THE NEW SCHOOL

Feb 01, 2008 10:30 PM  By

Thinking of buying a new CRM system? Save your money until your employees know what they’re talking about.

Technology alone won’t help you provide customers with a seamless shopping experience. But knowledge will — the kind imparted to staffers through on-demand training.

What’s that? It’s an educational course that workers take when convenient and finish at their own pace. In most cases, it’s done online.

And firms are embracing it because the old teaching methods no longer work. Manuals are obsolete before the ink is dry. Scripting sounds calculated and insincere. Hands-on training is expensive.

But on-demand training is flexible — there are no seminars to schedule and no travel costs. Certification is easier. And people can refresh their skills with regular updates.

Even better, young people prefer to learn online.

Think of it — your salespeople will speak with knowledge and confidence instead of being tied to a script. And that’s only one of the many benefits.

But there’s one challenge: How do you serve the baby boomers on your staff, who aren’t so plugged in to technology?

It’s easy — by combining traditional and on-demand training in a hybrid system. You can avoid culture clash, while getting the best results out of everyone. Above all, you want the boomers to share their knowledge with younger workers — the so-called gamers — before they retire.

Not all on-demand training is conducted online. It can also be done using color-coded flash cards — this works especially well in a warehouse envrionment. But whatever the channel, on demand training will help you link your training and business goals, while generating a verifiable return on investment.

So how do you go about it? Many vendors provide virtual training with their CRM, order processing and financial systems. And there are many fine interactive systems on the market.

Of you can create a custom program inhouse. But that’s harder to do — you need programing skills and a high level of interdepartmental cooperation.

You may want to outsource the programming or purchase third-party courseware tools. The benefits greatly outweigh the time and cost.

Start by evaluating your current program, using a process known as ADDIE (analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation).

How do you do that analysis? By using the Kirkpatrick Four Level Model for training evaluation. It works for both traditional and on-demand programs.

The levels are:

  • Reaction

    This helps you determine how the students perceive the training and get feedback on how to improve it. The more you involve the end user in the planning, the better the results. Ask your employees:

    • How relevant is the training to your job performance?
    • Is it interesting?
    • How easy is it to access the information when needed?
    • What is missing from the program?
  • Learning results

    In this stage, you measure how well the program meets its objectives. This is done by administering tests to new employees before and after you train them.

  • Workplace behavior

    Here is where you find out how well the information was retained. If you already had a traditional educational program, you can combine the old and the new to compare how they worked.

    But advance preparation is needed if your company doesn’t routinely check employee knowledge. Inform your staff that the purpose is to improve their access to the information — otherwise, morale will suffer.

  • Business results

    This gives you the big picture — the effect of the training on your business. You may have to rely on anecdotal data if you don’t have an established measurement program in place, but it’s well worth the effort.

    Never underestimate the information provided by the trainees. They’re the ones who have to turn education into application.

Okay. You’ve identified your strengths and weaknesses. Now it’s time to act on the information. This is where on-demand training is especially useful. It allows you to create a test model and revise it as needed.

Just as you would with a catalog mailing, test a small segment, modify it until it works — and then roll out.

Above all, the process must be tracked and measured to make sure that you are getting a sufficient ROI.

Analytics should also be part of your toolbox. Data captured to measure sales and operational performance can often be used when evaluating a training program.

Obviously, the overall goal is increased sales and profitability. Establish a baseline, define your expectations and compare results quarterly, using these metrics:

  • On-demand analysis

    Evaluate the costs and effectiveness of on-demand vs. traditional training.

  • Utilization

    Measure the usage of the training resources by department and employee profiles.

  • Certification compliance

    Monitor completion of course-work and assess risk to minimize corporate exposure.

  • Vendor review

    Evaluate vendors individually and collectively to ensure value.

  • Costs

    Capture out-of-pocket and resource-allocation costs to be used in determining return on investment.

Doing all this is time consuming, but it pays off. And on-demand training isn’t just for your staff. Don’t forget to train your customers, too. How? By supplying online information on products, policies, and operations. This will result in fewer calls and returns.

Borrow ideas from other companies and industries. Enhance the training experience with a few conferences or seminars.

And if you choose to create your own program, please heed Ben Franklin’s advice: “Learn of the skillful; he that teaches himself, has a fool as a master.”

PROS AND CONS


Every business decision has plusses and minuses. On-demand training is no exception.

The advantages


  • Verifiable compliance with mandatory certifications. Individual and corporate compliance monitoring can be automated.

  • Reduced overall internal and external training costs. Once the programs are in place, modifications are easy and inexpensive. External training doesn’t require travel or time away from the office.

  • Improved consistency. Employees and customers are less confused, and expectations are more manageable.

  • Convenience and accessibility for users. This allows students to learn at their own pace. They can revisit areas as often as needed to ensure a complete understanding.

  • Improved tracking of student activity. The information helps identify the programs’ strengths and weaknesses.

The disadvantages


  • Less interaction among employees. This is the greatest drawback. The exchange of thoughts and information in a learning environment is a valuable forum for new ideas. The ability to question and give feedback aids the learning process.

  • Higher initial investment due to the costs and resources required to set everything up. This will decrease as more tools and resources become available.

  • Lack of cultural acceptance. User resistance can be very strong and can impede the program. Work to identify issues and remove resistance from the beginning.

  • Technology issues. If the infrastructure isn’t capable of handling the increased load, there will be outages that interfere with meeting the training goals. — DE

BOOMERS AND GAMERS


How to close the generation gap


It’s almost as if they speak different languages. Baby boomers, who range in age from 44 to 61, prefer the old training methods. Gamers, who are at least 30 years younger, want everything to be high-tech.

But it’s possible to serve both camps. Here are some tips on how:

  1. Be aware of individual trainees’ comfort levels. Despite generalizations about what each group likes, there will be variances.

  2. Encourage cross training between the generations. Gamers can help boomers overcome technological challenges. But boomers have hands-on experience they can share — for example, they know how to interact with irate customers.

  3. Create internal training and evaluation teams made up of both generations. It utilizes the best of both worlds and encourages teamwork.

  4. Provide incentives to continue the training process after work hours. If they work, employees will use books and other resources outside the office. And this benefits everyone.

  5. Update training videos on DVDs. They are more flexible. — DE