Kathryn is the Chief Learning Officer at a fictional manufacturing company called AshCom, located in Minneapolis. Kathryn has been the CLO for more than five years and, with her team, has produced some amazing learning experiences. But things are changing fast. Rebecca is a consultant from MindSpring who has served as an advisor to Kathryn for the last four years. This is their story.
Kathryn, the CLO of Ashcom, and Rebecca, the MindSpring consultant, had completed their first two sessions of the day and then took a break while Kathryn took a weekly call with her learning team.
Their discussions had focused on how Kathryn could upskill her learning team even with tight constraints on her budget now in place. Travel to conferences was out of the question, but her overworked team desperately needed fresh perspectives. Their performance had been on the decline even before the financial challenges at AshCom began. Learners’ ratings and engagement was not what it had been only a few years earlier, and few learners were recommending their experiences to others.
When Kathryn needed an outsider’s perspective, she often turned to Rebecca. As lead consultant for MindSpring, Rebecca worked with learning leaders in companies all over the world. She had seen companies go through financial struggles and had walked alongside learning leaders in uncertain times.
In their first conversation that morning, Rebecca described workshops that MindSpring could custom designed to meet the needs of Kathryn’s learning team. The process would begin with a discovery session in which team members from MindSpring would spend several hours with key members of AshCom’s learning team to uncover their current practices, tools, and processes for building learning experiences. Following discovery, Rebecca and her team would do some analysis and come back to Kathryn with a series of recommendations for moving forward with a series of workshops. Some sessions would be remote while others, like sessions on extended reality, might be in person.
Later that morning, the two women discussed another option for upskilling Kathryn’s learning team: coaching. Rebecca told Kathryn that MindSpring had coaches who could upskill Kathryn’s team members as needed. The coaches could provide support and just-in-time information on topics ranging from available development tools to creative design to the latest in innovative technologies like extended reality and artificial intelligence.
The topic for their current conversation was fractional services.
Our fractional services team actually becomes an extension of your learning team and you can pick the skills you need when you need them . They work inside your processes. In some instances, they become part of your team for a fairly lengthy period of time.
“I haven’t considered fractional services before,” said Kathryn. “Can you walk me through it?”
“Of course,” said Rebecca. “I should make a distinction that I think will be helpful. I assume you’ve used contractors in the past?”
“We have,” said Kathryn. “We didn’t have a lot of need for them because our team size matched our learning creation schedule. If we did bring in a contractor, it was usually for a very specific skill that my team didn’t possess. Is that what you mean?”
“Not really,” said Rebecca. “Contractors, like you said, usually have a highly developed skill or two. You send work to them, they complete it, and they send it back to your team. Fractional services are different. MindSpring has a deep bench of skills and people who can help you meet your deadlines, but we don’t work like contractors typically do.”
“How so?” said Kathryn.
“Our fractional services team actually becomes an extension of your learning team,” said Rebecca. “And you can pick the skills you need when you need them . They work inside your processes. In some instances, they become part of your team for a fairly lengthy period of time. As a manufacturing company, you probably employ a lot of temporary workers to meet the skill needs you have without adding to head count.”
“We certainly do,” said Kathryn, “and I know this because so many of them go through our training. As a matter of fact, even with the hiring freeze, our operations team continues to use temporary people so that we can meet our production schedule.”
“And you use a service to provide these people,” said Kathryn. “Which is sort of like MindSpring’s fractional learning services. Fractional learning allows you to flex up and down depending on your specific short-term needs. Sometimes we provide this for small companies who can’t afford a fulltime learning team. In some cases, we even provide a fractional Chief Learning Officer.
“I probably don’t want to mention that one to our finance leaders right now,” said Kathryn smiling.
“I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” said Rebecca. “For larger companies like AshCom, we mainly help with capacity anyway. Finance teams like this because they’re only paying for what the learning team needs. Plus, learning leaders usually find it easier to get approval for this kind of arrangement.”
“I know they’d be more open to fractional learning than to a single fulltime hire,” said Kathryn.
“I’m sure you’re right!,” said Rebecca. “There are other times when fractional is the right choice even when finances aren’t so tight. There are times when high impact, high visibility, mission critical learning projects are on your schedule and you need to bring in some expertise to work alongside your team to help them meet their goals.”
“So this would be like hiring an expert from a stable of experts rather than hiring a single contractor who has limited skills,” said Kathryn.
“I’d say that a little differently,” said Rebecca. “Contractors often have impressive skills, but they aren’t likely to have all the skills you need. I do like your stable analogy, though. Lots of good minds and people to choose from.”
“So the key words are expertise, short-term, focus, and budget approval,” said Kathryn
“Exactly right,” said Rebecca. “Sometimes you’ll need project managers or instructional designers, or maybe you only need people who can build learning experiences you’ve designed. Maybe your need is for video producers or editors—or for experts in designing and delivering an augmented or virtual reality experience. The point is, you get what you need when you need it.
“So how do I determine what we need?” asked Kathryn. “Experience tells me you’re going to say we need a discovery session.
Rebecca laughed out loud. “You know me so well! Remember, though, that the point of a discovery session is to make sure you’ve correctly identified the problem and the solution. Complete buy-in from your team and any other stakeholders is equally important.”
Kathryn returned the laugh. She meant to tease Rebecca, but she also understood the importance of making the right decisions at this point in AshCom’s financial situation. The margin for error was very small.
Rebecca continued, “Maybe I can give you a process framework that might help you think through what you do as a learning team and where your needs might be. I assume you won’t mind if I use your whiteboard?”
“Of course I don’t mind,” said Kathryn. “All yours.”
“Thank you,” said Rebecca. “I’ll describe our process, and then we’ll talk about what happens when these steps aren’t done well.”
Rebecca stood and wrote on the whiteboard:
As Kathryn watched Rebecca write these words, she began laughing. “And what, exactly, do you call this system?”
Rebecca laughed too. “I know what you’re thinking—and that is not how we pronounce it. We named it DAIDDIE System, and we pronounce it ‘day-dee.’”
“That’s a relief,” said Kathryn, still chuckling.
“We built this system because we’ve found that any weakness along the path causes problems later as learners begin to engage with the learning experience. If we skip “Discover,” we won’t understand the real need. Without the “Alignment” step, we risk having to rework an entire project when it’s 90% complete. If we ignore “Iterate,” we lose creativity. Poor work on “Design” and “Development” will produce learning experiences that definitely won’t meet objectives. Failure to “Implement” and launch learning experiences correctly will sap enthusiasm among learners. And finally, the one most often ignored, “Evaluation.” Ignoring serious evaluation means your team will have no idea how learning is performing and no insight on how to improve.”
“The name is still odd,” said Kathryn, “but I see how this all fits together. Missing anything in this process greatly increases our chances of producing poor results.”
“You’ve got it. And, actually,” Rebecca continued, “the conversation we’re having now is discovery. We’re trying to determine where you might need additional fractional people with higher skills.”
“I get the connection,” said Kathryn. “You want me to work through the DAIDDIE model and look at the seven people I have left.”
“That’s a good place to start,” said Rebecca. “The next step would be to look closely at your learning development plan for the next twelve months and think through where the gaps are. Those are the places where you should consider using fractional people. The gaps might be in capacity, or in skills. They might exist at any stage along this process. But as you said, weakness in any step will decrease your odds of developing a successful learning experience.”
“You’ve given me the basics of a fractional solution,” said Kathryn, “and a framework for finding the gaps we might need to fill.”
“That was the goal of this session,” said Rebecca. “We need to dive deeper into this process, and I’ll help you do that. But mostly I wanted to assure you that, despite the loss of 30% of your learning team, there is a way to get done what you want to get done.”
“My team will be very relieved by this option,” said Rebecca. “Sometimes when we’ve used contractors in the past, we’ve struggled to get them to work inside our system, which adds time we don’t have. Or we’ve been held up waiting for a contractor to deliver a component of a project, but when it arrives the quality isn’t where it needs to be. Occasionally, someone on my team will say something like, ‘It would have been faster and better if I had just done this myself.’”
“I understand what they mean,” said Rebecca, “which is why we built this system and group of experts.”
“It is time for a break,” said Kathryn. “I know we only have one session left, and I’m looking forward to it.”
“I feel like you’ll enjoy the next one too,” said Rebecca. “Every CLO I work with likes to talk about long-range planning.”
“That’s just how I’m wired,” said Kathryn, “but I haven’t had time for it over the last several months with the lay-offs, finances, human resources…” Her voice trailed off.
“So we’ll end our time together well,” said Rebecca, “with a topic you like to think about and a little space to do some thinking together.”
“See you in 30 minutes,” said Kathryn.
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