Traditional management training models are struggling to stay relevant as the world works its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in seasonal businesses where workforces expand enormously for short periods every year.

There are two challenges to solve: how to make leadership development more effective and how to meet the demands of seasonal industries. Addressing these challenges requires using different formats for separate seasons, built on a new, more effective approach to management training called the active learning system.

Traditional methods (e.g., multi-session, medium- to large-groups, off- or on-site, instructor-led training) are difficult to scale and still be effective. Travel and learning time is time away from the job, which is even more expensive because every industry is facing critical skill shortages.

Often, traditional training delivery methods don’t deliver learning that sticks. Typically, people come back from workshops brimming with enthusiasm and quickly revert to their pre-workshop ways. There is seldom continuity of learning or accountability for behavior change.

The Challenges for Seasonal Industries

Seasonal industries face their own issues when it comes to learning and development (L&D), such as:

  • There’s no time for training at the height of the season.
  • Leadership development during the off season is wasted because there’s no one to practice new skills on. By the next season, learners have either forgotten what they’ve learned, or they’re swamped by the challenges of rapid ramp-up.
  • Often, a significant portion of learners are new to management. Seasonal industries typically have a high turnover of operational managers.

The cost of inadequate leadership development is high: Peak season is high pressure, and the work is demanding. Employees have many choices about where to work these days, and if their managers are unskilled, they will leave. One fruit packhouse told us that they turned their workforce over six times last season — and the main reason employees left was dissatisfaction with their manager.

The Active Learning System

The value of active learning in education is well-established, but the workplace is still dominated by relatively passive digital or in-person instructor-led training (ILT).

The essential design principle for an active learning system is integrated learning, modifying the approach during the peak season. Multiple learning modes cover different preferences and styles, reinforcing the learning in different ways at different times.

Content

To be effective for adults at work, content must be accessible and:

  • Available on any device at any time.
  • Presented in user-paced chunks — five-minute modules making up a 30-minute course, one course a month over 12 months.
  • Delivered using language and a voice that makes the ideas easy to understand and apply.
  • Long enough to make the point, but concise enough to remember.
  • Related to real-life workplace situations.

Socialization

Structured socialization enables people to apply their learning to themselves and their jobs.

The first component is peer learning. A flipped classroom gives learners time to absorb the content ahead of the session. The peer group focuses on learning through application and discussion about real-life scenarios, past or future.

The second component is leader involvement. Engaging learners’ managers as leader coaches (with their own companion program) is transformative. Learners benefit from their manager’s guidance and coaching and create accountability for change. Building a coaching session into a development program also helps leaders pay attention to how they are coaching, which always improves performance.

Experience

This is the simplest, hardest and most important component of the leadership development solution. People change behaviors only by doing, reflecting and adjusting. Everything in a development program is geared toward enabling that to happen in their daily experience.

The most important learning is not management skills like delegation, meetings, decision-making, etc. It is the ability to continue to learn. This method “sticks” because learners are more aware of how they operate and continue to make better choices long after the program is over.

The Seasonal Version

In the off-season, the core program described above takes about two hours a month. While learners’ ability to learn through practice is limited, there is more time for socialization, which deepens the learning. In the high season, the applied program reinforces those learnings by using a combination of microlearning and coaching.

Content

Microlearning reminds learners of the practical skills they’ve learned, and they can practice those skills when and where they’re most needed.

Each month learners receive four two-minute videos summarizing key points from the courses, an audio track of the original course, a podcast on the topic, graphics from the course on digital postcards and texts with a summary or a customer story. This is delivered on the communication platform that the business uses. All are available as audio tracks.

Socialization

But these microlearning “nudges” do not work on their own. They are too brief and lack context. They make sense only in the context of what they’ve learned in the core program. Nudges are learning reinforcements.

Assembling employees for a group learning collaboration is almost impossible during peak seasons in many industries, but learners interact with their leader coaches several times a day. A microlearning version of the leader coach companion gives leadership coaches the tools they need to reinforce key behavior changes during fast, focused and frequent check-ins. They’re also able to run a fast collaboration during the natural breaks in peak seasons, which keeps the socialization process going.

Experience

Content is the fuel for the learning, but accountability is the air. Asking participants to be accountable for three behavior changes over the peak season and then checking in frequently keeps the learning alive and relevant.

This year-round development system is best rolled out from the general manager all the way to the line supervisor to ensure consistency of language and expectations. Technology allows it to run at scale across multiple sites. The design ensures that all learner preferences are covered and, more importantly, that learning is reinforced when it’s needed most.

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