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CTDO Magazine

Turning Dropouts Into Drop-Ins

Friday, October 15, 2021

Trianz employees needed to improve their communication skills, but that required overcoming roadblocks to enable their participation.

In today’s fast-paced world, change is the mantra for success. With change comes the need for continuous learning. Trianz University faces the key challenge of driving business with skilled and technology-ready talent. Easier said than done, continuous assessment of the talent pool and equipping it to match the industry and client benchmarks become extremely critical to sustain a competitive edge in business.

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At Trianz, an IT service management company, client focus is key to how the organization does business. Having a culture driven by putting clients first and then working backward to deliver our value promise has helped us reap benefits. That level of customer centricity also defines and guides our efforts in ensuring our associates are ready for dynamic disruptions and challenges.

However, the company was struggling with workers being effective communicators. Most of the associates’ first language is not English. Additionally, they had difficulty understanding customers’ situations and perceptions, problem solving, and email and telephone communication etiquette.

The Trianz University team identified errors of oversight, deficiencies in proper tonality and choice of words, inadequate courtesy levels, and lack of structured thinking. Customers also highlighted the need for assertive and clear communication that is tuned to a global audience.  

In my role as vice president of human capital, which includes oversight of organization development, employee engagement, and Trianz University, my charter is to drive and oversee talent development and increase our employees’ skill quotient. To achieve that and to overcome those communications struggles, I first had to lower employees’ barriers to learn, get them to allocate time for learning, and help them understand the benefits of continuous learning.

Tackling the problem

My team and I conducted a needs analysis during which we connected extensively with stakeholders such as clients, partners, business leaders, team members, and supervisors. Our key findings highlighted a gap in communication skills that were clearly reflected in client interactions. The result: We needed to intervene to bridge those communication gaps and improve client issue resolution.

To address communication and language-related issues and ultimately improve the overall business communication skills consistently, my team and I launched under the university’s umbrella the Customer Excellence Program, which we designed to focus on improving language skills, building customer centricity, enhancing associates’ problem-solving abilities, and creating awareness on cross-cultural sensitivity.

Staged in five phases—preassessment, language instruction, coaching and support, learning modules, and post-assessment—the program aimed to establish a culture of service excellence and help associates address client issues efficiently while improving employee engagement through personal development.

Classroom components included interim assessments, observations, and facilitator feedback. We used external and internal facilitators and forums to ensure holistic and sustained change. And we solicited participant feedback immediately after the program, followed by a post-effectiveness survey for managers and learners after 60 days.

The pilot began with a group of 25 associates from a key project. However, we soon realized that learners were running into roadblocks that impeded learning. Initially, we saw a significant participant dropout of more than 40 percent. To identify what went wrong, we interviewed the candidates, took polls, and conducted surveys to understand learners’ and managers’ challenges. Observations from the facilitator and coordinator about the low attendance and irregularities also contributed to us pinpointing the issues.

After analyzing all the information, I understood the primary reasons for associates’ erratic attendance and high dropout were because of changes in project schedules, work shifts, and priority deliverables and insufficient backup.

To counter those challenges, I suggested modifying the assessments to be more concise, which would enable learners to complete them in less time, and moving the content to a different platform that was easier for learners to access. In addition, my team started offering session recordings to those who could not attend the sessions for work-related reasons, as well as self-paced learning modules for all participants. I also ensured that instructors were available at predetermined times to support those who needed help.

Further, discussions with participants revealed that we needed a robust communication strategy to ensure supervisor buy-in. That would help reduce the dropout rate because supervisors could plan for backup coverage while associates participated in the training program.

Learner and knowledge retention

Upon continuous improvement—which included rolling out informal learning that helped participants reinforce the new communication methods they had learned and sustain the behavior changes—and based on participants’ suggestions, my team and I were able to use the new training program to increase associates’ learning.

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The dropout ratio decreased to 25 percent, and those who missed the sessions due to unavoidable reasons were able to bridge the gap with focused assistance. In addition, an average of 72 percent of learners showed considerable improvement in post-assessment scores compared to their preassessment based on their spoken and written skills.

Eighty-one percent of learners were able to apply their learning on the job, and all participants said they would recommend the program to their colleagues.

My team and I interviewed and surveyed managers before and after the program’s initial iteration to ensure it aligned with individual project needs, such as spoken language development and written communication skill building. I additionally tasked my team with creating dashboards so supervisors could view team members’ progress and receive positive affirmation for their teams’ participation.

For example, participants with high attendance and good scores received recognition in team meetings as well as congratulatory notes. The participants’ managers likewise received recognition for being learning catalysts. Those actions contributed to program success and buy-in.

The sustained learner changes have led to client appreciation, repeat business engagements, and positive feedback from all stakeholders—sponsors, participants, managers, and clients, who have acknowledged the difference.

My learnings and inspiration

The main setback my team and I experienced during the Customer Excellence Program rollout was the high dropout rate and poor attendance among participants. The dropout rate was a stimulant for us to find innovative ways for creating a conducive learning environment, actively listening to client and stakeholder feedback, and ensuring learning was holistic and sustained at the workplace. 

Along the way, we brainstormed every week to track, monitor, and assess the impediments and learning outcomes to make course corrections. In the end, the setbacks we encountered and resolved added to the team’s cumulative learning and have been instrumental for me as a leader.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Sujit Sahoo is vice president of human capital at Trianz. He focuses on helping professional staff develop their skill sets to improve project delivery and reach their full potential. As VP of human capital development, Sahoo’s role represents a fine balance between serving the needs of clients and helping staff within the organization find a path in consulting services that works best for them. He holds an MBA in marketing, systems, and finance. His specialties include enterprise app delivery, IT operations, customer relationship management, and business process improvements.

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