Merit Career Development Blog | Entries from August 2014

4 Engaging Techniques to Improve Team Learning

Create Project Management Training with a Focus on Fun and EngagementNo matter how informative the content of a project management training session is, employees won’t benefit from the content if it’s not engaging. In order to get the most out of your training investment, project managers should use fun, interactive teaching methods. Here are four examples of training techniques that help teams learn better.

  1. Involve Corporate Culture

    Every business has a specific culture among its employees, services and leadership. Training that doesn’t take the organization’s culture into account can come off as boring and out-of-touch. Chief Learning Officer (CLO) magazine recommends that managers engage employees through understanding and adopting the corporate culture as their own.

    "Understanding a company’s cultural strengths, then effectively tapping into the energy and emotional commitment those strengths engender in employees, provides incredible momentum to accelerate transformation," CLO explains. "Learning leaders can instill a sense of employee pride and commitment. Look for ways to connect workers to something larger than a new policy on paper."

    Using culture as a tool is a subtle but powerful leadership technique that can bring people into the conversation. This can mean appealing to pop culture—a marketing firm implementing metaphors or examples from "Mad Men" - or the office culture. Integrating culture into training reinforces a sense of community, but it can also be played for humor. Does the office have a notoriously small kitchen? Is there a row of coveted parking spaces in the lot? Use these as corporate "in-jokes" to reinforce the content of your presentation.

  2. Take Advantage of Simulation Training

    It doesn't matter how important the information being taught is if it’s not put into practice. Simulation training allows you to teach, test and improve your team’s habits for quick decision-making in high-pressure situations without the risks of an actual crisis.

    Customized simulation training solutions engage a team more than standard presentations because they force employees to learn and apply the information in real-time. With multiple team-based training sessions, simulations can give your team experience by testing how they’ll work under accelerated timelines. For example, by turning weeks into minutes within the realm of the simulation, the ticking clock function of simulations allows employees of a pharmaceutical company to balance Food and Drug Administration approval deadlines with website redesign projects ahead of launch within a span of a few hours. This allows employees to have real experience about prioritizing one project over another and managing time and resources.

  3. Leave Room for Improvisation

    While practicing a training exercise or presentation is important for effective execution, Tom Yorton, CEO of Second City Communications, explains in Training magazine that leaving space for improvisation in your presentation can be an excellent tool for engaging a diverse team. Yorton suggests starting light and negative. Discuss ten bad team management ideas that people have experienced. This can be fun and will bring people into the conversation. From here, you can talk about why these didn’t work and bridge the conversation to new ideas that will work. Everyone’s brains will be firing on all cylinders as they improvise fresh ideas.

    By using the same techniques that improv comedians use, Yorton argues that corporate managers can think better on their feet, be more receptive to new concepts and come up with cost-effective solutions that are out-of-the-box. This method engages employees because it’s focused on participation from everyone and thinking about concepts from different angles.

  4. Incorporate Cross-Training or Cross-Teaching

    It’s important for team members to understand their own roles. Set some time aside during your training to allow each member to teach or explain their role and how it affects the other employees. Not only will this improve communication among team members, but increased understanding can help streamline tasks through the project. Rather than burdening the project manager with questions, team members may be able to better communicate issues directly among one another.

    Cross-training or cross-teaching improves interaction among team members in multiple ways. Not only do they get a chance to learn about other positions, but they’re also involved as presenters within the training session.

    Think back on the most memorable lectures, classes or training sessions you’ve experienced. Chances are, they hooked you because they shared certain qualities: entertainment, a feeling of inclusion, hands-on practice or improvisational exercises, to name a few. Take these qualities to heart and make them a part of your own memorable management training.

A New Medicare Patient Identifier: An Impossible Dream?

Using SSNs as a Medicare patient identifier causes serious problemsDespite nearly a decade of studies and warnings, Medicare cards continue to display participants’ SSNs prominently on the face of the card as their Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN) or patient identification number. This number is also displayed on all claim forms mailed to participants’ homes.

As the studies and warnings clearly point out, this practice leaves participants vulnerable to identity theft when Medicare cards are stolen or claim forms are mailed to the wrong address. This is a common occurrence. It also leaves the Medicare program itself more vulnerable to fraud when identity thieves use stolen Medicare cards to obtain personal medical care and/or to submit fraudulent claims. Using SSNs as a patient identifier is just a bad idea, particularly in light of the fact that other state and federal laws specifically prohibit the use of SSNs in this way.

Both the (CMS) and the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) have studied this issue in some depth. Yet, despite across-the-board agreement that the practice needs to change, no relevant government agency, nor Congress, has taken the necessary action to require the change.

A key reason for this inaction, beyond the studies, is the cost. A 2012 GAO Report examined two options to address the issue:

  1. Continue to use SSNs but hide the first five digits.
  2. Replace SSNs with a new Medicare Beneficiary Identifier

However, CMS concluded that implementing either option would involve between 40 to 48 government IT systems and would take approximately four years to complete. Early CMS estimates indicated that replacing SSNs with the new MBIs would cost up to $845 million. More recent GAO estimates bring that number down considerably to between $255 million to $317 million. Note that these estimates do not include costs hospitals and providers would incur when making changes to accommodate the new MBIs.

So, things stand pretty much where they have stood since this issue first became a key point of study and discussion years ago. The most recent GAO Report (September 2013) on the matter concluded that despite the many warnings resulting from the studies and the increasing level of Medicare card theft, CMS still had not given the green light to any project that would remove SSNs as the Medicare card patient identifier. CMS has also failed to follow the lead of other existing state and federal laws prohibiting the use of SSNs as patient identifiers.

But hope springs eternal. Maybe CMS will seize the opportunity to make the change during the current modernization project of CMS’s overall IT systems. As proposed in the September 2013 GAO Report, " of CMS’s high-level modernization goals is to establish an architecture to support ‘shared services’ - IT functions that can be used by multiple organizations and facilitate data-sharing..." This effort includes a crosswalk function that could translate existing SSNs on claims to the new MBIs and vice-versa. The transition from the SSN to the new MBI would be much more efficient by receiving information on CMS’s modernized system with the new MBI, rather than by processing the information into the modernized system with the SSN and then making the transition.

Is it an impossible dream that the common-sense state and federal regulations already prohibiting SSNs from being used as patient identifiers will also apply to Medicare? It remains to be seen.

Hyperconnected & Collaborative: Gen Z Hits the Workplace

Collaborative and Hyperconnected, Gen Z is Gen Y 2.0 Are you ready to manage this generation?

Managing Different Generations in the Workplace: Part Three

Managing Generation X’s need for direct feedback and millennials’ desire for innovation is challenging enough, but a third generation of workers is trickling into the workforce. Generation Z, comprised of individuals born after 1995 up to the present, is already one of the biggest generational groups in the U.S.

While they may share a number of qualities with their Gen Y predecessors, communicating with this collection of young adults is an entirely different process. Continuing our four-part series on generations in the workplace, it’s time to break down the final crew: Generation Z.

Reliance on Technology

Like millennials, Gen Zers have been using technology since pre-adolescence—but their focus has been on more automated programs that require creativity or social networking over digital engineering. The Association for Talent Development suggests that managers retool their work processes and infrastructure to accommodate for automation. For example, inputting electronic data and running spreadsheets suits Generation Z’s technological preferences, but building spreadsheets doesn’t. Their focus is on easy-to-use programs that coordinate activities or communication.

As a result, members of Generation Z may require more guidance than workers of other generations when it comes to learning new software or tasks. They benefit greatly from instructor-led training exercises that utilize simulations or computer programs. A 2012 Forrester Research report showed that Generation Z is the second-largest demographic owning iPhones at 24 percent, ranking a few points below millennials (29 percent). Managers should take advantage of this group’s inclination for mobile technology and coordinate educational materials that are accessible via handheld devices.

Sense of Hyperconnectivity

According to Bloomberg View, Gen Zers might be overconnected in comparison to millennials. They’re accessing a wider variety of media: television, smartphones, tablets and mobile devices. A recent report from New York-based advertising agency Sparks and Honey revealed that members of Generation Z spend roughly 41 percent of their time outside of work or school interacting with computers or other technologies. Managers can utilize this sense of hyperconnectivity through modalities like chat programs that bring employees together and foster communication among staff.

In another study conducted by Wikia, “GenZ: The Limitless Generation,” researchers surveyed 1,200 Wikia users between the ages of 13 and 18. They found that 60 percent of Gen Zers share their knowledge with others online, an indication that they possess substantial collaborative skills. An additional 64 percent contribute content to websites because they enjoy learning new things, while 66 percent believe technology makes them feel as though anything were possible.

Given the penchant for collaboration, managers should include Gen Zers in more project management assignments. Generation Z’s networked approach to learning and development makes them feel engaged when working with a team. Social interaction is the optimal choice for communicating with this group, and hands-on training is the best option.

Unlike millennials, there’s still time before the majority of Gen Z enters the workforce. Managers should begin thinking about this generation and how to manage them now. Stick around as we segue into the final chapter of our series where we discuss strategies to connect all three generations—X, Y and Z—into one cohesive workforce.

What Millennials Bring to the Table

What Millennials Bring to the Table

Managing Different Generations in the Workplace: Part Two

In the first article of our four-part series on communicating with employees of different generations, we examined the unique characteristics of Generation X. Following the determined and work-driven perspective of the baby boomers, Gen Xers enjoy a happy learning medium of experience and ingenuity. But what about Generation Y, the age group often referred to as Millennials?

Generation Y has proven to be vastly different from its predecessors, carving a distinct niche for working millennials. Let’s discuss how to communicate with these tech-minded individuals.

Growing Up with Technology

Born between the years 1981 and 2000, millennials have a strong grasp on the kind of hardware and software currently utilized in today’s workplace. Unlike the baby boomers and Gen Xers, Gen Y has had its fingers on the pulse of technological advancements from an early age. Because of this, the best way to coordinate training with these learners is through mobile or Web-based platforms. Millennials feel more involved and digest information at a faster rate when it’s shared electronically. Training magazine recommends engaging and improving effective communication skills with Gen Y by conducting quick research by smartphone using polls and quizzes.

However, remember that Gen Y employees are bombarded with digital information every day, and they’re adept at weeding out what's pertinent and what’s "spam." Whether you’re designing training materials or constructing presentations, make sure the information is concise and to the point.

Millennials need more than competitive salaries and rewarding work experience to be satisfied - this generation needs to be more engaged in the training process. Leverage this by having millennials take the lead in new training programs. Gen Y is a valuable resource for guiding more senior colleagues in using tablets and Internet systems, the Philadelphia Business Journal explains. Allowing millennials to help train their peers creates an environment that breeds trust and communication among co-workers.

Bridging the Communication Gap

Gen Yers have been maligned by some researchers as possessing a "very inflated sense of self" and being "a pampered and nurtured generation," according to Psychology Today. This misconception may stem from millennials’ understandable desire for consistent and meaningful feedback on their work. Acclimated to the immediate feedback loops of social media, video games and other interactive platforms, millennials thrive in responsive environments. As a result, email becomes very useful for managers. Not only does it allow for a responsive environment, but Gen Yers are characterized as more likely to respond to electronic correspondence than phone calls or physical meetings.

Gen Yers are a group of unique individuals that like to interact with peers and lean on creativity to get tasks done. Fueled by collaboration, Generation Y thrives from active training lessons that bring them together in a room to chat and role-play. Managers must use this to their advantage by designing exercises that feed into the social and improvisational strengths of millennials, as opposed to the self-reliant, structured approach of Generation X. Stick with us to learn about millennials’ not-so-distant cousin: Generation Z.