DevLearn 2022 Keynote: Lessons from Kevin Bethune

DevLearn 2022 Keynote: Lessons from Kevin Bethune

DevLearn opened the conference Wednesday morning with a thoughtful session from Kevin Bethune about a human-centered approach to design thinking. His personal history, education, and career path, along with his sense of curiosity all have relevant applications to the learning and development industry.

Kevin set the stage for his design philosophy by first walking us through his educational journey. I love his phrase the “power of the pencil.” Early on in his childhood, he developed a passion for writing and drawing.

Embrace the “Power of the Pencil”

It made me wonder about the generations entering the workforce who spent much of their childhood on various devices instead of crayons, paint sets, or colored pencils. How many of our modern-day office supply closets, even stock pencils? And how an old-school analog tool like a #2 pencil might inspire different ideas and thought processes if we were to move our work off-line and onto a piece of paper for occasional problem-solving or brainstorming.

There is research that shows that handwriting increases neural activity in certain sections of the brain, similar to meditation. Handwriting also helps us learn which is one of the main reasons we are all at this event. It’s in the name: DevLearn.

Now we have a Gen Z entering the workforce without the ability to read or write cursive. How will this affect their brains? Can printing with a pen or pencil still trigger that same neural activity?

Spark the Curiosity in Our Learners

One of the things from Kevin’s childhood that struck me was his natural curiosity. He viewed the world through the lens of what might make an interesting job for him someday. A Nike Air Max 1 TV commercial and a trip to Epcot at Disney World were two that he mentioned.

As a professional in the learning and development industry, I thought about how we can spark natural curiosity in our employees. How that curiosity might be applied to develop more efficient processes. Or raise ideas for innovative products or services?

When Kevin’s natural curiosity for business grew, he returned to school to pursue his MBA at Carnegie Mellon. At the same time, he began to reassess his career. So, how can we support our own employees who may be doing the same thing? With the current labor shortage, can we retain them by helping them find a new path with us instead of leaving?

How might we leverage curiosity to help learners reassess their own careers within our organizations? How many companies actively support someone’s interest in staying with the company but switching departments or specializations with training? Are employees empowered to speak up and voice their interest in new areas?

In Kevin’s case, he shared the story of working for Nike as a business planner with a secret passion to design shoes. He found a mentor with Dwayne Edwards, the footwear designer for the Jordan brand. This wasn’t through a formal mentorship program. Kevin referred to it as a sort of side hustle!

He would meet with Dwayne in the early hours before the workday and then work on his assignment at night, after his day job. His curiosity was blazing!

Build Teams that Mirror the Marketplace

Kevin closed out his session talking about meeting people where they are. Going deeper in our understanding of attitudes, hopes, and dreams. And looking at the value criteria of your employees, managers, leaders, and customers. All humans are important to your business.

He explored the attitudes and styles of leaders on a spectrum ranging from gatekeeper (it’s fine, don’t change) to servant leader (embrace DEI, want to learn, change, and grow). A relatable example he gave was when people say things like “The candidate is not a cultural fit. I don’t want to have a beer with them.” This attitude needs to change so we attract and hire more diverse candidates.

Kevin explained that diversity is our mirror to the world. How we serve as leaders will empower teams and help all of us be better. His 7 dimensions of empowerment are:

  1. Setting direction – Share vison. When leaders are strategically aligned on the company’s vision and are all-inclusive the impact is powerful. Provide direction as needed but allow teams to brainstorm and problem-solve. By doing so, teams may find unique solutions. Be respectful of each team’s diversity and ideas shared.
  2. Risk tolerance – Embrace failure. Failure is how we learn. Give teams room to breathe with a platform and tools to be successful.
  3. Hiring – Search out people who are different than you and other team members. Diversity breeds new and innovative ways of thinking. Teams are more well-rounded.
  4. Give feedback – Leaders should be confident and clear about what success looks like. No one should have to guess or wonder what the meaning of success looks like on a given day.
  5. Measurement – Set SMART goals. These are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It is the fair way to measure diverse teams, so everyone is evaluated on the same playing field.
  6. Team composition – Have diverse teams with different ways of thinking and different backgrounds (age, nationality, religious background, task skills, sexual orientation, political preferences, etc.)
  7. Leadership orientation – Foster collaboration from the top down. Leaders should be in service to involve teams to reach a higher par. To achieve this teams should be inclusive and diverse.

At HSI, we have seen a great increase in interest in our DEI training content. I suspect the entire audience agreed with his perspective on building teams that mirror the marketplace. I attend many conferences that attract HR and L&D audiences. This is where diversity begins. We can be the changemakers in our organizations to put these lessons learned into action.

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