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A Week in the Life…

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A Week in the Life...
...of Kevin Young

Monday – 5.00 a.m.

The alarm is set one hour earlier than usual because I have a 5.30 call scheduled with our Asia Pacific team (they’re 11 hours ahead of us). I creep out of bed so as not to disturb Lynn, my wife, and make my way down to the kitchen so that I can kick-start the brain with a strong cup of tea. At 5.29 I’m in my home office making the call. Its purpose is to receive an update on the progress of our strategic partnership with Beida Online, the web-based subsidiary of the most eminent Chinese university.

It’s impossible to be expert in all cultures, customs and languages so we form strategic partnerships with leading training providers around the world who adapt our content to their markets. So far we have almost 200 UK localised courses and 30 Italian, with others currently under development with our Spanish, Turkish and Korean partners.

Beida wants to translate our management and business portfolio into Mandarin for their alumni. Their experts have been reviewing courses over the past few weeks to ensure that the content, functionality and compatibility with existing systems comply with their criteria. It’s crunch time. I’m quietly confident but not complacent – different cultures require different approaches and our courses have to be right for the university’s needs as well as for the people who will be utilising them. The good news comes through that they are impressed on all counts and want to start localisation immediately. This will include translating text, altering graphics to more appropriate images and changing the audio into the relevant language.

This was definitely worth getting up early for! The partnership with such a renowned learning organisation further reinforces the quality of our e-learning. It all helps because there is a plethora of so-called e-learning providers springing up on almost a weekly basis – many of which are just translating instructor-led or video training onto the web. It takes a lot more than that. For e-learning to work it has to engage the learner and be interactive and instructionally sound. This means that the training must be specifically designed and written for web-based delivery. There’s only a handful of organisations in the world that are doing that effectively and we’re one of them – but educating people to that fact and helping them to avoid making costly e-learning mistakes is often easier said than done. If you’re not careful you just sound as if you’re trying to give them a sales pitch. Still, the truth will out in time. The proof of the pudding is always in the eating.

The partnership theme continues with an 8.00 a.m. breakfast meeting in London with Mike Higgins - our Business Development Manager who handles our channel partnerships - and Individual Training, our Italian partner. Prior to their arrival Mike and I chat briefly about the Beida news and then he updates me on progress he’s making establishing other strategic partnerships around Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This is a major area of growth for us and Mike is doing a great job making sure that we select those organisations with aims, objectives and company cultures similar to our own. We pride ourselves on having outstanding customer service and one of our key values is being an organisation that it’s easy to do business with - so it’s important that our partners have the same customer service focus as we do.

The Italians arrive. They’re as charming as ever and we discuss rolling out some additional curricula to the Italian market, in addition to the 30 we have already localised. SkillSoft has over 600 courses across 20 curricula at fundamental, intermediate and advanced levels dealing with everything from communication and customer service to personal development, e-business, strategic planning and knowledge management. All management and professional skills are covered - finance, sales, team-building, leadership, marketing, HR, operations, etc. so it’s a case of defining which ones they feel are most crucial to their market.

By the time I get into the office at 10.00 a.m. I already feel as if I’ve done a day’s work. My first task is to check my post and scan my e-mails. There are the usual morning updates from Bloomberg.com and FT.com which I click through to see what’s going on in the world. As to the rest, on average I receive about 100 e-mails each day, most of which I manage to delegate. Two years ago it was just me. Now there are 40+ of us, so at least there’s a selection of people to share the load.

It’s the usual mixed post-bag. Particularly interesting is an invitation to attend an open debate at the Royal Society of Arts - chaired by MP Michael Wills, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Learning and Technology - about the role of e-learning in today’s world. I’ll enjoy that one. I’m passionate about learning and personal development and, although I don’t see e-learning as a panacea, it certainly has a critical role to play in bringing training to people who might not normally have the opportunity or time to attend formal courses.

At 11.00 a.m. I call the Finance Director, Hamish Ross. Hamish is in Northern Ireland with Chuck Moran, SkillSoft’s President and CEO. Chuck is officially opening our new Software Engineering office in Belfast with a number of local dignitaries, including Sir Reg Empey MLA, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment. I am interested to know if the event was a success and well attended. This operation has been set up to support our software development activities which are critical to the success of our business. Hamish tells me that everything has gone well and that he and Chuck have already done a number of interviews with the local press

Before I know it it’s lunchtime and I settle down with a sandwich and open my weekly copy of Personnel Today, which once a month includes the Training magazine. I’m delighted to discover that one of our customers, Xerox Europe Limited, has reviewed a SkillSoft course in the ‘tried and tested’ section. We’ve received top marks all round and I’m out of my office brandishing it around to the team before I’ve even finished my first sandwich.

It turns out that our Head of Marketing, Kay Baldwin-Evans, has already seen it and ordered a couple of thousand copies for our Business Development Managers to make use of. She and I have a meeting scheduled after lunch at which she updates me on marketing activity and press coverage we’ve received, as well as discussing the proposed contents for the next issue of our customer newsletter Focus. This will be the third one we’ve produced and feedback so far is that people are finding it objective, interesting and informative so we’re determined to keep it that way and resist the urge to turn it into a company sales tool like so many other organisations do.

At 5.30 p.m. the day is rounded off with another long-distance telephone call, this time to the SkillSoft head office in the US. I’m going over there later in the week and need to firm up a couple of details. Then it’s straight home for supper and some quality time with the family.

Tuesday

I’ve been dreading this morning. I have a live radio interview scheduled with a Manchester radio station about e-learning at management college, Hopwood Hall. They’ve taken a group of SkillSoft modules to incorporate within a Certificate in Management Studies course they’ve designed for Ryalux Carpets, a leading international carpet manufacturer.

The reason I’m nervous is that I hate doing live radio interviews. I enjoy chatting to journalists, being interviewed for opinion pieces and giving them controversial quotes, but talking on air is a completely different matter. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. The presenter is delightful and I manage not to lose my voice half way through.

While the adrenaline is still pumping from doing the radio piece a call comes in from one of the national newspapers wanting to talk about my theories about how e-learning is being applied in the workplace and its performance alongside other training methods as a way of delivering management and business skills. I share my ideas, vision and experiences with him and pass on a host of contacts, clients and learners that he can approach for independent comment. I’m always totally open and frank with the media. Maybe this is why I’m increasingly being approached for comments. I’ve usually got some bee in my bonnet and end up saying something controversial, but I never mind being approached - it all helps to raise awareness about e-learning and training in general.

I usually try and clear urgent correspondence and tasks by lunchtime and reserve afternoons for meetings and telephone calls. But I’m flying to Amsterdam in the early afternoon to meet with a potential new client so I sneak a quick meeting in with our Head of Research just before I leave for the airport. We need to discuss our next piece of research which will take place in June. We undertook a major e-learning benchmarking survey amongst 200 UK HR and training professionals at the end of last year. The results were really encouraging and showed that UK companies weren’t as far behind the US in the adoption of e-learning as had previously been thought. We’re keen to see how things have progressed in the last nine months. Similar research is about to be undertaken in the US and the rest of Europe, so it will be interesting to make comparisons.

After grabbing a bite to eat at Heathrow, Russell Harper - one of our Business Development Managers - and I fly to Amsterdam to meet with the board of a potential customer. They want to progress to the next stage of their e-learning strategy and Russell has asked me to join him at the meeting to discuss various issues including providing e-learning to a geographically disparate workforce and the customisation of course content for their organisation.

The potential client is a major company with in excess of 80,000 employees worldwide. They are in the process of launching a global intranet, over which they want to establish a corporate university for their employees. However, not all their employees will have web access so we discuss how we can provide them with our courses on CD-ROM as well as via the Internet and intranet. We also explain how we can personalise our courses to incorporate their company logo and images relating to their specific industry within the visual and audio content.

It’s always a treat to meet people in major organisations who recognise that the answer to competitive advantage is to invest in their human capital. In an age when companies are increasingly being judged by their intellectual rather as well as their physical assets, environments which foster intellectual advancement are becoming extraordinarily important. The ideologies of sharing and co-operation, of moving knowledge around, are not just necessary for long-term success, innovation and advancement, but can also hold the key to short-term benefits such as employee motivation and staff retention. The meeting goes extremely well and we fix a date to come back to them with a detailed proposal of how we will meet their needs.

Russell and I catch a late flight back to London and I arrive home just after 11.00 p.m.

Wednesday

I don’t get into the office until 10.30 a.m. this morning. As anyone with children will know, the logistics of ferrying them around can be complicated. We have three daughters and one of them has an early dental appointment today. So, while Lynn did the usual school run I was on hand to provide moral support at the dentist. I also had to pack for the US trip. It’s a very informal working environment so I packed the minimum clothing – all casual and lightweight, so that I can get away with just hand luggage.

I’m interviewing before I leave today. As the business grows we need to recruit more Business Development Managers (BDMs). In addition to attracting new business, a crucial part of their role is to liaise closely with existing clients to make sure that their needs are looked after on an ongoing basis. We need people who are bright and proactive - and are as passionate about training and personal development as myself and the rest of the team. It also helps if they have an understanding of what elements are involved in good learning materials so that they can appreciate why our product is so special.

Prior to seeing the first interviewee I catch up with Peter Ward, our Sales Manager, who fills me in on the sales figures, new business in the pipeline and any issues/queries we may have. We review the BDM training plan and track what support is being given by the rest of the team to our newest BDM who joined a few weeks ago. Following her induction training at corporate headquarters in Boston she has been spending a day with each of the other BDMs to see how they operate. Peter reports that she is now up to speed on all the necessary background knowledge and is raring to go. We then discuss the two candidates that Peter has invited back for a second interview.

Fuelled by a cup of tea and a sticky bun, Peter and I interview the two candidates before I leave for the airport to fly to Boston.

I make the most of the time on the flight to catch up on reading e-learning papers, magazines such as e-business, Management Today and Red Herring and working on the lap-top. Then it’s straight to the hotel and into bed, ready for an early start the next day.

Thursday

At 6.00 a.m. I’m wide awake so I plug the lap-top in and catch up on my e-mails.

My first meeting is at 8.00 a.m. with the product development team. They brief me on a revolutionary new product they’ve been working on for the past year that is set to take the e-learning market by storm. It’s called Skills Sims™ and it transports the user into a virtual office environment. It is designed to give SkillSoft learners an opportunity to practise new skills risk free by navigating through different scenarios in which they encounter a variety of business problems. As in real life, a learner has the opportunity to select different courses of action, and the scenario ‘plays out’ according to the learner’s response. Events such as telephone calls, meetings, and interruptions are a key part of each scenario, making it as realistic as possible.

At 11.00 a.m. I join a conference call the US marketing team is having with the UK marketing team to share best marketing practices. We also go through the fine tuning for our UK website. We launched it in March, but as with any website, its development is ongoing. We’re getting good feedback from visitors, primarily about the free courses we offer on the site. We are keen to add value and so change our free courses on a quarterly basis. This quarter we decide to offer The Dynamics of Interpersonal Communications, The Voice of the Customer, Changes of the 21st Century, Culture and Behaviour and Finding the Pain you can Cure.

Lunch is with Elaine Voici, who is the Director of Corporate e-Learning Strategies for SkillSoft Corporation. In this role, she speaks for the company at various events around the world covering a wide subject area that includes human resources, training and development and organisational effectiveness. She is coming to the UK in May to speak at a series of seminars we are running and we discuss her schedule. Elaine holds Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees and is also an accomplished author - having been published in the US, Japan, and UK - so I am confident that those attending the seminars will find what she has to say both thought-provoking and informative.

Back to the hotel at 5.30 to freshen up and on to dinner with the Executive Team. Nashua, where SkillSoft is based, isn’t quite as sophisticated as Boston, so we usually go to a local restaurant which is renowned for its steak and its burgers (the latter being a particular favourite of Chuck Moran’s).

Friday

I spend the first couple of hours in the morning with Jerry Nine, the Vice President of Sales and Marketing, discussing the growth and expansion plans of the UK operations. I outline my plans, budgets and wish list (always worth a try) and we agree figures for marketing activity and sales-force support. All the evidence suggests that the e-learning market is set to grow phenomenally in the next few years and we want to be sure we are ready for the growth when it happens.

I then join a presentation about the latest developments to SkillPort™ our learner management system. Users can now map their own learning, add courses to their personal development plans, type a topic in while they are working and receive a five-minute briefing on what they need to know – when they need to know it. It’s increasingly difficult for people to find time to train in a single block so this function allows them to dip in and out, progress at their own pace and track their results.

I know that the UK team are going to be delighted. Although it’s important for organisations to be able to track e-learning and see which employees are doing which modules, the most crucial element is how helpful a learner management system is for the learners themselves. Looks like we’ve now cracked both.

Once the presentation is over, I get into the car that will take me to the airport. I must admit that I’m quite excited about all the new developments I’ve seen and how they are going to affect e-learning in the UK and throughout Europe.

Saturday

8.00 a.m. I arrive home just in time for breakfast - tired, but stimulated. And just in time to take my eldest daughter to her Saturday job. I’m also looking forward to spending the next couple of days with Lynn and the girls. I must admit I’m hoping that next week will be a little less frenetic!

Kevin Young is Managing Director of SkillSoft International – the world-leading specialists in e-learning for management, business and professional skills.

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