I’ve been revisiting some Stoic texts and came upon this quote from Seneca’s Dialogues in a letter to Paulinus: “Those who choose to have no real purpose in life are ever rootless and dissatisfied, tossed by their aimlessness into ever-changing situations.” A person’s purpose is their driving force, the catalyst that keeps them on task while the world changes around them. This got me thinking about my purpose and consequentially the power of purpose in the workplace.

It should be no secret that ServiceNow is a purpose-driven business. The company’s goal is to make the work people do more efficient and beneficial to those doing it (“Making the world of work work better). That purpose drives the platform, the applications, the sales teams, services, etc. We all rally around this concept because it is something we all want: a more efficient workplace where less effort is put into redundant and repetitive tasks, and therefore free to handle the big, new, innovative part that drives passion. Because employee values align with this purpose the company is successful, not just financially but also culturally. People want to come to work, they want to succeed, and they want to see happy customer reactions to their innovation.

The same thing applies to any company in any industry. Values drive the culture, which again drives success. Purpose aligns values, becoming a driving force for employees to power through long, difficult, stressful sessions. The result becomes personally rewarding because they know that those long hours they put in realize their purpose.

An individual’s purpose heavily impacts their career choices. It can help them weather some tough times, knowing their efforts are of value to them even if the value is lost by others. Leadership changes, market shifts, and even role changes can be weathered as long as the individual can align their purpose as well. It also means that should that purpose ever come into conflict, employees are more likely to look elsewhere.

Looking back at my career, those places where I enjoyed working most aligned with my purpose: contributing to the growth of others. Whether working in customer service, technical support, or teaching, I’ve enjoyed the job most when I’ve been able to share knowledge with others to help them grow. As a manager, my most satisfying experiences come from seeing someone grow within their career. When I look for career advancement opportunities, this purpose is my litmus test: will I achieve my purpose in the new role? Whenever my job deviated from that purpose or didn’t allow me to realize that purpose, I would often find myself frustrated.

Purpose has a powerful impact on someone building their career. By catalyzing their goals they put their whole effort and being into the job. They can find it easier to bring their whole self, and that’s a powerful thing. Career movement will still have the same drivers (better pay, lifestyle, etc.), but the impact that person will have at each stage of their career will be felt. They are no longer “tossed by their aimlessness into ever-changing situations.”

During the pandemic, I started a hobby. With about $20.00 of equipment, a spare gallon pickle jar, and some shrimp I started a fully planted tank. The collection then grew to a couple of 10-gallon tanks and, because of the prolific nature of Mickey Mouse platys, the hobby has now grown to several large tanks totaling 300 gallons and several different species of fish. Building these tanks has been incredibly relaxing, and each time I aquascape a tank learn something new. The best thing about those tanks is the communities being built because you get to see fish interact with each other and observe their behavior.

Building a fish community requires a lot of thought and can be very complicated. You need to know the required water parameters for specific species, their behavior towards other fish, and how they interact. For instance, you don’t want to place large predators with small schooling fish, or you won’t have any schooling fish. You also don’t want to have too many of the same fish in one tank (with a few exceptions). Overstocking with either fish or plants can be lethal to a tank if not properly managed and filtered. You need to understand how beneficial bacteria help with the nitrogen cycle and the health of your tank. What I’ve found is that any tank of fish will try to survive and can be accommodated with additional filtration, more frequent water changes, special planting schemes or subdivisions within a tank, or additives to the water to make up for missing elements, but to truly thrive there needs to be a balance. And balance means having diversity in your tank’s ecosystem.

Balance often isn’t planned out right away. It’s easy to just stock a tank with only platys or tetras because you know what they will eat and what they will do. But after a while, they become boring. There’s no interaction, and the fish start to just, well, sit there. They are bored, and there’s no activity or dynamic in the tank. My personal preference for a tank is to start with a diverse set of rocks and wood to make for interesting hardscaping. Then planting with several types of plants for interest, aiming for a natural feel. For the livestock I often have a showcase fish that’s generally a slow mover, then some fast schooling fish to add some energy, and finally a couple of unusual fish, shrimp, or clams that make for interesting discoveries. Once you have a perfect balance of plants, filtration, scavenger fish or shrimp, slow-moving fish, and fast-moving schooling fish, you have a fun and exciting tank to sit and watch.

Watching these tanks and their interactions, the anthropologist in me started relating the experience to human communities where relationships and experiences of groups and individuals contribute to everyone’s success. Jumping to the work dynamic, every team has its own community, though how that community succeeds depends entirely on its composition. It’s easy to build an organization where everyone thinks, behaves, and reacts similarly in any given situation. When running in a maintenance mode this type of organization will work very well, though will be less able to creatively solve new problems.

Adding some diversity to a community brings new perspectives and encourages creative approaches to solving problems. Of course, there are levels of diversity, and the more diverse a community, the more creative and innovative that community can be. Indeed posted an excellent article that outlines 20 benefits of a diverse workforce, and they are considerable!

It can also be very uncomfortable at first, just as when adding a new fish species to a tank can be tense as fish try to figure out their place in the tank With all opportunities to develop, being uncomfortable is a good thing. The breadth of knowledge that comes from different cultures, experiences, specialties, mindsets, and perspectives opens the community to new levels of success.

While diversity is important, inclusion and a sense of belonging are where the real magic happens. When adding new fish to a tank, the dynamics of the fish interaction change as the tank accepts that new species. Then, instead of schooling in a tight group or hiding behind the plants or rocks, the fish explore and interact with others in a natural, interesting way. In a work community, it’s just as important to help everyone feel comfortable and accepted, and their views and experiences welcome. Forbes has an outstanding article on the power of inclusion, which takes diversity a step further. Diversity is great, but if team members do not feel comfortable, they will remain reserved and withhold the value their perspectives and experiences could bring. Every manager should make it their priority to make sure every single direct report feels safe and comfortable sharing their perspectives. If they do not feel safe and comfortable, not only will you lose the value of their perspective, you likely will not have them on your team for very long.

I love to watch the fish in my tank as they explore, interact, and enjoy playing with each other. Their social interactions are fascinating to watch, and they provide a calming experience. It continues to bring me new insights into how a community can work, and how building a community can be a rewarding experience. Having a diversely stocked tank has been a fantastic allegory for the benefits of diversity, inclusion, and belonging within the workplace.

Years ago, while working for eBay, I started my journey into the adult training world. I was a customer service representative working for the Live Chat system, and I started my Master’s degree in Education. The original goal was to prepare to become a professor and start my career in higher education, though as I continued through the process, I learned the value of adult education and training. I could see the value of industry certifications and corporate training, and I started to explore that avenue.

While progressing through my degree, my responsibilities had changed. I became a member of the Help Desk, and then eventually Team Lead, and in each role, the real thrill for me was watching someone develop and grow. At this time I started exploring my options with the Training team, moonlighting by writing training materials and content. When an opportunity opened, I applied. The Director of Training then took me aside and told me that he didn’t think I would have the right experience for the role. He saw where I had started as a customer service representative and had a preconceived expectation of my capabilities. Shortly after this conversation, I was accepted as a lecturer at the University of Utah.

On another date, also at eBay, I had a good friend who started on the PowerSeller support line, on my team while I was the team lead. This friend had a significant disability, which impacted his ability to sit for long periods. As you can imagine, working for a support phone line requires a lot of sitting and waiting, when not talking. Candidly speaking, at any other customer service company I’ve worked for, he probably wouldn’t have lasted long. But at eBay, his needs were accommodated while still setting the same high expectations as anyone else on the team. Instead of floundering, he flourished and became a high performer. We had high expectations for him and he didn’t disappoint. He lived up to them.

In both these experiences, expectations had a lot of impacts. Your expectations for yourself and others directly impact confidence. It’s been my experience that the expectations you have for someone will directly impact their performance. At a high management level, this means setting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Every role has (or should have) a set of key metrics that indicate success that goes beyond the “feeling” of doing well. This can be how much work is completed, the level of quality, or the overall success of the endeavor. Generalized KPIs place everyone at the same level performance-wise and the company’s expectations.

But then there are managers’ expectations. Who will do well? Who will not do well? It’s a gut reaction, either based on first impressions or by observing someone’s work for a long time. Managers make decisions on projects, tasks, or leadership based on strengths they see in their folks, as well as the perceived weaknesses that exist. These are based on the managers’ interactions with personnel, as well as their own biases.

Did I say biases? Yes, and quickly (though there are volumes that could be written on this subject), everyone has biases. Acknowledge yours, and work to overcome them as much as you can. If you don’t know them, Harvard has a series of tests you can take to identify them.

How are we impacted by expectations? I’ve seen top performers in one role crack and flounder as they move into another, or even just move to another team, because of expectations. I’ve also seen struggling performers blossom and excel because of a shift in expectations. A manager’s expectations can heavily impact the success of their direct reports.

Now, I can almost hear “What good do high expectations do when they just can’t do it?” A fair question. Expectations are important, but they alone do not drive success. Remember in my second story, accommodation facilitated success. For managers, this means regular candid conversations that feel safe for the direct report to discuss their successes and challenges. Managers can then adjust their approach, either by giving more detailed direction or stepping back and showing more trust. This approach is called situational leadership and is an invaluable tool to use either formally or informally for any manager or direct report. The process enables directs to get the help and development they need to succeed at whatever task they have before them. And given the right motivation, desire, and support, anyone can (and often will) step up to any position and expectation set before them.

So how does this apply in real life? There are a lot of job postings out there, often asking for a lot of experience in the role before a candidate can be considered. That experience represents less time and effort spent ramping someone up for a given position. When evaluating candidates’ resumes, often the mindset is “How quickly will they be on their own” instead of “Can I help them grow into the role?” It’s a thought process that every hiring manager will go through, either knowingly or unknowingly. Now, there’s always a level of expertise and experience that will be required for any position. You can’t hire a Ph.D. in Astrophysics to perform a heart transplant! But you can hire someone with a minimal level of experience for a position if you are willing to put in the extra effort as a manager to coach and develop someone in that role. I can tell you, from personal experience, that I’ve had some of the best instructors on my team come from other backgrounds. With a little coaching, some guidance when needed, and some understanding, those instructors become world-class, high-quality experts in delivery.

That same thrill that I got seeing team members develop and grow while at eBay still drives me as I work with my directs and theirs. Seeing someone excel in their position is the best part of success. And seeing someone become confident in their job is just as thrilling. By setting appropriate, high expectations, and then providing the proper support, coaching, and feedback to help them refine their skill and experience, you can develop an eager person into an outstanding performer.

You have the best team in the world. They work well together, they get along, and they come up with new and exciting ways to do things that save both time and money. Performance is high in both quantity and quality. You have an awesome team. When bonus time comes around, you want to give them what they justly deserve. The problem is, you are asked to justify those bonuses. How do you measure awesome? 

The current team I have fits this description. Everyone is a high performer, and metrics for customer satisfaction are significantly higher than the industry standard. Often they are looking for ways to help lighten the load from the entire extended team, all while doing what they can to make sure their customers are successful in their endeavors. I’m humbled by their dedication. They, to me, define what it means to be an awesome team. And every bonus cycle, I need to justify to upper management, HR, and ultimately the C-suite, that they are deserving of nothing but the best. That means I have to define and measure awesome. 

For our team, we have four key metrics that define success: 

1. Utilization

2. Customer Satisfaction

3. Operational Excellence

4. Innovation/Self-Starter

Utilization

The team has utilization goals based on role, which represents the amount of time they are expected to be in front of the customer. After an extensive process of identifying holiday hours, personal and professional development hours, expected vacation days, etc. our team developed a set matrix per global location to identify that baseline of 100% utilization. From there, we broke down their utilization based on expected tasks based on their role. Because this is based on hours delivered, it’s an easy metric to track. 

Customer Satisfaction

We send out a customer satisfaction survey for every customer interaction, which is (or should be) the standard for any service organization. We expect to get roughly 60% participation on average. Targets are industry standard for a 10-point scale: 8.0 CSAT with an NPS of 51. Again, because this is numbers-driven, it makes it easy to measure as a metric. 

Operational Excellence

We expect our team to get their paperwork items done as quickly as possible. This means all expenses need to be within policy, turned in on time, and properly allocated. It also means that tracking job requirements (as we are a training organization, this means marking attendance) is properly done and promptly. Operational items are generally the least exciting part of the job, but often it’s to these items customer billing and financials are tied. Success is measured by your Service Level Agreements (SLAs) which define the duration of time to complete each task. If you have an automated workflow system (like ServiceNow), much if not all of these tasks can be enforced through automation. Failure to meet SLAs can also have real consequences, such as finance fees for which the employee is responsible. 

Innovation/Self-Starter

Of the four measures of success, this is perhaps the most difficult. How do you measure innovation? Forbes has an outstanding article on this very topic. You focus on five components: 

1. Participation and engagement: how much are your folks engaged in their job, and participate in meetings and conversations? 

2. Feedback: How much feedback are you getting from your employees, and how valuable is that feedback? I measure valuable feedback as finding or acknowledging the need for a solution, not just stating a problem. 

3. Value and Outcomes: How does the idea bring value to the organization, and what positive outcomes contribute to the bottom line? Are customers better prepared and more confident? Are you reaching more customers, or making their experience better?

4. Brand and Thought Leadership: How does the conversation focus on and increase brand value? In our case, how does the idea, change, etc. help customers be more successful?

5. Cost of Inaction: What is the impact of not implementing the idea?  How much is this going to cost your business? Another way of thinking is, how much more successful will your business be when the idea is implemented?

My team’s success has been something of which I’m always proud. They are outstanding in their delivery, customer satisfaction, and operational excellence, and show a desire and level of innovation that is outstanding. And by having clear measurements for each team member, I can clearly and precisely identify their value to the company, and thereby justify bonuses. 

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. 

Flat Culture

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. 

Scheduling training classes sound easy: put the class on the schedule and the seats will fill themselves, right? If this is your method, you probably find that more often than not classes cancel, or that you have more demand than you can handle and struggle to meet customer needs. The most common question I get from partners, instructors, and potential training partners is: what courses are in demand to avoid cancelled classes? What kind of volume can we expect should we ramp up our instructors? It’s a tough question to ask, and can have different answers based on each location. Fortunately demand is pretty easy to estimate, if you have all the right data. It all comes down to the product being sold, and how many folks need to be trained per purchase. 

You start by looking at potential sales. The Sales team will generally break down their sales opportunities, or All-Commodity Volume (ACV), using the following stages with a fiscal quarter:

  1. Lead – usually a potential contact from a cold-call or other marketing outreach project.
  2. Opportunity – initial conversation with the lead was positive
  3. Discovery – Customer is interested, and is willing to explore the product solution
  4. Business Issue – Identifying the customer’s business issues and addressing their needs
  5. Power Partnership – Someone high enough to influence the sale has been identified and is willing to back the sale
  6. Present Solution – Sales team is on site presenting a solid pitch for the sale
  7. Power Validation – Customer is reviewing the solution (and deciding against other potential solutions)
  8. Validation Completed – Deliberations on which solution is the best are underway
  9. Deal Imminent – Decision has been made, waiting for key decision makers (usually CFO and CEO) to give the green light
  10. Closed – Won – We sold it!

The most common stages that produce results, and would need to be looked at from a planning point of view, are stages 3 through 10. The closer to Closed – Won, the more likely it will actually close that quarter. Sales pipeline will indicate how likely a sales opportunity will be closed in the quarter. Early on, there will be a lot of Upsides floating out there, which then translate to Closed once it works through the pipeline. Any Upside accounts near the end of the quarter will likely be moved to the next. That’s how sales generally works, which means now we just have to find out how that translates to training.

Some assumptions I’m making, which may or may not apply in your business situation:

  • One product sold means one person will be in charge of it, and will need to be trained. 1 product = 1 seat in class needs to be sold. 
  • Sales data and delivery data remain pretty consistent. This can be a challenge if you have a sales team that doesn’t follow through with necessary sales, or deliveries that are not fulfilled predictably.
  • A sale in one quarter means training in the next. If your delivery model provides for a more lengthy implementation or fulfillment, this may not be the case. If you don’t have to worry about a lengthy implementation (Out of the Box deployments) or have immediate fulfillment, then you could be looking at a shorter turn-around. A quick historical analysis of your sales vs. training delivery numbers should give you a clearer picture of the relationship between the two.

Once you know how your data get’s broken down, you just need to run the numbers. I’ve worked with a couple equations to predict this, but the easiest one is really simple:

  • Sum the total number of products sold over a span of time (month works for me)
  • Divide that number by the average number of seats in a class (10 is generally good).

Now you have the maximum expected number of potential classes you would need to run based on projected ACV. For a Training Delivery Manager, this is ideal. You know the number of classes you could expect to run if every customer were to schedule training on time, at the same time. If you are looking to know, for instance, how many trainers you should have ramped up at a given time, this would give you that number.

At this point you just need to shift the dates to meet your deployment schedule and you are gold, right? Well, not quite. Not all sold products will equal trained folks, nor would that training be taken on schedule as expected. There will be some exceptions. That margin of error can be predicted over time, but a safe number I’ve found that works for me in my industry is 66.7%. That means that two thirds of all training seats expected for the quarter are realized as actual seats in class.

You multiply your maximum expected number by the percentage that tend to run, and you get a pretty accurate number of seats you can count on to fill. With that number you can schedule classes, either quarterly or annually, train instructors to cover those classes, and even book contract instructors ahead of time for coverage.

Now, I know this method may not work for everyone and for every circumstance, but it gives you a starting point. Working this part of the business can be a challenge. You may not always have access to the ACV from sales (it’s pretty important company info, after all!), and even then you may find the numbers don’t quite work. But the better you understand your Sales process and structure, the more likely you are to understand how you can train folks on what was sold.