Internal Learning | WTR 41

Internal Learning | WTR 41

Kristen is the founder of edifyedu, a consulting company geared at educating tech businesses on internal learning & people relations.

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Show Notes:


ANGELA: This is Women’s Tech Radio.
PAIGE: A show on the Jupiter Broadcasting Network, interviewing interesting women in technology. Exploring their roles and how they’re successful in technology careers. I’m Paige.
ANGELA: And I’m Angela.
PAIGE:: So Angela, today we talk to Kristen who is a friend of mine from Portland and she is the founder of and she work with tech companies to help them develope learning plans and leadership and all kinds of things. We dig into a bunch of those topics with her.
ANGELA: Awesome. Before we get into that, I would like to mention that you can support Women’s Tech Radio by going to It is a general bucket where the whole network is supported, but if you donate you will know that your funds are partially going to support Women’s Tech Radio. Go to
PAIGE: We get started with our conversation with Kristen by asking her what she’s up to in technology these days.
KRISTEN: I have been working on my own company, called Edify, for almost a year now. In the middle of September we’ll reach a reach anniversary and that will be really fun. But Edify is a company that works with tech and creative companies on their internal learning. And so, I spent several years in the education world and in alternative learning environments, but over the past two years I’ve been really interested in how learning in a classical sense actually helps tech companies become better, become more diverse, and become more inclusive. And so I tried to take that work into Edify and kind of give that information in kind of that applesauce medicine format. So tech companies don’t necessarily know that’s what we’re doing, but that is what we’re doing.
ANGELA: Applesauce medicine. Can you describe that a little more? That’s really interesting.
KRISTEN: It’s possible that only my mom did this, but I definitely had to take medicines that I didn’t want to take and that didn’t taste very good when I was a kid. So she would crunch them up and put them in applesauce and so I didn’t really know until later that that’s what she was doing. And so you’re getting this really healthy medicine that you need, but it taste good. And so sometimes it’s really hard for tech companies who are run by, basically, all white men or have no women on their board, who have no women in upper leadership, to understand how diversity and inclusion and good workplace practices are beneficial to their work. But when they hear things like internal learning helps you with retention. Internal learning helps you with time to productivity. It helps your employees be happier, which helps your culture. Those are things that they pay attention to, but my work is built off of this understanding and this body of knowledge that knows that working in diversity and inclusion initiatives is not only the medicine that they need, it’s what they need to continue to grow. And it’s what everybody in this society needs.
ANGELA: Right. It’s well for, a commercial well-check.
ANGELA: Yeah. What? Why did you look at me like that?
PAIGE: Oh, well-checkup, like, I didn’t know what you meant. Well-checkup like going to the doctor for your annual.
ANGELA: Yeah. They just call them well-checks. Yeah, not even checkup. Well-checks.
KRISTEN: Yeah, just to make sure you’re doing good.
PAIGE: What exactly do you mean by internal learning?
KRISTEN: What Edify means by internal learning is something that the rest of the industry calls training and development or learning and development. And those two offices are typically within the HR department or sometimes they’re built out into their own department in larger companies. And they are groups of people, or sometimes one or two people, within a company who take it upon themselves to manage their company onboarding, so bringing in new employees. They typically will work on manager training. They’ll work on any kind of technical training that employees need to be successful. And I have a theory that’s kind of backed up by some research that I’ve done, and research that others have done as well, that for the past 30 or 40 years learning and development and training development haven’t really been very successful and they’re sort of a necessary evil. And so I don’t use that terminology when I talk about Edify, so I use the term internal learning. That helps my clients and future clients, hopefully, see we really care about the learning of the employees inside of this company. We care about how successful they are. We care about how easily they’re able to access information that they need to be good at their jobs and to give back to the company in their way that they were hired.
ANGELA: Okay. And your company, is it like, do you go in as a consultant or is it like a monthly ongoing thing? Is it temporary?
KRISTEN: Yeah. I go in as a consultant. And I joke, but I’m actually pretty serious about it, that I don’t think a company should ever have to hire me again. If they have to hire me again for the same thing, that means I did not do a really good job of helping them understand how to evolve the program or the process that we developed together. And so, typically, what consulting for me looks like is I’ll sit with a potential client who explains a problem. It usually comes out of a place of desperation or a place of fear. That could look like, well our company is growing very quickly right now and I don’t know how to handle onboarding new employees in multiple countries. Or they could say I just feel like our managers aren’t being as successful as they could be and we already sent them to leadership training, so I don’t know how to solve that problem. And that’s what Edify will come in and do. We’ll say, okay let’s do some time around discovering. What’s the lay of the land in this organization. How does your culture affect the way people work and the way people learn? How does the company’s marketplace affect the way people learn and need to be productive? So it’s a consulting engagement, but many problems are approached with different frameworks. I use a framework that I’ve developed called the learning culture framework to guide whatever kind of work we’re doing. And I believe that there is sort of a connection between each effort of learning. A connection between onboarding and a connection between succession planning for when an employee leaves. And so that’s how i approach consulting.
PAIGE: So internal learning. I’m getting my head around that. Learning culture. That all makes sense. I love the idea that succession planning. I haven’t even heard that term before. That’s pretty fascinating.
PAIGE: You’ve got all this kind of stuff and it sounds like a pretty broad framework. What was it that sparked you to apply this to tech companies specifically?
KRISTEN: You know, I actually come from a very non-technical background. My background is in museum education, actually, and I’m more of an art historian than I am a technologist. I started my career in museums and in non-profits and was always pretty tech savvy and a decent earlier adopter of a lot of technical things. Like I hopped on TaskRabbit and Fiverr to figure out what those were and lots of different things early on. And I started to realize how unhappy I was in the situations that I was working in. And they were mostly museums and nonprofits. And I started to put all the pieces together and I realized these are management problems. These are learning problems where employees are being as successful as they could be, because they’re not getting the information and the knowledge that they need to do well in their jobs. And so I left in search of other things and that sort of landed me in a very random job. I was doing business development for a small web development agency here in Portland. And that was also short-lived. I was only there for about a year, but it was a huge learning curve. And I learned all about how WordPress work and how Drupal works and how and how D3 and Angular work. And I learned what Git was and started learning to code myself and realized that this whole industry of tech startups that i had been kind of ignoring, but knew about, is actually the way that companies are moving and starting to look at this idea that all companies are eventually going to be tech companies in some variety or in some way. I realized that if there are management problems inside of the nonprofit and museum world, and I also saw them at the development agency that I was working at, that there are probably issues elsewhere. And so as i made more friends in the tech environment here in Portland, they all started to tell me this education stuff that you’re working on seems really relevant to my job. Can you help me with this onboarding project. Or can you give me some tips for how I might educate my subordinate employee, you know, somebody who works under me. And I realized that that’s what I should be working on. At that time i had been working in a different way with Edify. I was doing lots of different educational processes and tools for small businesses that really didn’t have anything to do with internal learning. It was actually a lot of customer education. And then I realized I needed to switch from that and so it ultimately became this spur of everything is going to be tech and tech is very confused right now. So if I can add something that’s helpful I’m going to try to do that.
ANGELA: That’s really interesting, because one thing I’ve noticed about, I’ve been working with just random, different companies and they have a speciality, you know, be it like business or daycare or whatever, but all of them seem to have a tech problem.
PAIGE: Yeah.
ANGELA: All of them.
PAIGE: I think the way that you put it where all companies are going to become a tech company at least in some way. I mean, look at your biggest standout. A lot of people talk about Sears. Sears is one of the oldest companies in America and even they had to, even many years ago, suck it up and become partly a tech company. They built one of the first available internal point of services softwares. It’s a Sears thing.
KRISTEN: I didn’t know that. That’s cool.
PAIGE: Yeah. Everybody touches technology at this point.
PAIGE: It’s almost inescapable.
ANGELA: Uh-huh.
KRISTEN: Right. You see companies like Honeywell, which used to be more of a home hardware kind of things. They would make fans and things like that. And they are really trying hard to get into internet of things right now. So there are companies that are not traditionally tech companies, but then there are a lot of companies that are definitely tried and true tech companies. Especially here in Portland and on the west coast in general. What I’ve seen as a pattern, and this is a broad generalization, but I’ve seen as a pattern that tech companies, startups are started by some person, typically some guy, with a passion for some problem. An engineer, some of us, entrepreneurs in general are problem seekers and problem solvers and we get really fixated on one thing. And sometimes when you’re fixated on one thing it’s really hard for you to see how the other things contribute to the one thing that you’re really interested in. And I’ve noticed that the companies that are successful and then are able to be nimble and move along and continue growth, they don’t just focus on the product. They focus on the people who make the product. And that’s a lot harder. And then so it’s a lot more time intensive. It doesn’t have to necessarily be painful or expensive, monetarily or resource wise, But it’s something that you want to plan for. And so I’ve tried to start my work with companies that are in that hundred to 400 person range so that they don’t make these mistakes when they’re the size of HP or the size of Intel.
PAIGE: They’re almost uncorrectable at that point.
KRISTEN: Right. I mean, I really don’t want to work for Intel, actually. Like 100,000 employees, I cannot imagine trying to get their, you know, everybody on the same page. I call for, in a lot of my, with a lot of my clients I request and we work on growth plans for each employee or for categories of employees and I can’t imagine doing that for 100,000 employees.
PAIGE: Yeah. I think in that scenario you end up in the train the trainer role as opposed to a (indiscernible) things role. Have you found that working specifically with tech and specifically with small tech companies that you kind of, have you run into the struggle of lack of soft skills on the founder and management side?
KRISTEN: Oh yeah. Yeah, definitely. There’s a company who shall remain unnamed, but I discovered recently from several employees that there’s some behavior on their management team, on their leadership level C-suite team that was really deceptive and that was designed to basically get information that he wanted out of employees and kind of shame other employees that did not give him the answer that he wanted to see. And that’s a really, not only in that a manipulative behavior, it’s unfortunately typical. And you see a lot of people, and this goes many ways, but right now in the ecosystem it’s mostly male, you see these CEOs and these C level people trying to manipulate situations so that they will win. So that their product will win. And they don’t really care what happens to do that. And that is, again, kind of the undercurrent of the work that I do is to try to make those things not happen. I care that your company wins effectively in an ethical good way, but I also want you to care about the employees that help you get there. And so I do see a problem with soft skills and I don’t know if I want to make the generalization that it’s because they’re techies. I’m definitely not somebody who would call myself a techie. I obviously come out of a very low tech world. Most of the museums that I worked for are still on slides and they don’t have an internal system for that. And they’re still in the process of digitizing everything.
PAIGE: Are you like a microfiche expert?
KRISTEN: Unfortunately, yes. I haven’t touched any microfiche for a really long time, actually, maybe like three or four years, but I did a lot of research using them. Obviously, there’s a gap in soft skills and I’m not really sure, I kind of think of it as an epidemic so I’m not really sure how to approach that. I think the best thing that people could be doing, especially within code schools and other places where their, you know, you’re teaching sort of the next generation of business owners or the next generation of coders is to actually blatantly teach soft skills. And to teach people skills.
PAIGE: Yeah, this is actually a big discussion that we’ve been having with one of the code schools that I work at and work with is that the biggest problem they’re having with grads who aren’t getting hired isn’t their technical skills, it’s their soft skills.
PAIGE: It’s their ability to interview, to present themselves, and how do you tackle that.
KRISTEN: Right. Yeah, That actually links very strongly to manager training. One problem i see in tech very often is that people, programmers, software engineers will be good at their job and as a company grows somebody will need to manage a team. And so, the best coder gets promoted to management. And that is actually a horrible way to (indiscernible) at your next level of management. Because of two reasons; one, just because you are good at one job does not mean that you’re going to be good at managing other people doing that job. And two, when you take somebody away from doing the thing that they love, they kind of lose a little bit of spark. They lose a little bit of what they’re interested in. And now they have to watch other people do what they like. And that’s actually really, really hard. That’s why many people actually try to get away from management and keep doing what they like and they have no management aspirations, because they see this happen over and over again.
PAIGE: That’s outside of tech even.
KRISTEN: Oh, yeah.
PAIGE: The old atican, like you get promoted to the level of incompetence and left there.
KRISTEN: Yes, you do. And the traditional way of dealing with that is to say, okay I’m going to send you to leadership training. I actually have a client who did that and they told me, okay well we’ve figured out that our managers weren’t doing a great job, you know, we had people leaving and citing the reason for leaving as my manager cannot give me good feedback. My manager cannot manage meetings. So they have very clear lines of distinction that their managers aren’t doing a good job, but they didn’t know what to do about it. So they sent them to a pretty expensive leadership training course and nothing happened. They came back, nothing changed. Effectively, the only thing that changed was that now these people knew their leadership style, which is pretty much useless. And I think people will argue with me about that, but I think knowing your leadership style has nothing to do with your ability to be flexible or to give feedback or to be a good manager. And sometimes you do need to be a good leader and leadership training can help, but it is really about those soft skills and it’s about your ability to read a situation and know what’s most effective for that situation. Or to know this person is not doing a good job, but maybe that’s not their strongsuit. So maybe I can give them some more training or I can move them to a different place in the company so that they can be more successful. That’s what kind of those soft skills are and unfortunately it’s almost like — have you ever heard of biological magnification, where a toxin will build up in an environment, in an ecosystem year after year and you’re sort of left with a really, really toxic set of eggs, like with DDT in the ‘70s. And so that happens in management. You add bad skills on bad behavior upon poor knowledgement or knowledge understanding of management and that’s what you get. So maybe code schools will listen to this and teach their students soft skills.
ANGELA: RIght. Now I have a question. When the C-level management is the problem, how do you address that? Do you, just in the politest way possible be like you’re the problem?
KRISTEN: I wish it were that easy.
ANGELA: Or do you work with the management underneath them to try to promote change upward and downward or how does, I’m just curious.
KRISTEN: Yeah. I’ve been in several situations where management, or say the executive director or the CEO really was the problem and the best thing that I’ve been able to find is to model good behavior and to get everyone else to start modeling good behavior and what’s funny about that is if people start to change the culture within an organization and then somebody isn’t wanting to change with them, what they’re going to find is the culture has shifted and left them behind and that they’re really different now or that the culture is really different from them. What that does is hopefully says to that person who is the problem, hey look, we’ve all made this decision because we think this is the right way to go and we hope you’ll join us. We hope you’ll kind of see this good behavior. The other thing is to work with people around that person who are maybe on the same level and get them to realize that. Unfortunately there are situations where maybe there’s only one person at the top, like in small organizations and there really isn’t anybody who is a peer. I had an experience, actually several experiences in nonprofits and in the web development agency that I worked at where there was no peer to the person at the top and it was very clear to everybody that the person at the top was the problem. And unfortunately, in those kind of circumstances sometimes it’s better for you to just leave and to find a different role outside of the company because you don’t want to continue to bang your head against a wall, basically in a mentally unsafe place. And so, sometimes you can’t change people. I hate to end on that note.
ANGELA: Yeah, I know. And now we all owe you a consulting fee, I think.
KRISTEN: No, no.
ANGELA: Just kidding.
PAIGE: I mean, it is definitely, stuff rolls downhill, you know.
PAIGE: It always-
ANGELA: Stuff.
KRISTEN: Stuff. Lots of stuff. Good stuff, bad stuff.
PAIGE: Yeah, it’s true. It’s true. It’s one of the talks we have about, in diversity, diversity rolls downhill. If you have a diverse senior team-
PAIGE: You have a diverse workforce that’s, you know, if you have an ignorance in your chain a lot of times you have an ignorant workforce.
ANGELA: Right.
KRISTEN: I was actually just looking at a company that called me, actually, unsolicited, to see if I wanted to do some work with them, which is always great. Like business owners love that. It’s awesome. However, I went and I looked and I looked at their website and out of 20 people they have three women on their team and they are all in pretty low level positions. And it just immediately puts me off. I mean, I’m making, obviously I’m making some assumptions and some judgements, but I get the luxury of working with companies that I want to work with and I’m always interested, you know, I’ll always take a meeting or always take a call, but I think when you see companies that haven’t made an effort or they’re not talking about it or they’re not publishing their diversity numbers, it means that they don’t necessarily think or know it’s a problem.
ANGELA: Right, or prioritize it.
PAIGE: Working with someone who is going to listen is very important.
KRISTEN: Yes. I have definitely tried to talk to people who did not want to listen and it’s a very frustrating experience.
PAIGE: I like to say, you know, I like to change the old aticom, like you can lead a horse to water, you can even make him drink. You can’t make him like it.
KRISTEN: It’s true. It’s true. I can definitely put people through trainings and awesome strategic planning processes, but they might not like it and they might not do anything about it.
PAIGE: Yeah. Exactly. Cool. Well, this has been an awesome conversation, Kristen. I’m always excited to hear what you’re up to. If people want to catch you online what’s the best way to do that. If maybe they want to talk to you about their company.
KRISTEN: Definitely. If you want to talk to me, I’m always on email. So the best way to do that is at my email, which is or on Twitter. So those are the top two. And you can either talk to the @EdifyEdu Twitter the @KristenMaeve Twitter, which I think are both in the show notes.
ANGELA: Thank you for listening to this episode of Women’s Tech Radio. Remember, you can find a full transcript of the show over at in the show notes. You can also use the contact form that’s at the top of and you can subscribe to teh RSS feeds.
PAIGE: You can also find us on YouTube or iTunes. If you’re on iTunes feel free to take a moment and leave a review. We’d love to hear what you think. You can also contact us directly at or follow us on Twitter. our Twitter handle is @HeyWTR. Thanks for listening.

Transcribed by Carrie Cotter |

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