Chapter 1

Digital Enablement is the Future of Workplace Learning

What employees needed was a platform that combined all the impactful building blocks of learning together to help them learn faster and work smarter.

We were a million dollars deep into a Salesforce implementation before anyone admitted there was a problem.

It was 2016, and I was working for RealtyShares, a real estate investment startup. We were coming off the back of a $20 million-dollar Series B round. Our team had ballooned from 15 to more than 150. Growth was good, but it created lots of new problems like leaky funnels and go-to-market process inefficiencies.

To shore up our sales strategy, our I.T. team rolled out a heavily customized Salesforce implementation. But even after a year of work and huge capital investment, adoption still hovered close to zero.

My CEO came to me and said, “We’re burning money and resources. We’re going to get rid of Salesforce. What are your thoughts?”

At the time, I didn’t know the first thing about Salesforce, but I could see their shining headquarters across the street from our office. I knew they were doing something right, and guessed the fault lay on our side.

I told my CEO that I could fix our implementation.

Little did I know, that decision would send me on a journey to reinvent corporate learning and define a brand new category now known as digital enablement.

But, getting there was a bumpy ride.

Our approach to learning is broken

After taking over the Salesforce project, I spent three weeks re-architecting and re-implementing the platform. I created a basic proof of concept and could demonstrate how my new Salesforce implementation would improve our sales motion.

But it didn’t make a difference.

Reps understood the user interface and could use the product, but they struggled to understand the bigger picture. They didn’t get our business processes and lacked the knowledge necessary to do their jobs.

When I looked at our training processes, I discovered the problem: we were delivering information in lengthy training sessions via PowerPoints. Even a cursory glance at the science of learning shows how our old approach would never really work.

People can only process an average of seven new pieces of information at once. If you present the eighth nugget of knowledge, the first piece drops away. We were running all-day workshops and presenting hundreds of pieces of information to employees. Worse, our sessions were one-size-fits-all. Even though people have different learning styles and preferences, every employee received the same presentation.

People can only process an average of seven new pieces of information at once. If you present the eighth nugget of knowledge, the first piece drops away.

Our training methodologies weren’t unusual—that’s how most corporate training worked. So, it was no surprise when I learned that people forget an average of 50% of the information you present to them within one hour, and 90% of it within one week.

To shift information from short-term to long-term memory, people require repetition and reinforcement. You remember the lyrics to, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” because you’ve heard the simple lyrics hundreds of times before. Our employees forgot how to use Salesforce because we only told them once.

Looking back, re-architecting Salesforce was easy.

Re-inventing corporate training was the real challenge.

 


 

The building blocks to learning

At its core, our solution had a simple aim: make sure employees know what they need to know, when they need to know it, and where they need to know it. Through a six-month research project, I identified three categories of tools to help companies achieve that aim.

  • Learning management systems: These platforms house, deliver and track training content.
  • Knowledge management solutions: These repositories store all your institutional knowledge—policies, procedures, best practices, and so on.
  • Digital adoption platforms: These tools help people learn how to use software, websites, and apps.

Each category was necessary to deliver training, but they weren’t individually sufficient. For example, learning management platforms can assess employee understanding, but they can’t help people navigate a product’s user interface.

At its core, our solution had a simple aim: make sure employees know what they need to know, when they need to know it, and where they need to know it.

There were other problems as well. Learning management systems kept information locked away in slide decks and webinars. Knowledge management systems siloed knowledge from day-to-day tools. And, most digital adoption platforms required a dedicated engineering team to implement.

The more I learned about training tools, the more I realized how arbitrary the category distinctions were. If you could search within a tool, people called it a “knowledge base.” If you could assess employees, people termed it a “learning management system.” The category distinctions made sense for businesses, but not for employees.

What employees needed was a platform that combined all the impactful building blocks of learning together to help them learn faster and work smarter.

What employees needed was a platform that combined all the impactful building blocks of learning together to help them learn faster and work smarter.

Building digital enablement

My colleague—and future co-founder—Zari Zahra and I became obsessed with learning. We attended every business operations conference within a thousand miles, interrogated enablement teams, and interviewed hundreds of individual contributors. We ran surveys, crunched data, and re-imagined learning in the workplace.

We learned why existing products failed and what teams needed to be successful. With that knowledge, we engineered the idea of digital enablement: something that unifies digital adoption, just-in-time enablement, and in-app communication. Digital enablement merges the best of the three legacy product categories and cuts away their faults.

We took inspiration from the consumer technology revolution, too.

Our personal feeds across social platforms or Google searches are uniquely personalized, bite-sized, and hyper-relevant. The way we learn and access knowledge at work needs to be just as simple.

We discarded protracted training courses and rebuilt training as an always-on contextual partner. The modern worker needs continuous, bite-sized reinforcement of training and enablement. That’s exactly what we gave them.

During our research, we encountered countless other businesses making the exact same mistakes as RealityShares. PowerPoint—a tool invented in 1987 and barely updated since—remains the most-used training tool across the world. WebEx—a platform that came on the market in 1995—isn’t far behind. It was frustrating.

But with our new digital enablement technology, we knew it didn’t have to be that way. Zari and I took the ideas we had developed and created Spekit, the first digital enablement platform.

As business leaders, there’s so much that’s out of our control. If a sales rep loses a deal because their decision-maker didn’t get enough budget, that’s out of our hands. But, if a rep loses a deal because they couldn’t find the right objection handling tips or competitive talking points, that’s on us.

If a rep loses a deal because they couldn’t find the right objection handling tips or competitive talking points, that’s on us.

We can repeat and reinforce ideas until they’re as familiar as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” We can cut away all the time they waste looking for information or waiting for support on Slack. We can integrate information and knowledge where they work. We can help them learn faster and work smarter. Often, that foundation is the difference between success and failure—and digital enablement is how you get there.

We can help them learn faster and work smarter. Often, that foundation is the difference between success and failure—and digital enablement is how you get there.

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