When Jessica Yuen — a longtime Chief People Officer, executive coach, and advisor to HR Tech companies — participated in a fully remote career advancement bootcamp with a startup called The Forem, she was not sure what to expect.
She was there to find out if remote learning could be effective, especially for companies navigating a return to in-person offices (or adopting a new hybrid model).
During the height of the pandemic, many companies lost their ability to create meaningful employee experiences and growth opportunities. They had to pivot from in-person training to virtual events, and the results were mixed… with good reason. Scaling learning and development to an entire organization has always been a massive challenge with unclear solutions.
How do you create intimacy at scale and equip each employee with the resources they need to advance their careers? How do you synchronize people from all over the world and unite them in a common learning experience? And if you can do all of the above, how do you know the actual content of the training is worthwhile? Even before the pandemic, companies struggled to deliver on the “intangibles” — how do you know if employees, especially underrepresented employees, are truly empowered in the organization? And if not, how do you fix it?
If Learning and Development departments had an easy answer, they would have implemented it long before a pandemic forced so many companies to use Zoom. When effective training and employee growth can be implemented (and until recently, it hasn’t been done at scale) retention rates improve, productivity rates and innovation increase, and women and people of color can advance at higher rates into leadership roles.
Jessica had heard buzz about a bootcamp at The Forem called “Level Up.” This career advancement program combines live virtual workshops with The Forem’s own tech platform (featuring a Networking Hub, 1:1 Mentoring, an Accomplishment Tracker, personal profile, and more tools that aid an employee’s career management.)
Curious, she signed up… albeit skeptically.
“If I’m being honest,” she said to us recently, “I felt a bit of ‘been there, done that.’ I believe every experience can be a learning opportunity, but I’m far enough in my career that I didn’t see how this could be useful to me personally. And with nearly 700 remote participants across the world, I thought: ‘How are they going to facilitate that and pull it off?’ How could it be meaningful?”
Four weeks later, not only was she impressed — she had also learned a lot. And in The Forem, she sees the future of Learning and Development.
Lesson #1: Remote works.
No boring webinars here. The first thing Jessica was impressed with was The Forem’s live, interactive virtual workshops, which featured fun elements (such as curated music) and a few hundred attendees from time zones across the world, each tuned in with their cameras on. Her facilitator, Jennifer Litwin, led discussions on the importance of nailing critical skills such as authentic relationship building, creating a clear correlation between your work and the impact on the business, and how to plan strategically for opportunities aligned with your strengths and passions.
These “intangibles” are immediately graspable: attendees easily identified moments when they failed to represent themselves well, or missed out on opportunities because they didn’t have the skill set to self-advocate.
“What was really cool about the workshops was the community,” Jessica reflected. “It wasn’t just ‘okay, I’m going to sit in front of my computer for an hour and zone out.’ I had half a dozen working sessions in breakout rooms, meeting people I would have never met otherwise. Each breakout session was only 2-5 minutes. But when you’re talking about your goals and what you’re struggling with at work, you can make an immediate connection with someone that is lasting. With a complete stranger, I was able to rethink a few of my own challenges and fine tune my own career desires.”
Not only did Jessica’s session bolster her own connections and sense of empowerment — she was also able to do this for others.
“I helped someone who was struggling to talk about a project with her manager. We worked together to reframe her approach. She pinged me later that day on The Forem’s Networking Hub to say she had tried it, it had worked, and thank you. This is the vibe of the community. And the program’s structure creates this natural opportunity to give and receive, which is only possible because of the remote setup and the tech involved.”
The Forem’s methodology teaches that each individual is in the driver’s seat of her career. The workshops, breakout sessions, and exercises are highly tactical, with action items that deliver results (immediately and years in the future, with continued practice).
After the live programming ends, participants become Members in The Forem’s platform, where they continue to receive weekly nudges to remind them to act on what they learned in the bootcamp, as well as access to workshops and seminars exclusively for the community. In other words, the ROI continues infinitely, as long as the individual invests the time.
Lesson #2: Intimacy can be done at scale.
Even in a group of 700 people spread out across the world, from a variety of industries and departments, and at all levels of leadership, Jessica felt seen, helped, and empowered.
Part of this was due to The Forem’s team. “Everyone was involved,” Jessica shared. “Every single person on The Forem’s team checked in, from notes in the Slack channel to follow up emails to individual networking sessions. I always had the chance to ask questions in live bootcamps, or I knew I could find someone on the team afterwards to continue the conversation. It was invaluable.”
The other part was due to a unique program The Forem implements: Mentorship. Each participant is eligible to sit down one-on-one with an executive and receive personal coaching… the kind of personalized development opportunity that companies rarely have the ability to implement outside of the C-Suite.
“Through The Forem’s platform, I had a mentoring session with Donna Speciale, who is the President of Sales and Marketing at Univision,” Jessica said. “I would have never thought to connect with her if she wasn’t a Mentor at The Forem. But it ended up being extremely valuable. I have a goal of getting on a board, and she was able to help me strategize. I had no idea The Forem was going to further my career goals in such a meaningful way.”
“The Forem is valuable for so many people, at all levels, and it evolves with them as their career does,” Jessica reflected.
Not only because the one-on-one mentoring will deliver for a lifetime, but because The Forem’s curriculum emphasizes those “intangibles” — and as a career evolves, so will the ways that the individual can implement and refine their skills in self-advocacy, personal branding, stakeholder mapping and financial fluency.
Lesson #3: Empower one, empower all.
Perhaps most importantly, Jessica thinks The Forem can achieve true bottoms-up empowerment for an organization.
“The Forem has clear benefits for participants, but also clear benefits for a company,” Jessica said. “The more connections your employee has, and the better they are at understanding and articulating their value and impact to the organization, the better they will be at speaking up when most useful and innovative and productive. Retention improves with the ability to self-advocate and feel passionate about your role.”
Furthermore, The Forem creates connections in a revolutionary new way from what used to happen “in the office.” These valuable elements can be directly curated by an organization and handed to employees, with useful data on how they are taking advantage of them (number of networking sessions, number of mentoring sessions, etc.) And this applies whether the organization is fully remote, fully in-office, or adopting a hybrid system.
Finally, by working on the “intangibles” companies can make strides with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
One Level Up attendee, a woman with over twenty years of experience, had not been taking her skip level meetings because she did not feel a connection with her male VP and did not see how he could help her with her career. Through The Forem she learned to take these meetings as insurance for her own work. She followed up by attending office hours for the first time in years, spoke about her impact, talked about bigger strategy and goals, and built a relationship. This tangible increase in inclusion and belonging has an infinite ROI, both for the individuals and the health of the organization as a whole.
The future of learning and development
The bottom line: when each employee realizes they have the power to be more than just a heads-down worker, everyone wins. And with The Forem, companies now have the ability to curate this intentionally and effectively.
Jessica Yuen knows that this is a game changer in the landscape of learning and development.
“Typically when companies are looking to invest in their employees, they’re asking: ‘What are the skills I need my employees to understand or know?’ Often the focus falls on skills, such as how to run a one-on-one, how to listen, or how to give feedback. While fundamental, there is a different and arguably more critical set of skills The Forem has proven it can effectively teach, which lever into everything else.
They’re asking questions like: ‘How can employees have upward mobility? How can they leverage their own talents to find their place and commit authentically to the organization?’ These soft skills have a huge impact on diversity, retention, productivity and innovation. The Forem’s goal is to democratize career advancement by scaling L&D to an entire organization, and they hope to support the next 1 million women leaders. After experiencing their Level Up program firsthand, I believe they will.”
Finally, who should attend The Forem?
Any individual can sign up, but more companies are joining the bandwagon and sending groups of their employees, or simply commissioning The Forem for an internal Level Up program.
Sending employees with everyone else in The Forem’s community provides opportunities to build connections and establish presence within the industry. Or, a company can bring The Forem internally, providing the chance to connect departments, even across time zones, and control the data so the impact can be measured.
“The way we learn is changing,” Jessica stated. “It has to, with the way the world has shifted and the way that awareness is changing around DE&I. I’m so excited there are trailblazers like The Forem leading the way.”
Interested in bringing The Forem to your organization? Click here.