January 28, 2020

You’re the Boss Blog: Training Employees to Analyze the Business

Building the Team

Hiring, firing, and training in a new era.

“Be direct.”

This is one of our core values at H.Bloom. It stems from another one of our values, which is to care deeply about our colleagues, and from the shared ambition to become as good as we can possibly be in this business. The only way to achieve this is to be direct with each other about areas of improvement. Otherwise, how will any of us know what to improve?

In my last two posts, I have written about the importance of practice, the formal training that we have set up, and shared the details of a specific management class that I led recently on data-driven decision-making. In this post, I want to walk through some of the projects our managers presented as part of the assignment from that class, and the direct feedback that I gave them so that they could work on the continued development of their skills.

After the training class, I gave the following assignment to our market managers and sales managers:

  1. Identify a problem or opportunity in your market.
  2. Analyze any available data about that problem or opportunity.
  3. Use the evaluation of data to draw a conclusion.
  4. Present your findings to the group.

The class participants could work on this assignment individually, or in teams, and they were given two weeks to complete the project. Here are four examples of what the participants presented, and how we used the presentations as an opportunity to give direct feedback on the skills they had learned.

Automate a Process

One of our market managers presented the need for a new piece of software that would automate the process of fulfilling same-day orders. Today, these orders are guided to completion in a relatively manual way. There is no question this process needs to be automated. However, as a three-year-old start-up, almost everything we do still needs to be automated. The presentation skipped over the data analysis and jumped right to the conclusion. While the conclusion was sound, the presentation missed the mark because of the lack of supporting data.

In our company, there is tremendous opportunity to derive competitive advantage by automating manual processes, but the trick is in deciding which processes to automate first. I gave this market manager direct feedback: First, when the assignment is data-driven decision-making, don’t forget the data! Second, and the important lesson in this interaction, was that because everything needs to be automated, the only way to determine what to do next is to compare the potential return of one project to that of another. With this filter, we work on the highest-value projects first, and eventually, we will get to everything. I asked this market manager to redo the presentation.

Buy Some Equipment

Another presentation, this time from a current SEED participant, suggested that we purchase a piece of equipment to deliver a particular corporate service in a more efficient manner. The numbers were sound: the presentation showed cost, a detailed potential return, and months to break-even. The return on investment was compelling, except for one other piece of data – this new business, one we had just introduced, was not yet profitable. I suggested to the presenter that we should drive the business to profitability first – which was only a couple of months away – before investing further in the line. While the presentation analyzed data, I thought it missed the analysis of contextual data (in this case, the profit and loss of the business line itself). The presentation provided a good opportunity to share with this future market manager my philosophies on investing limited capital, introducing new lines of business, and investing in those businesses for scale and efficiency.

Eliminate Wasted Effort

Two sales managers presented a detailed analysis of our sales pipeline. They enumerated activities by account executive, conversion rate and closed deals. They conducted an in-depth survey with current account executives, and identified a situation in which our sales people were duplicating efforts by entering the same data into two different systems. They calculated the potential uplift in sales if this wasted effort were removed and concluded that our engineering team should build the required functionality. My reaction was not what they expected. In the process of presenting their findings, they highlighted the number of activities that our account executives complete on average per day. When I asked the sales managers if they thought it was conceivable that our account managers could do more activities per day, the answer was a resounding, “Yes.”

In fact, these sales managers believed that our sales people could execute twice the number of activities per day even without implementing their suggestion. When I then asked them to compare the potential value of a) increasing the number of activities per account executive per day to b) removing the duplicative process, they saw that the former would provide a much larger return. My feedback to them was simple – if the data is there, make sure to draw the most rewarding conclusion. As a result of the presentation, the sales managers met as a group and instituted a new minimum number of activities a day, supported by our incentive program, and that has now been introduced to our entire sales force.

Try a Loyalty Program

One of our most seasoned sales managers analyzed our corporate subscription business. She proposed the introduction of a customer loyalty program, whereby we would systematically deliver something extraordinary to our customers as a thank-you for their loyalty during the previous year. This program could do two things: 1) surprise and delight our customers and 2) help ensure that they continue their subscription. The team compared the cost of this program to the potential benefit and proposed a pilot program that would contain our costs while enabling us to see any positive results in just two months. I gave the sales manager my feedback: it was a great presentation; a thorough analysis of the data; and a thoughtful decision to propose a pilot program. As a result of the presentation, I approved the program, which is in process right now. We will be able to assess the results in a couple of months.

Bryan Burkhart is a founder of H.Bloom. You can follow him on Twitter.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/23/how-we-train-employees-to-analyze-the-business/?partner=rss&emc=rss

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