Become an IDOL 92: Training Management with Russell Sweep

Feb 02, 2024

Guest: Russell Sweep

In this episode, Robin Sargent interviews Russell Sweep about his career transition from professor to instructional designer and training manager.

Tune in to hear: 

  • Russell's story of transitioning from academia to the corporate world as an instructional designer.
  • How Russell prepared himself for 6 months before landing contract work and eventually a full-time role.
  • Advice Russell has for others looking to make a similar career change, including building a portfolio and leveraging resources and your network.

Listen to this episode below: 

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Are you looking for a no-nonsense formula for creating engaging courses and training? Check out my new book, The Do It Messy Approach: A Step-by-Step Guide for Instructional Designers and Online Learners (IDOLs) on Amazon.


Enjoy the Episode Transcript below:
   

Robin Sargent  

Welcome to Become an IDOL. I'm Dr. Robin Sargent, owner of IDOL courses. This is the place where newbies come to learn and veterans share their knowledge.

 

Robin Sargent  

I have here with me today, Russell Sweep. And Russell and I met... Well, we met on LinkedIn and then you came and you taught in the Academy as a guest faculty member. And then we got to meet in person during DevLearn and our karaoke room that we were part of. And so now I've brought Russell here to share with us about transitioning to instructional design, and even landing a job as a training manager right away. So Russell, will you do a better job of introducing yourself? 

 

Russell Sweep  

Nah, you did an awesome job, Robin, and thanks for inviting me. I'm really happy to be here. Like you said, I had some experience with IDOL Academy through some teaching opportunities, and then just meeting you at DevLearn and being able to belt out some cool tunes on the karaoke stage. That was definitely a highlight of my experience. So really cool, really cool opportunities. So yeah, my name is Russell, I was previously an adjunct faculty member for some southern California universities where I taught psychology. So I did that for about six years and then my wife and I decided to move over to North Carolina and in that transition, I discovered that academia is wildly different on the East Coast versus West Coast, especially the support for teachers. So that was a huge catalyst for me to look into different job opportunities and I really gravitated towards instructional design and L&D opportunities, because I taught psychology, I was really interested in testing, really interested in how people learned. And that's just been something that's really drawn me in. So it's been a fantastic transition, the community is really great for L&D. I mean, I don't think you're going to find a better group of people that want to help you and lift you up and share their resources. And through that process, I was able to, first off, do a couple contractor work jobs. I taught a little bit in different areas and then I finally transitioned over to my full time opportunity where I'm working for Goodwill Industries International as their content development manager. 

 

Robin Sargent  

Okay, so you got to get into a little bit of the details Russell, about your transition from Professor to instructional designer. So did you do anything to prepare yourself to get those contracts? Or was it just, you woke up and applied? 

 

Russell Sweep  

No, like, honestly, it turned into like a full time gig, trying to like upskill myself because I'm sure a lot of people, a lot of your listeners probably already know this. But the corporate world and academia are wildly different and they have different scales and different metrics and I had to learn a lot about that because I had been really instituting myself towards making sure that people get through courses, and I can give them information that they can take along. But it wasn't so much about changing behaviors. And I think that that was one of the key factors in corporate America to make that transition, talking a little bit about what are those key performance indicators that you're going to be instilling in your learning. How are your learning objectives going to change behaviors? And so in that process, I probably spent about six months, just really upskilling myself before I started looking into contract work. So that process, it was very eye opening when I... because maybe like most teachers, I instantly started applying to different positions, right out of academia thinking that oh, sure, like I have my masters, I could easily fit into this position. The problem was I got rejection after rejection after rejection because they were looking for a certain type of skill set that I did not have. Like, I didn't have eLearning Development skills. I didn't know about authoring tools. I didn't really have that experience working with individuals and creating learning objectives outside of a curriculum. So I think that I needed to take a step back, reevaluate, and figure out what are my skills that I need to work on in order to get into that position and that was eye opening and humbling. I feel like a lot of the resources including IDOL Academy really helped me really fine tune at what those skills are so that I could work on that and develop that in the long run. 

 

Robin Sargent

Did you make a portfolio before you landed your job or was upskilling enough? Tell me.

 

Russell Sweep  

I did. So I think I did the spaghetti on the wall method where I tried to do everything I could. So I created a portfolio. I spent money on a website. I spent money on trying to figure out, like, I wanted to create an animated intro for myself. I wanted to make several projects that people could reflect on. I even started my own podcast. And in that process, that was something that I focused my time and effort on and really, it was kind of like an impromptu mentorship opportunity where I could ask other people. As I was making this transition, like, hey, I've got burning questions, can you help me out? And then I used that in order to kind of upskill myself and learn a little bit more about the field. So it was a lot that I tried all at once. 

 

Robin Sargent  

That sounds very similar to my own transition story.

 

Russell Sweep  

Birds of a feather.

Robin Sargent  

Birds of a feather. So well, but that you did it in six months is still admirable and commendable. And, you know, you really did it on your own and then and in your own unique way. And so that I'm sure, that's inspiring for many. Alright, so you transitioned, you went from contractor which is interesting, right? Because contractors, that is not an easy gig to land as your first job because, as we know, their contractors are easy to hire and easy to fire. So if your skills were not up to par, Russell, you could have lost that contract pretty fast. But you survived and not only did you survive, you thrived, and now you work full time for Goodwill. So tell us about how you're... kind of what we came here... So you made the transition. How long did you work as an individual contributor before you became a manager?

 

Russell Sweep  

So I worked as a contractor for about six months also. So it was around a year transition before I started landing a full time position. And like you said, those contract opportunities, they were very hit and miss. I feel like that because I applied towards agencies. I created a portfolio and multiple agencies and I would constantly be on the lookout for those emails that would tell me, Hey, there's an opportunity that has popped up. And then of course, like most LinkedIn posts, like 10, 15 people would immediately apply for it, right? And some of them required video essays for you to... or proposals for you to say like, I'm the right candidate for you. So there was a sense of… Yeah, there was a sense of like, you really do have to commit yourself to this and try your hardest, which, for anyone who is a job seeker, you'll realize like it can very easily turn into a full time job just looking for opportunities. So I had to remind myself a lot about taking breaks and just like trying to do things for myself, in order to kind of fill that well a little bit more, so I could work on it the next day. But you're right, those contract gigs were... I would say that they were important in that they would help out an organization but they weren't something like... I wasn't handling an entire project myself. I was doing something like I was categorizing and curating some information on their website so then I could pass it on to someone else. I was the person... I was one of those individuals in a baton pass. And so that... it taught me a lot about different parts of the job, and helped me get some experience and identify what I liked and what I didn't like. So, I definitely realized that I really enjoyed talking to subject matter experts. I really enjoyed working on the creative aspect of design and I didn't really enjoy kind of the monotonous like organization that goes into it sometimes. So it helped me curate my own kind of instructional design palette, essentially.

 

Robin Sargent  

Yeah, that's so important because there's so many different aspects to our job that if you don't try it, then it's hard to even know if you like it or not. 

 

Russell Sweep  

Yeah, and it's also difficult sometimes, because you might be put into a position where someone says, Hey, you're very good at, you know, creating the transcripts and working on the outlines. I want you to just do that, and it can be difficult sometimes to get out of that and try new things but I have friends that are constantly kind of pushing the envelope a little bit. They're bringing new resources into that and they're introducing that to their supervisors and they're saying, hey, this new AI technology. It looks like it's capable of doing this, could we implement it? I found a really great software that can be a good icebreaker or collect information from polls, could we introduce that? So that ingenuity and that kind of creativity that you can bring in, will oftentimes demonstrate to your supervisors that you can move past maybe that one little box that you're in.

 

Robin Sargent  

So, I'm sure that that contract also informed what you're looking for in that full time role. So did you find now that you landed your job at Goodwill… Did you find that you got the types of tasks that lights you up, so to speak?

 

Russell Sweep  

Yeah, definitely. I mean, Goodwill itself has an amazing mission statement. They help people acquire skills to get careers. They take down barriers so that individuals can see the job opportunities for themselves and all of their programs are completely free for community members. So, they do a really great job and it's something that I'm passionate about. So that in itself is fuel for me to wake up in the morning and do the work, but it's also... right now we're working really hard on upskilling our entire departments, our entire organizations, and that means... that translates over towards creating something that is going to last, and that is something that I'm very passionate about. I like the idea of my work continuing after I'm potentially gone. And that's something that I can definitely see in our organization, they really… they do respect the idea of learning and upskilling their people, and they want to make sure that they give people the opportunity to see those career pathways and how to, you know, upskill and move into another career that they're very passionate about.

 

Robin Sargent  

So for those who aren't familiar with Goodwill, I know you've shared a little bit about it. Will you tell us some of the trainings that you make for Goodwill to help people upskill? What kind of jobs you help people find?

 

Russell Sweep  

Absolutely. So right now, I mean, Goodwill itself is a nonprofit organization that has retail stores, or thrift stores that people can donate their lightly used items. And then in doing so the revenue from that goes into their mission programs. So here in Northwest North Carolina, we have about 16 different mission programs that are tailored towards helping people find careers. So that will mean things like if someone hadn't acquired their high school diploma, and they're an adult, we can help them acquire that. If someone was previously in the prison system, and they're transitioning over into civilian life, that can be a huge barrier for a lot of people, when they're trying to get a job. We can help them by sponsoring them and in doing so we can help them make that transition. So, those types of programs, definitely, that we will work with a lot of different types of community members. It's important sometimes to realize how do you work with people effectively? How can you assist individuals who might have special needs? How do you understand what your job does, and the impact of it? So there's the mission side, and then there's also retail training that goes into it as well. So similar to any other retail store, you know, we need to help people understand, like, how do you best hang and tag clothing? How do you best work with a cash register, and the point of service system on it? So, a lot of it has to do with upskilling our people, but also kind of cascading down and helping out community members through that mission program too.

 

Robin Sargent  

What an incredible organization. So alright, so it took you about a year to start working full time at Goodwill. And then how long have you been there and what's kind of been your career journey while you're there?

 

Russell Sweep  

Yeah, so I think I've been about nine months, maybe 10 months so far, coming up on a year. And when I was hired, I was hired immediately as a manager. And that was new for me, because I had had a little bit of managerial experience in a previous job, but nothing to the extent of having direct reports, having to outline and organize and project manage for a team. That was something that was really new for me, and I kind of had to hit the ground running for it. I was very passionate and excited about this opportunity. And they definitely were too, Goodwill as a whole. But there needed to be a lot of learning for myself, and a lot of me trying to identify where I can grow. And it's been a fantastic road. Definitely a lot of learning. Every single day I wake up I'm learning something new about what it takes to be a manager and I've made some amazing connections with other managers that have helped me and coached me and mentored me along that way too. So, it definitely hasn't only been me leaning on others to ensure that you can learn and grow alongside them because they're going to be your best resources.

 

Robin Sargent  

Okay, so I want to hear all about this. So do you do any individual contributed work, you're a manager, but do you actually do any of the instructional design or eLearning development? I mean, I have an assumption in my mind, but I want to hear your answer.

 

Russell Sweep  

I do. Yes. So, I design and develop eLearnings. I also facilitate in person trainings. So, I do the new hire orientations every week and then currently we're working on leadership development. So I facilitate leadership development courses, and then we... my team, will work on building it together. So, for instance, some of our trainings require filming in the warehouses, developing scripts, doing interviews, doing surveys to identify, what are those really important elements? So that's one of the things that we'll do, we'll split up those responsibilities and work on them. And I'm not the only one who's developing courses and eLearnings. I'm just one of the individuals. But there definitely is a sense of working together and contributing whenever we need extra assistance, because our team is pretty new for our organization. And that's something that we're trying to all kind of chip in whenever we can to assist others.

 

Robin Sargent  

How many report to you?

 

Russell Sweep  

Three at this point. 

 

Robin Sargent  

Okay. And so you... you're basically a servant leader, in some ways, right? You are doing the job and also leading the team? And so what are some of those extra responsibilities that you got as a manager?

 

Russell Sweep  

Yeah, so great question, honestly. The extra responsibilities that I definitely needed to learn about were, how do you set up people's schedules? How do you approve time, time cards? How do you work alongside individuals and delegate? That's something that was very difficult for me to really understand because you probably know this, but like, as a contractor, you're kind of the go to person. You're the main source of contact, oftentimes with the agency or the client themselves. And in doing so you kind of just rely on yourself to get work done. And whether you do it or not, it's sink or swim. But when you're on a team, and when you're working as kind of a... in the position of a manager, you can absolutely delegate tasks. But as that contractor background has kind of held me back in the past, I feel like a lot of times, I just have to do the work myself. And that will you know, it'll be slower, it'll be slower, and you won't create opportunities for your team to learn. So that's something that I've really tried to strive for, is encouraging growth within the team itself. And in doing that, that sometimes means like, Okay, I need to take a step back, encourage others to take on the responsibility. And in doing so, yeah, it may not be exactly how I created but I think that diversity will encourage creativity. And that's often the best part of that, is just kind of seeing what people can make, seeing their passion, get invested into it. And then in doing so, you discover things that maybe you had never even considered.

 

Robin Sargent  

What are some of those key resources? I know, you mentioned that you had other managers that helped you kind of, you know, overcome any, you know, hesitations probably to delegate or whatever is included in your manager role. Did you seek any other outside resources? Like, One Minute Manager, like a book or something?

 

Russell Sweep  

Yes, I did. So when I was transitioning over, I definitely wanted to learn as much as I could about corporate America and how I can like, talk the talk and walk the walk. But when I learned that I was coming on as a manager, absolutely, you're right, I hit the library as soon as I could and I picked up, The First 90 Days. That was a book that I really related with because it taught me an important lesson of don't try to prove yourself at the beginning but just take a step back, learn, listen, so that you can figure out how the company runs and how you can incorporate into it. So when I came on, I took the DISC assessment. I'm not sure if you're aware of that but it's, Yeah, so it's a very similar kind of like, I would say it's like a personality inventory that relates towards your communication at work, and how people communicate. And so in doing that, I received a D as my personality, which is very much like, dominant, driven, like focused. And so I'm more like task orientated. And doing that I discovered a lot about myself and how I communicate with other people. And that book really helped me because it helped me understand that taking a step back and just listening and learning was very important. And so I wouldn't, like overwhelm other people by jumping in and trying to reinvent the wheel.

 

Robin Sargent  

Yeah, yeah. So I also am familiar with DISC. I am a high Di so I know exactly what you're talking about. So when you were actually doing your interview, and you... they hired you as a training manager right off the bat. Did you know that you were applying for a manager role?

 

Russell Sweep  

I did. I think I was... So previously when I was looking for job opportunities, it was very difficult. It was starting to become much more competitive in instructional design and in the L&D field, and so I was applying a lot on LinkedIn, and it was just, I wasn't getting any bites. It seems like a lot of the remote jobs that I was looking at just weren't really... they weren't looking at my portfolios or looking at my resumes, and so I got passed by. So I decided that I should probably start looking locally and Goodwill was one of the first things that came onto my radar. And I did, I originally didn't apply for a manager position. I actually applied for just a content developer position. But they contacted me. And they, they actually looked at my portfolio, and they looked at what I was doing and they said, Hey, we really like the work you're doing and like the meticulous attention that you have towards your projects. We think that you could be a good fit for this manager position. However, it's not going to be live for another month, can you wait and apply for that? And in my mind, I'm all like, another month. You know, the grind, I was so ready for a full time position but I told them, yes. Like, I'll wait for it, we'll see if I am still looking by that point and turns out I was. I applied for it and everything went very well. It just seemed to be a really good fit at the moment about what I was looking for and you know, what they were looking for, so… And so far, I've been very happy, like every day has been a really good challenge and learning opportunity for myself and the team.

 

Robin Sargent  

So what if someone else kind of finds themselves in the same position, right? They... because a lot of people when they make the career transition, even though you said you didn't have any management experience, you kind of did because you ran multiple classes as a professor, right? You were responsible for all of those students, and you had to delegate work to them, and you had to review it and all that kind of stuff. So I'm sure that there are other people that when they transition they have you know, there have been people who are like directors in education, and so on and so forth. So what are some of the things that you... some of the advice that you would give people that find themselves in a similar position?

 

Russell Sweep  

No, no, absolutely.

 

Robin Sargent  

But what else you got?

 

Russell Sweep  

Definitely, I really do relate towards that book, take a step back, try not to... try not to come up with solutions, or try not to get like all these wins at the beginning. Really learn and figure out where you fit in and where you're needed. A lot of times, that means chipping in and helping out people who aren't even in your department and getting to learn what they do. So, for instance, when I came on, one of the first things that I did was I traveled to the different territories. And I went to stores and I learned what people did, and I made sure that they knew who I was because I didn't want to be that, Oh, there's the L&D person with a clipboard who comes by like once a quarter to look at, like how I'm doing and if I'm meeting my minimum requirements. I wanted to be someone that people could, like reach out to and be like, Hey, we're having a really hard time with this in our store, can we get some training on it. And that approachable aspect has been something that the organization has really encouraged kind of taking down silos. And that's something that I've really related with is trying to chip in and help out in different areas. Now, you can take that to the extreme. So you got to be careful that you don't overwhelm yourself and pull that bandwidth a little too far. But I think that you can definitely set up that goodwill, no pun intended, with other departments as well. So my advice would probably be first stop, listen, and then talk with different parts of the company. Introduce yourself, let people know what you do because a lot of people may not even be aware of what instructional design is. Or they may think that someone who's coming in to do training is just going to read off slides and just have like a lecture. Tell them a little bit about what your thoughts are, and where you're seeing training going and get that buy in as well, because that's going to be just incrementally helpful later on, once people start asking you for helping out with their own trainings.

 

Robin Sargent  

So I imagine that your background in psychology also benefited you in many different ways. And so just kind of... I think it's one of my second to last questions, but what are some of the ways that you have made psychology and of course, we know is interdisciplinary, into instructional design? Can you just give us a couple of those ways that it's helped you specifically, and I'm sure people can glean from it.

 

Russell Sweep  

Definitely. I feel like a lot of the key figures that we talk about like Kirkpatrick or identifying kind of the Forgetting Curve, like all of these are elements that are based in psychology, and how people learn and learning itself when you identify like how the brain works. Like I think Julie Dirksen's book is fantastic for kind of introducing people on how the mind works and how learner's brains are going to really incorporate this information. So definitely recommend that. I think that a big part that I have introduced in my own training has been understanding people's cognitive limits, not trying to overload them. Understanding how can we get towards just the meat of what we're discussing, and leave out everything else. I'm sure a lot of people really relate to this. But whenever you're looking for something online, whenever you're trying to learn something, you're immediately just going to go towards a resource, whether it's a Google search, or a YouTube video, just to show you how to do something immediately. And then you're going to do it. You're not trying to read an entire novella of like, if you're doing a cooking recipe, nobody likes to read about how this is their grandmother's recipe, that save... 

 

Robin Sargent  

Jump to recipe.

 

Russell Sweep  

Go to recipe, right? And I think that's incredibly important for all learning, you should definitely try to understand, how can you just get towards the source of it? And how can you not overload your learner? So we have so many trainings that are constantly in our face, and bombarded with all these things online, and we have to look at screens all day. Let's try and limit it towards the important stuff. Which may not even be a training, maybe it's just a job aid. Maybe it's just a PDF that is going to help out someone in that moment, they can reference it, put it down, and then get back to that work that they're doing.

 

Robin Sargent  

Wonderful. Those are excellent, excellent to say you... I think you gave us a whole buffet to choose from, Russel. Appreciate that. And so you've made the transition pretty recently. And so in... will you give us your best and final advice? For those who want to become an IDOL?

 

Russell Sweep  

Yeah, definitely. I would absolutely say look at the resources that are available to you. When you are trying to upskill and learn this career and figure out where you want to move, look at what's available to you. There are so many fantastic resources. IDOL Academy is a really great one, because not only are you learning through the experience of these courses, you're also building a community and kind of leveraging that and understanding that networking is a big part of this as well. I feel like L&D itself is a smaller community, but it's a very close knit one, where people often know each other, and they're able to work alongside each other. And there might be opportunities that your network comes up with, that you weren't even aware of, and they're gonna pass that along to you. So build that network, understand your resources and just see what you're passionate about. I know that's difficult at the beginning because like myself, I just wanted to do work. I just wanted to get a job. So figuring out what I was passionate about seemed almost like second nature to me, because I was a little bit more desperate for work. But in that process, like when I was doing contractor work, I could reflect on it. I could take that time and start to realize, you know what, I'm not so passionate about this, or I really enjoy this part. So figure out what your resources are, lean on your network, develop that network and I think that that's going to pay dividends in the end.

 

Robin Sargent  

Oh my gosh, Russell, this has been such an enjoyable conversation. Thank you so much for the work that you do and the work that you do with Goodwill. And so where can people find you? I know they can find you on LinkedIn, Russell Sweep. Are there any other places you want to share? I know you do the TDLC?

 

Russell Sweep  

I do. Yeah. Thank you, Robin, this has been fantastic. And I'm sure we're gonna have to go do some more karaoke in the future. That was definitely a highlight for me. Okay, so you can definitely find me on LinkedIn. Connect with me, I would love to talk with you. If you have any questions, I'm happy to sit down and do like a 10 minute talk over Zoom or something like that. And I also have a podcast as well. It's called The L&D Hot Seat. I interview professionals in the field and we talk about difficult scenarios that come up in learning and development and we discuss solutions for it. So, listen to that if you're interested in more podcasts. And then I am also part of the GLDC or the Global Learning and Development Community. So when I was upskilling, this was one of the first communities that I reached out to, and they're fantastic for building a network and talking with other people about the jobs themselves. Every Thursday, I host a group called Project Club, where we go over courses that have been developed, and we look at them to decide, like what they did that was really effective, and how can we translate that to our own work? So it's a great way to reflect on some of the courses that are already built. And you can learn a little bit about it by looking kind of behind the curtain on it. So if you're interested in that, you know, check in. I'd be glad to point you in that direction.

 

Robin Sargent  

Wonderful. Thank you again, Russell, and I'm sure we'll see you soon.

 

Russell Sweep  

Thanks a lot, Rob. And this was fun. 

 

Robin Sargent  

Thank you so much for listening. You can find the show notes for this episode at idolcourses.com. If you liked this podcast and you want to become an instructional designer, an online learning developer. Join me in the IDOL courses Academy where you'll learn to build all the assets you need to land your first instructional design job. Early access to this podcast, tutorials for how to use the eLearning authoring tools, templates for everything course building, and paid instructional design experience opportunities. Go to idolcourses.com/academy and enroll or get on the waitlist. Now get out there and build transcendent courses.


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