Use Case Studies to Accelerate Learning

 8th June 2017 by gihan

One of the best ways to deliver learning in a workplace is through a well-designed case study.

Think of a case study as a training course that’s more interactive and embedded than most courses. Instead of sitting quietly and listening passively, the participants engage actively every step of the way. Of course, a well-run training session also involves active participation, and might even include case studies. The difference here is that the case study is the training, and your job as a leader is to facilitate the discussion rather than to teach or train.


Because you will be facilitating the discussion, it’s useful to give your participants a structure for the case study, rather than just making it a free-for-all discussion. If you’re just starting with case studies, use my QUASAR formula, which gives you a simple structure to build a compelling case study:

  • Question: Describe the situation, the people involved, and their problem, challenge or question.
  • Understanding: Dig a little deeper to understand and quantify the implications of the problem, both negative (costs) and positive (missed opportunities).
  • Alternatives: Describe various options available to solve the problem.
  • Solution: Choose a solution from the options, and discuss why it’s better than the other options.
  • Approach: Describe the approach used to implement the solution (If the solution is the What, this is the How).
  • Results: Describe the results of the process, the outcome achieved, and how this affected the people concerned.

Using this structure means you work through the case study in an orderly sequence, while still allowing enough freedom for everybody to participate at each step.


There are a number of ways to facilitate the process, depending on the complexity of the case study, the time available, your skill as a facilitator, and the interests and needs of the team.

If you only have limited time, you could just choose a scenario, stand up at a team meeting, and present the case study by going through those six steps, with your team members passively listening. With very limited time, that might be your only option. However, it doesn’t offer anywhere near as much value as the team working through the steps (facilitated by you).

You don’t require much more time to do it in a more interactive way that involves your team in more depth.

For example, you could facilitate the entire case study in a one-hour team meeting like this:

  • 10 minutes: Briefly describe the scenario and problem (Question).
  • 5 minutes: As a group, identify implications (Understanding).
  • 15 minutes: Work in small groups to discuss Alternatives.
  • 15 minutes: Bring them back together to share their ideas and then choose one Solution.
  • 15 minutes: Share the actual Approach chosen and Results achieved, and discuss pros and cons when contrasting it with their chosen solution.

With more time, you can do a more in-depth version of the case study. Follow the same broad structure as the one-hour version, but allocate more time for the activities. For example, instead of the groups only having 15 minutes to list alternatives, they could have a week. That gives them time to identify alternatives, analyse them in more detail, perhaps even do some real-life testing (for example, using social media), prepare a PowerPoint presentation, and report back to the team a week later.

Get started!

You might feel a bit uncomfortable the first few times you lead your team in this process. But there’s no better solution than practice. Besides, even if you’re clunky and clumsy the first few times, your team will still get value from the process because they are doing most of the work themselves.

So try it – you won’t regret it.

Watch my webinar “The Future of Learning”

For more about the future of learning and development for high-performance teams, watch my webinar “The Future of Learning”, which will help you go beyond the traditional training course as a tool for learning and development.

Register for future webinars (free) here:

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Power Up Your Team

 30th May 2017 by gihan

Nordstrom, the US department store, has one of the best employee policy manuals in the world. The entire handbook given out to new employees goes like this:

“We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Rule #1: Use your best judgement in all situations.

There are no additional rules.

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.”

You might think it’s impossible for an employee manual to give people so much leeway. After all, there are procedures to follow, policies to uphold, legislation to meet, and rules to enforce. In fact, Nordstrom does have a more detailed employee manual to cover those situations. But the essence of the company culture is in those few paragraphs above.

It takes courage for an organisation to tear down their hierarchy and let employees loose, but Nordstrom isn’t the only organisation that does it:

  • Online shoe store Zappos manages by “Holacracy” , where there are no management titles and the employees drive the company.
  • Southeastern Mills has discarded its policy manual and treats employees like adults.
  • The Morning Star Company organises all its employees in circles, where each circle must gain consensus about goals and operations, and then ask other circles to help them.
  • The creative agency Roundhouse has a few core values to guide it, but no goals, policies, systems or procedures.
  • Southwest Airlines is famous for giving employees more freedom, and it leads to hilarious safety videos that generate more free publicity than most companies pay in advertising .

Are you confident enough in your team members’ judgement that you could trust them as much as those organisations do? If not, you’re not alone. Most leaders and managers – if they were honest – would admit they don’t trust their team members that much.

If you have children, you know this intuitively. Young children don’t know about the dangers of electricity, so you protect power sockets when they start crawling. They don’t understand why it’s rude to interrupt conversations, so you have to teach them. They don’t know how easy it is to drown in a small amount of water, so you build a fence around your swimming pool.

Your team members aren’t children, but some leaders treat them as if they are – and are then surprised when they (metaphorically) stick a knife in an electrical socket or fall into the swimming pool.
Instead of operating from a lack of trust, ask yourself: What would you need to do to get to where you could trust them this much?

As their leader, you have the benefit of greater experience, which gives you deeper insight, and that in turn leads to wisdom. Help your team members acquire that same wisdom, and then you’ll be able to trust their judgement.

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What Will Technology Look Like in 2050?

 25th May 2017 by gihan

podcast-thefutureofworkI’m a big fan of Jacob Morgan’s regular podcast The Future Of Work, and I particularly enjoyed listening to his recent interview with Daniel Franklin, the executive editor of The Economist and author of the new book Megatech: Technology in 2050.

In this episode, they explore a range of future scenarios for the next generation, including energy, agriculture, augmented reality, and more.

Listen Now

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Change and Disruption: You’ve Got This Covered

 23rd May 2017 by gihan

I read with interest last week that the USA is considering extending its laptop ban to flights from Europe as well as the Middle East. And here in Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed the Australian government is “looking at it very closely” to determine whether to follow suit. This might not affect you in the near future, but it’s worth considering what happens if it does …

How will this change your work and life?

This might not make any difference for the many people who travel for pleasure, but it could have a big impact on business travellers. Many of them work on long flights, and even work much more productively because they don’t have the interruptions and distractions of an office. And some (like I) need their laptop for their work at the other end of the flight.

If business travellers can’t use laptops in flight, some of them might choose not to fly, which will force a change to the way they work – for example:

  • We might see a rise in online meetings, videoconferencing, webinars, and other online versions of in-person meetings.
  • Or fewer international conferences and meetings.
  • Or an increase in the cost of airfares for holiday travel (because the airlines rely on business travellers for their profits).
  • Or … ?

We don’t know exactly what would happen, but being fit for the future means it’s worth considering the possibilities.

For example, as a conference speaker, I travel a lot, and make use of some of the travel time to get work done – so a laptop ban would affect me directly. It would also affect my clients, who in extreme cases might decide not to hold a conference at all. Knowing this, I can prepare for the impact – for example:

  • Becoming better at online presentations
  • Creating online resources to complement and supplement live presentations
  • Teaching clients how to boost their new media literacy skills, so they can be ready to use these tools and resources
  • Learning about the use of virtual reality for meetings and events
  • Diversifying my income streams more, so I have more eggs in more baskets

What will YOU do?

Perhaps the in-flight laptop ban won’t affect you, but I bet you there’s something that could significantly disrupt your business – stricter government regulation, moving into the Australian market, GST charged on imports, a new President in South Korea, a change in the uranium price, whatever …

Don’t be caught off guard!

Ask yourself these two questions (hypothetically):

“How would my business change if [that significant event happened]?”

“How would my clients’ business change if [that significant event happened]?”

Of course, we will all adapt, but the most successful people will be prepared for the change when it happens.

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How Millennials Will Lead in the C-Suite

 18th May 2017 by gihan

The Knowledge@Wharton podcast, from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, features interviews with speakers, academics, researchers, consultants and other experts.

In this episode, former Aetna CEO Ron Williams and The Conference Board’s Rebecca Ray discuss some of the surprising and unexpected findings of their report into Millenials taking on senior leadership positions.

Listen Now

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Stretch Your Training to Extend the Learning

 16th May 2017 by gihan

Even with greater access to social, mobile and online education, in many organisations – and maybe even yours – the default tool for learning and development is still the traditional training course. Traditional training courses do still have their place, though, but you can improve them by enhancing the classroom experience with other activities. This approach is broadly known as “Flipping the Classroom”.

In the traditional teaching model in schools, students sit quietly in a classroom and get “lectured to”, and then leave with homework that includes interactive activities like group exercises, discussion, and case studies. “Flipping the Classroom” turns this on its head: The students get all the lecture material as pre-work (which is possible now because it can be provided online); and in the classroom, they do the interactive activities to embed the learning.

You can apply the same principle to your training programs, although you probably won’t go as far as “flipping” them entirely. Team members still attend traditional classroom-based training programs, and enhance their learning with additional resources before and after the course.

Depending on your authority, you can either ask the trainers to provide this additional material, or you can provide it yourself. In the latter case, even if you’re not an experienced trainer, there are so many resources available online now that you can easily find suitable material to complement a training course.

These additional resources give a new lease of life to the traditional training course. Instead of throwing it out altogether, you can “stretch” it with other features.

Before the course

Here are some of the things participants can do to prepare for the course, and the tools they can use:

  • Assess their ability: online surveys, diagnostic tools, personality profiling
  • Identify specific goals: workbooks, guided e-learning
  • Do pre-work: videos, reading material, audio
  • Meet other participants: videoconference or teleconference call, webinar
  • Meet the trainer: webinar, individual Skype or phone call to discuss individual needs

This sort of pre-work helps each participant get more value from the course and helps the course presenter tailor the material so it’s more relevant and appropriate.

After the course

Even if you’re providing training courses for the right reasons (and not just to “tick a box” for compliance purposes), it’s not easy for participants to use the new skills when they return to their desks. Again, there are a variety of techniques and tools participants can now use to embed the learning:

  • Re-assess their ability: online assessments (ideally compared with their pre-course assessment)
  • Access to the trainer: individual access (Skype, phone, e-mail) and group access (follow-up webinar, online forum, group videoconference)
  • Access to resources: additional material that supplements the course
  • Drip-feeding reinforcement: material sent automatically at set intervals

How will you stretch the training for your team?

From a technology and cost viewpoint, these are all easy to provide and can provide huge value to participants. Some trainers will suggest these options to you, but many won’t. Take more responsibility for your team’s ongoing development, and build these sort of activities into every training program they attend.

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Authority Selling with Magnetic Messages

 11th May 2017 by gihan

Authority Selling with Magnetic Messages

In a crowded marketplace where sales meetings are getting shorter and buying cycles are getting longer, it’s becoming more difficult to cut through the clutter and sell with impact. In this webinar, I’ll show you how to use the power of magnetic messages to cut through the clutter and deliver a clear value message to prospective clients.

You can watch the recording here:

After the webinar, I asked participants “What was the most useful thing you learned today?” Here are some of their answers:

“How to use simple diagrams. I’ve used them before but didn’t realize their value.”

“The ‘How much’ box. I can use it to show people I’m not adding more to an already-full life, we are altering the balance, lessening undesirables, making room for desirables.”

“Got me thinking i should prepare some of these in my head to be able to quickly draw on (pardon the pun) when engaging with a client.”

“Hand drawn is OK, lots of uses!”

“It was fascinating – last night I spent several fruitless hours trying to make EzyDraw work – and very relevant. I feel that one thing lacking in what I am trying to present is appropriate diagrams. it also suggested to me a variety of ways I could sell my content.”

“The different possibilities for a model”

“That I have so much more to learn and help I need developing my marketing message.”

“Learning different ways to make presentations, pre visual”

“Communicating through drawing”

“A methodology of selling using pictures”

I also asked participants to create their own hand-drawn sales models and invited them to upload them during the webinar. Here are some of the sample models (click picture for a full-size version):

The Future Proof Webinar Series

The Future Proof webinar series will keep you in touch with our future - what's ahead, what it means for us, and how to stay ahead of the game.

In each webinar, I'll cover an important topic about the future - for example, the shift of power to Asia, the changing workplace, healthcare technology, the shift to customer-centric business, big data, and more. This is not just theory; I'll also give you practical examples and ideas for you to future-proof your organisation, teams, and career.

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Open the Door To Greater Experience

 9th May 2017 by gihan

Good leaders give their team members more information and knowledge than they need just to do their job. They know what’s happening in the rest of the team, the rest of the organisation, and even the outside world. But it’s not enough to just sit on the sidelines and watch. Great leaders know real judgement comes from experience, not just from observation alone – so they look for opportunities to give their team members more experience that matters.

As Theodore Roosevelt said:

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds.”

I’m not suggesting you throw your team members into an arena with lions and a baying crowd! But if you really want them to learn, give them the chance to do things, even with the risk they will make mistakes. You’ve minimised the risk by giving them the chance to observe and learn, so now give them the chance to shine.

Ask them for advice

You’ve given your team members the chance to see how other parts of the organisation work, so now ask for their comments, suggestions, and advice. They are looking at things with new eyes and a fresh outlook, so they might be able to suggest improvements and enhancements.

It’s not always easy for them to offer advice. They might be reluctant to criticise, inexperienced in making succinct suggestions, or worried about overstepping their authority. Rather than just asking for suggestions, ask specific questions instead – like these:

  1. What could we stop doing?
  2. What could we start doing?
  3. What should we keep doing?

Don’t just ask for their advice; be willing to act on it. In fact, adopt the attitude that you will act on their advice unless there are really strong reasons against it. Even if it means extra time, effort, or money, do it anyway. After all, you’re not always the best judge of the outcome, and you might be surprised at the results.

More importantly, though, acting on the advice shows them you value and appreciate it, which will encourage them to speak up more often in the future.

Send them to networking events

Send your team members to relevant networking events. Start by finding (or asking them to find) events of their peers, and then gradually move them up to events with more senior people.

This is one area where you should beware of pushing them too far too soon. People at a networking event expect to be among peers, and many of them won’t make a more junior person feel welcome (and some will actively make them feel unwelcome). Attend the first such event with them, so you can make the introductions and position them with the other people there.

Put them on the front line

Give them a chance to not just observe customers, but interact with them – in the retail shop, at the incoming call centre, on social media, at the reception desk, or wherever else your organisation interacts with customers.

You can’t do this with every customer-facing role, but just giving people exposure to customers in some way is better than none at all. For example, if you work for an airline, you can’t ask your team members to pilot the plane! But they might be able to work in social media, in a call centre, or at the airport.

Organisations like Zappos and JetBlue are famous for giving their staff flexibility in dealing with customers. Even if your organisation doesn’t have this culture, don’t hold onto the reins too tightly. Give them a bit of freedom and you might be surprised at the results.

Give them a voice

Invite them to contribute to your organisation’s internal newsletter, the external quarterly magazine, the internal blog on the intranet, or the external blog on your Web site.

Some of these publications might be tightly controlled, so you might have to work hard to persuade their managers to accept other contributions, let alone contributions from “junior” people. But it’s worth the effort, not only for your team members, but also for the organisation as a whole.

Don’t limit your thinking to the written word. They could present (or co-present) at meetings, deliver training courses, publish videos, and present webinars.

Build their authority

Some team members will be so keen about speaking up that they want to become an authority in their own right. Give them a platform of their own, beyond just being a contributor to a shared platform. The focus shifts from “This month’s newsletter has an article by Shamini about our supply chain process” to “Shamini is an authority on supply chain management, and we’re proud to host her blog on our Web site”.

This might take even more effort to get approved, but again it’s worth it. Having a reputation as an organisation that fosters thought leadership is good for everybody.

Support their existing platforms

Some team members will already have a strong online presence. If that is aligned with your team or organisation, help them develop it further.

For example, Gillian might be passionate about women in leadership, and already has a blog, Facebook page, and YouTube channel about that topic. Any leader in any organisation can support this, especially if you work in a male-dominated industry.

Look for ways to support her – for example, giving her time to work on this passion, finding conferences and events for her to attend (or present at), showcasing some of her work in your internal publications, and so on.

Be careful not to “take over” her platform. You can invite her to contribute to internal publications, but don’t force her to bring everything under the organisation’s umbrella. If she’s passionate enough to have built a following, she’s passionate about it being hers. Support her in continuing to build her expertise and authority, and you will benefit anyway.

Make them a mentor

They might have a mentor, but invite them to be a mentor as well. This doesn’t have to be mentoring somebody junior, as traditional mentoring would suggest. It could also be mentoring somebody more senior in the organisation, in an area where your team member has expertise – for example, social media, consumer behaviour, technology trends, or consumer electronics.

Tap into their networks

Your team members operate in completely different social circles than you, so you might think their networks are not valuable to you. However, the exact opposite might be true. This difference might be useful because they connect you to completely new people. Mark Granovetter called this “The Strength of Weak Ties”, in his paper of the same name, which has become one of the most widely-cited papers in the social sciences.

Ask your team members to reach out to their networks when you need help with recruitment, product recommendations, product testing, and so on.

Let them do more meaningful work

If they express an interest – or even passion – in something non-work-related but which you can support, do your best to offer resources to support them.

Some organisations actively support employees who want to make a community contribution. For example, mining giant Rio Tinto runs a “Dollars for Doers” program, which rewards employees who volunteer significant amounts of personal time to a not-for-profit organisation by providing $5,000 to that organisation, on behalf of the employee . Other organisations even make community work an integral part of each employee’s role, and tie it to their salary package.

Even if you don’t have this authority, you can still support them by giving them time and other resources within your control.

Whatever method you choose, consider it an investment rather than a cost. Your team members will be more motivated to do their regular work, and might also find creative ways to link their regular work with their community work.

Empower the connectors

Finally, don’t assume that only you can help your team members. Find the natural connectors in your team (perhaps they are the ones who are always on Facebook!) and ask for their suggestions. They might host social events with other teams, start a monthly mastermind group, or tap into their social media network to find a guest speaker for a team meeting.

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