HrTech Cube Interview with the Head of Cornerstone Studios – Summer Rivers Salomonsen


Summer from Cornerstone discusses how authentic, relevant, and brief learning experiences can prove to be extremely powerful for employees and their journeys!

1. Tell us about your role at Cornerstone?
As Head of Cornerstone Studios, I’m on a mission to change our industry’s expectation of learning content. I lead a dynamite team, supporting bi-coastal Studio operations out of Los Angeles and New York, with a clear goal to build compelling, undeniable, off-the-shelf content that drives change in organizations.

2. Can you tell us about your journey into this market?
I’ve never been a “plan out your career” type of professional. I tend to seek out jobs based on opportunity and challenge. In fact, I started my career as a high school English teacher. But over the course of my career, the common thread has been learning: heading up corporate L&D, consulting and strategy, then taking a job as Chief Learning Officer for Grovo, a microlearning company, which ended in acquisition by Cornerstone! I hear so many say – “I’m a lifelong learner!” – and that is true for me too. In May 2019, I earned my Doctorate in Education (EdD) in Org Change and Leadership at USC – and plan to use that knowledge in my current work – always focused on driving change through learning.

3. How do you think technology is upgrading HR Sector?
The best innovation can emerge from times of massive constraint. Like we’ve seen over the past few months of the COVID-19 pandemic – companies are actively considering the role technology will play in whatever “new normal” we’ll return to in the future. Ultimately – I hope we’ll begin to reckon learning as something that spans that entire employee lifecycle and happens continually, and that learning technology will move us close to an integrated experience in which learning is always happening and always amplified.

4. How has digitalization helped in easing HR functions?
What I’ve recently witnessed is that the pandemic has actually shown us that HR teams that leverage technology – and in particular, learning technology – are able to manage the changes that are occurring externally and within their workforces at a higher capacity.

The impact of this pandemic underscores the fundamental business value of providing employees with online information, resources and development opportunities as we permanently shift to an adjusted work model.

5. How does your platform help in enhancing performance of the employees?
Cornerstone’s platform is all about helping employees reach for and realize their potential. To that end, we recognize that content can be a great connector between platform and person. From my experience at Grovo, and now at Cornerstone, I’ve come to believe strongly that the most powerful learning experiences are the ones that are authentic, relevant, and brief! Ultimately,

springboarding the employee back into their jobs with a revised mindset or shifted understanding of something gives them the opportunity to solidify the learning through practice. Because that’s how we learn.

6. Can you explain why companies should promote employee learning and development?
Learning is the adaptability accelerator. Cornerstone People Research Lab data shows that training has skyrocketed in the last several weeks as companies help their employees adapt to this new normal, including a spike in courses about stress management and working from home. This shows that rather than use learning to only meet compliance requirements, we need to provide employees with more holistic learning to address all aspects of work life.

7. What features of your Compliance solution differentiates it in the market?
Cornerstone’s Content Anytime Modern Compliance subscription is designed to build a compliance culture that targets real behavior change, rather than simply checking a box. The goal of our compliance solution is to enable organizations to fulfill General HR Compliance legal requirements while helping employees recognize, examine, and address the behaviors that lead to breaches in safety, privacy, and ethics. Our entire compliance offering is underpinned with classic diversity and inclusion principles to encourage people to become active bystanders, recognize unconscious bias and empower employees to bring their whole selves to work. If you are interested in taking our Unconscious Bias courses for free, they are accessible via Cornerstone Cares.

8. What advice would you like to give to the technology Start Ups?
I spent many years in the learning tech start-up space – and there’s one truth that has stuck with me over the years. The most successful start-ups know exactly what they are – but more importantly, they know what they are not. Figure out your field, your scope, your space – and don’t be afraid to say “that’s not us!”

9. What is the Digital innovation in HR technology according to you that will mark 2020?
I believe we’re finally entering a time in which the discussion of VR content is more than just theoretical, hypothetical, or too narrow to matter. Over the last year I’ve had the pleasure to engage with many up and coming VR firms and am delighted to see the progress they’ve made with the tech, the use cases, and the experience! Cornerstone is now partnering with Talespin to offer introductory VR courses across CCA. It’s the start of something big!

10. How do you prepare for an AI-Centric world?
First, I’d say we need to be clear about defining what “AI” is. I’m so often in meetings in which we throw around these terms (e.g.: machine learning, AI, block chain) and everyone nods sagely, yet no one has really conceptualized this right for our space. In HR – we have got to get smart about what this means for our industry, our vertical, our company – then we can start discussing what concrete steps we need to take so we aren’t left behind.

11. What are the major developments you are planning, in recent time?
When Cornerstone went fully remote in early March (along with most businesses) – we knew that we had to innovate a way to remotely produce content during a time when our Studios were dark. And after lots of discussion, reaching out to others in the industry, and internal testing – we innovated the Cornerstone Boom Box! Our remote production kit which includes 2 iPhones, various clamps, light ring, mic, all wrapped up neatly in a Pelican case. Currently deployed to a contributor in London – the Boom Box has enabled us to keep up production (without physical Studios) and is now giving us an additional production channel when we return to work!

12. Can you tell us about your team and how it supports you?
My team. What can I say? It’s not often you find yourself in a situation in which you both value and benefit from the expertise of those around you. Cornerstone Studios is a team of storytellers, videographers, strategists, curators, practitioners, designers – all expert in their field, yet working together towards a common goal. And when you’re supported by such a dynamite team – you can accomplish truly fantastic things.

13. What movie inspires you the most?
In this moment – I’ll say “Rear Window.” Mostly because I’ve been contemplating how seemingly normal behaviors, interactions, and process can be rife with an undercurrent of other meaning. We think about that a lot in Studios – how can we disrupt this normal transaction of opening a video and listening to it? How can we make that a disruptive process that sets the learner on a new path?

14. We have heard that you have a very joyful work culture, so can you share with us some of the fun pictures of your workplace?
Although I mainly work from my home office in Colorado, I have to agree that Cornerstone has a wonderful work culture that is inclusive, engaging, and yes, loads of fun. One of my all-time favorite memories with my colleagues was our recent 20th Anniversary celebration that took place in Palm Springs, CA. It was an action-packed few days full of learning, giving back to the community, and a really good dance party.

15. Can you give us a glance of the applications you use on your phone?
I’ve been grounded since early March, when the pandemic hit full force, which means my usual go-to apps: Marriott Bonvoy, Southwest, and GrubHub have been sitting idles for months! However, as I adapt to the new-normal of “always at home” instead of “50% on the road,” these are the apps that have risen to the top!
1. Audobon – aren’t birds great? They are fascinating creatures – and this app gives me “800 birds in my pocket.” Did you know that Robins harvest nearly 14 feet of earthworms per day? (I didn’t either, but my Audubon app did).
2. Food & Wine – online! Yep – now I can glance over all the destinations I can’t visit and virtually salivate at world-class fare I’ll never make.
3. Poshmark – like everyone else I suppose, I’ve undertaken massive closet clean-outs over the past few months. 12 designer bags (pre-kids!) sold on Poshmark. Chu-ching!
4. Crayola: Create and Play – I downloaded this for my daughters, but wow – Crayola nailed it. Create monsters, color pages, and invent new creatures. I love this app!

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Summer Rivers Salomonsen Head of Cornerstone Studios

As Head of Cornerstone Studios, Summer is leading Cornerstone's transition into original content creation. Previously, as Chief Learning Officer of Grovo, she architected the company's content strategy, leading her team to build the world's only adaptive, responsive, and continuously growing microlearning library. While a Principal Consultant at Intrepid Learning, Summer won Gold in Brandon Hall's 2017 Emerging Star Award category for her work crafting dozens of high- impact, modern learning experiences for leading global brands. Summer began her L&D career managing and implementing corporate learning strategy in the healthcare space. Summer holds an Ed.D in Organizational Change and Leadership from the University of Southern California and is based in Colorado.


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