more time and effort to understand contingent workers’ engagement needs because they are not always in the flow of work every day; however, it will pay off in the long run. Read the rest of this entry »

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All Your Questions about Employee Engagement Answered – Part 1

March 11th, 2014 by Janine Carlson
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We recently hosted a series of webinars on the topic of employee engagement across the globe. You can watch a replay of the APAC webinar entitled “Keys to Employee Engagement in Asia Pacific” here. The US and EMEA versions entitled “How Great Leaders Drive Results through Employee Engagement” can be found here and here, respectively . Participants were highly active in all regions and filled the chat boxes with questions; while we answered as many as we could in the allotted time, we just could not get to all of them. In this blog post, Ellen Foley and I address many of the outstanding questions from across the globe.

1. How can you coach your managers/leaders to develop good climate and trust?

Helping leaders develop good climate and trust is a development process that takes place over time.  We recommend the following steps:

  1. Provide practical leadership development, including best practices, to help the leader understand what “good” looks like.
  2. Use an assessment instrument to focus the leader on his or her gaps.
  3. Have the leader identify the specific opportunities they have to use best practices to build good climate and trust in the day-to-day rhythm of their work.
  4. Provide coaching, positive reinforcement and recognition to the leader as they try out the best practices and have success improving on their specific gaps.

2. Employees say they want training, team building, social activities, etc. and we organise all that and then people don’t want to come. How should we deal with this? How do we make employees appreciate what we’ve done?

It is not uncommon for HR professionals to be frustrated by employees who do not seem to appreciate or participate in the organisation’s engagement efforts — particularly when activities take a lot of energy and resources to plan and execute.  This challenge highlights the difference between company-wide engagement effort and individually-focused engagement efforts.  Corporate engagement efforts, while having some impact on employees, are blunt instruments.  That is, they have to be so broad that it is nearly impossible that they will appeal to the majority of employees.  In contrast, individual efforts, managed by leaders at the work team and employee level, are much more targeted and effective instruments for driving employee engagement.  One way we have seen organisations successfully balance these two types of activities is to minimise the corporate-wide activities and share some of the budget for these types of activities out to managers to use for targeted activities with their teams.

3. In a conservative working environment where open communication is not the standard, how do you encourage employee engagement?

This can certainly be a challenge, particularly in some Asian companies, as communication is a key component in employee engagement.  How you define “open” is important to this discussion.  Open communication does not mean sharing every bit of information with employees.  In fact, in many situations it is not appropriate to do so.  However, in situations where confidential information cannot be shared with employees, managers who communicate with empathy and authenticity are still able to build trust and engagement with their employees.  In addition, we recommend managers focus on understanding the specific engagement needs of their teams by looking at the Climate Dimensions – clarity, commitment, standards, responsibility, recognition, teamwork – and also by recognising and attending to the various engagement needs of individual employees. Read the rest of this entry »

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What are Your Top People Development Priorities of 2014?

February 27th, 2014 by Holly Gage
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In January we asked Learning and Development Leaders across Europe and the Middle East to tell us what their Top People Development Priorities are for 2014.  Does it surprise you to hear that:

  • 53% of respondents said that improving employee engagement is a top priority for 2014?
  • Developing mid-level and first-line leaders is being prioritised above senior leadership development?
  • Strategic speed is still an important issue with one in three respondents saying they need to accelerate strategic business initiatives?

Here are the full results.  Do these priorities match your own for 2014?  Please share your views in the comments below.

2014 Top Priorities-EMEA - cropped


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Mid-Level Leaders: Key Stakeholders, Agents of Change or Both?

February 11th, 2014 by Michael Frisbie
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Bridging the gap

It has come to my attention that a heightened focus on mid-level, or emerging, leaders has taken the industry by storm. However, I’m not just talking about the leadership development industry. This focus is being seen across many industries, pharmaceuticals and energy, in particular.

Upon further reflection, it became clear why this is the case: both industries are facing major change initiatives, and mid-level leaders have been proven to be the most effective at managing change and ambiguity in the workplace.


For a number of reasons:

  1. Mid-Level leaders are best positioned to link strategic initiatives from senior leaders with executable commands for first-line leaders.
  2. Mid-level leaders are most equipped to influence networks of people internally, as well as external stakeholders.
  3. Mid-level leaders have the ability to drive context for organizational change.

That being said, you’re probably more interested in how both industries are effectively investing in mid-level leaders and why this is important.

At Forum, we advocate the value that lies in exploring solutions from industries outside of one’s own to gain a different perspective. So, let’s take a closer look at these two industries.

Energy: Driving Synergy

Many energy companies are focusing on targeted growth, or, an effective merging of top-line and bottom-line growth. The reason is simple: margins are tight, industry-wide consolidation is underway, and a significant portion of the industry’s leaders will be retiring in the near future.

Our clients in the energy sector have been able to drive a context for profitability throughout, and mid-level leaders have served as the catalyst. Essentially, mid-level leaders are the crux behind aligning teams with organizational goals, generating and driving dialogue across boundaries and rewarding strong performance.

We have found that mid-level leaders in the energy sector who are able to execute the following prove successful:

  • Identify strategic influence portfolios (key stakeholders)
  • Build strong collaborative investments (foster clarity and harness accountability).
  • Influence with personal relationships (sustain and enhance working relationships).

Pharmaceuticals: Managing Change & Ambiguity

The Affordable Care Act – what percentage of the US population actually understands this? With that question in mind, we have seen a number of our pharmaceuticals clients focused on how to effectively manage change and improve upon collaboration with respect to internal stakeholder audiences. Concurrently, the need to influence external stakeholders is ever present as payers, providers and medical device manufacturers are linked in a network that decrees holistic, end-to-end solutions as premier. Furthermore, with patent protection laws evolving there is a need to accelerate strategic initiatives for healthcare related companies to remain profitable.

In this respect, we have learned that mid-level leaders need to possess skills in networking, collaboration and influence to be successful in today’s healthcare climate. You can think of mid-level leaders as the glue that makes the collective population effective.

In order to be most effective networking across different lines of business while managing rapid change within the industry, we have found the COST model to be a great tool to help drive the ever-important internal monologue:

  • What Control do I have?
  • How can I take Ownership and improve the situation?
  • What is the Scope and its impact on me?
  • How much Time will the situation span?

In short, mid-level leaders should become accustomed to asking such questions while they evaluate how to best make use of limited resources to meet time-sensitive deadlines.

Mid-level leaders are vital in driving a high performing culture throughout an organization’s ranks. We have found that a healthy organizational climate begins with leadership best practices. When properly executed by mid-level leaders, discretionary energy and high level results should ensue.

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Forum Named Top 20 Leadership Training Company for the Fifth Year in a Row

January 30th, 2014 by Abby Smith
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2014 leadership

We are thrilled to announce that for the fifth straight year, Forum has been named a Top 20 Leadership Training Company.  As with any award, this honor would not be possible without the continued collaboration with our clients and the hard work of all Forum employees, facilitators and partners. compiles this annual list to monitor the training marketplace for the best providers of training services and technologies. Selection of the Top 20 Leadership Training Companies was based on the following criteria:

  • Thought leadership and influence within the leadership training industry
  • Industry recognition and innovation
  • Breadth of programs and range of audiences served
  • Delivery methods offered
  • Company size and growth potential
  • Strength of clients
  • Geographic reach
  • Experience serving the market

In addition to our clients, partners and employees, we would also like to thank for this award.

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Sales and Solitaire

January 16th, 2014 by Emily Nicholson
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solitaire and salesHappy New Year!  Yes, it’s that time again when B2B salespeople all over the world turn over a new page.  Everything is possible!  Prospecting, hunting, farming, it’s all necessary as your milestone sales figures are now part of last year’s history.

Over the holiday break, I got to thinking that working in sales has a lot of similarities to playing solitaire.  In sales, in solitaire and in life, you have some control over the game, but you must start by playing the hand you are dealt.

Point One: “Some days are diamonds, and some days are dust”.  Sometime games are quite easy and everything falls together very quickly, winning the game with a minimum number of plays.  Some sales are like this and salespeople can use their skills, their thinking and their networks to advance sales like these.  I’ve found that referral sales are similar to a quick, winning solitaire game:  you start off with a better hand as the referral builds your credibility and momentum faster than with a “cold” lead.   We all know we should ask for referrals, and many of us intend to.  How many have you already asked for in January, 2014?

Some days in sales are “dust.”  I remember one GM telling me, “Emily, if the day starts out badly, you might as well go home and start tomorrow.”  While I am sure every salesperson (and sales manager!) has an opinion on this, my perspective is that salespeople can’t have a bad day.  Due to the roller coaster nature of our jobs and having many sales deals going at the same time (all with their own challenges, client value and revenue amounts), a salesperson should only have a bad 15 minutes!  If your hands of cards are all coming up difficult to win, shuffle the deck, take a break and start again.  The analogy?  Shake it off and set aside time to think.  Maybe ask a colleague’s advice, or pause and find a referral to pursue, and then jump back in to the difficult scenario.

Point Two:  Don’t be afraid to take two steps back to get a win.  In playing solitaire, sometimes if you “undo” some of the plays you’ve made when you’ve hit a dead end, you can find a way to win the game.  This isn’t quick and it isn’t most salespeople’s preference.  However a valuable lesson is provided here for sales:  sometimes you need to go back to the client, clarify their feedback and then re-propose. You can often still win the business, though it may take a bit longer.

Point Three:  “We could be Royals…” Sometimes the opening set-up has no face cards.  Frequently this is a sign of a “go-nowhere” hand.  This is where strategic thinking and working our networks really comes into play.  Am I working “higher, wider, deeper” in this account?  Or do I only know one or two people?  Get senior stakeholders involved as soon as you can, after first “earning the right.”

Point Four: Lay the Foundation – When I was growing up in Boston, my grandmother loved to play solitaire (although she called it “Canfield”).  One of the lessons she taught me is to always get your Aces out early.  Lay a strong foundation with clients and pay your dues; don’t take shortcuts, but make sure to find the real need early on and build from there.

Sometimes, no matter what you do, it doesn’t come through in the end. But just like in  solitaire, the more hands you play and the more you learn, the more you will win.  Get involved, learn from your mistakes (and the “dud” hands) and keep playing, over and over again.  You’ll win more games — and more business.

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Our 10 most popular blog posts of 2013

January 9th, 2014 by Abby Smith
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Top 10 Blog Posts of final

‘Tis the season!  For looking back on the year that has just ended, that is. This past year we published more than 60 blog posts on leadership, workplace learning, sales performance and employee development. So we’re revisiting some of our most popular posts, videos and infographics from 2013 in case you missed any of them. We look forward to bringing you more useful posts in the coming year. Let us know in the comments what types of posts you would like to see more of in 2014. Happy New Year!

  1. The Introvert… A Sales Manager’s Dream? Introverts are introspective, great listeners and critical thinkers, or in other words, potentially great sales people.
  2. [Infographic] Brother, Can You Spare Some Time?  First-line managers and sales managers are facing more challenges than ever. This infographic breaks down some of the biggest issues facing them today.
  3. Do Kids Today Learn Differently? (And Why Should Corporations Care). Kids today are going to have very different ‘good old days’ than the current workforce.  What does this mean for corporations preparing for the next generation?
  4. Giving the Best Development to Your High Potentials? Think Again. Only providing training and development to the high performers in your organization could be holding back your organization.  In this post, Wendy Axelrod shares applicable tips to develop all employees.
  5. Workplace Bullying: Channel NewsAsia interview. In this video interview, Forum Asia Pacific Managing Director, Cynthia Stuckey, speaks on the prevalence of workplace bullying and how managers can end it.
  6. Five Ways to Ensure Your Feedback is not Misunderstood. Feedback is one of the most powerful tools at a manager’s disposal. However, it is often misunderstood and poorly applied. This post covers 5 ways that leaders can make sure that their feedback is making the right impact.
  7. The Three Golden Rules of Employee Engagement. In the first of a 3 part series, Joe Espana shares the 3 golden rules of keeping employees engaged including the importance of trust and making a connection with employees.
  8. What Makes a Good 21st Century Leader? Forum EMEA Managing Director, Graham Scrivener, shares with TrainingZone what makes a good 21st Century leader in this 2-part videio series.
  9. Leadership is a Choice. Inspired by a commencement address given by Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, Kate Venier explores how leadership is a choice not a chore.
  10. Your Boss Did WHAT?! We asked respondents of our global leadership pulse survey to share some examples of how their bosses had eroded trust in the workplace. Some of the answers were shocking.
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Design Learning Processes Not Just Content

December 18th, 2013 by Nanette Miner, Ed.D
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It’s no secret that designing training programs can be an arduous process if you take on the responsibility for designing all the content yourself. You can lighten your load and also achieve a better learning outcome by designing learning processes rather than learning content. In my work, I’ve discovered 3 ways to design learning processes.

1. Use real work. Learners prefer to accomplish real work while they are in the learning process. So rather than create a contrived situation or a case study scenario that is “representative” of real life, instead have the learners work on real work tasks.

For instance, a financial services firm wanted to teach its sales people to read financial statements in order to find cross-selling opportunities in their current client-base. Rather than teach the sales people how to read “generic” financial statements and then leave them to transfer that knowledge and skill to their own client’s financial statements, the learning session required them to bring the annual report from two of their current clients. Thus, the learners were working and reviewing the actual financial statements of their own clients while learning to read financial . This not only resulted in a better understanding of the learning but it also resulted in the learners being able to have actionable findings by the end of the training.

2. Create the learning in real time. Rather than teach your learners a new concept or skill in a large block of time, instead break the training up into smaller, actionable learning objectives and on-the-job tasks. That will allow them to implement their new knowledge and skills in smaller chunks and result in more successful implementation on the job.

For example, a sales organization was training their sales people to listen for cues from prospects to better gauge if they could ask for an appointment or not. After a period of time in the classroom, in which the sales people/learners learned the 5 types of responses which would either open a door for them or not, they were then given an hour to return to their desks and make up to 10 phone calls from their personal prospect list; making notes about types of conversations they had and whether they were able to secure an appointment or not. This approach allowed the salespeople to accomplish some real work during the training process, and created a rich discussion upon returning to the training room.

3. Have the learners contribute the content. A third sales organization wanted to teach overcoming objections in relation to a very complex product that their sales people sold. Rather than try to anticipate all the objections and give the sales people pat answers in reply, the training was designed to first solicit the “5 toughest objection you’ve encountered when attempting to sell xyz” and then a game was created, dividing the larger group into 3 teams and giving each team the opportunity to craft an appropriate rebuttal to the objection. The learning process went like this:

  • Team A stated an objection to Team B
  • Team B had a period of time to craft an appropriate response
  • Team C had the opportunity to challenge Team B’s response
  • Team A chose what they thought to be the best response and awarded a point to either Team B or Team C accordingly.

This learning process continued in a round-robin style, , until all of the 15 toughest objections in regard to selling that product had been addressed.

This process allowed the learners to share their real world problems and to get the best and the brightest to assist them with being better prepared the next time they heard that objection.

The next time you are attempting to design learning content take a step back and see if instead you are able to design a learning process that better assists the learners in working with and assimilating that content. Learning processes can often lead to greater learning outcomes because the learners are more engaged with the content, identify with it more clearly, and have less trouble transferring what they learned in the classroom to what they do on the job. Plus, from a logistical standpoint, is that designing a learning process requires much less updating in the future should the content itself change.

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