Gratitude Interview: Michaela Bearden, Senior Director
Michaela Bearden runs the Center for Corporate Education within the School of Business Foundation. In her role, she develops learning and development curriculum for clients around the world in leadership, management, strategy, and entrepreneurship. As an operational leader, Michaela helps clients assess their current state and identify incremental changes in culture, process, and strategy, to build a newly defined future state. Throughout her career, she has witnessed the benefits of empowering your workforce and developing your community. Dr. Bearden holds a Bachelors in Business Administration, a Masters in Counselor Education and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership.
Think back to March. What were your initial reactions to the news of the pandemic?
To be honest, I felt like we could see it coming – but my perception of how it would impact daily life was inaccurate. When the news broke that the US would slow and ultimately stop travel into the states from highly infected areas, I was in Africa. It was surreal to hear the news from so far away. With a long plane ride ahead of me, and some uncertainty to what I was coming back to, I spent time on the airplane thinking about our work and how we might need to pivot to remain relevant – while simultaneously thinking our shift would be very short term. Looking back, I’m glad I had that time, unconnected, to process. Nine months in, and our short-term planning has evolved into a whole new way of conducting business
What has helped you cope along the way?
On a personal level, I made sure that I gave myself time and space to grieve some of what we’ve lost and I’ve held space for those around me that process change differently than I do. I am a planner, and I really enjoy iterating and creating – so while it’s stressful to watch the learning and development industry react, pivot, and stretch – part of my coping is to embrace this opportunity to consider new ways to develop and deliver content. Change is a part of everyday and we have control over how we react to change. At the Center, we’ve invested in new platforms and written new courses. We haven’t only created short term solutions that will help us get through this crisis – we’ve used the crisis to explore what our industry can do to be more nimble, more adaptable, and better situated to thrive in an ever-adapting environment.
What do you miss about a traditional work environment?
I miss the conversations that happen after the meeting is over. Some of our best ideas come from unplanned discussions and those are very hard to create in a virtual environment. I also miss my colleagues. I am so fortunate to work with kind, fun, and smart people – and I miss their energy.
What do you feel you have gained from a remote work environment?
I have gained balance and space to think and create. My work has become less transactional and I feel like I have more time to think about how to help clients create sustainable solutions. I have more time to think about how our work aligns with the university. I have gained efficiency with less interruptions and the ability to better block my days for meetings and planning time.
How has your perception of online learning changed over the last year?
I still like in-person learning best. As a facilitator who constantly adapts based on real-time feedback, online learning can be a challenge. However – I now know we can create strong online content, have meaningful discussions, and create positive change in an online learning environment, it just takes a lot of pre-planning and time.
Professional development is not one size fits all and it is certainly not all created equally. There is great online learning, and really ineffective online learning. It’s very important to research and use credible vendors and to know what type of online experience you are paying for. My perception of online learning before jumping into it was that Level 1 learning works. Online, Level 1 learning gets information out to a large number of people and then assesses their understanding of that information (i.e. a policy change). Beyond that – I didn’t have a lot of faith in the online setting’s ability to offer Level 3-4 learning. Now – I know it can.
What is the CCE doing right? What can the CCE do better?
The Center is responding with forethought and precision to a crisis that challenged every aspect of how we deliver content. Our approach was, and continues to be, a focus on how to learn from this crisis and create a better experience and outcome for our learners. Using that lens, each decision we make considers how people learn, how technology can be used as a tool to deliver content, and how to help learners navigate professional development and growth within this new learning landscape.
For our audience, we are investing time and money in order to create an effective, live, online learning environment. We are taking time to adapt content and create a high standard of expectations for what online learning looks like.
To manage our own business responsibilities, we are simultaneously looking inward to identify how to expand our reach, streamline processes, and adapt our strategy to be more accessible and effective.
To grow, we will need to continue to adapt. We will need to move beyond transactions and consider how to improve every interaction and build a reputation for being a strong learning and development partner both in-person, and online.
What do you feel grateful for?
The opportunity to work with awesome people who lean in to new opportunities! I’m grateful for my team. They juggle a lot and show up ready to solve complex problems and create effective programs; they are always looking to produce a better product. I am also grateful for our clients who said “yes” and piloted new platforms; it’s fun to create with them. I’m grateful for our facilitators who set lofty goals to deliver meaningful content. Finally – I am grateful to have the autonomy to pivot as needed to respond to our market. Our freedom to respond to an everchanging environment sustains us.