Several years ago, while in a global quarterly meeting for our training organization, I asked the Senior Director how we could become world-class as an answer to the request by our CEO to be world-class in everything we do. The Director answered by pointing out we were a world-class training organization because of numbers, performance, and innovation. What stuck out to me in this answer was innovation.
World-class is defined as “Of a Standard that ranks among the best in the world”(wiktionary.org, world-class). I wanted to know how we got there. I started analyzing our programs, goals, and performance looking for clear patterns, and the one constant I saw was innovation. Everywhere I looked, I found a team willing to change in order to make a better experience for the customer. Sometimes it was painful, and sometimes it was scary, but because of the trust we had in each other, we saw amazing results. Key areas I focused on were policies on CSAT, applications, culture, scale strategy, and forecasting approach. Each piece woven together made us a strong, powerful, world-class organization.
CSAT as trends, not target or score
We always kept our CSAT a personal metric that’s used to help trainers gauge where they were in their growth journey. Instead of using CSAT as a make-or-break metric, we looked at the trends and comments to focus on personal development and growth. Because it wasn’t shared, it wasn’t used as a competition metric. And because there wasn’t a competition, everyone was dedicated to helping each other reach their personal delivery goals and have a customer success focus, which in retrospect would lead to improved CSAT. This directly impacted the culture of our training organization, including partner trainers. That culture fostered an open environment willing to offer suggestions instead of keeping knowledge and improvements to yourself. If you aren’t competing, you don’t need an edge. Competition inherently discourages innovation.
Our CSAT goal was very high, much higher than what is standard in the technical training industry. It was a stretch, one that was difficult to see when working with individual trainer development. And yet, we would consistently reach that high CSAT goal because our trainers knew why they were teaching and would share innovative ideas with everyone. It wasn’t for the CSAT, it wasn’t for the money, it was because every trainer was dedicated to the success of the customer. Their metric for success was hearing customers talk about how they would implement what they learned in class in the real world.
Single Source of Truth
The tools you have can make or break your program. When we started, we ran things like a start-up: Get it done and we will worry about the process later. Often, this meant working out of Outlook or creating an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of what we were doing. And as we got bigger, with more folks working in the same sources, it became more difficult to keep track of the business.
Our rapid growth required better processes, better tools, and automation. Fortunately, our company platform was built to make that easy. By utilizing our platform we managed instructor development and scheduling, with many of the features automated. It meant spending less time doing data entry and more time getting meaningful work done. It was a huge innovation that required input and help from a lot of different groups. This was facilitated by a flat organization where everyone treated everyone else as an equal, regardless of title. Managers, directors, trainers, curriculum developers, training coordinators, sales, custom training.. we were (and still are) all working together to make this successful. As a result, our platform has functionality that benefits everyone from Operations to development, trainers to customers.
Our team was one large team encompassing Operations, Curriculum Development, Custom Training, Technical Delivery, Certification, and Sales. In my previous experience in both the private corporate world and at universities, these groups would be split out into silos with Management at the top doing their random acts. Trainers rarely work with curriculum developers, managers making demands, most don’t know who does what, and quite often you will hear complaints in class from trainers about curriculum or curriculum developers about bad trainer habits. Bitterness would be common, CSAT would be marginal, and the customer would just have to deal with it. I’m not saying this doesn’t work, because all those other organizations had successful training programs by normal standards. But it didn’t encourage innovation.
Our team avoided that problem by keeping the culture flat. The technical trainers work with the curriculum development and custom training teams to fill gaps. Trainers in the US would cover trainers in Australia, London, or Japan, and vice versa. Curriculum developers would deliver occasional classes to understand how that delivery landed in real-life situations. Management would deliver training if needed, review curriculum for typos, run labs, and do whatever they could to help get the best quality content to the customer in the best possible way. Budgets were easy to manage because they were all under one roof, so there wasn’t a worry about how to move funds from one region to another to support the customer. Even as we grew, this same culture permeated throughout, and as such we had an amazingly low turnover.
Scale with help
Growth is a burdensome pleasure. The faster a company grows, the more poor processes and tools start to hinder future growth. After a while, you have to peak, because you can’t keep up without spending a lot of money on headcount just to replicate poor processes on existing tools. Even with a relatively static percentage of growth year over year, that means rapid growth of the training team and our needs to cover customers.
To scale successfully, we involved our partners directly in both delivery and development while still keeping our team for critical deliveries. We could then scale where needed (increases of public classes) while remaining flexible for class requests. Partners benefited because they get early access to the curriculum with each release, and we benefited because we have an outstanding pool of trainers available who have real-world experience in the platform and verified skills at training delivery.
But this does require a fundamental shift in thinking. Gone are the days of treating partners as “the other,” or second tier. They needed the same training and resources internal instructors had to be successful. They also needed the same culture. Managers would work just as hard to guarantee their development and success as their trainers. When certified, they were considered every bit a trainer representing our organization as anyone internally. That also meant they were subject to the same spot checks we had.
And as a consequence of that level of trust in our partners, we saw amazing results. Customers benefited from their experience in the field, and the partners benefited by having early, formal access to the curriculum. Everyone wins in that scenario, especially the customer.
Logical, strategic forecasting
With such rapid growth and change in the industry, being able to keep a realistic look at resource allocation was vital. Our forecasting model was invaluable. Experience was key here, having a director who had 9 years of practice helped immensely because it helped with the Math.
The key was in what to measure: in this case, our ACV. ACV has a lot of names. I last called it All-Commodity Volume, I’ve also heard Annual Contract Value (depends on what you are measuring). In either case, you have goods and services that are being sold that require training. By tracking the projected sales of those goods and services, you can easily put a number to how much demand for training there will be, and what class demand will be necessary. To wrap my head around it, I had to figure out the math. Algorithms were built, tried, refined, and tried again. It was a great learning experience for me, finding what types of triggers were in place, why, and how those triggers could translate to real numbers in which I could invest resources with confidence.
World-Class isn’t a goal. It shouldn’t be. Much like personal fitness or healthy eating, it’s a shift in your mindset. It should be a state of mind. Something that drives us to excel at what we do, not because we are reacting, but because we are driven to innovate to be better, smarter, and not just work harder. It’s a state of mind that has won us 2 CEdMA awards, instead of trying to just meet industry standards. Those are just guidelines to see how we are doing, not the goalposts for which to aim. If you make industry standards your guideline, that’s all you will ever be. But if you focus on the ultimate sign of success: the empowered, informed, certified customer who is as excited as you are about your product, then you will do what you can to continue to make it better.