• Robert Myers

EDUCATION - Filling the Gaps

Published on November 7, 2016

Robert Myers 9 articles

When looking at execution risk factors, the question that many times doesn’t get asked is, “do all the contributors have the tools necessary to deliver their part of the strategy?” Is there the intellectual and physical capital to effectively get to where you want to go? Unfortunately, while finding the answer, it’s not uncommon to over-value the competencies or capacities existing within an organization. Many underestimate the specialization and resources needed to drive a successful strategy along with the need for learning. We only need to revisit the leader with a bad case of the “King and I Syndrome”, mentioned in the previous article (Engagement), to see how education impacts performance. After revising the approach, he did a great job of creating a culture of collaboration and well crafted strategies, but became boggled when a major initiate dramatically missed the mark. The objective was to steal market share in a transitioning segment of the industry. Historically, presenting new products was in the hands of a specialized go-to-market (sales) team. While gathering business intelligence, the leadership group identified that the number of presentations needed to reach the goal far exceeded what the team could facilitate. The solution was to enlist the technical (education) staff to handle the added load. What could be better than leveraging economies of scale? To ensure everyone had a clear understanding of the plan, a national call kicked off the program with all the tools, facts and figures that supported the strategy. A couple weeks after the launch, a disconnect became glaringly obvious when the go-to-market team was reaching sales rates of 60% with the techs at less than 10%. The added resources were not delivering the blended 40% target as planned. Where did this train go off the rails? First, the assumption was made that the tech team had the skills and relationships needed to present the product and close the deal. Secondly, due to that assumption, no additional training or coaching was identified or applied. Last, the call to launch the product only resonated with those who learn best through hearing. These challenges could have been minimized or maybe even eliminated had an important facet of the engagement been fully explored. As mentioned, the leaders were all part of developing the strategy, but the techs were not part of the contributor pool. Having at least one representative voice in the process would have pointed to any intrinsic shortfalls in willingness or ability. This is a good example of “Education without Engagement” and where this strategy fell apart. The following will focus on how three key practices around the second of the Four E’s, “Education”, positively impacts any objective journey. Many quality movements over the years have focused on the process aspect of getting things done. Deming, the father of Total Quality Management (TQM), set in motion a process driven model that inverted the corporate pyramid and practiced continuous improvement. In 1987, ISO 9000 was launched by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as a way to certify companies that utilize a minimum level of process consistency in the pursuit of quality. The central concept of these, and others including Lean Principles, Six Sigma, Hoshin Kanri and Baldridge, is understanding the most efficient steps to a desired result in a way that can be tracked and repeated. Even these world-class programs miss the mark in a critical area. They assume competency can be hired or exists. Very little focuses on training to fill the gap. The first practice to understand where, when and what education is needed is PROCESS MAPPING. There are many types and styles of mapping methods, however, the system that allows fast digestion of information is a simple mind map or flow chart. The following is a mind-map style example of the Four E’s: Not your typical linear notes or text, this type of graphic visualization is touted as the easiest way for the mind to quickly grasp an overall concept. Flow charts serve the same purpose and are effective, especially in technical processes. No matter the method, the idea is you are mapping the key steps to get from point “A” to point “B”. When creating the map, the question that must be asked is, “Are there any new people, systems, behaviors or information that are critical to accomplish the plan?” A good process map should outline the entire execution plan and depict all cross function and collaborative relationships in a way that expectations and responsibilities are defined. Vigorous discussion about the map should live in the early stages of any strategy and a good rule of thumb is, if you can map it, you can do it. In our example above, the question “Does the technical team have the skills needed?” would have pointed to the competency gap. The solution could have been as simple as a fast-track session on active listening or closing-the-sale, which leads us to the next step. After the milestones to the goal are clearly defined and gaps are visible, they need to be filled. When developing blue-sky strategies, it’s not uncommon that the assets to train or to lead an initiative don’t exist within the organization. The good news is 80% or more of the required knowledge to be successful can live within current structure, you just need to find it. That’s why the next step is to SOURCE PROFOUND KNOWLEDGE. If a company doesn’t look internally for solutions, they’re wasting capital. If they don’t look externally for expertise, they’re playing it too close to the vest. In our example, highly-skilled sales all-stars were already on staff. They could have easily conducted a training session for the tech team. If and when there is a need to procure training from an external source, filling the gap between the current reality and the specific objective should be the driving criteria. Education for wellness and employee enrichment certainly enhances long-term productivity and retention but is best prioritized after filling the gaps to achieve the immediate business goal(s). After uncovering a training need and those best equipped to facilitate it, the most effective delivery is to TRAIN TO LEARNING STYLE. The three core styles are auditory (learn through hearing), visual (learn through seeing) and kinesthetic (learn through doing). If you fall into a visual preference, you probably have scenes from “Divergent” running through your mind by now. The truth is that people, naturally, or as a result of adaptation, are predisposed to have a dominant preference to on-board information. Having a national call (an auditory experience) with the tech team just may have been the least effective vehicle to deliver knowledge that required retention and replication. In a later assessment, it was discovered that collectively those on the tech team were predominantly visual learners with a secondary kinesthetic preference. Simply, they process information best by seeing and doing. If travel expenses were a consideration, a better option for the team would have been to hold a live streaming webinar with role play examples of selling situations. That, backed up with some face-to-face coaching from the sales team, would have increased confidence and ability dramatically. Most times any given audience will be a blend of all learning styles, but it’s not uncommon to find dominance in a particular career or role. Graphic designers and accountants rarely learn the same way. Depending on the assessment methodology, there can be anywhere from three to twelve different styles. A great way to ensure superior information transfer and retention is to structure the content delivery using all processors. This concept can be taken to a deeper level to increase the quality of selling interactions by structuring presentations to appeal to buyers with multiple learning styles, especially when combined with rapport building skills. A year after experiencing the impact of education on execution, or lack thereof, the leadership of our professional salon products company example was presented with a very similar strategy. This time they assessed all tactics in advance and launched the initiative live at a company-wide gathering. The agenda included experiential learning with role-playing breakouts, strong multimedia presentations and impressive supporting materials. The lag measures showed the go-to-market team produced a 70% sales rate while the techs went over 35%. A productivity gap still existed, only this time it was much smaller and was accounted for from the start. The initiative was a success, reaching a blended 50% sales rate and education was the game-changer!

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