MyPeople Meets is a series of articles featuring influential business people embracing workplace change. Uncovering their unique experiences, industry insights, what motivates them, why they do what they do and their views on team trust. This month we meet Reg Agyeman, Chief Revenue Officer at StoryShare Learn. After an unusual personalised remote onboarding, having started his new role during lockdown, Reg is on a mission to help organisations strengthen their L&D practices and find resilience in the middle of unprecedented change.
Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do…
My name is Reg Agyeman and I am the Chief Revenue Officer at StoryShare Learn. My responsibility spans sales, marketing and revenue generating activity across the business and I have been in my role for just over 3 months. I have been in the HCM (Human Capital Management) space for over 15 years. Previously, I was VP EMEA at Saba Software and have operated across the content, platform and the talent spectrum in organisations such as SkillSoft and Tata. Joining StoryShare is a different and new experience, working with non-standard technology which looks at the industry and what it should achieve for organisations from a new perspective.
Throughout your career, what is the most useful advice you’ve ever received?
That is easy and the number one rule I live by. Never judge people by your own standards. I consider my standards to be extremely high, it would not be fair for me to judge everyone by my personal standards, if I did, I would be setting people up for a fail. We should be looking at what we are able to achieve based on the talent/resource we have and evaluating people and performance on the skills they have and looking to develop those that are required for them to be successful. That has been the best piece of advice I’ve been given, and it’s helped me get more engagement out of my teams over the years.
What upcoming technological innovation do you think will impact you most during the next five years?
The continued evolution of AI – in my space and elsewhere. I don’t think people fully understand the impact it will have – baseline concepts of AI are just algorithms and preferences – but it is so much more than that. Machine learning enables people to administer a system without any human intervention, which can create its own pitfalls. Particularly now, while we are in a remote world, a lot of these processes and tech will be accelerated. There are benefits good and bad, in a sense it is good because it makes us more efficient. However, there is a possibility it will remove people from roles. The problem with this is you can’t add personality or empathy to a machine, a machine just follows rules.
Watch this space.
From your experience delivering business impact through technology transformation in the workplace, what strategies would you recommend for boosting employee agility and engagement?
In order to perform effectively, people need to take on new skills. Everyone, myself included, needs to adapt by learning how to do things differently. For example, as a CRO, I advise sales teams on how they can be successful today and build relationships through technology. However, I am a very tactile people person and I built my career by forging face to face relationships like many. If you do not have those skills and you are now forced into moving to online networking, you need to upskill in order to drive performance and boost engagement with organisations and clients. It makes you more agile. Technology enables you to develop, whatever form that is, whether it is using the web, learning platforms or your own materials – I think that’s going to be the way we evolve and collaborate. The way you previously collaborated is going to be completely different moving forward, you need to utilise a more diverse set of communication tools to increase engagement and adapt to new situations that are going to arise.
What advice would you give to organisations looking to enhance their onboarding experience?
I’ve been asked this a lot! I think organisations need to personalise the experience more. I started my current position during lockdown, other than the CEO and CTO, I have not met anyone else in the organisation face to face, which is interesting. I received a lovely welcome package of fruit and vegetables – which was fantastic as you could not buy certain things in the shops, so to have them delivered was wonderful. As part of my onboarding experience, everyone in the organisation sent me a one-minute video about themselves; their name, job, a little bit about what they do and some interesting facts. It brought people to life, if I had not received these, they would have just been people on the end of a phone or the other end of a zoom call. In today’s climate, people have busy schedules, especially when it comes to virtual meetings. Therefore, it’s not easy attempting to squeeze in time to get to know people during or at the end of a call, even though it’s vitally important. The onboarding employee videos gave me something upfront and made me feel I knew more about my colleagues enabling me to engage with them quicker on relevant topics. While this worked for me it’s important for organisations to realise their people engage in a multitude of ways, the channels must be created to allow them to communicate naturally.
It’s also not just about pushing content out to people, it’s those personalised touches and how people are made to feel welcome and not left alone. There are businesses losing talent due to the culture of an organisation. People are looking into this now more than ever; how a company culture aligns, how this affects their daily interactions and how supported they feel within their role. The biggest advice I can give, is to make the employee onboarding experience immersive. Yes, create assets which allow people to know who their colleagues are and yes, create events which allow people to build relationships with new colleagues.
In a typical office environment, you would meet colleagues throughout your working day, even just grabbing a coffee in the kitchen. Although you might not work in the same department, you would have a conversation over a coffee. Without that environment you must be creative, exploring how you can effectively generate and encourage people to engage with their peers to build relationships.
Adapting to different scenario’s and making it an immersive experience, not just before and during onboarding– but beyond it. Once employees are in the organisation, they need to feel it was not just great for the first few weeks, but that environment and culture are consistently representative of the business reality, regardless of whether you work in a physical location or remotely. You want people to feel they should continue to engage with colleagues throughout the company and that they are encouraged to reach out and do this.
Forging meaningful workplace connections are important now more than ever, do you believe digital learning content/portals contribute towards relationship building?
No – that is an easy one. That is not what they’re good at. Although digital learning and content portals are a great resource, you would not typically engage in a meaningful conversation over a learning portal. Would you be more comfortable having a conversation in a group setting or with an individual? It would be more open in a one to one environment, whether that be over the phone, email or another online comms channel. You would not do it in the learning portal, it makes no sense to. Where this can work however, is if you integrate learning portals into the flow of work, embedding them into key business applications where collaboration does take place.
How do you as a manger, build trust in your team relationships – what is the critical factor?
I try to always judge people by their capabilities and what they are looking to achieve, both personally and by the goals set by the organisation. I think it’s important to be incredibly open and allow people to explore how they want to develop. Also, how they are going to do their role? How I want them to realise their goals and how it’s best for them to deliver, are two very different things. It’s important to encourage people to feel free to achieve what they need to in their own way, to be the most effective. Rather than always prescribing a method of working that may not necessarily suit them. This cannot be a one size fits all approach, and trust is a two-way thing. If I have recruited someone and they are part of my team, I believe in them and I already trust them to do their job. There are going to be success factors within that that must be monitored, and there will be ups and downs across that process, but there will be a continued dialogue between us that enables them to establish the best level of performance. If there are issues relating to performance, these need to be acknowledged and address by both of us and a resolution agreed together.
With increasing competition in the academic and corporate world, effective learning and development programs have become a key concern, for those who want to exceed and not be left behind. Is there more value in skills acquisition and career enhancement opportunities, compared to financial rewards and compensation?
That’s a very well worded question… It very much depends on the individual and where they are in their career. There are always going to be people that look at the monetary element first, however we all know how time can get away from us when we get into a role. It can be difficult to find the time to do the skills acquisition and career enhancement piece – we might over a period of time. If you take my role as an example, the average life cycle can be 3-4 years. I am not saying you cannot acquire new skills during this time, inevitably you will. However, the days of being in the same role for over 20 years are becoming a thing of the past. You need to assess both sides to understand where you want to be and what is going to be valuable to get you there. If pure compensation isn’t the only thing that’s important to you, then constantly learning, acquiring skills and looking for opportunities that those skills can provide is the way forward. If you only care about how you are compensated, there is a high degree of possibility you may never get an opportunity to develop as you should, so you will need to have those skills in the bank already. Even then, there is still a requirement to constantly evolve.
With many professionals moving to new ways of working due to the dramatic effect Covid-19 is having, and some industries grinding to a complete halt – what should businesses be doing to get creative with their L&D processes?
There is a level of analysis that needs to happen. Whatever organisation you’re in, if you’ve not been engaged with your L&D processes throughout the lockdown – there is likely a bigger issue bubbling under the surface. A large proportion of engagement looks towards content and how people consume it. The one that’s underused the most in the learning space but is quite common socially is pure audio. Why wouldn’t people take on audio learning books? How can you blend your digital assets to create a solid curriculum that people can look at tangibly and get value? If learning is only delivered in one way, some of your people are going to struggle, as this is a new way in which people must fully interact with their learning and development. There is a level of diversity businesses need to provide for everyone, for learning to become immersive and engaging. There are an awful lot of business that are struggling with L&D being siloed to one platform alone. Converting all your current material is not the answer either, structural design is a key factor and it needs to be appealing. You want people to absorb the information they are provided, not just get to the end of a piece of content just because they have to.
In the struggle to establish proper work-life harmony, the workers of today tend to make use of career enhancement opportunities during their leisure time. Could this blur the lines between professional and private time, and if so, how can it be mitigated?
Why would you want to mitigate it? If it’s too much to one side, i.e. the nonprofessional development piece that doesn’t meet the company’s objective, and it’s not in line with the role or has far overtaken what the business needs that individual to do, then fair enough. If we’re talking about an encroachment, the way to keep employees happy, motivated, engaged and ultimately wanting to be in tune with the organisation, is to allow additional learning to occur to an extent. People tend to consume content related to role specific pathways, if businesses offer content which extends an outside interest, they are providing additional opportunities both for the individual and the organisation at large. Also, if the vast majority of learning content sits outside the remit of what businesses are aiming to develop, then the question is; if you don’t want employees to access this learning, why are you making it available to them?
2019 saw the biggest growth of SaaS products in recent history, do you think this innovation of new products will continue in 2020?
It may have done prior to Covid… I think more tools will come onto the market aimed at supporting the potential uplift in remote working, and remote working linked to productivity. A lot of organisations are used to controlling people and that’s their biggest concern. I use ‘controlling’ deliberately, as they now don’t potentially have that same level of control. These organisations will be looking at tools that can assist people working remotely and drive productivity. I think if there is growth, it will be there. SaaS products aside, businesses will need to release the reins for these solutions to really work – businesses need to trust their people.
What are your views on the evolution of gamification and its potential to enhance learning and education?
Overall positive, it’s a good thing. With any gamification or learning requirement there needs to be an end product. I do not think it can just be there for the sake of it, otherwise it runs the risk of being a novelty that fades quickly. If you are going to do it properly, and organisations that I’ve seen implemented it well, ultimately offer reward as encouragement to people. It doesn’t need to have a monetary value or have a gift association. However, people need to see there is an incentive in place, whether that be an extended lunch, team lunch paid for by the company or half a day holiday. If people see there is a reward in development and learning past their own personal L&D, which ultimately benefits the organisations productivity, it tends to be more successful. The key to buy-in is incentive – what’s in it for me? L&D programmes with continued success are the ones that people buy into and recognise the mutual incentive the individual and organisation have.
What type of learning environment do you prefer?
I’m very much a visual learner and prefer face to face or classroom learning. If I do self-directed learning, I prefer to be in a group environment as I think it’s important to collaborate and see how others are interpreting the tasks, because you learn from that as well.
What are you passionate about?
People being successful – me included. People being able to develop and become better, in whatever way, shape or form that is. It doesn’t always need to be financial. People love to feel like they have moved forward; it’s a positive feeling that brings a sense of achievement and certainly drives me in what I do every day. I have joined StoryShare to drive the business forward, make everyone successful and give people an opportunity to be better. That’s why I wake up in the morning each day.
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