Episode Twenty-Nine… Learning Organization Leadership with Lori Atone

Episode Description

Have you ever wondered how employee ownership can drive a culture of continuous learning and innovation within a company?

Yes? Good news.

In this episode of Empowered Owners, Lori Atone, Learning and Development Director at TVF, shares about the importance of continuous learning, knowledge sharing, and the impact of learning and development in an employee-owned organization.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The impact of learning and development in an employee-owned company.
  • How to harness the power of strengths and continuous learning to drive personal and company growth.
  • Unconventional approaches, like utilizing AI in the workplace, and their potential for our teams.

Jump into the conversation:

[01:59] What a Learning and Development program entails
[04:08] How Lori started TVF’s L&D program
[07:06] The importance of L&D for an employee-owned organization
[11:27] Trying new things & failures
[16:10] Understanding employee personalities & learning styles

How to Listen or Watch

Listen below or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Watch below or @Empowered_Ventures on YouTube.

Read the full transcript here or below the following media links.


Episode Transcript

Lori Atone: Learning development is important for all companies, but I do think with employee ownership, I think more people can be involved and more people sort of have the responsibility to try in their various ways to learn and teach. One of my visions, I guess, was to create a true learning organization where people are constantly or continuously learning new things. And not just learning and keeping that information, but learning and sharing for the good of the company.

Chris Fredericks: Welcome to Empowered Owners, the podcast that takes you inside Empowered Ventures. I’m your host, Chris Fredericks. In each episode, I’ll have a discussion with one of our employees to discover and highlight their distinct personalities, perspectives, and skills while also keeping you in the loop with exclusive news, updates on company performance, and a glimpse into the future plans of Empowered Ventures. This is an opportunity for me to learn more about our amazing employee owners and an opportunity for you to hear regularly from me and others from within Empowered Ventures. On this episode of Empowered owners, I’m talking with Lori Atone, Learning and Development Director at TVF. Lori has degrees in journalism, japanese language and literature, and learning, design and technology. Lori is a self proclaimed idea person who loves to work with people to bring their ideas to life. She lives outside of Los Angeles, working from the TVF location in Carson, California. In this conversation, we cover a lot of ground, including her experience building a learning and development program, her belief in just trying new things as a way to grow and innovate, and why learning and development is especially important for employee owned companies. With that, let’s get to my conversation with Lori. Hi Lori. Welcome to Empowered Owners.

Lori Atone: Hi Chris. It’s great to be here.

Chris Fredericks: How are you today?

Lori Atone: I’m great. How are you doing?

Chris Fredericks: Well, excited for this conversation. We’ve talked about it for a while, so everyone will hear in the intro that you are the learning and development director at TVF. And I thought I might start with a question about that. What is a learning and development program within a company?

Lori Atone: I can only speak for our company, really, but we developed, I think it’s this idea of continual learning and improvement and training and making sure everyone knows not only what they’re supposed to do, but part of our thing was also capturing knowledge from a lot of our experts who are, we call them the silver wave contingent. And in the next few years, they’ll be retiring. They’re very much experts and trying to capture the 35 years of experience and knowledge that they’ve had. That’s been a big part of our particular program. But yeah, that was definitely the start of it, and now it’s sort of evolving to do more process oriented stuff, just making sure everyone’s up to speed on things. Yeah, it’s a lot of different components.

Chris Fredericks: I would say when you started at TVF, that’s not what you were hired in to do, but you did have some background and some education in that area. Right?

Lori Atone: Right. I came in as a textile development coordinator knowing nothing at all about the industry. I was lucky enough to work closely with Robert Hinsch and Sam Marion and Ken Siecinski, who’s really recently retired. But a lot of my effort as far as learning was just done by my own digging in and learning and asking a ton of questions. And I was learning on the job, which is also important, too, that you have to be inquisitive and do your own research. But I definitely felt the need to have more actual training and a little bit of help as far as that goes. But, yeah, I did have a master’s in learning and learning design and a background in education, so that was my real expertise.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, that’s awesome. And, yeah, I remember those conversations, and I remember hearing you and how passionate you were about learning and about capturing all this knowledge that is floating around a company like TVF and many other small businesses. All these many decades of experience that people have and many small businesses, it’s like very informal training and the way people learn from each other. And we talked, and you had a vision for how things could become more systemized to capture that knowledge. And that was ultimately a genesis for building an L&D program, which is what we’re talking about. What did you do first when you first were tasked with helping TVF be more formal with learning and development? What was the first kind of thing or a couple things that you worked on?

Lori Atone: I would say the biggest thing was just not letting these bits of knowledge or these bits of someone’s experience. So it’s tacit knowledge, so it’s not something really you can learn in a book, just not letting them go to waste. So capturing them in some form was like. I think the really big push was just if something happened, if we had a problem or if we had some sort of issue, or if there was some kind of almost like trying to capture case studies in some form, not in a very formalized way, but I would do it in a variety of ways because it was just ad hoc in the beginning, whether it was just having someone talk into a video about something or really, I did a lot of videoing, little bits and pieces of things, and I know this, but I used to do a lot of when I learned something from someone, I would put it on my door and something that I would keep as like, it’s almost this public thing that people would walk by and they’d see little weird textile nuggets that were all on my door. And that actually, interestingly, was the very primordial L&D genesis, because I would learn something and I would teach it, and I would capture it through that, and I did little quizzes, and I would do recordings and stuff like that. That was sort of how it came about. And then I think just trying to get people to record in some fashion as much as possible what they were doing or were thinking or how they were approaching a problem. A lot of that was just the beginning, I think, of it. There was no system per se in the beginning, but really just trying to capture it. Because I do think people could work for a long time, and they have all the knowledge inside their heads and within their small circle, but if they retire or something happens, it just is lost, and it seems like such a waste of that knowledge. Bad for everyone, really. So that’s what we’ve been trying to do over the last several years.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, it’s kind of scary to imagine all these long term folks who’ve helped build a company, and then if that knowledge goes out the door, some of the value of that business and is leaving at that point, and maybe even especially for an employee owned organization. What do you think about in terms of how an employee owned company might be different when it comes to learning and development, or the importance of it when it comes to an employee ownership? How do you think about the interplay between employee ownership and learning and development?

Lori Atone: I would say learning development is important for all companies, but I do think with employee ownership, it’s something that we could get. I think more people can be involved, and more people sort of have the responsibility to try in their various ways to learn and teach. One of my visions was to create a true learning organization where people are constantly or continuously learning new things, and not just learning and keeping that information, but learning and sharing for the good of the company, which I think really does apply to all companies, but particularly when we’re so invested in our success and mutual success and the longevity of the company just to continue forever, in theory, to be successful and continue to evolve. I think that it’s even more important for employee owned companies to all work together to create this sense of learning and sharing information and really helping in various ways to capture the knowledge, getting ideas from people. I think employee owned companies, there is that idea generation, idea factory element. And so I think we have an advantage from that perspective. Also, everyone’s working together, everyone wants the same thing, which is mutual success. And then to continue to capture the knowledge of people and apply it for the future makes a lot of sense.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, that makes so much sense. And I love your point about ideas and how in an employee owned company, there’s a greater opportunity, maybe for ideas to bubble up and be considered. But also, it’s always hard in any company, I think, for people to share their ideas, and managers and leaders to process ideas and ultimately figure out which ones make the most sense to implement. How have you seen it done, or have you seen it done poorly in any situations that we can learn from in terms of how an organization can encourage and foster a culture of growth and idea sharing and improvement, knowing that not all ideas can be implemented.

Lori Atone: Ultimately, I think I would have to say that in general, this sense of failing fast, being receptive, that not everything is going to work, but just being receptive in general to ideas, which I found. I’ve found TVF and employee owned companies in general, I think, tend to be very receptive to try something, see if it works, especially if it’s not going to kind of like take down the ship, we’re going to be fine, but try out something and if it works, use it. If it doesn’t work, go on to the next thing. I think that idea of being able to try things and fail and just a little bit more of an experimental mindset and taking ownership of the process. So we all know if you try to improve something, it’s usually not a linear path. It’s not that you just go from a to b to c to d, and now everything’s perfect. It’s really this zigzaggy path. And so you have to have a sense of it’s fine to fail and learn from your failure and share that knowledge and get ideas from other people and collaboratively move forward. I think that has always been part of this company, or at least since I’ve been here. And I think being an employee owned company, that’s something that I’ve seen, like at conferences, people talk about a lot, just this sense of experimentation and being open to ideas. I found that to be true in many employee owned companies.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, I love that. I’m curious if you can think of any examples where you tried something and it didn’t work out, but ultimately it was part of progress and improvement for TVF.

Lori Atone: I don’t have anything that pops into my head off the top that would be like, oh, that was a failure per se. But I think this idea of, I am constantly thinking, and even when I was the textile development coordinator, just constantly thinking of, how could we do this differently or better? And that’s like a running sort of tape in the back of my mind, but it’s like, is this the best way to do it? Could we do it better? Could we make it more entertaining? Could it be more engaging? Is there a way to make this so that everyone gets it? So that’s always this thing. So I think along the way, there’s been many times where try something, maybe it fell flat, maybe it wasn’t the greatest, but then from that, just not being overly judgmental about that, and that’s just like, embracing the process. That’s part of the process. So this idea of, hey, I have this idea. What do you think? Maybe someone thinks that’s not that good, but what about this? And just kind of this collaborative approach, and not putting too much emphasis on immediate success, but looking at the process and down the road, I think we’ve been hugely successful. It’s not just me, obviously, but the whole organization, constantly trying different things, really getting feedback, being really receptive to feedback, and not putting that sort of negative spin on it, but just looking at it as a learning opportunity. And I think that we really have developed into a true learning organization, which is that mentality, that mindset, constantly learning, improving. And in fact, in this industry, textiles, because things are changing so much, you have to have that where you’re constantly curious and trying things and open and staying up with whatever’s new. So I think that it’s been a combination of being employee owned and just the industry itself and the mindset of this constant curiosity that has really helped build the learning and development program. And just in general, I think it’s contributed to our success.

Chris Fredericks: Yes, totally. And one thing that comes to mind, too, and I’ve been fortunate to hear how you think about a lot of these things and talk with you about a lot of it before. And one thing that’s come into mind is how you, I would say, almost like, steadfastly refuse to create learning materials or programs that you have a sense of. Like, it has to be interesting and super engaging, if at all possible. Where does that thinking come from for you? Did you have a lot of boring classes growing up and you hated them, or why did you come to that way of thinking?

Lori Atone: Yeah, and I have to say that not everything I do is interesting, but I do have the vision that it should be. And for sure, I don’t think I had a lot of boring classes growing up. I’m definitely a person who likes to learn, but I think that I’ve had that experience, whether it was a class or just a conversation or maybe reading a book where it’s like the material might be inherently interesting, but the presentation is off and it just turns you off to that subject. And I also think that in general, I guess one of my philosophies or guiding lights is that you can learn a lot and have the presentation be very entertaining. So it doesn’t have to be that learning something hard equals boring. I always use this analogy, but when you have a brilliant professor in college and someone that knows their material so well that they can take away all the excess, the unnecessary things, and they just distill it down to the most important points and they have the emotional bandwidth or intellectual bandwidth or both to present that in a very down to earth kind of way that people connect with. And I always like that. I think that’s really like the best teachers are like that. I think instilling curiosity and making things fun is the way people want to learn. And so it’s just been something that I personally care about and I try to do. I don’t do it all the time. Some of my work is boring, unfortunately. Apologize for that. But I think when you’re overall guiding light is trying to make it engaging. Yeah.

Chris Fredericks: And something you’ve been, I think, really interested in over the years and have done some work with TVF is around like personality profiles and understanding each other better. And I think you may have landed on in the last few years using strengths focused approach within the company. And I’m curious what that means. How would you describe what has taken place with that and how do you feel like it’s impacted things?

Lori Atone: I think over the last couple of years, we try to do, I believe in using strengths, and it doesn’t mean that we all have things that we’re naturally good at and we love doing and give us energy. And I think that’s really important to find that zone where people are doing what they’re good at. I’m a big dog person, as you know, and I look at it as this is maybe a funny analogy, but let’s say if you have breeds of dogs and they’re inherently good at doing certain things, so you wouldn’t have, let’s say, a bloodhound who is really great at smells and scents, you wouldn’t have that dog doing agility training, which they’re obviously not going to be good at. So I think people are the same way where you have people that are naturally strong in various areas and to know your strengths, we happen to use Clifton strengths. I feel like it’s a very sort of positive and easy to understand and fairly cost effective type of assessment, but there are many assessments, and using that and focusing just on the positive, the strengths part of it, not the weaknesses part of it, and then finding a lot of opportunities for that person to utilize their strengths, I think that will, in general, make people more engaged. Where you’d think the ultimate work is where you’d say, I would do this if I wasn’t getting paid for it, I love doing this. That would be. Not that you can be in that zone 100% of the time, of course, but to be in that zone where you love what you do and you’re good at it, and it really plays to your strengths, I think that’s a key to success in any organization, really, and in life. But I think as an employee owned company, that idea that you have, people that really understand themselves, understand each other, we can lean on each other in a different way. So if I’m really great at this thing and you’re really great at this other thing, we just collaborate, and it just amplifies. I think it amplifies employee ownership and the employee ownership mindset. That’s my recent conclusion, that it just makes us better at what we do.

Chris Fredericks: And I would add that for empowered ventures, our mission, our purpose, is to create life changing outcomes, financial and personal, for all of our employee owners. And within that one big piece of that is, do our people love coming to work each day? And if someone has a job that they love, they feel like it’s perfect for them. Their strengths are a fit for that. That seems to be a really big part of whether someone is feeling fulfilled in their career and in their work. And I’m curious, back to the question again, of where this kind of thinking comes from. Why do you think you’re so passionate about work and the work being such an important part of leading a fulfilling life?

Lori Atone: Yeah, that’s interesting. I’m a person that’s always liked work. I guess it’s like a vehicle for me to use my various sort of skills or way of thinking. I’m a creative person also. So it’s this idea of utilizing that, like with the Clifton thing, the ideation is one of my. Is my top strengths, and having this as a vehicle to use my strengths and to produce. I like making things so I like producing, like creating. I’ve always found that even when I was younger, let’s say I worked in high school, I worked in a pizza place, or I worked in a burrito place, or a lot of those kind of high school jobs that you have. And I’ve always had that thing of, is this the best way to do this? How could we do it in a different way? How could we be more efficient? I find it interesting, and I also really have always liked being on a team. And the work, like where we’re all on this team working towards something, I find that fulfilling. I think it’s fulfilling and interesting. And then the idea of being able to create something that is meaningful and that will last is also something I think I’ve always cared about that.

Chris Fredericks: One thing that also I’ve noticed with you is you’re always trying, and you mentioned it earlier, is kind of always trying new things. How can we do this differently? How can we do it better? And one area that I think you might be the first person that did it within the workplace, within an empowered ventures company, is using AI and Chat GPT for actual work tasks. And I’m curious, is that something you still are doing? Are you finding that helpful? And how do you envision in the future that people throughout our companies might want to think about using technology like that?

Lori Atone: I’m definitely a person that tries things. And when that first came out back in the previous November, I think so. It’s been a year and a month or so. I tried it, and I do use it. I use it a lot to analyze data and find trends and even, let’s say, if I wrote something, for example, I could put that into Chat GPT and say, play devil’s advocate and poke holes in this argument, or show me three other ways of thinking about this problem. Sometimes it’s not that helpful, but again, it’s new and it’s definitely here to stay. So I think this way of using it to our benefit, where you could just say, hey, give me this other viewpoint, or I try. I experiment with a lot. I just put in things. So I have used it a lot, and it’s been very helpful, especially for analysis of things when you want different viewpoints or you want a different perspective or just to see, analyze data.

Chris Fredericks: That’s great, Lori, this has been fun. I know you, and I am sure could talk for another hour or more about a lot of different things here, but this has been a great conversation. What would you say if I asked you what advice do you have for your fellow employee owners.

Lori Atone: My advice would be to free yourself from judgment and try to be as engaged as possible and just really rely on each other. And I would just say take calculated risks about trying things. That would be my biggest thing. I think just this fear of trying holds people back. And so I would say just use all of the data as a learning opportunity and constantly be trying new things and really lean into each other. I think as people that can help, and again with the strengths thing, find people that have different strengths than you do and really work together with them to build something. I think that’s where we have the most power and energy is when we work together to build something new. So I would just say be as engaged as possible and enjoy being part of an employee owned company.

Chris Fredericks: I love that. Lori thank you for coming on empowered owners.

Lori Atone: Thank you so much, Chris.

Chris Fredericks: I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Lori Atone. Thank you Lori for joining me on empowered owners. Huge thank you as well to Emily Bopp and the team at Share Your Genius for producing this episode. Remember, we want to hear from you. Please give us feedback, suggest guests and topics for future episodes and tell us how we can keep improving the show. To reach us, email [email protected]. Thanks for tuning in.

Tags: Podcast
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