AppLearn: Power of engagement – Mark Barlow
As ever-more companies roll out talent management software, user adoption and engagement is proving to be a major problem. Mark Barlow, CEO of AppLearn, explains how embedded video-training tutorials can involve employees in the process and deliver actionable feedback, with ramifications for the balance sheet.
Talent management software is fast becoming an indispensable part of any large organisation. As businesses fight to remain competitive, they are increasingly attuned to the ways that workforce performance can affect the bottom line. The result is a shift away from old-style paper processes, with more companies rolling out IT solutions to improve talent management.
This said, whatever the benefits in principle, they may face problems in practice. Despite spending millions on these solutions, companies cannot guarantee that users will engage with them or that their investment will reap rewards. And while this is potentially the case for all types of software, talent and performance management applications are particularly prone to setbacks.
"In a large organisation, it's the only software application that you have to train your entire workforce to use," explains Mark Barlow, CEO of AppLearn. "If you roll out a new finance application, you only have to train the finance department, but when it comes to talent management, everybody gets an appraisal or has to complete a personal development plan at some stage."
The difficulty here is that, because staff only use the application once or twice a year, they often forget what they've learned. For companies intent on creating efficiencies, this can prove an immense source of frustration: they are effectively squandering the money spent on software, and the money spent on training.
"You end up with this huge problem of getting people interested, because they can't be bothered to learn how to use the software," says Barlow.
It was in response to this conundrum that AppLearn was created. Barlow had previously started another company, Qikker Solutions, which implements cloud-based talent-management solutions for some of the world's largest companies. At conferences, he would frequently hear the same story: irrespective of how useful the software was, companies were struggling with user engagement.
"We needed a new solution - something where the training was instant, unlimited, in the company's own language and easily accessible," he says.
"More importantly, companies want measurement. They want to be able to measure who is and who isn't consuming training, and who is and who isn't engaged in the programme."
AppLearn addresses all these requirements and more. Embedded into the software itself, it comprises bite-size, multilingual, branded video tutorials that can be accessed on demand. Users can therefore receive training at the point of need, as opposed to relying on memory or calling the help desk. And, should the company change the configuration of its application, AppLearn can go one step beyond the user manuals by updating its training to match.
"We're the first company in the world to use video streaming for training on a commercial, global basis," says Barlow. "Our videos use traditional green-screen technology, which is the sort of thing you see on television with weather forecasters and newscasters. Wherever you are inside that application, you can click an icon, up comes a video, and a presenter appears to tell you what to do."
This keeps matters straightforward from an employee's point of view. They can consume the training at home at night or on their tea break in the office. They can watch it on their mobile phones en route to their annual appraisal. Any time they get stuck using the application, they can click on the video, watch it, learn and carry on.
Importantly, they are not just told how they can use the software, but also told why it's important for them, and how it can help them on an individual level as well as benefitting the company. Only once the 'why', the 'what' and the 'when' have been tackled does AppLearn move on to the 'how'.
From the perspective of the organisation, it is possible to know exactly how many users are engaging with the software and what they're focusing on. With a classroom-based model, companies have no way of ascertaining whether or not the training is working - the information is simply too difficult to amass. With AppLearn, the programme can report back in detail, helping companies make decisions based on actionable insights.
"Over the next two to three years, there's going to be a greater focus on analytics in HR," says Barlow. "There have been so many questions asked to HR in the past that they've not been able to back up their responses with hard and fast data. The business is now saying to them: 'We don't want your gut feeling on this, and we don't want you to spend six weeks performing a survey. We want this information right now, and we want it to be accurate.' So, the big thing we're doing with AppLearn is providing that analytical data instantly."
AppLearn will therefore open the door to more effective workforce management and planning, allowing C-suite executives to take an organisation-wide view and nip any potential problems in the bud.
"One of our clients has 72,000 workers in 35 countries" says Barlow. "We were able to tell them that Spain was a potential problem area because, compared with other countries, very few employees had watched the training videos and were therefore unlikely to be engaged in their performance programme. This insight meant that the client was able to take steps to resolve the problem immediately instead of wondering what went wrong at the end of the year."
Bombardier is just one of the many big names currently benefitting from AppLearn's approach. Other businesses include InterContinental Hotel Group, Goldcorp, Ahlstrom, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and LinkedIn. Less then two years after its inception, the company already maintains a presence on three continents and its client list is growing fast.
The value proposition is clear: AppLearn can help an enterprise to derive the most from its workforce by driving up engagement in its people performance programme. Barlow says: "Only when user engagement is high, can you realise the true value from your investment in this type of technology."
Together with Manchester University, the company conducted research to determine the major areas of financial benefit, and uncovered some striking results.
"The first benefit is the lower attrition of high performers," says Barlow. "If 20% of your people make 80% of your profit, the last thing you want is for them to leave. The second one was to improve productivity from high employee engagement. And thirdly, they can save money from the retirement of conventional training practices, replacing them with ours."
Taken together, these three factors could improve revenue by approximately 1.3% - in a bank with a $1.5 billion turnover, that amounts to a $20 million net gain.
Easy does it
As Barlow sees it, companies must be careful to implement talent management software in stages.
"It's hard to eat an elephant whole, but if you chop it up into bits, you'll probably get through it eventually," he explains. "So, we always advise, roll out the changes as part of the journey and use AppLearn as an integral part of that journey to drive the commitment from day one. We then use the AppLearn feedback to drive the pace of change and enhancements to the talent programme, going forward."
Ultimately, however, Barlow believes the results will speak for themselves. "We're completely reinventing the way people consume training to better engage employees in large organisations around the world," he says. "What we're doing with our clients is having a massive positive impact - it's really leading edge."