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Tom Tonkin


Rebel Human Resources Podcast


Kyle Roed


Sep. 8 2021


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Leadership Training that Works with Tom Tonkin

In this episode of Rebel Human Resources Podcast, Kyle Roed interviews Tom Tonkin about the importance of incorporating “soft skills” into your HR relationships and processes. Tonkin, the CEO of the Sales Conservatory, holds many academic accomplishments.

He speaks passionately about learning styles throughout this interview, emphasizing the systemic boundaries made by favoring complex skill development and learning styles. Tonkin, questioning the efficacy of such culture, inspires one to think that learning requires engagement via communication, feeling and relating to the material, and establishing different kinds of rapport. As this relates to building a better workplace, Roed and Tonkin discuss the importance of factoring neurodiversity as an equally crucial marginalized group often overlooked in DEI endeavors.

Incorporating both a better space for a diverse workforce and the desire to thoroughly diversity the workforce requires HR professionals to look into systematic practices of excluding individuals.

What you will learn / topics discussed: 

  • Learn about The Conservatory Group, the founding, and what services they provide. 
  • Hard vs. Soft skills: Teaching them, recognizing them, and their usefulness in learning and HR
  • Neurodiversity in the workplace.
  • The importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion as a means to not just satisfy the bare minimum


Roed: Are some things that are easier to teach than others? Or is it too interdependent on the person that you’re trying to help?


Tonkin: No, I don’t believe that one thing is easier. I think all of it is easy. The problem is that we have some strong headwinds in the learning and development world, making it very difficult. I’m going to call out, you know, a few technological paradigms. If you take a look at the way online learning, for example, is done today. It is wired 100% for hard skills. It is terrible for soft skills. So when you are trying to teach somebody hard skills, things you do with things, what you want to do is tickle their prefrontal cortex.

When you want to teach somebody a soft skill, things you do with people, what you want to do is tickle their limbic system. It is the emotional fight or flight part of your brain. And yet, if you look at the technological paradigms of online learning, or heck, any learning really, it’s all about cognition. It’s the prefrontal cortex- proxy, if you will. When you’re doing hard skills, all of the logical ways of connecting the content, such as listening to a lecture, reading a book, or listening to a podcast, these all really charm their ways into your prefrontal cortex and fill you with knowledge and abilities. However, those are not the ways into your limbic system, and you can’t read something and make your limbic system come alive. You have to feel it. You have to experience it. So, the idea here is that if I want to learn something, it’s certainly a lot easier for me to do it if I’m sitting in front of you having a conversation like we are now, and engaging with you and trying to be social; maybe getting cues from your facial expressions, or your tonality to teach me a bit of what you’re thinking, right? All of these expressions and these entry points are all going into your limbic system. So, if I want to teach you something, that’s the avenue, that’s the vehicle, that’s the roadway, whatever you want to call it, the highway to get that information to you, such that you’re able to execute.


Roed: I want to talk a bit about diversity. Specifically, we were talking before, before the show, a bit of neurodiversity. So why don’t we shift gears and give us a little bit of your perspective on neurodiversity in the workplace? And how that should be a focus or how that can be a focus for learning and development for an HR professional?


Tonkin: Yeah, let me take a running start. So I guess it must have been, I don’t know, 15 years or so. I found myself doing some hardcore research around diversity and inclusion, specifically around gender. I gotta tell you, honestly, it wasn’t anything that I thought I would get into. But through my work in different cultures around the world, I landed there. And I published some academic papers, they got printed in some fancy journals, and I kept going. And here we are, we have social unrest. We have a whole bunch of people, basically really focusing on, you know, what we all believe “diversity” is, which is gender and race and sexual orientation and some of the standard things, and I don’t want to minimize it. There’s a lot of effort and time being put into it. But, I have to tell you, there’s a people group that needs a lot of attention and focus on our part, which is neurodiverse.

Specifically, when I say neurodiversity, I’m talking about people that are on the autistic spectrum. I’ll start by saying that the world around us is neurotypical. I will put a statistic out there for you and let you react and let your audience react. 74% of everyone on the spectrum is unemployed. If I were to say to you, Kyle, 74% of all black women are unemployed. What would you say? To solve the problem, we need to have tools to represent groups. Neuro diverse people are Black, and they’re women, Latinos, they’re gay, they’re lesbian, they’re everything. So it’s the diversity that traverses all the other groups.


Additional topics discussed:

  • Prefrontal Cortex vs. Limbic system- how this applies to engagement and learning
  • Learning about the reality of high rates of unemployment for neurodiverse peoples.
  • Identifying structural boundaries in your hiring process such as addresses requirements, drug screens, background checks.


Kyle Roed is the self labeled “HR Guy” but most importantly, a “Rebel Human Resource” leader. He hosts the Rebel Human Resources Podcast as a way to facilitate conversations about the potentials that HR has when it comes to adapting to an ever changing world. This podcast confronts the practices of HR with the main focus being on what is human about Human Resources; people, how they work for each other and with each other. 


Tom is an executive in Professional Services and the Software Sales area with over 25 years of business and technology experience. Tom was the CEO and Co-Founder of the Sales Conservatory, which helped sales leaders increase revenue through sales enablement, efficient, and effective sales processes. He holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership, a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership, has received multiple business certifications and is a leadership expert. Tom is an award-winning researcher and author.


Resources and links mentioned in the show:

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