Analytics — The First Pass

Vendor AnalyticsLast year a group of executives at one of our big company clients decided to take a hard look at efficiency and outcome issues around learning.

Having to deal with a variety of use cases, end-user groups and training providers, not to mention the complications of operating in more than 50 countries and 18 languages, the executives saw their immediate task as getting on top of the data.

To this end, they put the following into effect:

  1. All courses, seminars and training events now end with a mandatory, standardized evaluation comprised of five questions, the first being the by-now-classic Net Promoter Score (“NPS” or the number of raving fans minus the number of complainers divided by the total number of responses multiplied by 100, this process yielding a number somewhere between minus and plus 100 – big positive numbers are good). The NPS question is followed by simple, sensible questions on each training program’s relevance by job role and topic, quality and effect.
  2. Individual employee progress is now measured the same way and on the same scale for all training.
  3. Costs are standardized on a per-employee basis and resolved to a base currency.

Home schooling, home college, company college

Peabody Institute Chair Hollis Robbins at Johns Hopkins University just wrote a provocative piece in The Chronicle Of Higher Education on an idea so simple and so intuitively right that it feels like it should already be in wide use. Dr. Robbins looks at the broad skill sets of multi-discipline PhDs and asks why one or some of them banded together couldn’t offer the equivalent of at least the first year of a liberal arts university education on a home schooling basis — and do so with better outcomes (and at lower cost) than the students would likely get at a good private liberal arts college or university; the idea being for the students to earn home college credits and transfer in to “formal” programs after they’ve done the first year or two with the private providers.

As you would expect from a humanities professor, the piece is balanced, subtle and eminently reasonable.

You can read the article here.

It got me thinking. The home college idea begs the question — Why couldn’t companies do the same thing? What a perk it would be for employees to be able to get, on a part-time basis, a top-flight liberal arts education through work. For companies of a certain size, hiring three or four full-time PhDs is a small cost. The professors might easily handle up to 100 company students a year. Smaller companies could band together to share costs.

Though such a program could easily be run by a corporate university, this idea is nothing like traditional corporate universities, which are generally driven by line-of-business needs and are vocational in purpose rather than about explicitly building employees’ personal capabilities.

It’s a radical and I think powerful idea. It’s kind of an anti-MOOC (though there’s nothing stopping any such program from incorporating MOOCs into the curriculum). It could also turn out to be cheaper (and a lot better) than sending an equivalent number of staff to community college.

The benefits to the business of setting up a company college might include:

  • An increase in employee engagement (and thus higher employee retention rates)
  • A reputation boost for the company in its industry and communities
  • A smarter workforce (hat tip to IBM) — let’s be honest, though humanities training does not easily translate into job-specific skill-set libraries, the general truth is clear — over the long run, better people means better business

On that last point, one of the downsides of doing what everybody else is doing is that there’s no strategic competitive advantage to be had in the process: your best outcome is to not fall behind your peers. The upside of doing something different, something like Dr. Robbins’ suggests for example, is that, if it works, you’re in blue water.

Your employer is watching

And listening, and applying predictive analytics at the same time.

Excellent shout-out in Marginal Revolution (a blog by a couple of award-winning economists, not rebel types) on an FT piece (gated for most of us, unfortunately) on how some employers are improving productivity by measuring employee interactions with each other (interestingly not with clients) and noting employee tone of voice in the process.

It seems talking things through with your peers really does make things better. It also turns out that a sustained spike in dulcet tones while mixing it up on break is in fact highly correlated with productivity improvement.

Employers take note: this kind of experiment is the tip of the iceberg and only goes to prove the old saw, “What get measured gets improved.”

Read it here.