How Spark is Transforming CA's Training Strategy

For IT leaders seeking effective training solutions, CA's coaching program is pointing the way to greater productivity and employee retention.

It’s the dirty little secret of corporate training programs: The average person forgets up to 80 percent of what he or she has learned within 24 hours—and 90 percent after one week. But for any company, training remains a crucial and costly investment. Research firm Brandon Hall Group pegs the annual price tag for training at $13 million for a large company (10,000-plus employees) and $3.7 million for a midsize one (1,000 to 9,999 employees).

So, how can companies beat the “forgetting curve”?

Increasingly, organizations are augmenting training programs with one-on-one coaching—and the strategy is paying off with significant employee retention and productivity gains.

In 2017, CA Technologies joined the ranks of companies that embrace coaching, with its Spark Coaching Program, an intensive six-week course for managers from across all departments, designed to help them learn how to recognize and capitalize on teachable “coaching moments.”

We spoke with executives piloting the Spark initiative, as well as Senior Software Engineer Bryan Dobson, a Spark alumnus. Here are three of their key takeaways from the early days of the Spark effort.

1. It's All About Transforming Thinking

Spark is grounded in the neuroscience of how to inspire employees to achieve and retain insights that empower independent problem solving.

“Understanding the neuroscience behind how we learn and, more importantly, how we apply what we learn has allowed us to rethink and adjust our talent development programs to support continued growth and retention,” says Kate Guggenheim, Senior Principal of Talent Development at CA. “The feedback we’ve gotten so far [on the Spark program] has been overwhelmingly positive.”

My aha moment coming out of Spark was understanding that rather than solving problems for other developers, I could pass along my knowledge and skills and help others have their own aha moments.

— Bryan Dobson, Senior Software Engineer, CA Technologies

Count Bryan Dobson among Spark’s early champions. Already, he’s seen the coaching pay dividends in the agile development process.

“The natural tendency for some developers is to take control of the keyboard and just fix a problem, rather than seeing the problem as a teachable moment,” says Dobson. “My aha moment coming out of Spark was understanding that rather than solving problems for other developers, I could pass along my knowledge and skills and help others have their own aha moments.”

2. Coaching Can Embody Agile Principles

Agile development is all about refining a product through intense cycles of team effort. The work is never truly done. Likewise, coaching in an IT/dev environment is an ongoing process of refinement—one geared toward cultivating an open and creative mindset, rather than simply focusing on solving the problems of the day.

“Teaching domain knowledge isn’t about writing training documentation in the form of wiki pages and assigning people tasks,” Dobson explains. “It’s about asking powerful questions that spark the creativity and understanding in others.”

Understanding the neuroscience behind how we learn and, more importantly, how we apply what we learn has allowed us to rethink and adjust our talent development programs to support continued growth and retention.

— Kate Guggenheim, Senior Principal, Talent Development at CA.

Sinéad Condon, CA’s Head of Enterprise Agility, and a coach herself, agrees. “From an agile perspective, coaching has played a significant role in both the project methodology and the mindset that goes with it.”

Condon says that empowerment is a key outcome of coaching: “We’ve moved from top-down command and control management style to encouraging developers to self-organize. Today, managers provide absolute clarity on the vision, and allow the development teams to figure out how best to get it done.”

3. Coaching is Not Mentoring

While mentoring can be a powerful training tool on an individual basis, Spark’s approach goes beyond personalized training. Rather than growing a single worker’s skillset, coaching embodies a team-wide, pay-it-forward mentality. Coaches encourage their employees to engage in peer-to-peer coaching that shares insights and spurs creativity within the entire team.

The latest research shows that, when anyone is learning a new skill at work, positive reinforcement from managers and peers plays a vital role in the application of learning.

— Diana Parks, Program Director, Global Education, CA Technologies

“Coaching is a key element of our DNA that helps drive accountability for achieving team success,” says Diana Parks, Program Director of Global Education at CA. “The latest research shows that, when anyone is learning a new skill at work, positive reinforcement from managers and peers plays a vital role in the application of learning, which impacts overall performance.”

Dobson has also observed the positive results of peer-to-peer coaching among his development teams. “It has a ripple effect,” he says. “The good news is that when problems need to be escalated, I’m no longer the only source to support the escalation.”

Dobson’s experiences, and the Spark program’s initial results, reinforce research on the retention and productivity benefits of coaching in an enterprise setting.

According to a 2017 report from a top research firm, employees who have been coached are 40 percent more likely to stay with the organization than are employees who have not been coached. Add to that coaching’s boost to employee productivity and it’s clear why, beyond training, today’s developers could use great coaches.

William Carmody
By William Carmody | March 21, 2018

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