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EP 15: Highs and Lows of Owning a L&D Company, Navigating Labor Laws, & the Future of ttcInnovations
Episode 159th July 2024 • Learning Matters • ttcInnovations
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This week we're joined again by Debbie Wooldridge CEO and founder of ttcInnovations as she answers questions from our audience ranging from the future of L&D, how corporate training has changed over the years, to favorite books from this year.

We want to thank everyone who submitted questions. This was a fun one to record.


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Welcome back to Learning Matters. I'm Doug Wooldridge, your host. And today we're joined by our CEO and founder of TTC Innovations, Debbie Wooldridge, and we're going to do an AMA. So thank you to all of you in our community who sent in questions. Let's get to the show. Welcome back to the podcast, Debbie. So happy to have you here. We wanted to do something a little different and a little more fun, relaxed, you know, not so strategically driven.

And yeah, so we wanted to do a little AMA session with you. I hope you're ready. You know, I'm excited to be here. I do sort of feel like I just walked into my college algebra class and they announced a pop quiz and I didn't read the chapter, but okay. Let's do it. Awesome. Well, we're going to just get into this. We have our first question from Eric Burgett. He asks, why does learning matter?

gosh, why does it not matter? Everything we do in life is a learning opportunity. So I guess we've got to figure out how do we make every opportunity in life better. And that means that we learn from our experiences, we learn from each other, we think about the future and we think about what do we need to know to get to the future.

So there's nothing in life that isn't all about learning. And so that's one of the reasons why I love that our company is focused on learning because I just think that every chance that we get together, anytime you talk with somebody, you're learning something. So there.

I don't have a really good answer for Eric. I just can't think of why learning wouldn't matter. Yeah, no, I love that actually. And that's right. You're learning something even when you're not thinking about learning, you know, it doesn't have to just be delving into a module or getting into a YouTube video on how to, I don't know, how to bake risotto or something like that. It could just be you pondering things as you're walking around. And, and I think that's what keeps our brains fresh.

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It keeps us inquisitive and make sure that we continue going through life just with an awe of what's in front of us and the time that we have here. Next up, we have a question from Samantha Hale. Rose and Thorn of the last 20 years of owning a business. So what was the toughest thing and then what was the greatest moment?

The toughest. Gosh. That's a great question. What is the toughest thing? You know, I think maybe not being able to, I don't know. that's a stumper. I can't think of anything about what was the toughest about owning a company because I think

when I don't know something, I'm feeling very confident that I can reach out and ask somebody. So while things are tough, I mean, there are a lot of things that are tough. I mean, figuring out budgets, figuring out how, if we have a client whose account is underperforming and we had high expectations that the account was going to really bring in a lot of opportunities for our team members to work and then uncovering that.

due to whatever a situation has occurred within the client's environment. Things change all the time. Absolutely. And then you're left with, gosh, all these people were expecting to work and how do we replace that revenue? And in a training company, our sales cycle is so long. I mean, we look at, you know, new sales development is typically an 18 month process. So.

If we have a client whose environment changes and they begin to underperform because they can't provide opportunities for us to work with them, there isn't necessarily a quick backup plan to recoup the revenue. I mean, it's not like selling a product on the market where you can quickly pivot and try to go find a new market. So I think maybe that's been the toughest thing is trying to adjust to unexpected.

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drops in opportunities with clients. And that does happen. And you'd think I'd get better at it because it does happen. But every time it hits me like, gosh, now what are we gonna do? So there you go, that was the toughest maybe. And what was maybe one of your, I'm sure, many highlights of the time running this company? You know, I think for me the highlight is

is typically when I have an opportunity to meet face to face with innovators who are working in our team. And especially the unexpected meetup with an innovator that, you know, like perhaps maybe I've traveled to a location to take part in a convention or training opportunity. And one of the innovators lives in town and they take the time to meet with me. The last time this happened, I was in Tennessee and one of our

project manager's Jeannie was living there in Nashville and she made the time to come join me for dinner and just to sit down and talk with her face to face because we're a virtual company. So anytime I get a chance to just really meet in person with our team, it's this delightful moment of, and we're real. Yeah, yeah. I think that's awesome. So now you know, anytime Debbie's in your town, you got to hit her up. Absolutely.

I can't wait to come to your house. I'll take you out to dinner at my hotel, whatever. I don't care where it is. I just want to see you, me too, in person and have some time with you. Awesome. Love it. So this one's from Cynthia Brinza. Apologies, Cynthia. Besides AI, what is the one thing that you're most excited about in learning and development? So maybe that's a new tool. Maybe that's just kind of a trend in a way.

how companies are finally starting to really dig into the importance of training and then retention, those type of things. Wow. Okay, so you just answered all those things are really exciting to me. And I love that. But you know, I think probably the thing that I'm most excited about is the pivot and shift that is happening in the delivery mechanism of training. I think that companies are really honing into

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how their employees want to learn. I think they're doing a better job at listening, which opens up the door for us to be more consultative with them. So we can share some different strategies, some new ideas on how we can cut and slice the training so that it really works best for how their employees want to learn. That to me is really exciting. It doesn't matter what tool you use. Ultimately, it matters that what we deliver to the employee

makes sense, is clean, is engaging, and is something that they can immediately put into practice. Because if we can hit those targets, they're going to be completely successful in their performance. I think that that can kind of piggyback on this next question here. Apologies. Just want to make sure that I get this. that's okay, because I'm going to go back and answer your other question about, I did forget about a most recent encounter I had with one of our innovators, and it was awesome.

I mentioned Jeannie at Nashville, but actually just a few weeks ago, one of our innovators who worked with the company for a really long time, Deborah Woodruff, retired, but she was in town in San Diego taking part in a military fundraiser to walk across the Coronado Bridge.

So she said she was in town and I was like, well, great, I'm coming to visit. And so she was staying out of the local KOA campers, Campgrounds of America. And so I drove out there and I was pulling into the area where her trailer was at and there was another trailer right next to it. And there was another gal sitting there with Deborah and the gal turned around and it was Tamara.

Denver's daughter. So I was so shocked. I had no idea that Tambor was in town too. So it was just so cool to get to say hi in person to Tambor and to get to spend a few minutes with her. And yeah, totally unexpected. So sorry about that. I've totally forgot that last moment, but it was so fun. I love it. So going back to ultimately

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how things are kind of changing in the learning and development world and where you kind of see those, how have organizational perceptions around training and learning changed over the years? So kind of getting into that, you know, aha moment for corporations that they go, my gosh, we can actually save so much money by investing in the people that we already have and training them up and having retention stay strong and

Ultimately, this one is from Eric Burgett. Again, beautiful question. So how are organizations looking into training and development right now as opposed to maybe 10 years ago? So the thing about training and organizations, training and learning and development has traditionally been seen by companies as a cost. It's an expense item. It's a line item in their budget.

And when in the past when companies started to have challenges in an economic situation, they were looking for cost saving maneuvers. So one of the first things they used to cut was in the learning and development budget. And so we were constantly looking for knowing different ways to deliver training and much more cost effectively for companies so that we could help them continue to move forward. And something happened during COVID and

Companies began to realize that the one thing they needed was their employees to be happy working for their company. And what they uncovered is so many employees were exposed to a whole different environment during COVID. They started working from home. They started spending time intimately with their family. So their priorities, employees' priorities began to shift during COVID.

After COVID, what happened was there was this whole idea about the fact that employees were looking at their employer saying, my life needs are different. Now, I'm focusing on my life in a different way, and I need an employer who embraces me and meets me halfway and then helps me get to where I wanna go. And there was this,

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in place where companies were losing employees left and right because employees were looking for that employer that was inherently serving the needs of the employee. And what they uncovered is one of the things that's essential in the minds of the employees is working for companies who value the employees' education and performance over the bottom line of the company. And there are great

forward, that was, you know,:

So you had that whole thing and now employees have kind of settled back into We are not having as many shifts with employees leaving but now what we're seeing is we're having dramatic leaps and changes in Technology and in the way companies work So training became very important to retain their employees But now training is even more important because now we're having to retool

retrain and re -skill our employees to keep companies moving forward. So in my humble opinion, companies that are focused on learning and development are the companies that are going to be successful future -proofing their organizations. I think you are 100 % correct with that. And noticing the books behind you, Emily Woldridge, my wife,

had a question. And I think it really ties into what we're talking about here. But you wrote the book Unleashing the Entrepreneur, which gives anecdotes and practical tips about tapping into the entrepreneurial mindset while working within that corporate environment. So this book was kind of geared towards that millennial audience. Do you feel that millennials have a tendency to kind of forge their own path more so?

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than other generations. I do. And while I know that the next generation Gen Z is overtaking millennials as the larger group in the workforce, millennials are still paving the way for how companies will be responding and growing. When you have an organization that can truly attract millennials,

by letting millennials be successful in figuring out new and different ways to perform their roles, you have companies that are going to inherently be successful. So Gen Z though is an interesting population coming in and we don't really have as much information yet on trends, definitive trends that define the generation.

And I think it's because so much of the lifestyle and the way Gen Z is choosing to work, play, and enjoy life is carved out of the stone of COVID. So, you know, Gen Z was entering the workforce during the heat of COVID. And so their experiences in the workforce are defined by that.

And we saw the same thing. The millennial generation was defined by the financial collapse. So you do see these defining moments that impact how a generation responds to the work environment. And millennials, that entrepreneurial opportunity inside of companies is what enables a millennial to say, you know what, I want to stick and work at TTC Innovations because I have an opportunity there.

to help pave the path of the future of this organization. Definitely. And back in the day, let's take this a little bit lighter here. Back in the day, you were paid for a senator. Is there a separate timeline? For House of Representatives. Yeah. I'm sorry. House of Representatives. Is there a separate timeline where you might have gone into politics as opposed to learning?

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Yeah, actually, when I think, that is taking it back a step. When I first left high school, my intention was to go into pre -law to become a lawyer, to eventually become a representative or senator, and then the president, and then obviously, the hipper of the world was kind of the plan. It's a step ladder here. Absolutely so.

And I started taking college classes and I was in a lot of pre -law and I was taking American government and I love those courses by the way. I am very intrigued by all of that. And then I went back home for summer and took back my job working in the childcare center and I was working with school -age kids and I realized, wow, I really, really like working with kids. So when I went back to school that...

I changed my major into elementary education. So yeah, so and then I thought, well, maybe I could be a lawyer for children. But then I thought, maybe I could work with children and help them be successful where they would need a lawyer to protect them. Exactly. Yes. If TTC could have any client, what would be the dreamiest client? This one's from Samantha Hale again. gosh. If we could have any clients. Yeah, anyone.

Hmm... Hmm... You know, I don't... I mean...

Wow, I can't really think of it. I mean, if you're a client out there looking for a training vendor, you're my dream. Look, anyone listening here, any training needs whatsoever. We're here for you. Hit up Teresa Chiaputo. There you go. The link will be in the show description. Yeah, very good. That's perfect. You know, we work in a lot of different industries, so I would say maybe industries probably. You know, I love

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for us to get a client in the entertainment industry, because I think that that would just be fun, right? We have amazing clients in financial services, in the technology, in the pharmaceutical, medical areas. So I feel like that's a gap. We don't have any of you entertainment clients, so we'll take you. We'd love to work with you. Netflix, Amazon video. There you go. Let's go. Right? There you go.

Awesome. So there's been a lot of changes within the organization lately out of necessity based on just changes that are naturally occur. Labor laws change. The Department of Labor comes out with a new set of rules every single year and you have to follow them. So how have the changes that are occurring currently in our organization, how are those impacting the company?

And where do you see the company within the next five or 10 years with those changes? Maybe go into a little bit of detail about what's going on with TTC innovations and how the organization has kind of shifted over the last three, four or five months. Sure. Sure. Okay. Well that's, the world of

hrough a lot of changes since:

hink it was like right around:

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that worked fantastic and it really helped ensure that we were 100 % compliant with the labor rules around independent contracting. And then the state of California introduced AB5 and this was right before COVID. So probably I think it was the legislation might've come out like in 2018 and 2019 and I think it just kind of was.

n't enforcing it heavy during:

Business was one thing you couldn't, your contractors couldn't be part of that business. So it was a little confusing as to whether or not TTC was compliant or not. So we hired a business law attorney firm to come in and evaluate every bit of our practices. And they evaluated us and we made a few changes and we were 100 % compliant with the regulations. So we were feeling really good.

And then there was a lot of discussion and we were seeing a lot of news that the federal government was going to adopt pieces of AB5 from California and make it a federal regulation. So we've been monitoring it, watching it, then it kind of just disappeared and nobody talked about it again. And all of a sudden in maybe late January, first part of February,

news articles started getting published that the Department of Labor was introducing new contractor legislation. And on March 11, the Department of Labor enacted the new rule about the impacting gig workers. And basically, everything shifted and changed. And when we evaluated the ruling and we attended our Dana and Briley, our HR leadership,

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attended a tremendous amount of webinars, they did a lot of research, they talked with their consultants at SHRM to really make sure that we were understanding the implications of the regulations. And what we realized is the way we operated, even though it was business to business, was not truly compliant with the new Department of Labor regulations. So we knew. It's got to be a scary feeling. You know, I mean, it's like, whoa. And the Department of Labor, the law became effective in

Immediately. So we needed to quickly pivot and implement a new plan. And so we evaluated and we realized we wanted to continue to operate effective services. But the way to do this was to be 100 percent compliant with the Department of Labor was to get rid of the contractor model that we had used for 24 years and implement an employee only model here at TTC Innovations. So for the past three months, we have been

rewriting all of our policies and procedures. We've been interviewing our innovators and talking with them, providing job opportunities as employees, and working on converting the workforce. So our last team joins the official workforce at the end of June. So we will be 100 % employee based July 1st.

All right. Well, it's got to feel good that your team was really able to dig deep and make this a possibility. This transition could have been easy. I can't tell you how proud I am of the people in our team that have made this happen with little to no notice. I mean, they honestly we were not prepared in any stretch of the imagination to make this dramatic of a shift.

is when we've talked about it. But when you theorize about something, that's one thing. But when you have to strategize about how you're implementing this and you have no time to really think through all of this and to do some case studies or analysis of what this was, I mean, it was go time.

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immediately, the law changes and it is our responsibility to adhere to and follow the law of the Department of Labor. And we had to do it in such a way that we could retain our best and brightest talent and provide continuous content, could provide continuity to our clients and make sure that our services were not interrupted, that our clients would have no noticeable impact during the transition.

But I think the win of all of this, and you mentioned in your question there about what does this do for the future of TTC innovations, is I think it opens the door for a brand new collaborative environment. When you are working with contractors, in order to be tightly held to the rules of how independent contractors work, we really had to find the work for the contractors, match up the right talent to the work,

and let them do their business with, you know, carry out the contract. As an employee team, we suddenly have the open door policy of sharing, collaborating, and working together to come up with even better strategies for our clients. I'm excited to work with the team and figure out, wow, we can talk about this. I don't have to...

get you to sign a contract to join this initiative, I can bring you in because you have a talent and you have a brilliant mind and you have ideas and you can help me create a better solution for the client. So I think it's exciting time for us. I so appreciate the team and their flexibility and their trust.

that they have shown this organization as they've transitioned because their lives have changed dramatically. And the bottom line is they didn't ask for this change. So it's one thing for you to say, I'm tired of being a consultant. I'd like to become an employee somewhere. That's great. You've made a conscious decision to do that. In this situation,

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our team was quite content to be a consultant and they were loving that and it was working really well for them. And for them to take a leap of faith with us and to say, you know what, this is gonna work and it's gonna be good for us. It's gonna be good for the collective of us and it's gonna be good for our careers. That's a giant leap of faith. And I couldn't be more honored to have these team members who have done that. And I literally just came off of an onboarding call

and sharing my appreciation to this team and them responding back that they were happy to be here and that this is a, you know, they've been so, the innovators themselves have just been so kind and so authentic with their questions, their concerns, but they're also their excitement about this new world.

So hats off to our new team members here at TTC Innovations. It definitely adds off to both Dana and Riley for the ability to make this transition as smooth as humanly possible, as well as the entire leadership team. Couldn't have done it without the help of everyone, but I think to help answer Sherry's question here, I think that leads to a very open world for us.

to kind of continue carving our paths the way that we see them for the future here in the next five years. I think it is, like you said, a very exciting time and a time where we can truly come together as a team and finally start this softball series. We've got more than enough people now on the employee team. I'm waiting for the hats to ship out. Right, there you go. That's fabulous.

thing that I think too is a giant win for our clients is, you know, when you are working with a team of consultants, those consultants have other clients other than TTC innovations. And so they're not always available to pop into the next contract with a particular client. As an employee team, we can build a

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of talent who work on a particular client account and really get embedded in that culture. We do have core groups of innovators who have worked with specific clients over a long period of time, but this really enhances that environment. And so I think that's a giant win for our clients because that continuity of talent is really going to be very beneficial. 100 % agree. So if

They made a movie out of you and your life and somehow Hollywood got their hands on a time machine so you could choose any, literally any person to play you. Who would it be? man. Helen Hunt. All right. Love it. Love her. Huge Helen Hunt fan. Right? Let's go.

Mad About You, so good. I know, I fell in love with her. Everyone's talking about friends and stuff. No, Mad About You is great. As good as it gets is also, I mean, just, you know, the way she controlled Jack Nicholson, nobody could control him. No, exactly. She did. They tried. Right? Hollywood tried to control him. Only she could do it. That's awesome. I've got another question from Eric here. What's your favorite book that you've read in the last year? God.

wow. See, I told you I didn't look at these questions. And you are an avid reader. You know what? Here's the thing. So I read mystery novels all the time. And I don't do when I am off work. I am literally embracing.

anything to do with non -work related reading. I read a ton. By the way, these books are legit. They are all books that I own and read. And I love to read for work. But on a personal perspective, me and Janet Ivanovich are best friends. I think she writes for me. Just for you. I love Stephanie Plumb. I think she's hilarious.

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She's a strong, independent character and she is my favorite and every time a book comes out, I read it. So the next one is supposed to be out, I think it's like maybe October, I think is the next book. So not anxiously awaiting. But I love Janet Ivanovich. I think she's a great writer and I love a story that really immerses me and really makes me feel like I'm in the middle of the book.

That's awesome. I mean, that's what makes a good story, right? Something that allows you to forego all of the thoughts of work that had been plaguing you all day to be able to curl up. And for you with a little Siamese cat or two. Exactly. So to relax and really just unwind a bit. I think that's awesome. If you could live anywhere in the world.

Would you stay in California? I would. Now I would appreciate it if California could reduce the cost of living just a little bit. Come on Gavin Newsom, where are you at here? You know, if it wasn't quite as expensive to live out here. But you know what? The thing that I love about California is is that literally in one day you could in theory be up in the mountains skiing and down on the beach soaking up the rays in the same day. I mean, what?

other states really truly offer that kind of an environment. I love the fact that the lifestyle in California by and large is an outdoor active environment. And I think that that is essential for me. I need to get outdoors. I love to hike. I love to take walks.

I used to love to run, I don't do that anymore, but I do love being outside. And so an environment that allows me to do that almost every day out of the year, total win for me. But I love the cost of living in Kansas just for the record. In the environment, I mean, I love the people of Kansas. It was a fantastic place to raise my kids and to grow up. So. That's right. And we'll forever be Kansas City Chiefs fans.

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Absolutely, yes. Knowing what you know now, this one is from Jessica Howell, by the way. Is there anything in the last 23 years of owning this business that you would do differently? You know, that's an interesting question. Should I have done things differently? Probably. Would I do anything differently? No. And here's why. Because I think that you cannot. I mean, the bad looking back,

That is the history of where we came from. It's what made TTC Innovations and me what we are today. So the trials, the tribulations, the mistakes, the celebrations, the moments of sad, the moment of happy, the excitement are all a part of what made today happen. So in my opinion, I wouldn't change anything. I mean, maybe I should have.

done things differently, but should have and would are very different. And honestly, my, I look forward and I think future thinking, I love to live in the moment for just a moment, but then I like to think, you know, where's this going to get us next? So yeah, I don't think it would change anything. Cause I think we wouldn't be here today if I changed something, if I made a different choice along the way, who knows where we'd be.

Yeah, every moment, every time that you make some type of decision in your past led you directly to this podcast. So thanks for joining the podcast. Got one more question for you. I wanted to read this in whole because I really love the sentiment behind this from Trish Clemes. It goes without saying that Debbie has been a successful excuse me. It goes without saying that Debbie has been successful as a person, parent,

individual contributor and leader. Her success has helped shape many of us and our success in the learning space, especially as an innovator with TTC. Sometimes it's easy to forget that she's a human first and the fact that a lot of what drives us as professionals to be the best version of ourselves really does live outside of what we're doing during our day to day stuff. So what was the last photo you took?

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that tells a story about your life and how does it motivate you? Well, first to form as Trish, I love you with all my heart. That is such a sweet. What a sentiment. That's very touching. And Trish is one of our amazing innovators and we have so many great people and Trish is such a kind person. So that's sweet of her to say all that. Last photo.

Let's just open it up and see. Yeah, let's see what's in the photo library. See what's up there. OK, all right. So I don't know if you can see this. Yes. This is legit. My last photo. I can see my father. Right? OK, this is a photo that I took last night. And I think it does kind of tell a little bit of a story of me that we went to the San Diego County Fair.

Love it. Yeah. And to see Smokey Robinson. That's right. Smokey's still killing it today. Here's the thing. Let's go. I'm not even a Smokey Robinson fan. I could not tell you the name. I'll let that slide. Thank you. Any of his songs, Tears of a Clown, I do know that. But look at what he's saying. And I didn't even know that's what he was singing. So that's I'm not that great. But the moment of that picture. You're more of a sting.

I told 100%. 100 % Billy Joel, Sting, these are my people. Smokey Robinson is my husband's people. And being at the fair with my husband, I left work early yesterday afternoon so that we could drive out to the fair. I won't tell your boss. Please don't. We enjoyed all kinds of horrible for you fair food.

And I ate every bit of it and loved it. But we do this every year. We go to the fair at least once and we always go on the night of a 70s person who is playing in concert because that's what my husband loves. And I love seeing the joy on his face. I love being a part of us. And so that to me is, and that's why

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I think that's why it's such an important part of why I do what I do every day because it enables me to have these moments with my husband, with my family. So that just represents this is my family, it's fun, we enjoy. I think it's important that you remember why we do things every day. I mean, it's not all about the job, it's about the life, it's about the balance, it's about the excitement.

The picture right next to him was two cats kissing each other. So, how cute. All right. But that's the picture. But thanks. That was such a beautiful question, Trish. Awesome. And thank you all of our community members that sent in questions for Debbie. And again, thank you, Debbie, for joining us today. This has been a really fun time. So we'll most likely have you on again in the near future.

for maybe kind of like a roundtable discussion of certain things. So we'll come back with that later. But yeah, just thank you for coming on and answering these questions. It's been really fun. OK, well, next time I'll study first. No, I love it. Keep it fresh. Great. Great. I love the opportunity. I love hearing the questions from the minds of our innovators. They're amazing people.

And also any other questions towards Debbie, she has an open inbox. So anytime that you are available to hang out with her when she's in your city, make sure that you let her know. And thank you all again for the great questions. We'll leave it there for today. Thanks for joining us this week. As always, don't forget to like and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, but also don't forget to sign up for our newsletter, The Buzz.

to keep up with all things L and D. See you next time.




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trailer Welcome to the Learning Matters Podcast by ttcInnovations