Last month, I worked at my fifth Training Industry Conference & Expo (TICE). With each conference, we have even better sessions, keynotes and conversations with the learning leaders who attend. This year, I had several takeaways that I’ll be incorporating into the articles we publish here on, but three major themes kept popping up throughout the three days of workshops: the dual role of learning leaders as sales professionals, the perennial importance of human skills and the importance of focusing on the employee as a whole person.

Learning Leaders as Sales Professionals

Learning leaders must be able to sell their solutions to stakeholders, demonstrating their value and partnering with them to create programs that accomplish business goals. Chris Cassell, CPTM, of Align Technology, and Taryn Hess, of EPAM, focused on the importance of asking the right questions. Like in sales, understand the difference between qualifying questions and impact questions, Hess said, and be able to answer each kind.

Also like in sales, marketing is key. Marjorie Van Roon, CPTM, of Best Buy Canada shared tips for promoting engagement in your training programs. It’s important to know what your L&D brand is, what it stands for and what you’re trying to convey with it — not just to learners but to senior leaders as well. Different stories trigger different reactions, Hess said; understand your audience, and tailor your story accordingly.

Marjorie Van Roon, CPTM, giving her presentation at TICE

Cassell also emphasized business acumen and understanding your organization’s strategic imperatives. What problems is the business trying to solve, and how can training help? Then, after completing a training program, be able to communicate its results to the business. As David Letts, vice president of Raytheon Professional Services, said, “Measure, analyze and adjust.”

The Importance of Human Skills

In his keynote address, Scott Hartley, author of “The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World,” spoke about the importance of having diverse teams made up of people from liberal arts backgrounds and people with more technical skills. After all, what is artificial intelligence (AI) without ethics? Code without context? Data without privacy? Tech literacy is necessary but not sufficient, he said. Our greatest challenges today are social, psychological, philosophical and ethical.

Scott Hartley speaking at TICE

Training isn’t a one-trip plane ticket, said Hartley, where someone says, “I studied literature, and therefore I must be an English teacher.” It’s thinking about developing a passport of skills. (As a psychology major who trained to be a teacher and now works as an editor, I was happy to hear this message.) My favorite of the examples he shared is Stitch Fix, a fashion technology company (is that even a thing? It is now!) founded by Katrina Lake (who became, in 2017, the youngest woman in tech to take a company public and the only woman that year to lead a tech IPO). Lake was an economics major who now oversees 80 data scientists and 4,000 “human stylists,” according to Hartley. Together, they “use machine learning to mitigate bias and supplement human ability.”

Similarly, Gregory Gills shared that at Procore, non-technical employees have solved some of the company’s toughest software problems. And Anthony Graffeo, a professor at Northeastern University and a consultant focused on leadership development in science and technology, said that L&D professionals, too, must never lose the human touch: “First and foremost, build your internal coaches,” he said. Even tech gurus can’t learn everything they need to know about leadership from a book or an online course.

Creating a Holistic Employee Experience

At TICE, we like to give our attendees a holistic experience — one that not only meets their professional needs but also nurtures their personal growth. To that end, we fill the gaps between sessions with networking — and fun. Our big networking event was held at Improv Raleigh, a Levity Live venue that hosts comics from across the country. On Tuesday during TICE, learning leaders from around the world came together to chat and to laugh.

Improv Raleigh sign welcoming TICE attendees to the networking session

Similarly, session presenters shared the importance of seeing learners not just as training participants or productive workers but as whole people who don’t separate their personal lives from their work lives. Employees don’t leave their family or financial concerns at home, said Debbie Gower of Conduent, which has an array of implications at the workplace, from distracted employees and absenteeism to people who have to choose between their family and their job. Helping employees integrate their work and personal lives will improve performance — plus, giving employees this personal support is just the right thing to do.

Employees also bring their experiences as diverse people from diverse ethnicities, abilities and economic backgrounds to work, Gregory Gills pointed out in his session on diversity and inclusion. Embrace that diversity and support inclusion, which he defines as a feeling of belonging, even as unique, sometimes wildly different people. Listening is the first step in creating this type of culture. Not listening to employees, he said, is the fastest way to shut the door on inclusion.

Gregory Gills giving his presentation at TICE

From developing their sales skills to cultivating a more holistic view of diverse technical teams and individuals, there was much for learning leaders to take away from TICE 2019. Next year, we expect more sessions — and networking fun! — as TICE enters the next decade. Will you join us?