Origins of TTA: How It All Began


Maria: Thank you for joining us today for bringing out the talent. I am Maria Melfa and I am the president and CEO of the training associates, otherwise known as TTA.

Jocelyn: I’m Jocelyn Allen, the talent recruitment manager here at TTA. I am very excited to talk to you about our guests today, who, no offense to our future guests. May be the most important guests we’ve ever had. I am joined by CEO and President of TTA, Maria Melfa. As TTA’s Co-Founder, President, and CEO for nearly three decades, Maria has been focused on ensuring that TTA lives up to standards of excellence that deliver transformational results to clients. The key is building an internal culture of innovation and engagement, that Maria has fostered. Maria is passionate about the company culture and employee engagement and believes that happy employees will deliver exceptional service to our clients. Maria is also passionate about driving innovation and change, which has greatly contributed to TTA’s success. Maria truly cares about the wellbeing of TTA employees and the world we live in. Maria’s dedication to philanthropy has been widely recognized. Most recently, as the leader of TTA, Maria received the captain Thomas J. Hudner award from Fisher house Boston. This award is given to an organization for its ongoing commitment and dedicated service to supporting military families across the world.

Welcome Maria – Thank you for joining me on the podcast.

Maria: I’m excited to be here, Jocelyn – thank you. It’s certainly different to be here having to talk about me and the company, but I’m excited to share our story.

Jocelyn: TTA has an incredible story – can you tell us how it all started?

Maria: About 27 and a half years ago, my father who owned a previous company called Vitronics, a computer distributor that sold about 300-400 products. At the time, we noticed a lot of our clients were looking for training on our products in areas such as networking, which led my father to recognize a void in the industry for companies that just focused solely on placing learning and development talent.

It was his idea to start The Training Associates and at that time we were actually called just “The Associates”. At the time I was signed up to get my MBA and thought that that’s what I was going to do and possibly pursue another path. I worked with my father at the previous company, but once it was sold, he asked if I wanted to join him at The Training Associates and I figured “I’ll give it a shot”.

I started with him and immediately I fell in love with the business. I fell in love with what we did and our mission of helping companies become more productive and more successful by giving them the right talent. Back then, we didn’t have a computer or internet, which meant no emails, so I was making the good old couple hundred phone calls a day. I had to have a paper schedule that I would use to spend my morning’s calling clients, reaching out to see if anybody needed help, and finding out if they needed any contract trainers. At the time we were mainly focused on technical training and it was Novell and Microsoft.

Spending the afternoon calling and trying to develop and get more trainers and build our network was very interesting. Now we have email and can blast thousands of people at once, which is obviously a good benefit.

What was clearly different back then is we had a lot of conversations. The whole day was just talking to our clients and talking to our talent. The first 10 years was just focused on technical training. We then got involved in more large-scale rollouts, working with the very large consulting companies that would come to us if they needed a whole product rollout or were looking to train a bunch of people on something like change management.

We then started getting into more international business and over the last 15 years we’ve been getting more involved in instructional design, content development, learning strategy, and all of the above.

Jocelyn: What I want to kind of go back to is when you said that there was a different path that you were going to be on, but you fell in love with the business. What is it that you fell in love with?

Maria: I fell in love with working with our clients and working with our talent because I felt like I was a matchmaker. Our clients were looking for the talent and our talent was looking for work. It was great putting them together, having successful results, and building relationships with clients. I’m proud to say that 80% of our clients are still repeat clients. So I just fell in love with giving them the service, building the relationships, and also constantly bringing new talent into our network.

Jocelyn: I love the way that you put that, where you said you felt like you were the matchmaker because as a recruitment manager here, I feel the same way. What I’m doing is I’m studying somebody’s profile to match it to a customer’s profile and then when you make that right fit, the magic happens.

I also think that when I’m telling people about TTA or bringing new clients or resources into our network which is a huge part of our model, I always say that we are in the learning and development space, everything you could possibly want, but what we’re really in the business of is making relationships.

And I think that is what I value so much about your model Maria, is that everything is a conversation. Where it ends up and when we’re leading people into our capabilities is then when it takes off, but at the end of the day, building relationships is what brings people back to you and back to TTA. I just think it’s brilliant that that’s what you focus on.

Maria: Speaking of your job, Jocelyn, things have absolutely changed regarding our recruitment process, because as I mentioned, when we first started the company, for the first 10 years, it was mainly placing technical trainers.

With technical trainers, it was in a sense, easier to qualify the candidates because most of the time they needed certifications. So, we were looking at the certifications and we were also looking at any trainer evaluations that they had. As we’ve gotten more involved in these other areas, such as learning strategy, instructional design, and content development, although you could look at samples and a lot of soft skills training, it has made your job more complex.

There’s not a lot of certifications for soft skills trainers and soft skills because it involves more of a human component, you do have to not only make sure that the trainer has the experience in teaching the subject, but we have to make sure too that they have the right personality and right culture fit, especially. When they are doing a one-day class, obviously it is very important, but some of our projects could last for a while. For example, we are doing an international project right now. It’s going on to its fourth year where we’re teaching storytelling to very high-level managers. You, of course have to make sure that these candidates fit the culture of the organization.

Jocelyn: How are you going to get somebody to listen to the story you’re telling if you’re not good at telling your story, right? Shout out to Dennis, Rebello!
The culture that has been created within TTA and how you approach your business has transferred into how we approach our customers business too. There are so many things that are important about the function and how successful you can be.

It’s about all the skills, it’s soft skills, hard skills and technical skills, and it’s the approachability that TTA has to come and learn more, to make better fits. I just love what we do here. It’s a beautiful thing. So now, we have lots of magic and roses coming 27 and a half years later.

Was it all magic and roses working with your dad and family?

Maria: That’s a trick question. Thankfully, my father and I were both very busy in our areas, so my father was focused more on long-term strategy and I managed the day to day, so, the sales and operations. So, we did not interact that much, but we certainly had our moments.

I probably quit two to three times over the 27 years. I think that the first time was for a day, the second time maybe was it for a few days and my brother and my mother are also on the Board of Directors, of TTA. Being in a family business has a whole other level of complexity. A lot of times, if I would get upset with my father, I would call my mother on the way home saying I want to kill him, I can’t handle working with him.

Also, another challenge about that is being the boss’s daughter. People just immediately think, “this person’s working here because she’s the boss’s daughter that she doesn’t have the capabilities of being in the organization and running a lot of the company”, so I just felt like I always had to prove myself.

One thing that I always did too, is I always called my father Vic at the company because I felt like that was a way that we had to separate. I didn’t want to call him dad, “Hey Dad”, so that definitely really helped out. My father was definitely old school, he will be 86 this year. Back then, what mattered for him was how many hours somebody worked. When people were out the door at five o’clock, he would wonder, “why is Johnny out the door at five o’clock?” If Johnny is in sales, then doesn’t Johnny care about that? It felt a little bit like that in the beginning, but once I had children 21 years ago, I started realizing how hard it is to juggle everything around.

Over the years we realized that it really isn’t the amount of time, its the quality over quantity and you get a lot more from being flexible.

Jocelyn: You kind of change what the term family business means in TTA, right? It’s still a family-owned business, but you’re in the business of families too.
You really take care of, I’m going to say us, obviously, everybody knows I work here. I’ve never felt so supported in that way. I have a young guy at home from the moment I walked in the doors, it’s been a family business and flexible, and we are going to set you up to tell you how to get your work done and we trust that you’ll move forward that way. I can’t tell you how refreshing that is to know that I can get my work done because my boss knows I’m going to get my work done and has given me everything I need to do so. So, I vote yes on TTA.

Maria: It’s funny because I didn’t feel that way as much when we did have some people working from home.

So obviously this last year has changed everything. We’ll talk a little bit about that, but many years ago, when we had some people working from home, we did have some issues of people not getting their work done and not getting back to clients. I have realized that we really can’t make assumptions on these one or two people that might not have been affected working from home because over the last year I have seen so much work getting done at home when we were all shut down for COVID.

It’s more of, is the manager of these people working from home? Are they making sure that these employees know what’s expected of them and just holding their team more accountable. It was more of an accountability issue versus an issue of these employees working from home.

Jocelyn: I think you are giving people a lot to think about when it comes to the changes that had to be made for COVID and there’s also probably plenty of people who are sitting there saying, “Yes, Maria, we hear you, we hear exactly the same thing.” So how has the business changed over the last 27.5 years? I’m sure there’s a lot of things that you could mention, but specifically, what do you think resonates with you about when you think about what has changed?

Maria: Well, when we first started the business, it was very uncommon of people outsourcing training. So, for the first 10 years, our pitch was to clients on the importance of outsourcing because a lot of these clients did have an internal learning and development team. We were talking to them about does it really make sense to have people full time? It’s a perfect balance. There’s advantages and disadvantages of having people on staff. When you’re talking about a technology trainer, this is just an example, companies might be paying a technical trainer $120,000 a year, but when you really look at the amount of time that they’re being used, it doesn’t pay for itself because they might be teaching once a month, but the time and money that an organization is paying for these technology trainers to get up to speed, there’s a lot of investment and a lot of downtime. Especially with technology changing all the time, it’s impossible for a trainer to be versed and keeping up with all these different areas.

That was the first decade I would say, convincing people to outsource. Then there’s so many companies in the learning and development space and they’re all different sizes. There is a one-person training company, there are a group of three or four people that are training company, so it’s a very fragmented industry and I think it still very much is.

Jocelyn: What about your leadership style? How has that changed in the 27.5?

Maria: I have always been one to have a sense of humor, so that’s very hard. That’s actually a non-negotiable. I’ve always been a joker, I think since I was born.

I used to have fun coming home and telling my mother all these stories, back when I was in elementary school. Number one, it’s always very important to have fun, so that that has been consistent. It is interesting because I’m not sure if it’s a matter of my leadership style changing, but more evolving, more understanding of what’s important and having a positive culture.

As you mentioned in the beginning, I do firmly believe that if you treat your employees better, that they are going to be much happier and get the work done. Just making sure that we’re hiring the right people. We give every employee assessment tests and we have a Wonderlic which is now called one score and what that does is that evaluates candidates in three different areas on cognitive, personality, and motivation. All of those are obviously very, very important. What we’ve noticed is that you can have somebody score very high in the cognitive area, but that is not always a correlation on how well they’re going to do. Having the right culture fit is so key and not having the right culture fit can really destroy an organization.

I have seen that happen, so many times over the years, where I did hire somebody based on their experience and assumed, okay, this person has great experience, they are going to do great things in the organization. Some of the things that I’ve learned is you have somebody that comes in that has great experience, but they’re not on the same page, they have their own agenda. They might be more concerned and being a hero themselves, but they’re not working with the company towards their mission and goals. They have their own agenda and it brings out so much negativity, people are not on the same page. We are crazy about making sure somebody can fit in.

I know Jocelyn you’re a great example. Some of our latest recruiters we hired you about a year and a half ago and we hired, Landon about a year ago.
Jocelyn: He’s going to die hearing his name on the podcast.

Maria: Both of you did not have a learning and development background. You had a recruiting background, you work more in retail doing recruiting and Landon was our waiter at a local restaurant.

Landon was my favorite waiter for many years and I could tell that he had incredible customer service. He was just incredible. You could tell you it was very capable young man. So, the time came where Landon came to me and said, “Hey, I’m thinking of making a move, what do you think?” So, we interviewed him, we gave him a lot of assessments.

He scored extremely high on their recruiting assessment. He’s a natural born recruiter and here it is over a year and Landon has done better than recruiters that we had for 20 years and Jocelyn you too. So as you know, when I interviewed you, I hired you within five minutes.

Jocelyn: We were going to go there.

Maria: No, exactly. So, so you came in and Marlene, who interviewed you said, “You have to meet this woman. She’s fantastic.” You came in and I could tell within five minutes that, not only were you very bright and eager to learn, you had the growth mindset, but you had an incredible personality.

So I remember being in my office and I said, “okay, great! You’re hired.” So, we hired you and within a few weeks you took off. We hear all the time from all of our sales reps about how wonderful it is to work with you and that you make sure that you are taking care of them and you’re not always pushing back because any organization with sales, recruiting, sales, and marketing, there is some healthy tension, but you can’t just push back all the time.

You have to trust that the sales reps are giving you good requirements and you have to work on that. If there’s any questions you politely push back, but basically, what I’m trying to say is culture. Culture is everything they have to fit in that and that’s one of the biggest things that I am proud of.

I feel that I have learned so much over the years, that again, it’s, non-negotiable – people have to fit in. They have to be kind, they have to be humble, they have to have the growth mindset because in our industry, it’s changing every day. As we know, we’re getting new requirements for new areas, so you have to always want to learn. You can’t be a know it all, that doesn’t work well.

You have to be also very courteous in working together in a team and you have to be able to laugh at yourself and realize that it’s okay if we make mistakes, that’s how we learn, that’s how we grow. Everyday, we’re going to have challenge, but we just have to move on and we have to grow.

Jocelyn: I want to make a point here that even in a moment where I asking, how have you grown? How has your leadership style changed? Being the person and the leader that you are, you took the opportunity to talk about two of your employees and what you’ve seen out of them, not out of yourself.

So just take notes, everybody about Maria Malfa because she’s incredible. I think this is a great segue, beccause I went ahead and did a little something and I wanted to talk to our team and see what they believe is the best way to describe what your leadership style is. Just keep in mind people that these are the employees that have passed our sense of humor assessment.

Therefore, you’ll get a mixed bag here. I went to people and I said, give me one word that you think describes Maria’s leadership style. This is what I got: transparent supportive, laid back, trusting and trustworthy, fearless and fierce, empowering, inspiring, motivating, innovative. We have trusting again, optimistic, a mentor, vibrant, approachable, and then someone said you were an enabler in a good way.

So this is just to kind of go back to what you were saying in the beginning that it was more about how you’ve evolved more than it has been, how you’ve changed. One of the things that you had mentioned is, is it trust, is it putting trust back in? Is it me getting better about trusting people? It’s not. It’s about you creating a more trusting culture and environment and giving people the power to kind of not do their jobs the way that they feel, but enabling them in a good way to do what they know needs to be done without concerns about also doing other things that need to be done at the same time.

I think it was just worthwhile to share with you in a moment, what a handful of people, just on the other side of these walls had to say about you and how easy it was to just spew out these words. Somebody also said, because I just thought this was such a beautiful thing to say about you and I completely agree.

Maria always goes at challenges or situations with a positive, optimistic outlook like she’s going to beat them. She has been a great mentor to me early on in my career, and I will always look to her for knowledge and guidance now or in the future. That’s very nice. Right? That’s great to hear.

Maria: That’s great to hear. Reminds me of the exercise that we did for Christmas, where we did the word art for everybody.

Jocelyn: Yes tell people a little bit more about that and just the idea behind it, because I think what you intended to do is what I get out of looking at it every day.

Maria: So one of the exercises to bring people closer during our remote time, because we couldn’t have our holiday/Christmas party in person. We wanted to do a couple fun things. So, I worked with Courtney and the marketing team and Lori, my assistant and what we did is we had everybody write a positive word on what they thought for each person and then we made it into word art. We actually did a nice heart and then we framed them for everybody. We also did it in their name too. So we did a heart and and everybody has that on their desk or for the remote people, we sent them the frame and it’s just nice to be able to look at it.

I think with you like rock star and awesome. That was really fun to do because I want people to realize, you know, how great they are. We have an incredible team. I am so blessed to really have an incredible team. I think that’s one of the challenges that I deal with on a regular basis is that I love my team so much that sometimes I feel like I’m just hanging out with some of my friends and obviously we have to get work done. We know that everybody works hard here.

People that don’t work hard, they don’t last. It’s just not fair for everybody else. So if we have somebody that’s working really hard and somebody that’s not, it just, it can happen. You can have a lot of fun and get your work done.

Jocelyn: I feel like I get more work done that way because it’s invigorating, to just have that moment of separation and come back and be ready to go. It’s true. I mean, I laugh all day long here.

Maria: It is true. I do hear laughter throughout the whole day, which is absolutely fantastic. It really is.

Jocelyn: If it’s mine, it’s probably sounds like its four people because I don’t tend to be very quiet.

Maria: It’s little challenging being in an open environment, but I know there’s a lot of controversy on the open work environments. People said that that was kind of the biggest failure of our last decade.

When I look back and at our old offices where we have the high cubicles, I just felt like everybody was by themselves on an island. I love having the open environment and now with COVID we have changed on how we work. So it will be absolutely a permanent hybrid model.

We have people coming in either one day, a week, two days a week, three days, and I know you’re every day so people get to choose what works best for them, so we never have too many people in the office on the same day, which is great. So, it works out nice.

Jocelyn: Our culture is collaborative. So I think it makes sense for our model too. It really does.

Maria: It really does. And that’s why, you know, one area too, that it’s still, as far as onboarding new employees, it is harder to onboard new employees remotely. That’s something we work with a lot of clients on is how to develop virtual onboarding programs.

You just have to make sure it’s more structured. It lasts longer. One of the things they say all the time is orientation is not onboarding. So that’s where a lot of companies do fail. I believe that they do a two or three-day orientation program and then the person is on their own.

We have done a really good job. I believe Kara our VP of sales and Kerry, who is our sales assistant, really has created an amazing onboarding program. We recently hired four new sales reps in the last three to four months and we have them doing a lot of shadowing with some experienced sales reps, and they tell me all the time, how amazing the program is and that they’ve never experienced a better onboarding program. So that’s obviously great. Great to hear.

Jocelyn: I agree. My onboarding was a lot of hands-on, join me and do this and watch me do this not let’s set up an example of something you might see and go through it. It’s all in real time. I think it’s a very helpful way to learn. Of course, in the learning and development industry you know that everybody learns different ways, but this system for me, as a learner, definitely worked and I picked up things very quickly.

So I agree with the onboarding process. I think it’s great that we put it in the hands of the experienced people.

All of the wonderful things that we’ve said about TTA, definitely doesn’t go unnoticed because we recently just won the top places to work from Boston Business Journal. So, what do you think, this is the second year in a row, but we’ve won it like multiple times, right? No brags, but it did happen.

What do you think contributes to the fact that our team is still every year says this is the place I want to continue to work here.

Maria: This is one of my favorites awards. We’ve won many awards and are very grateful for those awards, but what makes me appreciate this award the most is because it’s based on a hundred percent anonymous feedback from employees.

They could say whatever they want to say, and there’s, I believe about 40-50 questions that they have to answer and it’s all about, Do you feel respected? Do you feel like you have the ability to grow in the organization? Do you feel like you’re recognized? Do you feel that you have flexibility? Do you feel like you have a work-life balance?

So those are things that I have been really crazy about focusing on over the last many years, so it’s wonderful to receive. I know last year, we haven’t got the official results yet for this year, but last year I think it was 96.9 of our employees were in the highly engaged category, which is excellent. This year with COVID happening, that was a big challenge and the people at BBJ said that there were a lot of organizations that didn’t even meet the threshold because of the challenges and the stress of employees. So I think this past year, even though back in March-April when we had a lot of cancellations, because a lot of our business was in person training, there was probably one night where I went home and I said, oh my goodness, what am I going to do here? What’s going to happen to the business? I felt extremely overwhelmed, but the next day I’m like, okay, this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to figure this out and we immediately started looking at the opportunities that COVID brought to us, such as we developed a partnership with logical operations on teaching trainers on how to become certified and virtual delivery.

So, that was really big for us and started looking at having a lot of different webinars and that’s a great thing because our company is so agile and so scalable. Unlike other training companies, when they’re developing webinars, they develop the content. It could take them several months and then they have something where that fad or that trend is already gone.

We can move very quickly. We looked and diversity is obviously a very hot topic. So, we have a lot of great diversity trainers and we were able to start having workshops within a few weeks and looking at how to manage virtual teams and how to convert your classes into virtual modalities.

So, just having a positive attitude. I remember everybody was definitely nervous. People were nervous on the virus itself. When it first came out were like, oh my goodness, we’re all going to die. I have asthma and I believe you have asthma correct? They were talking about how people with asthma are going to die.

From so many levels and also anybody that is a working parent and not having school, not having daycare, there was just so much there. We figured, let’s do what we have to do, try to have more early meetings, more virtual meetings, and just kind of to keep the culture we had. We watched a lot of interesting remote movies, looking at some farm sanctuaries, we did karaoke.

Jocelyn: Trivia

Maria: As I could say now, which I probably wouldn’t have said 27 years ago is that you just keep on learning. I know they always talk about failure being, you always learn from every failure. Yesterday, we had Laura Eiman talking about mental toughness and resiliency, which is obviously a very big topic this year. In terms of talking about failing forward, I don’t even necessarily look at this as failures.

I look at it being lessons learned because nothing is a failure. You just keep on learning and growing and every day. Another thing too, when you’re talking about how things have changed, just being focused to focused, remove any of the outside noise, but just focus, have your priorities, and don’t have too many priorities.

That’s one thing that we have had a challenge with, because there are so many things that we want to do. I like doing different things all the time. Like to me that’s what gets me energized being in this business. I couldn’t imagine being in a business where we are doing the same thing over and over.

So I’ve, I’ve interviewed sales people before that, you know, that they maybe sold, embraces like boring. Like I can’t even imagine like, oh, we, we sell this, we sell one product. I mean, we’re, as we know where we’re training in thousands of different areas and every day we’re getting requirements for. New types of training, new types of development. It’s fascinating.

So right. It just it’s fascinating. It is

Jocelyn: Just yesterday I was thinking the exact same thing where else would I be exposed to all of these different kinds of people. I am not an expert in learning and development. I am becoming very well versed in the matter. I mean, I use our resources as my experts and the people that I learned from.

So if I can learn so much from them in a conversation where I’m just trying to vet them for an opportunity, that’s how I know that they’re the right fit for the organization. I thought “you’re going to do this for other people and that’s amazing.” What was important to me when we were going through the challenges of the pandemic is that one thing stayed constant. That was the culture of TTA. We were moving where we were located because now we were all in our homes, but you made every stride possible to make sure that there was still togetherness, that we were still seeing people, that we were all still in this together. We may have faced challenges and came out on the other side with additions to our business model, new things that we can do, but it always still felt like TTA.

I don’t know that necessarily that’s how it feels to everybody in the organizations now, but it’s just a lesson to be learned that no matter what you’re going through, you have to make your people feel comfortable. I’m going to go another place with this too, because Liza and I shout out to Liza we were speaking not too long ago about what it is about a company’s culture that may or may not bring them back to work after the pandemic.

I just thought it was an interesting thing to even think about because we had moments and I was ready to come back, no problem, when we were in the moments where we had to make some steps to make some changes, to survive in the pandemic, it was hard. I thought, this is the only place I want to be, and I want to do everything I can to show you guys that I want to work to being better with us on the other side.

So, when that moment came where we did the things, we were ready to go, and ready to come back, I was waiting for it. So, to think about a company’s culture being the reason why somebody wouldn’t come back, not just the fact that well now I get to be home and all those other things just speaks volumes again, about what you’ve created here, Maria, like you should be, so, so proud of yourself and just your company and I know that this is uncomfortable for you to hear, but you’re wonderful, you’re absolutely wonderful and the things that you’ve done for people are amazing too.

Maria: Thank you very much. It looks funny because I remember coming back, when we opened up for the first time before we got shut down the second time. We all came and I think we had some food trucks outside that came and we had a nice little party and we all wanted to hug each other. It was so nice to see everybody. We really, we really love each other.

We really do. We really care and want the best for everybody. So, it’s great hearing from these new employees that have been here for a few months and Lori who handles their HR has these check-in interviews, and they all said that they absolutely love it here. They feel valued. They love the culture. They’re getting the training that they need, and that every employee here has been just amazing as far as helping them train, because we have a lot of people that have been cross-trained in so many different areas, so they can. We have several people that are outside the state and they’re not here every day, but they’re able to pick up the phone and get somebody right away and get the help that they need.

Jocelyn: So, there are a lot of things that we train on in a lot of different areas that we touch, but are there areas that you want to focus on more or new areas you want to dive into?

Maria: I know we’ve been focusing more on mental toughness and resiliency.

We had our second class on that yesterday, and that was absolutely fantastic because I think that’s a topic that we all can relate with. I know when we’re talking to Laura Eiman in who is a 67-year-old Olympic gold winner, she did it based on developing the mindset of Navy sales.

We’ve talked many times – can you imagine how great this would be to have her presentation at elementary schools, middle schools for these young kids, it would be so important to have that. One thing that has really made me excited is Ernst and Young has a new program, the center of excellence for neurodiversity, and I’m hoping to have a meeting with them. They are working with corporations on how to onboard and how to work with the new young workforce that has these neuro-diverse challenges.

I would love to see what we can do to build more awareness, if we could help train in those areas, and it’s something that I am personally and professionally interested in. I do have two children, both with learning disabilities. My 21-year-old son has executive functioning issues. He’s highly capable, but it’s always a challenge, and same with my daughter, highly capable. She’s 15 years old and she has dyslexia and auditory processing disorder, and the amount of time that I have had to spend to advocate for them has just been unbelievable, and now my son is in college and there is just a lot of challenges. It’s interesting because once a child becomes 18 they’re on their own and parents can’t speak for them, but you know, my son is at University of Michigan and there’s just been a lot of things that even my husband and I have looked at. One example is registration.

While the courses are on wait lists, you have to look at different prerequisites, there’s just such an immense catalog and it took me many hours to work with him to figure out a schedule and then everything was booked. You can’t get on the phone and say, “Hey, I am Thomas’s mother, I need help in these areas.”
There absolutely has to be more awareness that these young adults need more coaching, need more help. It has nothing to do with their intelligence, they could be the best employees in the world, they just need to be onboarded differently. They need to have different accommodations and understanding.
That’s interesting because obviously those are two cases, but I’ve noticed over the years I certainly have had employees that have had learning disabilities. I know I’ve had learning disabilities myself and because you see somebody very bright, and very capable, but they’re just not connecting the dots. You could be working with a manager and the managers talking to you about, I don’t understand why Susie doesn’t understand this, I’ve been working with her for months. Susie has good intentions. I believe most, if not all people have good intentions, there’s just something that’s missing. So, I think that would be really interesting to get more knowledge and understanding on how to onboard people with different learning profiles.

Jocelyn: Right because everybody learns differently and I think that’s a big part of why you found the assessments for TTA so successful because it also, it doesn’t only contribute to the culture fit, but it tells you what a person needs from you in order to be successful here.

So, you’ve got the right culture fit and everything else checks off, but this is telling me that this person needs more structure, what it may be and how you can apply that. I completely agree with you. I think that while awareness is definitely something that’s on people’s radar, I don’t think that our spectrum is broad enough to accommodate all of the different learners that we have.

It’s because we’re still learning things absolutely, about what these learning differences are, but about the ones that do exist, we’re still learning how to help them along the way. Another wonderful thing about this industry and what you can learn in the different things that you can work into.
Um, I love that. I think that’s a great perspective.

Maria: I love that diverse, the new term versus learning disabilities. It really isn’t necessarily a disability. My daughter who has dyslexia, as I mentioned, I read a fascinating story many years ago, where there is a very large and successful architect firm in New York City, that will only hire kids that have dyslexia, because they have incredible visual, spatial awareness. So my daughter, she is definitely very intuitive, so its very fascinating.

Jocelyn: It definitely is. I think that that’s incredible. The exposure for your daughter too, to see that this is a catalyst, to launch her into careers that maybe she didn’t think that she could do prior to, because that’s the thing, what is dyslexia? Oh, you get some letters and some numbers rearranged, and sometimes it takes you a second longer to read things. No, that’s actually not what it is when we get into the neuroscience, part of it.

You’re saying that there’s actually something that makes her more aware and better at things because of that. So, I agree disabilities, not the right word for it anymore. It’s a difference. It’s something that makes her a little bit different and the rest of us have to catch up to her.

So, to wrap this up, what do you, in a nutshell, we talked about a lot of different areas. What is it that you know now about yourself, about TTA, about the learning and development business that you wish you could go back in time and tell yourself 27 and a half years ago.

Maria: Culture is King

Jocelyn: I love that.

Maria: love that culture is everything. You need to have a clear vision of what culture looks like in your organization and you need to live and breathe that every day. It’s not just something that you write on a wall, but you have to act and live in it and believe in it. You’re always going to have change.

You have to embrace change. Change happens every minute. Take one day at a time you have to focus on today, but you always have to look out on what is important for you in the future. What do you want to be in six months? What do you want to be in a year?

Jocelyn: Very, very valuable points and probably the most difficult for people to hear.

You know, it’s not just about, you need to have a budget, you need to stick to it and you need to have a plan and a goal and achieve it. Without culture, without embracing change.

Maria: You have nothing. I mean, cash is king too, so that’s always very important too.

Jocelyn: Let’s just throw that in there real quick.

Maria: No, no, absolutely. So that’s very important and I’m excited because we are starting our podcast series called, “Bring Out the Talent” and we’re excited to work with Mudhouse Media. We always wanted to do a podcast, but I’m working with some of these wonderful people here, and they came in and met with us a few weeks ago and we were so excited about their background.

So, Mudhouse Media was started by Kris Meyer, who has a very interesting background. He is one of the co-producers with the Farrelly Brothers, and I know we all probably know a lot of the Farrelly Brothers movies, Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber, Fever Pitch, Shallow Hall, and a movie called The Lost Son of Havana, which is a story with Louis Tiant that my brother was involved too in the movie and helping be one of the co-producers because my brother met Louis Tiant many years ago at a little local independent film that my brother produced. Louie and my brother became good friends and Louie always wanted to do a story and it’s really an interest story. It’s amazing where we were actually going to be watching it as a company next week. So, Kris came to us and said, you know, let’s start a podcast and it was a no brainer because we have such incredible talent that has great stories to share. These people are pros and we have incredible stories that we can share. Interesting, innovative stories with our clients. We’re excited to do that and we have a lot of interesting partnerships too, so we’re really excited to start this podcast series bi-monthly and we’re hoping as time allows that we can go to a weekly podcast and I’m so excited to have you Jocelyn, as my cohost.

Jocelyn: I agree. This is one of the most exciting opportunities that I think I’ve ever had presented to me. Hey, I love this type of industry. I’m a podcast listener myself, it’s taken a lot to not go down the true crime route with some of the things that we discussed, especially today. This is an incredible opportunity. I’m excited to share our story, your story, Maria, for our listeners to listen to thought provoking conversations about things that they didn’t know that there were speakers on exposing people to different ways of learning.

I’m very, very grateful for you embracing change and being open to finding new ways to reach people. I think this is going to be incredible.

Maria: Excellent. Thank you so much for being my host.

Jocelyn: Yes. Thank you for allowing me to interview you. It has been a pleasure, Maria. Thank you so much.

Maria: Thank you.

Bring Out the Talent is a Muddhouse Media production