Jessica Zhao is an Enterprise Account Manager at General Assembly charged with coordinating between the client and GA team to create a custom lesson for every program. Read more to discover what her job entails, and how these masterful programs come together.
What is your role here at General Assembly Enterprise?
I am an account manager for GA’s enterprise education team. I think of my role as part project manager and part customer experience. From the project manager side, once we agree to a date and a program with a client, I work to better understand their context, oversee all of the training program’s logistics, and ensure that everything comes together. On the customer service side, I make sure that we deliver a really positive experience before the program, in the classroom, and post-training.
What are some ways that you prepare leading up to a training program?
Leading up to a program, I spend a good amount of time with the sponsor or program participants to understand their learning objectives, what they want to get out of training, and their learning styles so we can address these during the program and provide a contextualized learning experience specifically for each business.
How do you then use this information to help contextualize training programs?
After speaking with clients and learning each business’ specific learning objectives and background, I synthesize the relevant information and communicate it to our product team, who then translates that contextual information into the content, exercises, and curriculum.
Are those learnings used to help inform instructors as well?
Yeah, we don’t function like an assembly line at all in the sense that I don’t just take this information and hand it off. The whole team, including instructors and our subject matter experts, works very closely together on each program because we understand that this training can be a significant investment for the client’s business, especially for some of the longer programs like the two-day Digital Immersion Programs. We want to make sure that every minute of time spent outside of the office is contextualized for the client and that everything in the program is valuable for them and speaks to their specific needs.
What would you say makes a successful training program? What goes into running it?
That’s a great question! It’s important to demonstrate that we are listening to the needs of our clients and that the information they have given us is actually being translated into some deliverable output. The more thoughtful we can be around details, the better the experience. On the team,we like to say, “While people might not remember what is exactly being said in the programs, but they will remember how they feel.”That’s really important for us.
When students walk into the room, its important that the room is colorful, there are fun items on the tables, and that we’ve thought through the different logistics and steps throughout the day. When I can preempt or be proactive about addressing a client’s needs, then I’m doing my job well. That’s especially true in the program itself, but also true in the preparation phase as we plan the program. Making our training sponsors feel very comfortable walking into our programs is also a huge part of my job.
You mentioned that the students’ experience when they first enter the room is important. How important is the space or the environment for a training program?
I think it’s extremely important and that’s why we really love hosting programs at GA, because it is such a unique space. There is so much thought behind the design and the brand. Creating a learning environment that is very different from the day-to-day environment is really helpful for making people think outside the box. It helps clients step away from the stress, the emails, and instead just focus on learning. A lot of what we do makes people feel a bit nostalgic for when they were back in grade school because that’s a time when you’re really hands on. You’re learning things in a new way and we try to incorporate that as much as possible to our programs.
That leads to my next question. How is interaction encouraged at GA training programs?
We often set the stage with the idea that we believe people should learn in a way that is most comfortable to them. The product team is very thoughtful when it comes to the curriculum – where the exercises are happening, and what the learning objectives for each exercise are. Is the program taking place after lunch? Will students need to stand up? Are they tired? What’s going to engage them?
However, from the account manager perspective, we try to think about what would be fun and engaging in the room. We have little Lego-like toys we can put on the table that will help people build. We put out crayons and people like to doodle. It doesn’t mean they aren’t listening; it is just engaging in a different kind of way. At the end of the program, we often find notes scribbled in crayon or amazing robots constructed from the blocks, which is great because we know people are learning in a way that is very unique.
GA primarily hosts training programs for both a leadership audience and for executional-based teams. What would you say are some unique considerations for each of those?
When training leadership teams, it’s important for them to be digitally fluent in a way that can inspire and engage their team to actually execute. When we are hosting a digital immersion program for leaders, the participants are not the ones who will be wireframing new products or coding on the back-end. They’re the ones overseeing and empowering their teams that then execute these digital projects. For them, it’s more important that they walk away embracing a holistic digital approach to their business.
For skills-based workshops, it is more important to dig into different tools, methodologies, resources, and how they fit into the frameworks that currently exist within their organizations.
Are their any large differences between coordinating training programs at a General Assembly campus versus offsite at a client’s offices?
I think that’s an interesting question because we are hosting more and more training programs offsite. For offsite programs, we need to be even more thoughtful about the learning experience because we can’t rely on the physical space around us as much. We could host a training program in a client’s conference room where people hold their meetings every single day. So it’s important for us to make the clients forget that that’s where they had a meeting yesterday to talk about their quarterly earnings. When we walk in, we need to bring the GA spirit with us to recreate that atmosphere and feel.
What are some ways that you can transform a client’s space into an environment suitable for learning?
In the past, we’ve brought in brown kraft paper that’s unique to our brand to cover the tables. We also bring in little neon toys and put up posters around the room. It sounds silly, but we will put out Play-Doh and pipe cleaners. It’s really incredible to see what people construct at the end of the day.
Lastly, who is your favorite teacher and why?
My favorite teacher is my high school English teacher, Mr. Li. I really disliked him when I first walked into the class. On the first day, he stood back and asked, “What do you want to learn?” Everyone just stared at him and he was completely unfazed by the stunned response. He grew very quickly to become my favorite teacher because he pushed us to think differently about the texts and to respond in creative ways. I loved going after class to his office hours. We’d start discussing my outline for an essay and then I would find myself sitting there for hours just talking to him.
It’s funny, because now I think about GA’s approach to learning and it’s very much about that question: “what do you want to learn?” And that’s what really starts the beginning of planning phases for our programs.
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