Providing learning for its diverse population requires significant commitment and investments in learning. Administaff rose to the challenge by accelerating learning and performance in the organization with front-end analysis and an efficient blended approach to available online learning using virtual collaboration tools and instructor-led training.
Administaff currently offers 111 online courses and 171 Web seminars, and 30 instructor-led courses for workforce and leadership development are available to clients as well. Administaff has created around 20 of its own courses internally and tracks online training through a learning management system (LMS). For example, the Employee Relations Workshop, a compliance course delivered to all corporate employees and clients, offers content on anti-harassment, workplace violence, awareness and prevention, drug awareness and the Employee Assistance Program, a health and welfare plan that offers counseling, adoption assistance and other support.
Administaff does not have a required curriculum for its employees, because, as Charles Ginn, director of performance improvement, explained, the company’s offerings are better positioned as specific training offered by discipline. “The approach that we’re taking is a transition away from a core curriculum to training delivered as a potential solution, more of a front-end analysis from a human performance improvement process,” Ginn said. “It’s more personalized, and it’s also driven to address what the person specifically needs to do more of, less of, or needs to do better on the job. Sometimes that solution is training, and sometimes it’s not. We want to maximize our return on investment, and we focus that on business results versus just completion of training courses.”
With performance needs as a dominant training driver, individual development plans are tailored following a review process, and are developed in collaboration with the business unit or with the client. “For instance, some employees work in one of our pricing groups. They need to learn Microsoft Access,” Ginn said. “Rather than send them out to a course to learn Microsoft Access, we’re going to work on the front end to find out specifically, what do they need to know in Access to do the task that’s required on the job? Working with that business unit, we’re going to determine what is exactly needed, which can then be delivered in half the time and be twice as effective.”
With more than 4,500 clients that all have their own individual training needs, Administaff has to offer a variety of courses and delivery methods to give a high level of training access. The company is structured to provide each client with an eight-person service team, including a training specialist to define needs and determine the best development program to meet those needs.
“That cross-functional team is where we spend a great part of our development,” Ginn said. “They have to be able to impact the client from a business perspective. We do a great deal of follow-up using WebEx, four to six weeks after a class. Training is not just an event; it is a process. We’ve built in the follow-up mechanism to make sure that we monitor and support what was delivered. For example, we delivered a coaching workshop. We also established some performance standards for each of the individual service providers. The team managers have to communicate that. We work through with them in the workshop, not only how to set those expectations, but afterward, how do you coach an employee to a higher level of performance? It’s been three weeks, we’ve set up follow-up interviews with those team managers, and we’re working with their supervisors to coach them on the same skill set. That’s the first part of it. In the follow-up, we’re documenting what needs to change. Do we need to do anything differently, and what else can we use to support? We provide supplemental information online or a coaching session with their director to make sure we have the impact.”
Ginn said that providing multiple training needs, from a dual perspective, presents a challenge that would not exist if the company systems did not have the flexibility to deliver and report on both an individual employee and a client basis. “If it was just one company, you could set a development path or paths,” Ginn said. “Imagine trying to set a development path across several different industries and 4,500-plus clients. It wouldn’t be perceived as viable by that client, nor would they be able to demonstrate a return on investment.”
Administaff has made several changes to its operation over the past 18 months. Ginn said that one of the goals that emerged was how to deliver training, add value and create a predictable cost. “The one thing to understand about our services is when clients sign on with Administaff, all of the services provided are fee-inclusive,” said Ginn. “They can take advantage of as much training as they would like, without any incremental dollars to be paid out. The challenge there is the more you deliver, the more it costs.”
To get that desired predictable cost, Administaff formed very close, collaborative working relationships with vendors like Novations, SkillSoft, Development Dimensions International and WebEx. Extensive preliminary discussions of values and business philosophies were held, all of which had to be in line with Administaff, regardless of the technology offered. SkillSoft was able to create scalable models based on usage in the Administaff client base and the corporate base for the training products. “It’s a difficult concept for some people to understand how we sell our services or how we market them and who we are,” said Brent Colescott, manager of performance support systems at Administaff. “As a professional employer organization, when it comes down to our clients being businesses themselves, it’s difficult for some vendors to grasp. We’ve had great success because we took the time up front before purchasing to understand the cost for the next three years.”
Maintaining a predictable cost structure means the organization must measure the impact of training and development, as well as produce substantial return on investment. Three years ago, Administaff assessed the success of its online training. Initially, Colescott said that the company planned to judge success by the number of times people launched a course and completed it successfully with a test. That quickly presented a problem. It wasn’t an accurate barometer of success, because the different types of courses had varied completion rates and user response. Business skills courses, which were mandated by a core curriculum, had high launch rates and high completion rates, but the courses were difficult to navigate, leaving learners confused. Safety courses got a good response due to their shorter length and the succinct and factual nature of the content. The greatest response came from Microsoft Office courses, due to the nature of the course design and because course content was easy to reference. Microsoft Office courses were accessed more often than other courses, but had only a 20 percent completion rate.
“We’ve determined that our success indicators are the number of times courses have been accessed; also the number of active users,” Colescott said. “The last years’ worth of data we’ve had, over 12,000 of our 78,000 employees have accessed our online training system. Keep in mind, some people prefer instructor-led. We did an ROI assessment, and, given the amount of courses that were completed, we determined that if you were to conservatively say $350 per person per course, then we had a savings and an ROI of $2 million over the past 18 months.”
“The true value of the system comes from getting the information to help a person do their job,” Ginn said. “The true goal of this is to improve performance on the job and help the client get their desired business result. The ultimate goal is not to train people. If all that you measured was that they had to complete all these courses, when they only need a third of that to do their job, you’re wasting people’s time, resources and money. Training completion is not as important unless it’s compliance-driven—for instance, ethics courses with regards to Sarbanes Oxley, safety courses and things that add value from the standpoint of potential liability of a client company. Completion is important from that perspective, but based upon a person’s performance on the job, completion is not as important as getting what they need to do the job.”
Administaff offers an educational reimbursement program, with up to $1,500 per client or work-site employee each year who earns college course credit. “We invest in our systems, we invest in our people, and, in fact, we demonstrate what we look for in potential clients, and that’s a company that recognizes that people are their most important resource,” Ginn said. “For Administaff, training is always seen as one of the most important things that we can do to continue to grow our company. Not only training, but helping people perform better on the job.”
The future of training and development at Administaff will include simulations and more online courses deployed via an enhanced platform. “We’ve also incorporated a tool called Apresso (from Anystream), which allows us to take a PowerPoint presentation and combine it with audio and video and be able to have that as a relaunchable learning object,” Ginn said. “The goal is to make sure that all of these systems are integrated as seamlessly as possible so that when a client asks for their training history, if they’ve taken something in all of these aspects–an instructor-led course, a WebEx session or watched a presentation or took a simulation–if they ask us for the true value of being an Administaff client, we can return to them a complete history to say here’s what you’re getting from Administaff as a value-add to your employees. We’re looking at expanding that.”
The company will also explore 360-degree evaluations online and more ways to continuously drive home performance-tuning for the individual. “Down the road, we’re hoping to provide our clients with client-specific content,” Colescott said. “We’re just now getting to the point where we’re going to hit some really great things this year and setting the base for some amazing things in the next couple of years.”
“We’ve taken a much more proactive approach to the development of employees, versus reacting to someone requesting training,” Ginn said. “We are in the process of transitioning to more of a consulting approach and utilizing a human-performance-improvement model when approaching performance on the job. We’re just scratching the surface of the potential behind simulations. If you look at research, there’s going to be a real shortage of leaders in the business arena and also a shortage of developed employees. There’s some real opportunity for us to be focused on the aging worker, and how do you maximize performance of the new worker? You can’t do that with a single system. We want to be as proactive as possible to make sure that we have the things to address the current and future needs of Administaff and our client companies.”
Kellye Whitney is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.