Building Effective Corporate Learning Systems

In this, The Faces of Business, our guest, Ben Zimmer, CEO, Sidekick Training, talks about how corporate learning systems technology changes are making corporate learning systems reach effectively and engage employees in legacy, hybrid, and remote business settings.

In this, The Faces of Business, our guest, Ben Zimmer, CEO, Sidekick Training, talks about how corporate learning systems technology changes are making corporate learning systems reach effectively and engage employees in legacy, hybrid, and remote business settings.

Damon is delighted to have Ben Zimmer, an Ontario-based, tech entrepreneur, on the show. Ben has successfully been running Enable Education for sixteen years. While shedding light on his family background, he reveals that he belongs to a family of teachers, his parents were teachers. Similarly, his wife is a teacher and her parents were also teachers. He had no interest in becoming one and pursued to be a project manager or a software developer. He worked in a manufacturing space. Like Michael Carleone, a guy least concerned with the family profession, reluctant Ben was pushed into this profession by chance.

Giving an engaging account, Ben says, back in the early 2000s, he had to travel a lot because software developers were required to do on-spot jobs. In 2005, despite a massive salary cut, he opted to become a professor at Humber College. He taught software development there. A few months later, in 2006, the college professors went on strike rendering Ben with an idea to start Enable Training and Consulting Inc.

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He once mentored a team in First Robotics, a tech-related competition in which around 200,000 participants participated. He made some videos of the viral event. A famous company, National Instruments, talked to him and invited him to World Championships in Atlanta. Soon, Ben was hailed as a competent programmer-cum-trainer in robotics circles.

After a couple of APL training sessions and business meetings, Ben rebranded Enable Training and Consultation Inc. as Enable Education. Lego education was one of their clients. They designed a robotics curriculum from the fifth standard onwards. They were appreciated for their content delivery and for making digital learning relatively easy.

Ben’s company not only trains salespeople but also creates programs that train salespeople. He calls it “complex engineering.” In sales staff, they inculcate soft skills, leadership, and diversity. He further explains how Enable Analysis Process has helped its clients decide the kind of suitable content for their clients and students. It is a process where they spend time with a client in an analysis phase. Because they are not subject matter experts, they talk to subject specialists.

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While talking about the course module and its delivery method, he says the learners’ needs and requirements are kept in view. They may be imparted online or on-campus education depending on the learners’ needs. Furthermore, all beautifully produced interactive videos are also included in the learning programs. The reason to call it “Enable,” “and Ben’s ultimate goal,” is to support clients to do a great job training, in a dramatically new way where there are no traditional auditoriums. They invite people to speak and let others learn from their experiences.

In his view, Khan Academy is one of the pioneers of it. Some fifteen years ago, YouTube was not used as a learning platform. He says that video learning has evolved over time.

Damon asks Ben about the big leaps in the industry. He says that video-making for all purposes has become dramatically easy. He mentions how he would teach his students via software applications. Although it bore some fruits, today things are more interactive and easy to understand than ever. He thinks now it is easy to edit videos. It is easy to create content that is relatable and effective. Similarly, “over the last decade has evolved from something that was very highly specialized. And now something that you can kind of do pretty easily.”

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Likewise, Ben says that for his clients, he has tailored courses. They have a repertoire of very useful teaching content. And for certain reasons, he won’t be able to offer his service at cheap prices. Enable Inc. has to be high-end.

Damon shifts the focus of the discussion from Enable Education to Sidekick—an app for corporate learning. He invites Ben’s comments on it. Ben describes that five years ago, the learners were not satisfied with existing e-learning programs. “They don’t feel like they’re connected.” So, there was a need to build learning programs. Ben introduced blended learning for such learners. As he said before, the people their clients are subject matter experts and not trainers or facilitators. So they have to make resources that make it easy for them to deliver great learning that gives them training the trainer guides and best practices. Moreover, during the COVID-19 pandemic, almost all businesses went work-from-home. Zoom video conferencing created a buzz but it lacked, according to Ben, so many features. It was not built for trainers. He concluded that he needs to build a platform that entertains learning to the best. That provides that basis for Sidekick.

Ben also observes that many people are leaving their jobs either to establish their own business or to work on their own conditions. Damon adds that millennials (Gen-Z) are prone to leave jobs “if the culture just doesn’t feel right.” It is primarily considered that many companies are now struggling to create a culture. Sidekick helps business leaders conduct training sessions easily.

Damon asks for Ben’s deeper insights on Sidekick. Ben explains how his Sidekick is better and different from the already available video-conferencing software. Using Sidekick, one does not have to wait and/or ask for awkward turn-taking moments. A choreographer, the host who manages all the operations of the conference, lets people speak in a dedicated time. Similarly, the video is automatically recorded and the users can save feedback for further perusal. Sidekick makes “the team serve itself and be consistent.” It helps the trainers and trainees uniquely.

It is primarily considered that many companies are now struggling to create culture. Sidekick helps business leaders conduct training sessions easily. Moreover, it makes people work together and become better. The discussion is concluded on these notes.

Damon heartily thanks Ben for his valuable time and this livestream comes to a close.

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Damon Pistulka, Ben Zimmer


Damon Pistulka  00:03

All right, everyone, welcome once again to the faces of business. I’m your host, Damon Pistulka. I am happy to say with me today, I’ve got Ben Zimmer here. And we’re gonna be talking about building effective corporate learning systems. And yes, I had to look at my notes because that was more than two words. But we’re going to talk about building effective corporate systems. We’re gonna go over Ben’s background. I mean, Ben has been at this for over 15 years developing learning technology for people. I’m excited to talk to you today. Ben, thanks for being here.


Ben Zimmer  00:36

Oh, it’s my pleasure, Damon.


Damon Pistulka  00:38

Awesome, man. So, like we said, you started a company enable education 16 plus years ago now? Yeah. And as I was doing research to this, and you’re developing education technology. What was happening? Because I can’t remember five years ago, less than a year ago, less than 1516 years ago, what were you guys doing back in the beginning? What I mean, because you’re an educator. That’s right. Let’s hear about your background. And then I gotta go into what it was. Tell us about your background first. Yeah,


Ben Zimmer  01:12

well, I’m happy to talk about that. And I often refer to myself as a, as an incidental entrepreneur, like, it was never the plan, I often stop and take stock. And this is a bit of a surprise where I am and what I’m doing today. Nice. I grew up in a teaching family, parents were both teachers. I, I’m, I’m still happily married to my high school girlfriend, who was a teacher who comes from a family of teachers. So it’s like education was in the blood. And you know, there’s that scene from The Godfather, right? Like he thought he was out, but they pull them back in. So yeah, I actually started off in industry as a software developer. So I came to education in a slightly tangential way.

And for you know, for many years, I was working in the manufacturing space, writing software for assembly lines. And you know, that I love that I was okay at it. And what I didn’t love about it was, you know, being shipped around the world, with these machines. And for all those out there in the manufacturing world, who are the software men and women, you’re the ones who have to fix it at the end, when nothing works perfectly fix it in software. So I had an opportunity.

This was back in 2005, to leave that world because I was working like a dog and I was traveling a lot. And I, you know, wasn’t living my best life. I mean, that wasn’t words when people said in the early 2000s, but it’s absolutely true. So I had this opportunity to go teach at a college. And I took a really big pay cut happily to do so. And I taught project management, software development, a couple other things. And it was great for about eight weeks until all of the college profs went on strike.

In I’m Canadian, I live in the province of Ontario, all of the college crops in Ontario, and my wife at the time was also teaching at a college it’s like, okay, well, this 75% pay cut to leave industry to go teach became 100% pay cut. Yeah, what do we do now. And it was narrow, as I said, incidental entrepreneur, it was a no brainer, it was time to, like, talk to some of the people I know, and figure out how the heck, I’m going to make a little bit of money as a consultant doing some work on the side for them. And, and that’s what happened. And that’s when, you know, my company, which was founded as a naval Training and Consulting Inc.

You talked about it being enough words that you have to look it up, and naval training, and consulting, Inc, was founded, so that, you know, I could do some of this consulting work. And, of course, the strike didn’t last forever. It was, you know, a couple of months or a number of weeks. And, and but here, I was now with the company doing some consulting, and you know, realizing, Oh, I guess I can do this, I guess I can make money as this as a single solopreneur. And I swear I’m getting this story is going they’re going somewhere. Yeah. And one of the things I got involved in was this high school robotics competition.

And because of my background, doing cool stuff, and assembly lines and controls, products, I learned that this competition, there’s like 200,000 kids that do this in the US, it’s, it’s called First Robotics. It’s the largest robotics competition since then, it’s grown even more. And they switched to this weird platform that no one had heard of that happened to be my area of expertise. And so I sought out a school near me to like, I think I can help Let me go mentor. Yeah. And I mentored this team. And I realized that this was kind of in the outskirts of Toronto, and realize that nobody knew how to use this platform.

So I made some videos as one does, I made some videos, made them available for people to see. And they went viral within this robotics community. And I got this phone call from this company, as companies called National Instruments that makes this hardware. They said, Hey, we keep getting thanked for our great training videos and all these regional competitions. We’re not doing any trading videos, who the heck are you? Come talk to us. And I got invited by them to the World Championships that we’re in Atlanta that year. And I got to felt like a little bit of a rock star, right?

Yeah, some nerdy dude doing LabVIEW videos about how to teach kids how to program this slightly esoteric programming language. And people have recognized me like, Oh, I get recognized by my voice a couple of times, it’s like, Oh, my goodness, this is bizarre, right. And, you know, my little taste of fame aside, it became obvious pretty quickly that there was a business model here to create these kinds of learning content for companies, and particularly companies that have kind of complex engineering tools.

And so within the first couple of years of an APL training, and consulting inks, life, we rebranded as enable education. And we started doing more and more of this learning content is our product. And we picked up some really cool clients. Lego education was a particularly special client of ours in the early years. And we created the classroom curriculum for kids in third through fifth grade, to use the kind of the more junior robotic stuff, it was a huge project for us. I mean, I was maybe five or six people at the time.

I remember calling up my, my counterpart, my client, and he’s like, I really need you have to do photography, can you do all this stuff? Because I’m not able to access the resources internally to do all this? And of course, am I answered anything when someone says, Can you do this? Of course we can. Yeah. Okay. Now, how do we do this? By a camera, someone needs to figure out camera stuff. Yeah. And we did that. And that’s how enable enabled grew over time to do a lot of different kinds of learning. And not just the content, but also started to focus on the delivery technology.

And like in those really early days, and like 2008 ish, there weren’t a lot of learning management system solutions out there to be had. And you know, the ones that were there were still in development, and it wasn’t clear, and they would primarily be used in schools, colleges, universities. Yeah. And like, for a business, a company like what, like Lego education, it’s like, we’ve made these great content. And they exist as a DVD, and some printed stuff in a binder.

But the experience of our clients client, the learner, these kids is how I’m doing some cool robotics programming on a laptop. And like, what now I’m supposed to pop the CD in and, and open this manual and flip through pages. So very quickly, we realized we can actually help a lot by providing not just content, but also delivery mechanisms. And like, for Lego, for example, that those couple years, it meant, you know, building installable content programs that would serve up this the same material on the on the computer that the kids were playing on. Yeah. And over time, that has evolved a lot into integrating with some industry standard learning management systems.

Gosh, I think over the years, we’ve built five different LMSs Oh, for our clients most of the time. And so is a services firm, and I had to make a decision, kind of early on with enables like, okay, are we going to try and sell content? Do we want to be a product company or a services company? And do we want to focus on just engineering tools or just robotics for kids? And the decision was made, and in retrospect, I’m really happy with this decision was to be Oh, no, we’re a services firm. We’re going to do whatever our client needs. They’re going to pay us fairly for it. And at the end of it, they’re going to own it.

And then it’s like lather, rinse, repeat. Now we got to start again. What we were great at was keeping that client so that they would come back to us for the next thing. And we became generalists. See if you will in terms of the content. So we had to kind of separate ourselves from being perceived to be robotics for kids and stuff like that that was started. But we got really, really good at leveraging the subject matter expertise that our clients had. Yeah. And like wrapping that up in like best practices for learning how to make it engaging, how to make it interactive, how to serve it up. And gosh, I don’t even remember what question you asked me just


Damon Pistulka  10:30

yesterday. But this is really good, though. Because it’s because I’m, I’m learning a lot from this because you guys gotten good at developing effective digital learning. Right? If I’m not probably not even using the right but because you weren’t a subject matter specialists? You are? How do we make this the best experience for the people for the students? Or people that want to learn? How do we make this the best, most effective?

What’s the best use? How do we serve up what kind of format? You know, because there’s so many decisions? So we fooled around with some of our own course. Digital courses last summer and thing again, but and there are so many different decision points, how long a video Do you have? Before you ask some questions? What I mean, how many questions you ask, and then you go, how big can of course be?

How small? Should it be? What’s there’s just so many? How many, if you put a course into modules to try to get through a big subject? How many modules really make sense to have it just? Or do you break it into multiple courses? It’s there’s just so much to understand, especially when you look at some of the things that you can be talking about in a highly engineered product. I mean, because there’s a whole, you know, here’s your control panel, just explaining control panel on something. And above. It was a programming language I just came in under, I can’t I can’t even put my head around it right now.


Ben Zimmer  12:08

Well, I love that you brought that up, Damon, because like we do as much stuff now, like training salespeople, or we don’t train salespeople, we create programs that train salespeople, or we will, as we do kind of the complex engineering, software training kind of stuff. So it says much about soft skills and leadership and diversity, equity inclusion content, is it is about, you know, here’s how to drag the mouse around to achieve this result from your complicated software.

And you bring up a great point, I love that you did about like the decision points that you face in trying to decide what to do. And I will say if we productized, one thing over the last kind of five, six years, it’s a process that we have honed, and of course we call it the Enable analysis process. And it’s a process where we spend time with our client in an analysis phase. To understand their learners, yeah, content, the learning objectives. And it’s, it’s really interesting, because like I said, we’re never the subject matter experts.

So we’re going to talk to someone, you know, at an engineering firm about engineering or at an accounting firm about accounting, and they know everything about that. But the way that my team asks questions, has them going, Oh, wait, let me think about and there’s some non obvious questions that it’s really important to put down, and that can help us answer those questions, because there are answers to those questions. Yeah. How long should it be? Should it be fully online? Should it be fully in person? Should it be live? Should it be asynchronous?

Should it be interactive? Should it just be text that people read or should it be beautifully produced videos? The answer is all of that in combination, but the combination can only be determined by like the needs of those learners and every learner in every situation is unique. And of course, it’s balanced by budget. You know, everyone, you know, I would love it and everyone would love it if it was all beautifully produced video and beautiful interactive, simulated 3d game stuff. But nobody has those kinds of checks to write it. But if you in the audience do have a check to write, it’s been at enable

But that is really pivotal because experts in learning can go there, they can provide a path and answers to those questions. Yeah, and our experience is that every client we have they are a subject matter expert and they start to become uncomfortable answering those kinds of questions about how to structure the learning. And our ultimate goal, and we call it enable for a reason is to support our clients to do a great job training because we are never, ever the ones in a training room. We’re never ever the ones on screen when stuff is being recorded. We have to support them to create great stuff, because only they know their stuff. And only they know their learners, whether it’s their customers or their employees.


Damon Pistulka  15:37

Yep, that’s awesome. Because you be? Well, you have been in this long enough that you’ve actually developed the systems around asking the right questions to develop better learning platforms and the way you’re developing your you’re delivering that content? Because, you know, it’s, like you said, it’s just how much of it is in even if you’re going to do a webinar? How much is how much do you cover in a webinar, How much is homework, you know, just or pre sent out?

When you’re doing this tech, there’s just so many questions. And a subject matter expert, that’s we were trying to do this last year as subject matter experts, it stinks because you it takes you 100 to 100 times before you really go, that didn’t work, this worked a little better. That didn’t work. And you guys have gone through a lot of that for people with enable there and can help them get to that endpoint where it’s real effective. Much, much faster.


Ben Zimmer  16:43

Yeah, I think that’s 100%. Correct. And you know, and I have a lot of patience and compassion for people like yourself, as you’re describing last summer. Because it’s, it’s impossible to see it when you’re in the thick of it. Right, it’s impossible.

Especially if you’re, if you’re on screen, waving your hands around trying to convey with passion, some interesting information that people need to receive, you don’t have the bandwidth, the bandwidth, there’s no cognitive load left for you to be really observing and thinking and watching and reflecting like, so what does that mean? Now you’ve got another person on the call with you watching and listening, maybe that would be nice. But in reality, like we’re all time and resource constrained, right, there’s, there’s barely time to do the things that we want to do. So I have nothing but support and compassion for people who at least try in the first place.

Because unfortunately, I think every business leader will say that training is important. 100% of them will say it, they will also say that it’s number six on their list of five things to do this month. Yes, every single month. And it is the rare business leader that will have the ability to say yes to this if they haven’t kind of been burned, really burned by the lack of it. And, you know, there’s some really interesting statistics that kind of talk about that. And you know, and that in itself is, is part of what, you know, let us to, you know, contemplate starting a new business, a secondary business.


Damon Pistulka  18:24

Well, so, let me I guess I got some more questions on this. Because it because when, when you started this, I gotta think back because, you know, video learning, putting videos on YouTube to teach people stuff. I mean, we’re talking 1516 years ago, so that’s 2005 ish. Were people even really doing that at all?


Ben Zimmer  18:50

Or, well, I think Khan Academy existed. I it was kind of just going viral in that timeframe. And, and it was like, Who is this guy? Teaching math kids on this YouTube thing? So I you know, someone can fact check that later. Yeah, approximately correct. LMSs did kind of exist in video certainly did exist. YouTube did exist. But I don’t think people were using it super widely. Yeah. And if they were, you know, they’re just showing up as subject matter experts talking about the thing. And talking about the their content to the best of their ability. And, you know, certainly things have evolved over time.


Damon Pistulka  19:34

Yeah. So your initial things that you were working on, were really about technical training and on specific products or stuff like that. Yeah. Well, when you look at where you came from, in the automation world, I mean, that is just so I mean, if you robotics, anything like that there’s so much to teach on just one piece of equipment or one And if you’re doing through a programming language or a college, there’s so much, there’s so much.

That’s cool. I can think about I wrote it down to there somebody I want to connect you with that you guys love each other. You love talking because it’s the technical training runs deep. So you mentioned a little bit you we move fast forward? What were some of the big leaps or big technology leaps that you saw over that time so far?


Ben Zimmer  20:30

Sure. Yeah. The evolution of the more interactive learning. And let me explain what I mean by that video was novel enough, in those first couple of years that people I think could watch it. Let’s take the example of software training like for robotics for kids, which is exactly what I did all those years ago, I would do in some of those videos were long, like 30 minutes, like, Can you imagine, and still, the kids totally soaked it up, they were all over it.

Because they needed that very specific piece of information. And he needed to do exactly what I was showing them to do. So they would do it, they would pause it, they try it on their on their own, they would get a result, they would unpause it, they would watch them, they would do the next thing and try it on their own. And that modality can work. And, in fact, it was kind of all you could do back then, because there wasn’t the ability to easily create a video that had stuff inter woven with him with it, right.

So that’s when I, when I refer did more of an interactive learning, it’s now the kind of thing where you’re watching for a little bit, or you’re reading for a little bit, you don’t leave that video, like you’re not like going from YouTube into a PDF. And then going back to resume YouTube, it’s all integrated, and no Adobe Captivate. And a lot of people know Camtasia, I’ve heard the name Camtasia, people who had to do some of the kind of their own homebrew training videos, they were really good at that.

And you could drop in a button to do something, and you could drop in little questions and knowledge checks and stuff like that. And over the years, those tools have gotten so much easier to you to learn, which is I mean, it’s good. And it’s bad for a practitioner, because now we’re you know, internal learning teams can do that stuff that required previously, you know, an expert who you know, who had the tools.

But I think it’s great, whenever that kind of capability gets democratized for everyone to use, it’s just better. As what happens, I mean, and this is true with everything, people are able to build it. But it doesn’t mean it’s good. It doesn’t mean it’s thoughtful, it doesn’t mean it achieves learning objectives. And so what that did for us was it allowed us to really hang a flag on our ability to create great learning experiences to understand principles of instructional design, and to kind of hang our hat on that.

So, like, yeah, the evolution of you know, from just producing a video and maybe using Camtasia, to put some basic titles on it, you know, and then the extreme evolution of video production to today. I mean, there’s great tools that run on your phone, that allow you to make stuff that goes up on whatever Instagram or tick tock where you’ve got things popping up and titles and stuff. And whether or not the end result is palatable, is not my point. My point is, it is easy to now do video editing is easy to make quick hit content that is relatable and effective.

And then in the middle, there was an evolution of these tools that build out kind of a have more of a flow to their learning and have assessment checkpoints. And that that spit information out that goes into the learning management system that allows someone at the end of their learning to say, oh, yeah, that you know, this guy took the exit your way course, and he got 87. So he gets a PDF certificate or something that a badge that he can put on his LinkedIn, and all this stuff happens. So you know, yeah, that also over the last decade has evolved from something that was very highly specialized. And now something that you can kind of do pretty easily.


Damon Pistulka  24:10

Yeah. From factor, what you said, I think is really, the development of all those tools to make it easy, was probably actually a good thing for you, because you guys then got to focus on the science of learning. Right? And getting, like you said, getting really good at getting good learning materials, delivering the best content that got the subject matter through the best and in the right way and, and those kinds of things because that’s, that’s the valuable part. It’s like it’s the getting the training and getting and training through the students effectively.


Ben Zimmer  24:49

That’s right. And, you know, it was interesting through that period, as we were kind of honing on who our ideal client is. And where we settled and where we are now. And where I think we’re going to remain is, you know, we see enable as, I don’t want to use the term boutique, because it sounds fancy, we’re not fancy, but we are, we are high end.

And if you have a huge stack of stuff, and you like, we want them all to be exactly like this, do 1000 Of these, we’re not going to be cost effective. Because you know, my team is all here in North America, we’re all in Canada. I’m not going to do it. Overseas kinds of rates. Yeah. And there are lots of people that do I think every business leader, I know, I do gets like two emails or more a month for someone offering to do overseas development of learning.

Oh, yeah. And, you know, if you and we have some clients, where we do the analysis and the design, and then the development gets done either by their internal teams that might be overseas, or by another vendor, who could just pump stuff out super cheap. And we might do quality control on that. And that’s, I’m really happy with that. But where we found our sweet spot is in the mid market. So organizations that have, say, between 100, headcount and 1000 headcount, if we’re creating content for their team, if it’s customer focused, they might be much smaller than that.

But they have a need to make sure that customers is successful, because organizations that are much bigger than that they have their own learning and development, they have their own, and, you know, they would rather oftentimes have a siloed approach and grow their team. And much smaller than that, you know, their needs are changing too quickly. And sometimes they don’t have the budget to afford it. So yeah, yeah. Throughout all of this, you know, to your point, Damon, you know, we found that sweet spot.


Damon Pistulka  26:48

Yeah. Yeah. Well, and, and so, so let’s, let’s jump forward to when you guys saw sidekick, and then I want to ask some other questions about applications because I, we talked about corporate learning systems, and I have a lot of ideas, but I want to hear it from you. So let’s talk about sidekick, because you guys, you guys decided to develop a different kind of product to support learning, because of the science and the things you’ve learned about over the years of developing these systems and delivering good content and effective content. You just talk about sidekick a little bit. And sure enough to us.


Ben Zimmer  27:32

Yeah, well, I mean, I’ll give you a much briefer Genesis than I did for Enable. So one of the other patterns that we determined, and this is kind of independent of the technology evolution is, say, like five or six years ago, a lot of our clients were saying, the learners don’t want just self paced learning, they don’t want just eLearning they’re not satisfied, they don’t feel like they’re connected. And there was a need to build learning programs. I don’t mean technology programs, I mean, like learning experiences, that had some percentage of it self paced, and some percentage of it in person, led by a facilitator, and we call that blended learning.

And if that ratio varies, but it’s usually like imagine, like three quarters of the learning you’re doing on your own with headphones on at your desk. And then you come together once a week to hear someone wave their hands around and tell stories, cautionary tales and best practices and answer questions and mentor you. And I think it’s related to the millennial workforce, with a strong desire to feel connected to their team. And you know, when you show up, if it’s an onboarding for a new job, you show up in a new job, and someone hands you the equivalent of a big manual, but it is, in fact, like 12 hours of videos to watch, you actually don’t feel very invested and you don’t feel good.

And so, long story short, over the last five years, we’ve been building ton of these blended learning experiences. And, you know, as we said before, the people at our clients are subject matter experts, but they’re not trainers or facilitators. So we have to make resources that make it easy for them to deliver great learning that give them training the trainer guides and best practices. And don’t forget to check in with everybody. And don’t forget, don’t just talk for two hours, people got to go to the bathroom. People got to get coffee. Yeah. And so that was one pattern.

And of course, here we are, at the I’m going to say towards the end of a pandemic, but you know, COVID hit, and all of a sudden, almost all businesses went work from home. Yeah. And put yourself in the place of that poor facilitator, that poor soul Who is just doing their best to tell their stories and wave their hand around in a training room or in a boardroom, all of a sudden, they’re in their basement talking to a bunch of blank screens, because everyone turns the video off on Zoom going, I hope you’re listening, I don’t know what to do, I’m just going to keep talking, I might talk faster and faster.

And I’m going to end because I don’t know what to do, I’m going to put up the slide deck that has 172 slides, and I’m just going to talk at you for an indeterminate amount of time. We all experienced that I’ve been on both sides of that I’ve been that guy, as well as on the receiving end of it. And again, with compassion, and understanding for these individuals, because they were never hired to be trainers, this is something they’re doing off the side of their desk.

And so these are our clients, we have to help. And you know, how do we help someone make the best of zoom, or teams or whatever tool they’re using? Okay, guess what, Zoom has breakout groups, you know how to do that kind of, I think it’s okay. This is how you do breakout groups. Okay. But here’s what to do in a breakout group. Yeah, here’s why to do a breakout group, you got 20 people in the room, give them a case study, put them in groups of four, give them five minutes to talk about it. And when they come out, go around, ask and tell them in advance, I want one person to be chosen to talk for 45 seconds, about your questions or concerns or whatever.

And then you put a bit of a process around. Okay, I can do that. Great. And, you know, you can also do polls. And, you know, Zoom didn’t always have polls, it does now and you know, there’s whiteboard tools that you can use Zoom didn’t always have them, but they do now and, and there’s all these tools that can be used to make the experience engaging and effective. And guess what it gives you a break from the tuck, tuck, tuck, tuck, tuck, but it’s not easy to administer, right. And if you are there all by yourself, using Zoom, and you got buttons to push while you’re also like, it was difficult for people to achieve an engaging experience, even though we help them design it.

And what often happened and you may have seen this is another warm body all of a sudden, virtual training producers the name of the title, some other soul who’s now sitting there being paid however much to sit in training meetings all day and just shuffle people into breakout groups and just to surface resources and, and to and to say, oh, yeah, I Damon up bill over, there’s got a question. I’m gonna just Yeah, I sat through. And, and that’s to us, we’re saying, Wow, I really wish zoom did XYZ.

And I really wish teams did well, I wish teams did ABCD. XYZ. And why don’t we build that thing. So that was the basis for sidekick? You know, we felt that we were in a unique position as practitioners of best practices in learning.

And as people who are like observing, as people are stumbling with the tools as they are now. And like, I love zoom, I think it’s a great video conferencing tool. It was never designed for training. Yeah, there’s no reasonable expectation that it should work perfectly for training. So there’s, there’s there was an opportunity there. And that’s where, you know, the idea for and, you know, our, my partner in my decision to kind of invest in bootstrap the creation of this product came. And you know, it’s a, it’s a slightly different part of the story, you know, when we decided to split it off as a new company treated as a startup raise money into all that fun stuff.


Damon Pistulka  33:39

Yeah. Yeah, no, that’s awesome. Because you a, you brought up a few of the limitations. And I’m thinking back to what you said about the trainers, they were just, they were just thrown to the wolves. And so then you’re training employees or you’re doing trying to do internal training, whatever it is, with our new employees or internal training or customers, customers. And it’s horrible experience, because we weren’t ready for it.

And then you look at now some of those same employees that they train up for probably though some of the same ones that are leaving because they didn’t get engaged from the beginning all the way through. And yeah, that’s interesting. And then you pointed out to that Zoom wasn’t made for training, which Yeah, never thought in that light, but you’re exactly right.


Ben Zimmer  34:37

So I have a story and then followed by a statistic about that and a family friend connected me to one of their friends, was this young sales rep who worked at you know, one of these, what they call unicorn scale up so it had received its series be funding. They’re well on the trajectory. Yeah, be one of these billion-dollar companies. He’s a sales rep there. And I knew he quit, he changed jobs. And I got introduced to him.

And we he and I had this amazing hour long chat. And I’m like, Jim, his name was Jim, but I call him Jim and all my documents. Jim, tell me your story, man. Like, what happened? He said, You know, the culture at this place that I left, it was like, learn by fire, it was up to you to figure stuff out, there was no real training to speak of.

And like how that made me feel was like, Listen, if these guys aren’t going to invest in me, he said, a different word. If they don’t give a bleep about me. I’m going to just move I’m just gonna go across the street to the other unicorn, billion dollar paths scale up. And he went and get this within a quarter, four of his friends had left from the same company to the same company. So five sales reps at a scale up in their fastest growth stage departed, because of training, because of a lack of training.

And I was like, okay, I can see you quit, because you might not make enough money or people are treating you poorly, or whatever. No, it was, it was all about training. That how does go down this path of looking into this. And there’s this amazing article from Forbes, that says 45% of the people who quit a job would have stayed, if they were given better skills and training. For the midst 45% of the people who quit would have stayed if they were given better skills and training. In the midst of the Great resignation, you know, it’s been coined. People are leaving because of training.

And, you know, we said earlier, that guy kind of dropped this point about, like the business leader, seeing training is number six of the important things on, you know, their list of five. Well, all of a sudden, now, there’s a reasonable arrow to draw from poor training, leading to departures leading to revenue hit. And I can make that point really easily when I talk about sales training. But it’s not just sales. Of course, it’s onboarding developers. It’s marketing. It’s everybody. Yeah. And people tell us a lot about culture.


Damon Pistulka  37:33

Yeah. No, no, no, yeah. It’s


Ben Zimmer  37:37

just like, people talk a lot about culture. And I mean, it’s my belief. I listen, I acknowledge when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And I for sure, am a teaching and learning hammer. But I believe that the way that you train and provide skill and opportunities for growth to your people, it is your culture. I think they’re synonymous. And I think people are starting to realize that and they’re starting to leave when they don’t see that there’s, there’s a future for them.


Damon Pistulka  38:08

Yes, yes. And I think that millennials, and especially Gen Z’s are much more willing to leave. If the culture just doesn’t feel right. Yeah. I mean, because you look at the Gen Xers like me, and we would stay in a bad you get paid good. It’s like, Yeah, I’ll stick around for a while, you know, I’m getting paid well, we’ll just kind of bite the bullet. But uh, lot of that I mean, and even to the point of culture, people that didn’t in the past few years, switch their hiring practices to have an you talk about onboarding, to be talking to those people that are starting to three weeks a month away a few weeks ahead and say, Hey, here’s a welcome package.

Here’s some stuff about our company. Here’s some swag, here’s whatever. And I’m not talking about the fancy, you know, whatever tech company down the street, I’m talking about Joe’s manufacturing out the side there. He’s hiring this new welder and they’re going to start a month from now. If you want that, that person to be around, you’re going to make them feel welcomed. And then give them the best experience possible on day one. It’s not just stick them over in the corner and doing that the 18 videos like you said, and doing that. And then when he brought the topic to about 45% would have stayed with better training. Now you see how much that’s really worth today.

When you when you’re not just annoyed by the fact that you don’t have enough people your human capital, but you aren’t able to deliver products right you’re have to turn down an opportunity communities, and you’re looking at just some of the horrible stories that have happened because we’re stacking human capital on top of other supply chain issues that are stopping you from ever going in the first place. But then when you get to the point you can’t you don’t have people it’s a double whammy that you get.

This is this is so interesting because a I’ve seen the product, I think it’s really cool, because it does turn it into turn zoom into something a one person can run. Right. And, and that from a from a standpoint of just efficiency is great. But what are some of the end to the other?

I mean, there’s a lot of other features of our administrative stuff that I think you guys have covered in it that really, Jesus make it a lot easier for that trainer. But the one thing that I wanted to because we’re getting down in time here a little bit, but I did wanted to talk about what are some of the applications. I mean, you talk a little bit about onboarding, but what are some of them that you’ve seen? Because I think of some of my mind. But I want to see from the people that know the science of learning, where they see the most benefit of these sets. Let


Ben Zimmer  41:15

me Yeah, I mean, it’s an awesome question. Let me give you my favorite application. And it’s about sales training. Right. So now we’re imagining there’s a group of 20 salespeople working for some tech company. And like, I was inspired by this guy, Jim Wright who quit because he wasn’t getting good stuff. And it’s in you know, when I present that to a business leader, or a VP of sales, so like, oh, well, gosh, what am I supposed to do? Like, am I supposed to just buy like, I’m not a trainer? Like what do I even talk about? Like, here’s, here’s an example, here’s a great solution. Every two weeks, you get all your salespeople together on sidekick.

And you say I’m going to pick two people and maybe it’d be Dean. Okay, Damon, you’re going to give a pitch. This is a mock pitch, and we’re gonna give you feedback. You cool with that shirt. We’re going to Europe next week. Okay, next week, it’s Damon’s turn. But there’s a structure to this hour, five minutes, who’s ever facilitating says okay, this is the goal. We’ve done this. We do this every two weeks. And next five minutes, Damon, I want you to tell us what feedback you’re looking for. Give a bit of a self assessment. And that’s where you go, okay. I think I’m pretty good at this. But I find that whatever I maybe I’m not as great at listening to their specific needs.

Or, or maybe I’m uncomfortable about this part. And, I’d love to hear your feedback on XYZ. This is one of those pro tips like this is like one of these it’s distilled from our decade and a half of experience. When you invite Damon to say this is the feedback I want. you erase his defensiveness because he’s now he’s asked for it. And you know, he may say whatever, this is my area of focus, but no matter what, he’s, he’s open that door. And then all the other people who might be like, oh, you know, Daymond is more senior than me, he trained me or maybe he’s my boss, I don’t want to say no, he’s invited in.

This is one of those ways to kind of unlock that really authentic feedback. And then Okay, so the next part of the step is, you know, okay, David’s gonna take 10 minutes and give his pitch. And what sidekick does is it structures all this, we use the term choreography, choreographs all this, so whoever is facilitating, you know, they just push a button. And you know, the next thing happens very simply, is like, Okay, everyone, you know, make notes while he’s talking.

I’m going to then put you into breakout groups like we do every time, you’re gonna go in groups of four and talk through your feedback. And when you come back at one of you is going to present a push a button, boom, they get sent to the breakout groups, and the facilitator chats with you or you, you grab a beer to get ready for what’s coming. And then the timer goes off. The facilitator brings people back in now the feedback happens. What’s cool about this is like, we didn’t like this isn’t complicated. This isn’t hard. The facilitator this could happen without sidekick, right?

Yeah. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t unless you have that five minute part of the agenda. Okay, remind everybody, okay, dammit, tell us what feedback you want. And it permits us sidekick with, you know, supported by enable to create these playbooks that can be pulled off the shelf by our clients in sidekick and just use them and I don’t have to know anything about Damien’s company. It doesn’t matter. This is just a best practice approach to do great feedback. And guess what else? The VP of Sales doesn’t even need to be there. She doesn’t need to be there. The CEO. They don’t need to be there either. This now the team can serve itself and be consistent.

And the thing can be recorded automatically that can be reviewed by the VP of sales. people’s feedback gets captured and reported, oh, that can be looked at, you know, if Bill and Sara don’t show that gets recorded and can be looked at. And so this is the example I love. And it’s not about me telling you how to click through 473 buttons on Excel to achieve something, this is kind of a soft skill, right, it’s pitchy, but it’s essential. And it’s also not just for onboarding, this is the kind of thing that you give to Jim and his teammates, every two weeks. And it’s very, very low cost very low energy. Yeah, to have them support themselves. Yeah.


Damon Pistulka  45:37

And have them work together to become better. You’re just enabling them to help train themselves or someone to be a good trainer. Much easier. If you’re giving them the, like you said, the playbook and the technology to really do it.


Ben Zimmer  45:54

And if someone were to ask about the culture at whatever I called it Daymond quo. Any one of these men and women would say, Yeah, this is every two weeks, like we’re there for each other. We’re supportive. Yeah, like that suddenly becomes transformational. If it’s not something you’ve been doing previously. And it requires essentially zero effort.


Damon Pistulka  46:17

Yeah. Yeah. Good stuff. Good stuff. It’s so interesting, because you’re using sidekick and zoom in and helping people really be able to, to create a different culture, themselves, and much easier. So


Ben Zimmer  46:35

and this is, this has been a fun thing for me, because we talked at the top about how enable is a services business. We made the intentional choice to be generalists, and to do something different for each client, and then start again, and this pivot towards being to build something totally productized has been a real joy, because now I can imagine these ideas, these best practices technology, having massive impact, and I feel like, you know, the hard work of me and my team now just gets massively amplified.


Damon Pistulka  47:03

Yes, yes. Well, wow, that’s all I can say. This, is so cool. uncovering this with you, Ben. Because, you know, there’s so many companies that are struggling a to create the culture, like you said, but be just a little example. And if people are just getting online, now, rewind this thing, I always say, rewind, go back, you can tell right? There, go back, go back a few minutes and listen to you talk about the sales training, because that example, is what you can be doing with safety, with just about anything, and you can be doing this with compliance training, there’s so many different ways that I think that this can be used to just I mean, the sales is such a great example.

Because that is a person to person kind of thing and that that feedback and everything comes in. But those opportunities, we’re letting people interact with others in the organization and oftentimes dispersed because now we work with hybrid work environments, or even if everybody’s working from their cubicle, or office or home, whatever. This facilitates that as well. It just makes it so much more effective and does like says bill allows these people to build a good professional relationships as well.

So Well, Ben, I just want to thank you, first of all, for coming on today and talking about because I am I am thrilled to learn about how you guys with enable education, learned about the science of teaching, and then how that’s evolved over the years. And then to learn about how just the science of teaching is even brought forward with a product like sidekick. And to think about how these kinds of systems can really help corporate corporations develop learning systems that they hadn’t even thought about, right, and make them more effective and build better workplaces and more efficient companies. So thank you.


Ben Zimmer  49:28

It’s been my pleasure. Yes.


Damon Pistulka  49:31

Well, thanks everyone for listening once again on the faces of business. I just want to thank Ben Zimmer. So Ben, how can they get a hold of you? First of all, I forgot to ask that question. What’s the best way to get a hold of you or your enable or sidekick? What’s the best way?


Ben Zimmer  49:45

Yeah, enable Very good side kick And Ben at either one of those.


Damon Pistulka  49:55

Very good. Well, thanks so much for being here. Bank. Thanks everyone else for listening. And we will be back again with another interesting guest thanks a lot.

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