Merit Career Development Blog

Optimizing ROI in Sales Force Training Programs

Sales PresentationA CFO, nervous about the cost of sales training, argues with the CEO. “What if we pay for all this training and these employees leave?” the CFO asks. The CEO replies, “What if we don’t pay for the training and they stay?”

Although the story from Peter Baeklund illustrates an old business witticism, when it comes to optimizing sales performance, effective training with significant return on investment is the key to success. For the company to see true ROI, the tools and skills learned in the classroom need to be transferred into the work environment where employees can use them to make the sales.

Taking the Right Steps


Donald Kirkpatrick, former president of the American Society for Training and Development, first published his Four-Level Training Evaluation Model in the Training and Development Journal in 1959. It was subsequently updated twice, once in 1975 and again in 1994 when he published one of his most well-known pieces, “Evaluating Training Programs.” Since then, his works have guided effective training exercises in the corporate environment. Kirkpatrick’s lessons involve four essential levels of evaluations:

  • Reaction: Capturing participants’ satisfaction with the experience immediately following training, gauging initial thoughts and feelings about the program
  • Learning: Measuring the increase in knowledge of skills as a result of training
  • Behavior: Assessing retention and whether participants can apply what they have learned in the workplace
  • Results: Addressing changes in performance and how the improvements have benefited the organization.

With today’s fast-paced and changing economy, the old guard methods of learning and development have become obsolete. Feedback forms don’t tell us if the training has been effectively retained. The real ROI is what happens when employees are back on the job – three months, six months and a year down the line. Learning, behavior and retention must be measured by then.

The sales force is integral to a company’s success and requires extensive training to adequately market its products and services. Sales employees must have a variety of selling techniques under their belts. For example, selling to a CFO or other C-level executive requires a significantly different approach than selling to an entry-level purchaser.

Current training modules need to reflect these differences. The challenge is helping sales professionals communicate clearly and effectively with high-level executives, cutting out technical jargon that can get in the way and listening to the client’s needs. More advanced and updated forms of training are needed to bolster the performance of the sales team, which in turn could result in an improved bottom line.

Achieving multi-million dollar success


A world-renowned international technology company hired Merit Career Development to improve the skills of its sales force. Merit’s powerful training techniques and tools enabled the employees to close a deal worth millions of dollars in transactions within six months of completing the course. The financial impact was huge as they earned a substantial amount of profits for the company.

Much of the training entailed developing pitches and proposals targeted to high-level executives without the need for convoluted vocabularies. Simplifying the language allows a pitch to appeal to multiple audiences and makes the information accessible to a large range of potential buyers. The program is now used around the world for hundreds of participants per year.

With its fully customizable courses that can be tailor-made to fit any business, Merit ensures that their clients receive the highest possible ROI on sales programs. To learn more, review Merit’s course list or contact Merit today.

Use the Iron Triangle to Frame Your Pitch to Upper Management

Framing information and using the Iron Triangle - time, cost and scope - can be instrumental in gaining support from senior executives for your projects.Framing information and using the Iron Triangle – time, cost and scope – can be instrumental in gaining support from senior executives for your projects.

In their 2002 book, “Selling Project Management to Senior Executives: Framing The Moves That Matter,” authors Janice Thomas, Ph.D., Connie Delisle, Ph.D., and Kam Jugdev, Ph.D., highlight the challenges that project managers face when trying to sell a plan to senior management. The primary issue lies in communicating the benefits of the assignment and approaching the situation with the right frame.

“Framing” is the perspective we bring to decision-making based on past experiences. In her renowned book on the subject, “The Power of Framing: Creating the Language of Leadership,” Gail Fairhurst, Ph.D., says that when we are communicating through frames, we are shaping the reality of a situation.

But framing can have a negative effect when it’s not used with careful thought, so it’s important to choose the proper frame when promoting a project to upper management. By presenting the vital information in a concrete and practical way, project managers can use the Iron Triangle of time, cost and scope to prove to executives how the company will improve its bottom line.

Breaking Through Their Barriers


From CEOs to CFOs, top-level executives are concerned with maintaining profitability. Therefore, they are often wary of using valuable resources like time and workflow in projects that have a potential for failure. When it comes to pitching assignments to them, executives need to understand the positive outcomes that project management will provide the business.

In their book, Thomas, Delisle and Jugdev explain that project management is becoming increasingly important to organizations that are looking to grow within their sectors. Project managers have to present the main components of the project in the right context while managing the realistic expectations of their executives.

The steps of persuasion


When framing a project management pitch for senior leadership, persuasion is an effective tool. In “The Necessary Art of Persuasion,” author Jay Conger, D.B.A., senior research scientist at the University of Southern California’s Center for Effective Organizations, underscored the efficacy of persuasion and discussed four distinct steps that project managers should use for framing discussions with upper management:

  1. Establish credibility
  2. Identify common ground and use it to frame goals
  3. Reinforce position with language and evidence
  4. Connect emotionally.
Successful project leaders position the assignment as a solution to corporate problems. They use executive-level language and concepts that resonate with upper management and present their information using the Iron Triangle focusing on time, cost and scope of the project. Senior executives want business results that can be achieved at lower expense to the company, and by presenting evidence in the right light, managers can ensure that their leaders support their efforts.

Minimizing Communication Breakdowns in Project Management

Business Team Coaching Prevent communication breakdowns from derailing or delaying project management efforts. To do this, focus on the three specific areas that are responsible for the majority of miscommunications in project management.

Successful project management cannot be achieved when team members do not understand or retain material being presented. Project managers face their greatest challenges when dealing with poorly defined requirements and communication. When critical information gets misconstrued during the course of an assignment, significant errors can occur. If found too late, these can result in diminishing productivity, wasting resources and very expensive mistakes that are difficult to correct.

To ensure that project management requirements are met in the initiation and development phases, effective communication techniques are needed.

Managers may face three distinct types of problems during the course of a project: offsets in experience, English as a second language environments and varying employee backgrounds.

1. Experience Offset


Communication difficulties can arise when the project’s participants have varying levels and types of experience relevant to the business world. Entry-level employees may experience challenges when working alongside senior leadership executives and high-ranking associates. And vice versa.

“Communication is more than just the transmission of messages, words and ideas; it embodies the creation of meaning between individuals,” says John Juzbasich, CEO of Merit Career Development. “To do that we rely upon our experience to create and construct meaning from the words we hear.”

Often, new employees and veterans engage in conversations that appear beneficial and productive initially, but they may walk away with different understandings of what transpired.

What to do. Leaders should assess - and address - this risk upfront during the planning stage of the project. Finding ways to cross-train team members ensures that information is being delivered adequately and concisely throughout the assignment.

2. ESL environments


Every project management team can encounter English-skill level discrepancies, especially within companies working in a global environment. When employees are unable to understand one another at a basic level, communication becomes futile.

What to do. Rather than attempt to navigate vocal challenges, leaders should utilize chat technologies that allow for translations. This can facilitate ESL environments and prevent any breakdowns in communications that might interfere with the success of the project.

3. Varying backgrounds


Some of the biggest communication problems arise when team members are trained in different areas of the business. This happens frequently when cross-functional teams are tasked with company-wide initiatives and represent IT, HR, Finance and Customer Relations, for example. Employees within these different niches may struggle to communicate, since they may have language or jargon that is unique to their work.

Project managers have to be sure that nothing gets lost in translation between disparate functions. They must seek to understand the meaning of the communications presented by each team member and develop effective language skills that will be understood and relevant to all.

What to do. Kick-off the team initiatives on the right foot by providing insight into the objectives, backgrounds and contributions made by each area represented. Visuals may help clarify this important step in the communication process.

Other Important Tips to Assure Better Communications


Through techniques such as open-ended and clarifying questions, restatement, reflecting and paraphrasing the project manager’s instructions, team members can develop a clear understanding of the message and project requirements.

The end-users should be the focal point of the message, not the sender. The manager should be looking at the big picture in addition to the minute details. Too many project leaders put communication at the bottom of their priorities, which can lead to short messages that are difficult to interpret.

Merit Career Development provides a range of project management workshops that are managed by experts to yield the greatest results possible. Each one delves into its specific topics with in-depth tools and techniques to ensure that communication flows freely between participants. Every workshop can also be customized to meet the training needs of companies and tailored to specific environments. Review a course list or contact Merit to speak with a professional today.

Overcome Training Obstacles in the Virtual Workplace

Communicating with your virtual team In today's age of electronic interaction, new technologies can be mechanisms for better leadership and training - or they can create serious obstacles.

The Digital Age has given rise to numerous information technologies that have had both positive and negative effects on leadership. Because of this, there has been a fundamental change in the relationship between business leaders and their followers - both employees and clients.

The original dynamic of the leader-follower connection has been forever altered by the advent of communication technologies, according to John Juzbasich, CEO of Merit Career Development. As a result, leaders face different challenges when conducting training in the virtual workplace...mainly fluid communication.

The Challenge of Communication

In today's age of electronic interaction, new technologies are mechanisms for leadership and management. Social platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn can reduce the remoteness of followers and allow for more instantaneous communication, but they can lead to breakdowns in communications as well. Although oratory interaction can convey a clearer, message, between 60 and 80 percent of communications are non-verbal, Juzbasich explained.

When the voice is taken out of the equation, all that is left are words on a screen. At this point, messages can become misinterpreted, which is one of the biggest challenges in leading in the Digital Age. Because of this, leaders have to be more cognizant of how they speak and present themselves.

In order to avoid being misunderstood, Juzbasich suggests utilizing video technology to both communicate on a daily basis, and to create effective training. Video not only leverages digital technology in a popular way that people relate to, but it regains the visual and audio components of conversation.

Leading in the Digital Age

Juzbasich recently represented Merit at Penn State Great Valley on a panel that discussed e-leadership with other leading industry experts called "Leading in the Digital Age: Are You Connected For Success?" The event featured insight into cutting-edge research and best practices for leveraging rising technologies to be an effective leader in today’s business environment. Topics ranged from using avatars and emotion-reading technologies to advanced uses of social media. "We have come a long way over the past decade in understanding what works and what does not in a virtual teaching/learning environment. It is critical to redesign training to take advantage of today’s technologies and educational research on Best Practices," Juzbasich added.

Merit Career Development offers a wide array of learning methodologies that enhance professional education in today’s virtual workplace, including Virtual Instructor-Led Training, online self-paced courses, webinars and web-based assessment tools. To learn more about what Merit can do to enhance your leadership and employee training, please contact us.

Improve Your Decision-Making, Improve Your Leadership

Decision-Making Did you know that we make about 35,000 decisions a day? Learn about the many factors, conscious and sub-conscious, that affect our choices, and how we can control the ones that will help us make the best decisions.

The brain is a powerful machine constantly working behind the scenes, absorbing and dissecting information at an unimaginable rate. Without even realizing it, most people make thousands of decisions every day, from choosing a snack to making swift decisions while driving. Of course, there are the tougher decisions that we really contemplate, too.

Making the best decision is critical to success in most fields and disciplines. Our lack of understanding of how our minds work has profound consequences. Modern psychologists are studying the processes in our complex and sophisticated brain and have identified common errors in thinking, shortcuts used in the decision-making process, and cognitive biases that influence our decisions without our knowledge.

We know that good decision-making is critical to business success and will impact the bottom line. Daniel Kahneman, PhD, a Nobel-prize winning psychologist and author, explains how the brain functions in making decisions. In his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” he breaks down the decision-making process into two systems: System 1 and System 2.

System 1 works quickly and deals with automatic, unconscious thinking, such as finishing thoughts and sentences. It’s deeply rooted in our intuition and emotional mechanism. System 2 works more slowly, focusing on logic and problem solving. It is associated with deliberative thinking and complex computations, while System 1 is more reactive and creates impressions and feelings. Leveraging these two aspects of decision-making can be enormously beneficial.

One of the most significant of the biases that affect our decisions Kahneman calls “pervasive optimistic bias” which gives us the feeling of having control. That is also referred to as "illusion of control," the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events in their lives. Other biases that need to be understood and considered include: "framing", where familiar numbers form the context for our decisions, although there may not be any reason for them to be relevant or accurate, and "loss aversion," a tendency to fear losses more than value gains.

Professional Assistance and Career Development

At Merit Career Development, we stay on top of the latest proven research and integrate these findings into our unique and engaging programs. As a result, participants can learn about many different features that are integral to the decision-making process. We help our clients understand how the two primary systems generate actions for quick thinking and more thought-requiring decisions.

Participants in our "Better Decision Making" program will learn about traps like biases and blind spots that can unconsciously and negatively affect best decision-making practices. Merit teaches the tools to develop effective listening techniques and how to adapt and apply this knowledge to different types of situations.

Like most Merit programs, this highly engaging and interactive workshop is ideal for optimizing learning retention of valuable information. Numerous rational tools and practical techniques ensure that the lessons taught will be carried over into real-life workplace scenarios.

Interested leaders can review the course outline for Merit's "Strategic Thinking and Decision-Making" to discover why it is the one-stop for dynamic workforce training.

Optimize Your Training by Engaging Your Employees More Effectively

Senior Executives can commit vast resources and money to manage their employees, but if the staff does not feel valued or engaged in the business, it's likely that the desired results may not be achieved.

Improve Employee Engagement with Training and Professional Education According to a study from Gallup Inc, titled "The State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders", effectively engaging and retaining employees is one of the biggest challenges that leaders can face. Over a three-year period, from 2010 to 2012, the research firm surveyed more than 350,000 respondents, Forbes magazine reports.

The findings indicated that 70 percent of American workers are "not engaged" and are disconnected from the workplace, which in turn can make them less productive. This lack of engagement can be significantly detrimental to business profits. Gallup estimated that disengaged employees can cost companies between $450 and $550 billion per year in lost productivity. These employees can also negatively influence their fellow employees, drive clients away and miss workdays completely.

With only 30 percent of employees working at their optimal potential, leaders need to begin improving their engagement strategies to retain staff and bolster their productivity as a business.

Trickle-down Engagement
Rather than focus strictly on lower levels of the organization, Gallup suggest that management leaders center their efforts at the top and have it disseminated throughout the company. As mid-level managers and employees feel empowered, they can begin to identify barriers to effective engagement and help develop methods for organizational improvement. Staff members can be the most knowledgeable when it comes to the company's processes and clients, which might result in better performance when given the right tools for the job.

The training process can be an area where leaders engage their employees directly for the betterment of the company, according to Training magazine. Merit Career Development offers a range of teaching techniques that engage employees and increase learning retention. To learn more contact us by phone, 610-225-0193 or send us an email.

Risk Management in the Biotech and Pharmaceutical Industry

Risk Management in the Pharmaceutical Industry The biotech and pharmaceutical industries are no stranger to risk - organizing clinical trials for medications that may never reach the open market due to inefficiency can place a significant financial burden on companies. When it comes to managing them, identifying procedures can be essential to avoiding or minimizing the financial impact of risks.

The Economist Intelligence Unit conducted a survey of senior management executives in the pharmaceuticals and life sciences industry regarding risk in their respective companies. The 65 responses were combined with those of an earlier survey of 353 executives in a wider range of other industries. It mainly focused on North America, with 65 percent of respondents hailing from the region, but also included international areas such as Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America.

Management is C-Level
According to its findings, the EIU reported that the ultimate responsibility of risk management was falling on CEOs, CFOs, CROs and general counsel. The survey found that the senior executives could be doing a better job of defining the company's interest in risk, ensuring that information gets to the appropriate people for assessment.

Most Time Spent on Compliance
Following controls and monitoring, compliance takes up most of their time with risk management. However, this leaves managers and executives with less freedom to watch for emerging threats that could create financial hardships. As a result, companies are failing to spread risk awareness throughout their organizations.

Mismatch Between Barriers, Risk Processes
The results showed that two-thirds of respondents had no intention of recruiting a chief risk officer, with less than one-third saying their organization has one on staff already. While breaking down the risk management silo may have been beneficial, the lack of awareness diminishes an organization's ability to understand new risks.

The Benefit of Third-Party Training
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, quality systems are becoming integral to the pharmaceutical industry. In turn, risk management is a valuable component of an effective quality system.

The biotech and pharmaceutical industries can greatly benefit from outsourcing their risk management training to third-party experts. Merit Career Development offers courses specific in project risk management for the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. For more information, click here.

The EIU study underscores the advantages that extra training can bring to risk management in the pharmaceutical industry. With a healthy roster of subject matter experts, Merit can help executives not only manage current threads but also look ahead to potential emerging risks.

Avoid Financial Sanctions with the Proper HIPAA/HITECH Compliance Plan

Doctors Studying Data on Computer The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 (HITECH) as amended by the HIPAA Omnibus Rule in 2013 define the regulations for the private and secure management of health information. Covered entities and business associates that neglect adhering to these regulations can face rigid sanctions from a multitude of agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), its Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the Federal Trade Commission and state Attorneys General.

Each regulatory agency can impose fines against covered entities and business associates that fail to document, investigate and remedy HIPAA and HITECH violations. Without the proper compliance planning, covered entities and business associates can be slammed with heavy financial penalties and regulatory oversight, as happened to Cignet Health of Prince George's County in Maryland.

Learning from the Past

According to Healthcare ITNews, Cignet denied 41 patients access to their medical between September 2008 and October 2009, a right guaranteed by the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Cignet further failed to cooperate with OCR's investigation of the patients' complaints and with HHS' subpoena for the records, which was enforced by the District Court.

The court levied a $1.3 million fine against Cignet for failing to grant access to the patients' records, and an additional $3 million for willful neglect of the HIPAA Privacy regulations.

The time for proper HIPAA and HITECH compliance planning is now.

Training Modules Available

"HIPAA and HITECH, Pathway to Compliance" is a four-part do-it-yourself instructional series that guides its users in drafting a HIPAA/HITECH Compliance Plan. Each part provides regulatory information and resources necessary to build a customized plan. Documentation developed in this series can be used when faced with OCR investigations and/or audits to demonstrate compliance efforts.

In this series, Patricia Wynne, Esq., CIPP, a seasoned HIPAA/HITECH subject matter expert familiar with the day-to-day challenges of compliance, presents guidelines for drafting a Compliance Plan that are easy to understand and practical to implement - not bogged in technical jargon. Each course is one hour in length and includes case studies and questions to enhance learning, as well as resources that can be downloaded and used in the compliance planning process. Now is the time to build your HIPAA/HITECH Compliance Plan with the professional insight of Merit Career Development.

HIPAA and HITECH, Pathway to Compliance on Udemy
Click here to access Part 1: Policies & Procedures
Click here to access Part 2: Complaints & Breaches
Click here to access Part 3: Assessments & Risk Analysis
Click here to access Part 4: Workforce Training

HIPAA and HITECH, Pathway to Compliance on Arbington
Click here to access Part 1: Policies & Procedures
Click here to access Part 2: Complaints & Breaches
Click here to access Part 3: Assessments & Risk Analysis
Click here to access Part 4: Workforce Training

Customer Conversations

A two-step learning experience to boost listening skills.


Customer Conversations What do you do when your own field technicians cant' seem to communicate effectively with your customers? That was the challenge faced by a large global technology company who came to Merit Career Development with a solution.

The answer was a two-step process: measure employees' listening skills and follow-up with a two-hour webinar reinforcing the key aspects of listening and interacting with customers.

The goal: empower field technical personnel to manage client conversations to ensure accurate communications and to create satisfied customers.

Measuring
We first asked employees to complete a simple assessment to gauge their listening skills. The Listening Skills Assessment (LiSA™) measures three related aspects of listening: understanding the overall situation, attention to detail, and inferring personal interpretation.

Students watch realistic technology-related video scenarios and answer questions about the big picture, details about the situation and what they think was really going on in the example. It's interactive and fun.

Before the webinar, students receive the results of their listening assessment. This establishes the baseline for the training session, the focus of which reinforces the key aspects of listening measured by the assessment.

Learning
The goal of the two-hour interactive webinar is to increase students' self-awareness of their verbal and written communication styles as they work with customers. But it's more than that. How can employees show they are really attending to the customer and want to leave both sides of the interaction satisfied?

Students learn how to observe non-verbal communication cues and follow-up on them, strengthening the customer relationship by showing good, attention skills. Important listening skills like asking open-ended questions, reflecting back to the speaker, paraphrasing and summarizing help the individual obtain accurate information from the customer and make sure the employee is getting the real message.

And the webinar covers more than just verbal communication skills. It also highlights effective electronic communications. Students learn how to create effective and appropriate electronic messages, write messages that are clear, concise, coherent, and project a positive voice image. These are all crucial communication skills in today's business environment.

In the end, participants leave the course being more self-aware and carrying some new tools to use in effective customer communication.

To learn more about how Merit Career Development can solve your business challenges, please contact us.

The Blended Project Plan

Why Using Just One Methodology Isn't Always the Answer


Blended Blue AbstractAs projects become more sophisticated in nature and content, a host of project management methodologies have been developed to address the needs of managing these complex projects. From the early years of CPM/PERT to the current complex computer-based project management systems, we are still mired in a high percentage of failed projects. Twenty years ago, the failure rate of IT projects was 87%. Today, despite an increase in project management knowledge and methodologies, the failure rate has only dropped to 82% (Standish Group, 2009).

While project management tools and methodologies have improved vastly, the tools do not support the speed of business change. Ironically, this fast-paced and changing environment is driven by the hyperbolic increase in technology.

Despite the hundreds of project methodologies and tools available – and many home-grown methodologies developed by independent PM organizations (PMI®, IPMA, et al) – the success rate remains low. To combat this low success rate, we create even more specific and directed project management processes.

For example, on change control and requirements, for companies that adhere to and enforce a strict requirements and change control process, there has been no appreciable change in the success rate. New methodologies such as Agile serve to further complicate the landscape. All of these methodologies have proven successful in limited and controlled environments; however, when pressed into a general and expanded business world, we continue with this abysmal failure rate.

We don’t need another new methodology
We need a more adaptive approach whereby the project is planned and managed according to the project directives and the needs of the business. The Blended Project Plan approach allows project managers to adapt various project management techniques to different components of the project. We can “chunk” the project to “match” a suitable project management methodology.

For example, at a recent client site we had three distinct groups present during our introduction to Agile. One group thought that it might work but preferred their current process. The second group completely supported the approach, and the third group stated that not only would Agile not help them but neither would their current process. The first group was responsible for building the hardware, the second group developed the software, and the third was responsible for the contractual implementation of the system. So we developed a Blended Project Plan under one project manager where the hardware development was managed with a traditional waterfall approach, the software development used Agile, and the field deployment team used a contract-based methodology.

The Project Management Officer implements and enforces PM standards based on a well-intended corporate policy; however, the strict adherence to these standards often stifles the project with unneeded, distracting, and cumbersome practices that unintentionally do not provide added value to the project plan. Adapting various project methodologies to specific “chunks” of the project provides for more flexibility and added value.

A parody that can be used to help explain this is the old Risk Management adage of known/knowns, known/unknowns, and unknown/knowns. This can be expanded to:

  • We know the requirements, and the approach to complete the task is known and standard.
  • The requirements are known; however, the process is dependent on project constraints.
  • The project requirements are not well-defined or fully understood, but once they are detailed we know how to implement

Broadly, this can be fitted to the standard project management process simplistically consisting of:
  • Standard Waterfall - sequential processing of project tasks
  • Compressed/Accelerated - overlapping of project tasks
  • Agile - spiral development

The project components can be better managed with the Blended Project Plan approach. The chunking of the plan allows the application of different measurements and controls that are in tune with the development process. The process to develop software is not the same as the process to implement hardware; however, we try to manage them using the same process. A Blended Project Plan eliminates the “one size fits all” mentality when trying to manage projects. The standard waterfall methodology contributes to understanding the critical path and the overlapped tasks impact project costs. The use of a spiral development methodology helps to control user requirements.

The roles and responsibilities change for the PMO, the project manager, and the business partner; however, the Blended Project Plan provides a greater degree of flexibility to ensure the successful completion of the project.

Merit Career Development provides project management training to fit your needs. From the fundamentals to PMP exam preparation, we can help you improve your project management skills. Whether it’s self-paced online learning, instructor-led virtual or classroom training, or exciting simulations, Merit provides quality, innovative and interactive professional education.

Learn more about Merit's project management curriculum here.