Reason to Train

I just recently went through an excellent presentation about some workforce programs in an American fast food company and how they encourage their employee’s learning.  The company is huge, having higher sales revenue than the national products of some countries, operating about 40 000 restaurants worldwide.  I was impressed with the results achieved with careful planning of targets and the means, how to meet these.  Maybe there is some truth in the saying: “ Small opportunities are often the beginning of great achievements.”

Programs are designed inter alia to make improvements into attrition rates of the personnel, which is a big concern, typically for the operators in the fast food industry.  To understand the proportions of their challenges we have to understand the scope of their recruiting needs.  Their operations need about 1 million new employees to be recruited each year. It is understandable.

how much the company could benefit, if the personnel would stay longer with them.  The company wanted to create new perspectives for their personnel by designing desirable education-to-career pathways for adult learners as means in their learning programs. The company has tried to engage their employees by effective supporting of their adult learners when they on- and off-ramp between education and employment. The impact of these programs has been very good.   As the most important results they have found, that the employees choose to stay significantly longer in the company and that they find benefits in lower attrition rates.  The benefits of the impact of these programs can be verified by increased revenue of the restaurants and even ROI calculations confirm the positive financial effects of these programs.  Careful planning of the training content and respectful treatment of the personnel are not only means to an end, what could be lower attrition rates. The personnel can feel, that the company is concerned about the welfare of their workforce and this improves the atmosphere within the company and leads to improved results exceeding the naked ROI -results.  If you start looking for benefits this way, you might be surprised to find more benefits, than you were initially looking for.

Although this type of hospitability business requires big investments into tailored training programs, like in this case, it bears all the hallmarks of successful learning programs. These are in brief: Definition of learning targets and selecting the analysis methods to be used.  Measuring of learning results, gathering the learning data into databases, where the real time progress can be monitored.  After that you have to utilize the collected learning scores and to deliver insights to all relevant persons in the organization, who should be interested in this data.  The collected skills- and learning results data provide deep inside knowledge into the depths of the talent pool of your company. You can get information through a detailed analyzes framework for ROI calculations. Based on data availability in the company, different ROIs can be calculated for three important business outcomes at level one:

  • ROI in the form of Increased Revenue
  • ROI in the form of Reduced Costs
  • ROI of Employees/Education Investment

As an example about the multilayered form of the benefits to be received, ROI in the form of Increased Productivity can be achieved by two independent level two items as follows:

  • Maximized Productivity
  • Realization of Indirect Benefits

Realization of Indirect Benefits can be further divided into four level three items:

  • Employee Engagement
  • Customer Satisfaction
  • Brand Recognition
  • Loyalty

From the above mentioned example you can see, that the benefits can be reported in a very detailed level. As it seems for me, this is done for serving benefits in their specific business.  They have reported in the presentation, that the biggest benefits they have received lie in the employees, who choose to stay significantly longer in the company and this leads to lower attrition rates. On top of these other critical measures, like an improved turnover and increased cost savings have been recorded. The same is valid for different learning courses and learning paths in other companies. This case, we have described, has been carried out in an elaborate way that requires so much resources, that only a minority of companies can bear the investment. The consultants of the company have introduced tailored software solutions for the analytics. We are of opinion that many companies should consider seriously this kind learning approach coated with sophisticated out-of-the-box analytics in their own business. There is at least one product available, which can meet most of these needs at a reasonable cost.   Please have a closer look at Boudin Skills Analytics Software for finding benefits for your company.

Written by Kari Hartikainen, Sales, Boudin Oy

What Can You Benefit from Analyzing Skills

Present-day companies have in their hands tons of valuable information which is waiting to be used purposefully. Business days are normally too hectic for having enough time to sit in peace and have thoughts how to exploit all the gathered data in different formats. The fact, that the data is not available in a structured way is normality and It doesn’t make the situation any better for HR- and learning professionals, who might be able to make sense of the vast amount of stored data. The cloud storages and the company owned blades are also full of training scores.  The different datasets have a variable quality and are unrelated in relevance to each other.  Finding a common denominator in this data and making sense of it, are the issues we want to concentrate on in this writing. 

Employee training is done in companies according to their short and long term business needs. Endless meetings are needed for making training programs, which are designed to meet these requirements. External resources are often involved in this endeavor where content developers are needed and a serious amount of money and time has to be invested. To steer businesses efficiently requires continuous flows of reliable and valid information from all business functions. These demands make us to think again about how to access the value of all the available learning scores. How those numbers could create business benefits when properly used by the HR management together with the different business lines, especially sales.  We think, that a better utilization of existing training scores could be worthwhile. 

And the good news is, that learning data utilization is not so time consuming as people generally think. Learning scores are collected from repositories which are already existing and downloaded to be used by skills analytics software and to be related with business results. This way we have established a feed-back loop from the different training results back to the HR- and business line functions. This modest operation gives to HR- and training professionals, as well as business line management valuable analytics about the status of skills within their company. This information can easily give answers to many questions which have been too difficult in the past. The analytics provides wide possibilities for detailed what-if questions to be asked. These questions are of special interest to the business line management, because this kind of analytics give answers to many fundamental questions, which have been open and unanswered for a long time for many. Some tailor-made software for solving very complex, skills related problems exist, but they are property of renowned consulting companies and because of the high expenses involved only accessible for few wealthy companies. Certainly, HR- and training professional are aware of these developments. Below you can find some typical situations explained, where skills analytics can provide valuable results.

Product skills are needed on all levels of the company.  When digging into training score data you can find different levels and distributions of skills in every location of the company. With Boudin analytics you get product specific insights to the skills and skills distributions of your personnel with the accuracy of your financial reporting. You get an understanding where you are in conformity with the needed skills and where you are short of skills. This abundance of pin point accuracy of informativity is totally different to the typical situation you face in most companies, where you have access to some lists, which describe only the names of individuals, who have either participated in a skills training course or, in rarer cases, who has successfully passed the course and when and where this course has taken place.  

With Boudin analytics, you get much more from the training of your employees. When you have set skill level requirements for certain products or services, you have the possibility to make comparisons between the targeted level of skills and the actual level of skills on every level and in every location of the company.  You know now, where possible improvement is needed and what exactly is needed to reach the set goals in skills.  This out-come you can only get, when you set learning requirements for training courses, when you set minimum acceptance levels for passing these courses and finally, you have to start utilizing course score data by analyzing it.  The HR professionals, who work with the training issues of the personnel appreciate accurate information about where and when certain individual needs to be trained, so that the skill level requirements of the person, workplace and the location are met. By planning training this way, HR- and training professionals can be connected with the sales management and they can share their expertise for improving the sales by providing accurate skills training cost effectively.

The sales management gives high value for being assured, that the current skills situation is on par with the requirements, without any need to dig into the skills issues. The fact, that the skills insights are based on sales report structure makes the acceptance of the enhanced training analytics much easier for those, who have to take part in the financing of the analytics.  When you can find out with the analytics, that more accurate training will improve your sales by a certain percentage, you can be sure, that the sales management wants to know, that there are enough and correct skills in all business locations currently, and they want to make action plans, how to ensure correct skills also in the future.  The training needs broken down by business location or sales channel have to be planned in advance and these plans have to be executed respectively.

The last but not the least matter is getting a comprehensive understanding of the connecting link between sales and skills. This link can provide awesome benefits by explaining, how much extra sales we could generate by specific training. This is only possible after we have procedures, for measuring skills and utilizing learning scores continuously, in place, working and finetuned.  Boudin analytics visualizes marginal utility for training, so that you can see how much you should invest into your training.  In the beginning the effect of invested training €uro or Dollar is stronger and with the increased saturation of skills it declines.  You know now, where you are. You don’t need to train your staff for marginal effects and because of this, money is not wasted.  We can now know, that sales are not skills restricted. Sales management can now concentrate on other business concerns having effects on sales, and there are plenty of them.

Written by Kari Hartikainen, Sales, Boudin Oy

How to Put Critical Questions When Analyzing Skills

I don’t remember who made the quote: “People Make Companies”, but it is well said and goes straight to the point. Before discussing about the detailed skills of the personnel, we have to touch the subject of company assets, but very briefly.  Companies take good care of their funds and because of that use sophisticated financial reporting for visualising the sources of their incoming and outgoing money flows, hoping for positive results, as required by the management.  

”Required by the management” means, that somebody in the organisation has set the targets, because the targets display the performance needs of the organisation and the company has to follow these guidelines in their operations.  Data management follows similar guidelines and in this writing we focus on systematically deploying HR training data by drilling deep into measuring learning issues. 

Ensuring good learning results in companies requires in the long run a systematic approach to ambitious target setting of learning results and full utilisation of collected training scores in Human resources.  By doing so, great opportunities open for companies. Putting all this into practise requires only a few simple procedures for collecting, treating and analysing the gathered training scores.  It is worth doing this, because of the big benefit – a possibility to increase product sales by systematic and targeted training of the employees.

As discussed above, HR training data is comparable to the company’s financial assets, accumulating from various sources.  Data, gathered from training courses designed by different content providers, can be compounded easily in a structured way, without endless work.  The real challenge is in making the training scores commensurate and comparable.  To be able to conclude this, you need correct tools or a toolbox for making scientifically solid comparisons between present, historical datasets giving you a possibility to make valid forecasts. These tools are available in the Boudin Analytics software.

One key element in the commensurate toolbox is a company specific baseline data for training scores, against which all comparisons are made. The personnel needs to have a certain level of skills, for being able to operate efficiently and to be able to bring the business home.  In this exercise both sample data and base line data have to be commensurate for compounding.  There are also strict requirements for base line data quality, which has to be solid in every respect and thoroughly verifiable. In other words, you have to rely on solid base line data for making training score results of different trainings comparable with each other. 

Let’s continue by starting to analyse training score results and observing, how the benefits can be extracted from the massive amounts of data. A comparison of test scores against the company´s base line data helps us to discover in which product, product line, business, or business location the skills of the personnel are not yet in line with set targets. This analysis can be done on a continuous basis, or when required, or needed, as ad-hoc analysis. 

All this is based on company specific, tailored dashboard views, which show you the status of product related skills in every business location with a granularity, which is in sync with your normal financial reporting.  Those locations, where the skills of the personnel are statistically different from the base line data are subjects for further analysis to clarify the reasons for this.  Getting this kind of alerts very early about locations where measures, like some extra training is needed, helps significantly training professionals to provide financially important results. Insights of skills are handled according to the same reporting structure, which is normal in the company’s product sales reporting.  The value of the analysis arises from wrapping of the products with the skills of your personnel.  Training your personnel with a clear product focus in mind for targeting improved product skill scores, results in significant possibilities to increase sales. 

There are many ways to proceed in this process.  We start by asking questions for getting unequivocal answers which ensure possible business benefits.  We like to see increased sales through improved product skills.  To be able to achieve this we have to understand the relationship between the product skills and the product sales.  When searching for relationships between these we can run what-if analyses in our skills pools to find out, how different skills are related with financial results.   When we know the relationships between skills and sales, we can see following valuable benefits arising from our databases by asking following questions:

  • What is the status of skills in the sales organization?
  • Where to make training investments for getting increased sales?
  • What are the estimated increased sales?
  • What is the rate of saturation in training?
  • How does the law of diminishing returns affect the training for different products and   locations?

After going through these critical questions shown above and taking the proposed actions, we can be sure that the sales are not restricted by lack of skills, or lack of training. The sales management doesn’t have to listen to the eternal allegations of training deficits and can concentrate in managing increased sales.

Written by Antti Kurki, Sales, Boudin Oy

Continuity Has a Great Impact on Skills

You can never stress the importance of continuity in business enough. This is especially the case with customer relationships, where long-term customerships are preferred. 

The other hand, customers appreciate that they are treated with respect and this is reached when you know the needs and wants of your customer and the reasons behind their behaviour.  The customers need to be treated correctly regardless of the point of interaction, respect and professionalism is equally important when dealing with them either directly over the counter, or on-line.  Well qualified sales or service professionals are always in demand to treat customers in the best way.   Keeping up the skills of your frontline personnel requires first objective measurement of the skills and correct forecasting about the acceptability of the time value of the skills. 

The training of the personnel has to be continuous, because the employees need to be always qualified.  The results of the training have to be objectively measured.  You need these elements for the improvement of the results.  This way you can let your employees shine.  Those, who struggle and need help, will be thankful for the assistance and remain loyal to the company.  The old truth, that you can´t improve anything, unless you can measure it. 

The training requirements for the employees vary from business to business. In some industries, the educational background of the personnel can be rather modest and the need for work related training can be relatively high.  Here, on job learning by doing is never good enough.  When you want your personnel to be proud of what they are doing and they do not feel, that they are just filling job vacancies, you have to provide systematic training and skills transfer for them.  Additionally, these companies operate in the service businesses, where you have to provide services with a constantly good quality and the conformance of services has to be continuously according to the service agreements.  This sets high requirements for the HR department and the smooth operation of the training processes. 

The Skills Map service is designed to help in this kind of situations. With the help of the Boudin Skills Pool concept, skills targets for qualified employees can be set and easily kept.  You can easily include unique customer specific service promises into your contracts.  With the monitoring software, it is easy to keep your promises and to keep the agreed service levels.  

Additionally, individuals with designated, measured skills can be included as reserves into skills pools as back up personnel to be used in cases of emergency.The Skills Map makes a beautiful visualisation of available current skills and you can get estimates about how much of the demanded skills can be pulled from the skills pools in the future and how much additional training is needed for keeping the service promises.  The skills pools and the individual insights and views can be easily tailored into the visuals of the software to meet your customer specific demands.

Written by Kari Hartikainen, Sales, Boudin Oy

Responsibility for Training and Budget

Product managers, who have the budget responsibility for their products at the same time often have to carry the burden of keeping their own personnel, as well as the personnel of the resellers and all members of the distribution chain trained for achieving constantly better sales results.  They have to be aware of the training needs for the personnel new to the products.   At the same time, they have to keep track, that all individuals’ product skills are valid.  They have to keep track on the expiration dates on person level and at the same time they have to watch for the decay of the time values of all accomplishments up to 18 months in advance.  When substantial churn numbers have to be bridged, we all know, that they are more than happy to get assisted by intelligent software.

Managers, who have product responsibility often want to ask questions about the relationship between product skills and sales, or how some other Key Performance Indicators benefit from different product skills.  Training Insights service gives a strait forward answer to this question. You get realistic estimates about the relationships of skills correlated with different sales results.

 By extending these thoughts, you can consider what is the possibility to get for example extra sales by improving training results.  Crunched numbers might show areas, where this is feasible. You know from experience how much personnel you need for budgeted sales performance.  Wouldn’t it help to know how to pair sales volumes with skills, so that your operations are not limited by skills.  When you know, that you have enough personnel with sufficient skills and your numbers are not there, you can start searching for corrective solutions elsewhere.

Written by Antti Kurki, Sales, Boudin Oy

Sharpen The Skills

Boudin Analytics Services are designed to enables intuitive monitoring of the skills in your workforce for your Human Resources- and specially for your training professionals. The solution has parameter driven index values for easy setting and adjusting of learning targets for maintaining, developing and keeping track of the skills of your employees. 

The beautifully visualised analytics results give you tailored insights about the current status and possible development scenarios of the skills of your workforce.  You can easily drill down to get all relevant skills related information for your personnel accurate to the different levels of your monthly reporting.  You have also liberal possibilities to make comparisons of your wish of skills related data.

The system also provides you on daily basis with predictions about future training needs for the personnel broken down by different products, product groups, locations, courses, languages, dates etc. on person-based levels.  The automated monitoring system is very helpful for keeping all positions stuffed with qualified professionals all the time. This is very important when we deal with a huge number of sales- and customer service professionals.  These positions are exposed to relatively high churn numbers and it is important to keep these vacancies filled with properly trained employees.  Because you need qualified people with adequate training on continuous basis, you have to be well prepared in advance.

Data visualisation is the graphical representation of information and data. By using intuitive chairs and graphs along with heat maps always showing the data with the granularity of the subtotals of the monthly reporting. The visualisation tools provide an easy and accessible way to see and understand trends, outliers, and patterns in data.  The stochastic analysis gives mainly answers to what – type of questions and the HR – marketing – and sales professionals need to act according to the messages of the gained results.

Today, visualization of data is a key property of analytics to make sense of the millions of data points generated on monthly basis about the product skills development in a company. It helps personnel to see insights on skills by curating data into a form easier to understand, highlighting current scores, seeing the trends and spotting outliers. You can’t stress enough the importance of proper visualisation when planning how to bring the status and the all the different key components of skills development to the forefront of your daily reporting.

Tailored visualisations meeting the needs of individual customers telling those stories that they need to listen to.  This is achieved by removing the noise from the otherwise cluttered data and highlighting the information which is useful for all the involved parties.  However, it’s not simply as easy as just dressing up a graph to make it look better or creating flashy infographics. Effective data visualization is a delicate balancing act between form and function.  

The graphs should be clear and fresh for encouraging the readers of the reports to catch notice of the important issues and act when this is needed.  Graphs have to make powerful points alive for conveying the right messages to the right persons for correct actions.  These persons need to focus for uncovering all the difficult why questions.  The data and the visuals need to work together, and only in close cooperation with the users of the analytics we can create the right analytics visuals to tell the stories intended just for them.

Training Insights service is designed in a way that with a few glances you can understand standing with skills. The visuals are business driven which means that they are product specific ones, and follow the same reporting structures that product financials. The products of your company define which skills your personnel needs for selling their products optimally. The level of product specific skills can be illustrated in many ways. With the help of heat maps and traffic lights it is easy to drill down to the importance of individual skills parameters for sales results on sales outlet, country-, territory-, or sales channel levels on continuous basis. 

It is necessary to be able to forecast the suitability and quality of training materials, and of the training. The quality of the used training content is often not an objective issue.  Many different individuals with their own agendas make daily decisions, what training courses should be used for providing wanted skills for the personnel.  For some functions in the company, like in sales or customer service, the quality of training content can be measured by linking the measured training results with relevant Key Performance Indicators.

Finding a solution for the effect of training and training materials on their functional causality has been quite challenging for a long time.  We use stochastic analytics for analysing the relationships between wanted outcomes and the used training materials. The suitability of the content for its use is tested with a small number of test persons and usable results are at hand immediately after the test population has concluded their tests.  The results are reliable regardless of the distribution of the test scores and there is no need for adding more test objects for reception of a significant result.  Normally, when you look at sales training, you have to wait for some time for the preliminary sales results to appear into the reports.  Now, when analysing the test results with the Content Master service, you can have as immediate report for the test scores for example that the use of the tested learning material for the training of your sales force will increase the sales of a certain product by for example 5% with 85% probability. This makes a   comparison of the quality of different training contents unequivocal and fast. These analytics tools can be effectively used in the content design process to find a compelling training content very fast. 

Written by Kari Hartikainen, Sales, Boudin Oy

Learning Scores for Understanding Skills, Knowledge and the Ability to Predict the Future

Sophisticated use of data analytics marks the moment when the ”Information Society” finally fulfills the promise implied by its name.  According to Wikipedia, there is however currently no universally accepted concept of what exactly can be defined as an information society and what shall not be included in the term. Most theoreticians agree however, that a transformation, that formed most of today’s net principles and currently as is changing the way societies work fundamentally, can be seen as started somewhere between the 1970s, the early 1990s transformations of the Eastern Europe and the 2000s period.

Professor Frank Webster, PhD, author of the book, ”Theories of the Information Society”, has listed five major types of information that can be used to define information society. These are:   

– Technological Information

– Economic Information

– Occupational Information 

– Spatial Information

– Cultural Information

Professor Webster states, that the character of information has transformed the way that we live today and how we conduct ourselves centers around theoretical knowledge and information.  The data takes centre stage. All those digital bits, that we have gathered, can now be harnessed in novel ways to serve new purposes and unlock state-of-the-art forms of value.  But this requires an open-minded way of thinking and will challenge our companies, institutions and us.  The only predictable thing that is certain is the fact that the amount of data to be handled and the needed power and data storage to process it all will continue to grow in sync.  

Most people have considered data analytics principally as a technological matter focused on the hard- and the software used for processing the data. With increasing quantities of data, it has become increasingly important to decide, what insights you want to gain when trying to separate the wanted signals from the surrounding noise.  We also believe that more emphasis needs to be shifted to issues, like what needs to be done when the data has spoken.

Instead of being obsessed about the accuracy, exactitude, cleanliness, and rigorousness of the data, we can today face the data from a more liberal angle and give some slack.  We shouldn’t however accept any data that is outright wrong or false, but some messiness may become acceptable in return for capturing a far more comprehensive set of data and getting new intelligence about issues residing below the surface.  In fact, in some cases big and messy data sets can even be beneficial, since when we tried to extract knowledge by using just a small, exact portion of the data, we ended up failing to capture the breadth of detail where so much knowledge lies.

Use your competences.

The main idea in many cases is, that it may be more advantageous to focus on clarifying what information is hiding inside of the data instead of trying to solving the why -issue.  There might be multiple causes for certain phenomena when solving skills related problems. As an elegant way for finding insights form the data we approach it considering in our analysis its group-related statistic characters.  They describe the stochastic relationships within groups, but never allow explicit conclusions to be made about individuals of the population or about the causality of single incidents.  This doesn’t however reduce the empirical relevance of the insights.

Because correlations can be found far faster and cheaper than causation, they are often preferable.  But for many everyday needs, knowing what is not good enough.  Stochastic data correlations can however point the way toward promising areas in which to explore causal relationships.  You need to know, where to dig deeper for answers for the question: Why?

Of course, causality is nice when you can get it.  The problem with real life multi factor causality is, that it is often hard to expose causality, and when we think we have found it we are often deluding ourselves.  Wishful thinking can possibly lead you to wrong avenues of research.   A fundamental reason for that is, that when we have more data available and since more aspects of the world are being datafied and collected, there is a danger for us to go astray.

Much of the value of data will come from its secondary uses, its option value, not simply its primary use, as we we’re accustomed to think about it.  As a result, for most types of data, it seems sensible to collect as much as one can and hold it as long as it adds value, and let others analyse it if and when they are better suited to extract its value.

Sometimes important assets will not just be plainly visible pieces of information.  The bulk of data created by people’s interactions with skills and learning is a source which a clever company can use to improve existing analytic services and even launch entirely new ones.  Because we are now able to predict how different course scores may influence the future of our sales or the efficiency of our services, this will allow us to take remedial steps to prevent problems or to improve outcomes.  We will detect students and performances which will start to slip before the expiry dates of the courses.  We can support those, who have problems, and those who struggle.  Successful supportive action will improve the performance of the individuals and be beneficial for the company. 

Nothing is preordained, because we can always respond and react to the information we receive.  Calculated predictions are not set in stone – they are only likely outcomes, and that means that if we want to change them we can do so.  When we are able to see problems arise in the horizon, we are able to rapidly take corrective actions.    Because we can never have perfect information, our predictions are inherently fallible.  This doesn’t mean they are wrong, only that they are always incomplete.  It doesn’t negate the insights that big data otters, but puts learning analytics in place – as a tool that doesn’t offer ultimate answers, just good enough ones to help us for now with our everyday business challenges until better methods and hence better answers come along.

Written by Kari Hartikainen, Sales, Boudin Oy

When Skills Matter – Keep Them Updated

Today you can evaluate the skills of your personnel objectively by using a math-infused method that looks at the different product related skills using a new approach based on a new set of metrics.

Each product in the company’s selection requires that the personnel has successfully passed several product specific training courses.  Tracking the validity of course results is complicated, because often several individual courses need to be accomplished, before sufficient product skills are present.  The time value of these courses is limited, because they have a predefined validity period.  We have to calculate for each course score their present time values because the learned substance today is less actual, than it was at the time of its complement and some details of the learnings have been forgotten.  

Several course results and their residual values are interdependent but the impacts of the skills on KPIs are independent.  When you Include all these necessary elements into your calculations, this can easily lead to huge number of data points to be actively monitored.

The data-driven approach has revealed dimensions in skills that always have been present in all workplaces but have been well hidden in the complexity of captured learning- and skills metrics in the databases of Human Resources.  

The simple question of: ”What is the level of personnel’s skills?” can reliably be answered only with a data driven approach. This simple sounding question becomes immediately more complex, when you drill down to multiple segments, like, what is the level of product skills in different markets, countries or sales offices.  Multiply these with different language groups, product groups and most important individual key products and you arrive at – reality. Complex reality is the space where we all live. What you need to know changes, whom you need to know changes, and so does what you need to study to prepare for professional life.

Statistical analyses force people to reconsider their instincts.  Through skills data, this becomes even more essential.  The learning specialists have to cooperate closely with their colleagues who are competent in statistics and analytics. They will find new ways of doing their work by giving free speech to the data relying on stochastic correlations without prejudgements and prejudice, confident that the aggregated data will reveal its hidden truths.

For example, the online education company Coursera uses data on what sections of learning material may have been unclear and feeds the information back to teachers so they can improve.  Other companies use analytics to define what is the effect of different course alternatives to work related outcomes, like increased sales or other KPI. 

Yet expertise is appropriate for a conventional world where one never has enough information, or the right information, and thus has to rely on intuition and experience for decision making.  In such a world, experience plays a critical role.  The long accumulation of latent knowledge – knowledge that one can’t transmit easily or learn from a book enables traditionally one to make smarter decisions.

On the other hand, when your company has lots of data at their disposal which you can tap to be used for analytics, you can make better, and more objective decisions.  Thus, those who can analyse their under-utilised data pools better, may see past the superstitions and conventional thinking not because they are smarter, but because they have the data, and they use the data.  

Dr. Erik Brynjolson, a business professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and his colleagues have evaluated productivity levels and performances at companies with different decision-making styles and have benchmarked them against competition.  They found out that data-driven decision-making gave the data-guided firms clear advantages.  When this philosophy is adopted into improvement of the personnel’s skills advantages will undoubtedly surface.

With cloud based solutions firms can today easily adjust their amount of computing horsepower and storage to fit actual demand.  Because previous fixed cost have transformed into variable ones, the advantages of scale based on technical infrastructure can be enjoyed by all of us.  What counts today is scale in data.  It is possible to hold and analyse large pools of data and it is realistic to capture ever more of it with ease.  Data holders will flourish as they gather and store more of the raw material of their business, which they can reuse to create additional value also in the field of learning analytics.

Smart and nimble small players can today with SaaS solutions enjoy and offer the benefits of so called ”scale without mass solutions”.  They can have a large virtual presence without hefty physical resources, and can diffuse innovations broadly at acceptable cost.  You just need to be able to enjoy the services based on fresh and innovative ideas and run the analytics on cloud computing platforms. 

Companies, presently using learning data for improved skills based results, have a strong incentive to keep adding and analysing more granular training data, since doing so provides greater benefits and the cost for substantially improved results is only marginal, because of following reasons:

First, they already have the infrastructure in place, in terms of storage and processing.

Second, there is a high value in combining existing datasets processed with new algorithms.

Third, using known data sources in an innovative way, simplifies life for data users.

Using data-driven learning analytics is easy and rewarding.  It gives insight in the value of your company’s learning results data.  Slice and dice the information in a way benefitting you the most.  Bring out the effects of your learning results that many in your organisation have assumed to exist, but only a few have dared to request. Taking the first of five easy steps to learning analytics is gratifying, fun and very interesting. The steps lead you to a new level of skills utilisation.

Written by Kari Hartikainen, Sales, Boudin Oy

The Way to Design Product Knowledge

You should always emphasize to your personnel, how important it is to know your product or service inside out for guaranteeing the best possible customer experience to your clients. The nature of your business describes what is vital to be included to the definition of useful product knowledge and what are the skills required for making your business shine. 

Your products and services are in the core of your operations. Performing well in following processes, like R&D, production, marketing, sales, logistics, aftersales, reporting and business controlling requires deep product knowledge of your personnel.  HR and training professionals play a key role in creation of the required skills.  Skills of the personnel and the knowledge how to use these skills are more important than you first would think. In normal businesses, product and service sales are the main sources of revenue. This is the main reason to focus in sales and marketing on good product knowledge and product related skills. 

Trained personnel is in possession of flexible product and service sales related skills.  When you want to evaluate the effect of those skills on monthly and quarterly sales figures, you need to understand the situation of your personnel’s pooled sales skills in detail. Taking a broad view, you have to know, on aggregate level the standard of their skills broken down by product group or product.  When your product managers want to know more about the impact of these skills on sales, they have to drill down to data on market-, country- and territory levels.  This analysis needs to be carried out for different product groups and main products.  Affiliated members of your sales and service teams could also be viewed through this prism.

The aggregated skills of your personnel are not static, but fluctuate constantly, because the composition of your personnel undergoes a continuous change.  This is a result of normal life. New personnel is hired, employees rotate between jobs, capable persons are promoted, seniors are pensioned and normal churn in the workforce occurs.

On top of the normal churn, the skills in the workforce undergo a constant transformation. 

The time value of the skills is in constant decline because of the following reasons:

– People forget

– Knowledgeable personnel leave the company

– New hires don’t have necessary required skills and experience.

– The courses have fixed periods of validity

– Older expiring skills, have lower value than sharp and current skills

The training courses have restricted shelf lives, and because of that the employees need to be frequently retrained within the period of validity of the courses, if they want to hold their positions as acknowledged professionals in the skills pool.  Successful companies usually specify expiration dates to the validity of their normal product related training courses, like the practice is with certain mandatory vocational courses. 

These elements need to be included in the calculations to explain the status of product skills in different product areas and geographical locations of your company not only today but also in the future.  Advanced companies train also their partners and members of the distribution chain locally and abroad.

Appropriate data management plays a major role in assuring correct training data evaluation. You need a purposefully built skills analytics system to collect and administer course data on present measured and future estimated skills.  This exercise is drilled down to different geographies and products for more precise understanding of the relationships between skills and performance.   

Each individual product requires from the personnel the accomplishment of several individual training courses.  The tracking of the validity of these courses combined with calculated time decay deductions is complex because several values are interdependent but their impacts on KPIs are independent.  Including all these elements into the calculations can easily lead to huge number of data points to be actively monitored.

New way to ensure product knowledge in sales organization.

The simple question of: ”What is the level of personnel’s skills?” can reliably be answered with a data driven approach. This simple sounding question becomes immediately more complex, when you drill down to multiple segments, like, what is the level of product skills in different markets, countries or sales offices.  Multiply these with different language groups, product groups and most important individual key products and you arrive at – reality. Complex reality, where we all live. 

We are here just basically discussing trivial issues like knowledge of your personnel’s competence levels for all products, markets and locations at all times. It is important to know the distribution of skills, the locations of best performers and the products they are working with. In all companies the top performers can usually be identified, as well as those individuals, who need support to perform according to the requirements.  But who can testify to know the level of skills among the silent majority. The detailed skills level of 60 to 80% of your personnel are usually uncharted.  Nobody knows for sure, what their skills are, but everyone thinks, that they are O.K.  What is the distribution of skills, remains a common unanswered question in the business world.

There should be no unqualified persons in your company.  Skills should be certified and all these skills orientated issues should be left on a backburner and the management should focus on improving sales revenue.

It is important to know where in your organization training is needed and when it should be completed.  To accomplish this, you have to monitor all skills in your company on a continuous basis. This requires a systematic approach to utilization of collected training and skills data, and the ability to make reliable estimates based on these for future needs.

Basically, this boils down to intelligent use of systematic use of training data with defined acceptance- and target levels for all of the important skills.  You can easily retrieve the necessary data from your HR systems to include all personnel, position and skills changes, including calculated residual time values of the skills.  The results will be included in reports which grants benefits to sales and HR management. 

Many critical questions which can now be answered. What is the sales skills situation in named countries and locations for key products?  Where do we have enough skills to meet our new product or service sales targets?  

At the end of day, we will gain an understanding about what is the effect of skills on sales for different products and markets. In other words, to find out relationship between skills and sales. This knowledge may lead to further questions like:  Where the training of personnel should be improved for gaining additional sales, or are we sure that all training results will have residual values within acceptance levels also in the future with present training actions. 

All these answers are gained by monitoring and analysing the skills within your organization on a regular basis. This way, you know exactly what effect the skills in your company have on your revenue.

The unique possibility to have a reliable outlook, which on a daily basis indicates your number of people trained with certified product knowledge, gives you more time to focus on other issues having effects on sales revenue. Your sales director sleeps better when he knows that the defined sales skills of a key products also in selected sales channels are on an acceptable level.  He has also more energy to focus on real sales issues, when he can be certain, that the skills are on correct levels at all locations within his company and its sales channels.

Written by Kari Hartikainen, Sales, Boudin Oy

Fruitful Cooperation Creates Best Possible Content

Boudin Analytics Content Master is a great tool to benchmark the functionality of different content versions of training courses using estimated sales results as perspectives in various markets. The simple question, ”Which version of the training course boosts your sales best?”, is a common source of headaches for numerous Product- and Human Resources Training Managers, when they make decisions what courses they should buy and why. 

When making decisions about selecting courses, there are two kinds viewpoints to be considered.  Shall we concentrate on achieving learning results, like in traditional conventions or reach out for better learning outcomes, like increased sales, or other improved Key Performance Indicators?  Predicting the latter answers is much harder and traditionally causality issues have clouded these relationships. Now Boudin Analytics has the capability and sophisticated tools that to answer both questions at the same time.

Additional questions, like which training content works best in a new language area, or are there differences in KPIs with different language versions of the course, arise soon. In global companies, an English language version is usually the starting point for localised versions, and there is nothing wrong about it. 

The English version is usually simply translated into the wanted languages and there we are, or are we? We now have one single language version of the course for example in Mandarin, but do we know, how well it fulfils the local requirements.  If we do not have any baseline for effectivity comparisons, we do not know, what effect the training has on motivating the personnel towards company goals.    

Content Master can test the impact of different contents on any KPI and can be used for benchmarking purposes. Hence, we can smoothly find the specific content version to be launched, which helps for example to increase sales in this case, or on this market with estimated probability.  You get the answers immediately without need to wait for a long time for actualised sales results. By using the application this way, you get reliable several months earlier than by using traditional methods, and there no risk of training leading to detrimental effects.  These unwanted consequences are eliminated and the Human Resources professionals have all the relevant information available for making correct training decisions. 

Good cooperation creates best possible content.

Summarised, the use of the application creates confidence during a content design project that the team is creating courses, which are fun and give the personnel skills, which are certainly goal orientated skills. You get these results rapidly.   

Usually there are members of three parties participating in a training course project. Firstly, professionals from the company’s HR training organisation, followed by e.g. a product manager representing the demands of the business owner, who work together with representatives of digital designer companies.  All these parties have different perspectives on the quality issues of the specific course and the ways and means, how the course should be implemented. 

The application gives an unbiased, objective KPI as the yard stick for the course quality to be shared by all of the participants.  The results open new horizons for fruitful discussions, when all know that they are mutually cooperating for the best possible courses.  From now on we are sure to train with the best content.

Written by Kari Hartikainen, Sales, Boudin Oy