Hazel Jackson is the Chief Executive Officer of biz-group FZ LLC, providing corporate training to companies across various industries in the region and helping management with team building. In this interview, Hazel talks about the importance and need of properly training staff to deliver better service.
Your company has recently launched a new corporate training tool called Axonify. How is this different from other training tools being offered?
Hazel Jackson: Axonify’s key differentiating feature is its ability to personalise the learning experience for every employee. Delivered daily to employees in less than five minutes via the Axonify App—through any web-enabled device such as a mobile phone, computer or tablet—it addresses topics that matter most to the organisation. With the aid of a patented algorithm, the system automatically analyses and identifies knowledge gaps, adapting to the individual’s learning pace and abilities.
The platform not only personalizes the learning journey, but also provides managers with the ability to measure training impact against business objectives using the built-in analytics and reporting system. This functionality helps training professionals address the growing concern among HR and company directors of how to measure the results of training against business KPIs, and ultimately, return on investment. The mobile Managers application, “Team Link”, also provides real-time data on who requires coaching and who their experts are, enabling pro-active and targeted coaching conversations where they are most needed.
In your opinion, how do corporate training programs differ in the GCC region as compared to the rest of the world? Are there any special needs or requirements which have to be considered?
Hazel Jackson:Having delivered corporate training and development programs across the world, I’ve observed the challenges faced by organisations in taking employees out of day to day operations to attend training programs. This investment is critical in the development of talent, however it is essential that the knowledge acquired can be retained if it is to enable employees to overcome business challenges and drive competitive advantage. Upon their return to the office, employees embark on what is commonly known as the forgetting curve, with the information acquired dropping from 90% to less than 20% over a period of 30 days if no further intervention takes place.
This reality calls for a change in the way learning journeys are delivered. There is a need to build upon the traditional classroom course structure and duration, with the addition of frequent interventions that can be undertaken within the workplace following a training event.Axonify, for example, combines the latest research in brain science and gamification to offer managers the opportunity to embrace a next generation knowledge reinforcement and training methodology. It is, however, a novel concept for the region, where 80% of training budgets are still allocated to traditional classroom-based methods. This is understandable, considering that until now, we haven’t had access to an on-the-job solution that could reinforce learning, keep employees engaged and deliver measurable results.
With the GCC transitioning into knowledge economies, the delivery of the right type of training is crucial for business success and is necessary for addressing the skills shortage among the workforce. However, there is no point investing in training for the sake of training. Employee development needs to effectively contribute to a company’s bottom line.
How do you think training can improve employee productivity which in turn impacts the quality of customer service that they deliver?
Hazel Jackson:When an organization invests in training its people, employees feel valued because the organization has chosen to invest in their development. Their knowledge and confidence in the organisation’s products and/or services increases and the employee is able to respond more efficiently to queries, resulting in an improved customer experience. More knowledgeable employees who feel valued by their organization are also far more likely to become customer advocates, driving customer engagement and retention.
The key to a successful training is an employee’s willingness and motivation to participate, either for intrinsic factors, such as self-interest or a desire to learn, improve or feel challenged, or extrinsic factors, such as tangible rewards on the job. An empowered, knowledgeable employee, who feels motivated, recognized and valued, is bound to deliver superior customer service.
In your opinion how do web based training tools which apply gaming technology result in better employee engagement?
Hazel Jackson:Research shows that gamification of learning increases employee engagement by 50% or more. Axonify, using the latest in game mechanics, is a web-based knowledge retention platform that is proven to drive long-term retention and application of learning, while personalizing the experience for every employee. In this digital era, convenience and ease of accessibility are essential. Being an online tool means the training is delivered daily to any web-enabled device—phone, computer or tablet—in topics that matter most to the organization and that are applicable to the training needs of the individual. Each burst of training takes just three to five minutes a day and can be measured against employee and business impact. Also, this type of training promotes healthy competition and team spirit, thus increasing people’s motivation to participate.
Different organizations have different needs. What three factors are the most important in terms of training especially for customer service staff?
Hazel Jackson:To-date, customer service-led companies have been one of the biggest proponents of Axonify. Training, particularly of customer service staff, helps:
Boost morale: Personalised training allows an employee to constantly grow and develop, feeling challenged and valued on what might, in some cases, be a repetitive job. This leads to better work all around—happy employees translate into better customer service. A sense of reciprocity comes into play—‘my company has made an effort to invest in me, now it is my turn to invest in my company’.
Improved employee efficiency: Applications like Axonify do not follow a “one-size fits all approach” and help fill knowledge gaps that are specific to that particular employee, making sure that the newly acquired information sticks through continuous reinforcement. Should a situation arise, a customer service representative knows more about the business and/or its processes, and is empowered to provide a solution to a disgruntled customer. This level of efficiency improves overall customer satisfaction.
Improved employee retention: Closing knowledge gaps employee by employee helps improve corporate culture, making people feel better about their contribution. Happier employees are more loyal to the company, and research shows that retaining current employees is significantly cheaper than hiring new ones. Having experienced customer-facing employees that do not change on a regular basis is essential to improving overall customer satisfaction.
How does the company measure productivity or improvement once the training sessions have been taken by employees?
Hazel Jackson:Most training evaluations stop at measuring an employee’s satisfaction and opinion on the training, without probing further to identify what employees were actually able to apply on the job, and how the application of their learning translated into measurable outcomes for the company, whether in terms of increased productivity, efficiency or sales revenue.
Axonify can be used by organisations of any size and can be programmed to support a specific training need or business objective—drive sales, improve service levels or improve compliance with policies and procedures. Other than using a patented algorithm to analyse and identify knowledge gaps, the platform also uses built-in analytics and a reporting system to help HR managers and company directors measure the results of the training, and consequently its return on investment, against predefined business KPIs.
What are some of the common HR problems faced by companies? And how can they work on fixing them?
Hazel Jackson:According to the latest annual PWC CEO survey, 72% of Middle East CEOs prioritised creating a skilled workforce over the next three years. However, 70% expressed concern about the current availability of key skills. HR departments should be on top of their game, ready to respond to the latest technological advancements and changing workforce demographics, equipped with sophisticated analytics to discover knowledge gaps and prepared to adopt appropriate talent strategies. Globally, however, only 34% of CEOs believe that their HR departments are ready to cope with the changes; in the Middle East, 23% responded that their HR teams were not prepared at all.
Other than attracting skilled talent, retaining current talent is a challenge. Given the transient nature of the region, where the workforce is primarily comprised of expats in search of better opportunities, companies need to build employee loyalty by offering more than just attractive salary packages. This might not prevent employees from eventually leaving the region, but it might discourage them from switching jobs as frequently.
Knowledge reinforcement tools such as Axonify are part of the solution. Other than addressing the two issues above, they also help companies measure return on investment against business KPIs, something that has been a challenge for managers globally. With 80% of training budgets in the region still allocated to traditional classroom based methods, Axonify finally allows companies to reinforce knowledge and sustain the application of new skills in the workplace, rather than investing in training only to have employees forget what they have learnt within a few months of completing the training program.
What’s next for biz-group? Are there any other training programs that the company will introduce in the coming year?
Hazel Jackson:At the HR Summit this October, biz-group joined forces with the Wiseman Group to unveil the Rookie Smarts concept. Based on the latest research-led book, Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the Game of Work by Liz Wiseman, CEO of the Wiseman Group, the learning aims to highlight that there is significant untapped potential at all levels of the organization.
Rookie Smarts challenges the notion of experience in the workplace, proposing that expertise can stifle innovation and deter employees from pursuing untested ideas. This training, which teaches leaders to harness the inexperience of their teams to promote new thinking and a culture of perpetual learning, perfectly aligns with the UAE’s vision to become a knowledge economy, at the same time addressing one of HR’s biggest problems—how to retain, attract and develop world class talent.
The training programme will be available to businesses in early 2015.
About Hazel Jackson
Nearly two decades ago, Hazel founded biz-group, which she has developed from a small training company into an organisation of 42 professionals servicing the Middle East’s corporate training, team building and business strategy needs. Passionate about impacting performance, bizgroup’s success is a testament to Hazel’s entrepreneurial spirit. A strong believer in the multiplying effect of exceptional leadership, Hazel conducts strategic workshops for executives, is a regular commentator on business leadership issues and a keynote speaker at HR conferences throughout the region and internationally. She has worked with diverse cultures and across all industries, from banking to manufacturing, FMCG to retail, professional services to Automotive, Oil & Gas to Hospitality, in family businesses, multi-nationals and government entities.