Designing a data-driven learning strategy with Ryan Sarpalius from Facebook

Designing a data-driven learning strategy with Ryan Sarpalius from Facebook

November 6, 2020
Vidoe Ryan

“Pay attention to how people learn outside of work: How do they learn in their personal lives? What elements of that can be translated into professional learning? How can you leverage that instead of trying to force them into training methods that may be outdated?”

Ryan Sarpalius, has built learning programs to support the scaling of some of the world’s fastest-growing organizations including his current role at Facebook and previously, Uber. He joined Spekit CEO, Melanie Fellay, to peel the layers of the learning onion in a no slides, all insights, fireside chat. Read on or watch the episode below for insights into the hot topics that keep learning professionals up at night including how to measure the business impact of training, using data to influence your learning strategy, selling the value of learning within the organization and more!

Watch the chat above or listen to the podcast on Spotify or iTunes.

Selling the value of training

Ryan is currently at Facebook, but met Melanie in his previous role at Uber and before that, his experience spanned from the energy sector to technology, focusing on both human performance and how it impacts business results. With such a wide range of experience, he’s seen what it takes to adapt learning programs and strategies at businesses of all shapes and sizes.

“I’ve been at some organizations where they’re literally looking at every dollar spent and asking, what’s the value? Can you prove it to me? And, other organizations where nobody is asking the question and they think of training as just a thing they float some dollars to,” he said. “For me, it’s really been about positioning myself and my teams as a proactive partner in the business.”

He stressed that you really need to position the work you do by understanding how it will impact the business, asking questions before the stakeholders do and knowing the value you’re bringing and why.

Selling the value of what you do is a challenge that many departments face, including enablement leaders as Melanie interjected. Often, if something goes wrong, the department is blamed for not getting enough training and on the other hand, if all goes smoothly, very little appreciation is received. This back and forth struggle is due to the lack of ability to actually measure training and how it helped in reducing errors.

So, how do you measure the impact of training?

Using data the measure the impact of training

“There’s really a spectrum there and a lot of it depends on what your organization can do and the maturity/capability of your team,” said Ryan. “But, generally speaking, everywhere I’ve been we followed a general Kirkpatrick approach, mostly because it’s really translatable to other people and tools in the industry that we can leverage. And, this is about really understanding that the amount of effort and costs it’ll take to evaluate on a much richer, deeper lever will go up the further you go,” he said.

He explained you need to evaluate if you’re launching a new program or system, is it really worth the effort to fully demonstrate the impact it’s having? In some cases, measuring the value will be a survey, knowledge or skills assessment, etc. Something that will help you understand when they walk out of that training course and go back to their job, did they internalize that information and put it into practice. But, really evaluating beyond that can be intensive in terms of resources and time. Ultimately, it’s about identifying the value of the program or projects beforehand and determining what level of data do you absolutely need to be able to prove the effectiveness of your efforts.

“I think what they (executives) want to see is that we’re all trying to achieve the same thing,” said Ryan. “Showing how you’re contributing to that goal will go a lot further than trying to come in and say, we can solve all your problems by doing this and this,” he said.

It can be really difficult to isolate the exact impact on business outcomes and relies on what data can be collected. Ryan has been a part of organizations with limitations in data and those where any type of data is accessible. It needs to be based on how you can meaningfully determine the impact of the interventions and solutions provided. This then assists teams to confidently present their findings as to how those changes will solve a particular issue.

Ultimately, it’s a team effort across the board, and the most important thing you can do is (instead of trying to measure every single thing) identify in advance what you absolutely need to measure to ensure that each initiative is successful.

Identifying high performers to design learning programs

Gathering enough data to label top performers is vital to designing learning programs that will help others work toward that level. Furthermore, you need to articulate the value it will bring back to the business. Work and communicate with managers to paint a picture of the desired output or what a good performer looks like and filter by who is actually getting closest to that in terms of performance. That helps in highlighting key points that can later be the role model or comparison criteria for others to meet and elevate to that scale.

“That’s one thing we’ve focused on a lot recently,” said Ryan. “Methodologies and trying to understand human performance is really trying to get down to what does a good performer look like, what are all the things that get to that? And, spoiler alert, is usually not the training by itself, right? It’s usually a whole of other things are expectations, do they have the support they need and all kinds of other things that go into actual outcomes and performance.”

Creating a blended learning strategy

Ryan’s written a lot about creating blended learning strategies. A few key points he closely keeps an eye on are the difficulties, frequency and importance of a task being performed while simultaneously understanding the complexities and criticalities of it to the business. Figuring out what actually and meaningfully moves the needle while identifying how complex it is from the learner or performer’s perspective.

These questions can help determine what strategies and solutions need to be brought to the table. As operational learning is expensive, making the most out of each session by focusing on the key components is the best utility. Some parts in the training, which are unlikely to be retained, can be reinforced in workflow training through continuous reminders or prompts within an employee’s day to day workflow.

“I’ve had a lot of experiences where we’ve just packed as much as you can into one or two hours you have with the learner because they need to know everything,” he said. “We’re really trying to push back on that and understand what really needs to be learning based on the criteria in formal learning and what can be reinforced through things like workflow learning and microlearning. It’s an important conversation to have and to try and get right. Again, it’s educating stakeholders a lot who don’t truly understand what learning is. You’re trying to help them understand how employees can get the most value out of training.”

Training is expensive any way you swing it. It’s time away from the sales floor or either way, downtime for the business. Ryan stresses how essential it is that when you make that time, you’re focused on making it as rich and meaningful as possible. You need to be able to decide which things deserve a full hour session, and which things are maybe too complex and require constant reinforcement through different methods when and where the information is needed most.

Pay attention to how people learn outside of work: How do they learn in their personal lives? What elements of that can be translated into professional learning? How can you leverage that instead of trying to force them into training methods that may be outdated?

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How to Kickstart Digital Transformation In Your Enterprise Featuring Dan Ritch, the CIO at NorthMarq

How to Kickstart Digital Transformation In Your Enterprise Featuring Dan Ritch, the CIO at NorthMarq

October 14, 2020
Social Asset 3 3

“Before COVID, employees could just swivel their chair when they had a question over to the Salesforce team and they’d have help. When they’re working from home, how do they do that? That’s what Spekit has become for us. The swivel chair to quickly get answers while remote.”

With rapid technology advancement comes the need to digitally transform businesses parallel to this rapid rate of change. Dan Ritch, the CIO at NorthMarq, has been a part of some iconic and top-notch companies like Dell, IBM, Honeywell, working to drive digital transformation. He joins Spekit CEO, Melanie Fellay, to discuss the most innovative strategies and tactics a business needs to drive transformation across various sectors including Operations, Sales Enablement, Information Technology and beyond.

Here’s our interview with NorthMarq CIO, Dan Ritch.

Watch the chat above or listen to the podcast on Spotify or iTunes.

The three pillars of Digital Transformation

Digital transformation for NorthMarq has been centered on three pillars being growth, talent and innovation. Working in close connection with enabling internal teams as to how they can better serve customers.

  • Growth: Focus decisions on technology to grow the business faster than ever before
  • Talent: Integrate the best tools and technology to attract the right talent
  • Innovation: Blend innovation to the extent where internal team ideas can be brought together and the best are implemented

Dan Ritch emphasized that businesses must look for champions, people who are experts in their field and who want to bring about change for continuous improvement. These individuals help cascade the message positively throughout the organization, promote buy-in and establish credibility. Involving them in every aspect of the business and using their insights and feedback helps to construct the strategies that lead to success.

Melanie added on by highlighting the differences of focus between the business and the IT teams and how the business champions here prevent friction between them. She appreciated how NorthMarq has been super active about building those champions, whom the business can rely on, as they have influence over various levels in the organization. Furthermore, praised Dan for implying the distinction that not only leaders/managers bring improvement, but also those champions who care and sincerely work towards growth.

Dan also commented on how choosing the right partners can be a game-changer to assist in driving the business forward and achieving the goals set. NorthMarq has partnered with Sense Corp, Salesforce and Spekit who understand their model and help to drive it.

NorthMarq’s leadership had set priorities to be followed up on a monthly basis and no matter what these had to be maintained. This helped the company stay in focus throughout, with have-to-do tasks assigned and followed through. This became more of an internal competition considering who brings the business the most value.

Melanie later shared a perspective she got from various company leaders that no matter how much you innovate at the rate your technology team can, but if the end-users or your business are unable to consume that innovation, or learn from it, then the company will face roadblocks. Stressing why digital transformation needs to be parallel with digital adoption.

Regular communication: A game changer

Winding up, Dan stressed on the importance of regular communication in the form of small digital bites. Having weekly meetings, where the leadership of each department specifies and briefs on what is next, what all has been achieved, what is about to change, what is about to impact a specific department, etc. And, once communicated verbally, these are embedded into training with the help of Spekit. This empowers end users and helps them make decisions.

He also shared an interesting perspective of their employee about Spekit, that pre-COVID he could swivel his chair and get answers or help from the team. But as COVID enforced working remotely, this was not easily possible, hence Spekit became their swivel chair and provided answers to all queries, one click away.

The value in wise partnerships

Regarding partners, Dan emphasizes choosing them wisely. Partner with those who are able to understand the business model well and know the strategies. When everyone is on the same page, leadership is clear on the direction and partners are able to fully decipher strategies and goals, then they are able to recommend changes that may give a sudden boost and drive the business to the next level.

Adopting and adapting to digital transformation aligned with innovation and technology advancements can really be a turning point for businesses today. Digital transformation assists in modifying customer experience, uplifting collaboration between teams, escalating agility and innovation, renovating skills and cultivating a digital culture boosting productivity.

Opting to stay away from digital transformation is no longer a choice, like in the past. As of today, it’s the businesses that fully adopt digital transformation that will be the ones who prosper.

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Hobsons Provides Continuous Learning to Support Salesforce Lightning Migration With Spekit

Implementing Spekit to drive adoption in Salesforce and support the transition to Salesforce Lightning helped improve retention, reduce questions and free up time for their team to focus on other tasks.

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The future of CX: the Employee Experience – a conversation with Nicolle Paradise

Nicolle Paradise recently joined Spekit as an Advisor and I had the opportunity to learn more about what makes her such a force in the Customer Experience industry.

You recently gave the opening keynote at TalkDesk’s annual conference called “Winning, Losing and the Employee Experience.” How do you define the Employee Experience (EX) and how does that fit into the Customer Experience (CX)?

When I discuss the employee experience (EX), I’m referring to specifically, the environment that those employees work in and why it’s the driving force for winning products that come from winning companies.

Like any ecosystem, EX and CX thrive when there’s a balance. When employees have a positive experience in their work environment, those employees tend to stay at a company longer (vs. quitting and moving to a new company).  That employee retention contributes to overall company stability, which has a positive impact on company efficiency. Company efficiency contributes to stable growth, innovation, and certainly benefits profitability.  Those are all cohorts that help connect the internal experience of a company to the external experiences that shape the perceptions customers have with that company.

2-minute highlight video from keynote

Are those external experiences what define the Customer Experience? 

The academic answer is that CX is the sum of all the interactions a customer has with a company.  I think the more thoughtful answer is that it’s the sum of all the perceived interactions a customer has with a company and its brand.  

Why that distinction is important is because it places the focus back on how the customer is viewing the end to end journey and what choices they’ll make because of it, not on how the company thinks the customer should view that end to end journey.

So how do winning companies really stand out with their Customer Experience?

The last 7 years or so of my career have been within Fintech, both at startups and multi-billion dollar organizations, so I tend to view customer experiences through two lenses:  one is, “is this product easy for the customer to buy, use, and when needed, service?” and the other lens is, “does this experience contribute direct value and/or financial impact to both the customer and my company?”

Endless conferences and books are dedicated to exploring how to deliver world-class experiences to customers, though few index to the financial aspect of the customer experience:  what is the customer ROI for buying a company’s product – and more importantly, keeping it?  Companies stand out when they help customers calculate the value of what that customer is actually spending money on — the product.

Companies need to think like a customer, but communicate like a CFO.

A CFO should be able to calculate an ROI from the use of the product. If they can’t, the discussion of renewal pivots away from quantified business outcomes to qualified outcomes (how responsive or friendly our company is, etc.).  Non-measurable returns on investment are less influential to decision makers than measurable returns.

Today, customers have dozens (or hundreds) of varying products in their ecosystem, so it’s on us (the company) to create the mechanisms for calculating and communicating ROI to our customers, proactively.

Few companies are tackling this challenge of their own product at scale, thus the companies that truly stand out are the ones who take up the challenge of figuring out how to deliver that insight, that experience, for their customers.

How does a company’s brand and purpose fit into the Customer Experience?

A company’s brand is the WHAT; what story that company wants to be known for, irrespective of explicit messaging or marketing.  A company’s purpose is the WHY; why do customers believe that story when using their products or services.

We’ve recently seen the rise of employees developing their own “personal brands”. How is an employee’s personal brand different than their company’s brand and can the two co-exist?

Well, the foundation is the same:  it’s what story does either a company or a person want to be known for.  To your question, I view them as complementary though decidedly distinct. Take Salesforce (the company) as an example.

For 10 years now, they’ve been on the “Fortune 100” list of best companies to work for, which is noteworthy for any company, particularly in tech. Naturally then, part of their story – part of their company personality – is that they are the type of company that people want to work for.  

Then there’s the personal brand of the company’s CEO, Marc Benioff. He’s been quoted over the years saying that the secret to successful hiring is to look for people who want to change the world.

And so, how does he leverage that messaging on his personal brand? Well, he’s often in the media locally here in San Francisco and via social, advocating for the charitable causes that he believes in and donates to.  He puts his money – and his brand – toward the sort of changes he wants to see in the world. That’s a classic example of how the personal and company brands co-exist and complement.

Another great example would be Drift and Julie Hogan, Vice President, Customer Team at Drift.  I was chatting with her at a conference last year and was impressed by her commitment to gender equality in her personal life and how she’s connected that to her work, her teams, and the balanced opportunities she helps create for teams at Drift.  It’s very personal to her, and she leverages that passion and empowerment within her personal brand, as well as to the action-oriented way she leads at Drift.

Is it through your research on the Employee Experience that you first learned about Spekit?

No, it’s a funny story actually. I was at a very loud birthday party –  a happy hour where I didn’t know many people, and I struck up a conversation with someone who looked like they also didn’t know many folks.  That was Melanie. We started laughing about how we could just yell over the music to chat about business, which led to some thoughtful chats (once the music quieted a bit) around how we each viewed the world, the costs and opportunities of being a female entrepreneur, and of course, the Employee Experience and Spekit‘s mission to improve it with real-time access to knowledge.

We grabbed coffee a few weeks later, and I learned more about the launch of Spekit and that she and Zari would be speaking at Dreamforce. I volunteered to help them with speaker and content prep. for Dreamforce and from then on, we began spending a good deal of time with each other.

Mel, Zari and Nicolle rehearsing for Dreamforce presentation in October 2018

What was your initial impression of Spekit?

Well, I was initially impressed with the passion and focus Mel and Zari both had.  They had observed real world problems, solved them, and were committed to turning those solutions into a business.

Spekit is building something that fills a big void in the corporate training world, and they are doing it the right way – by spending time listening to their customers and advocates, and creating functionality that solves real problems. Their bootstrapping approach –  the way they started out by tapping into the power of the Salesforce Community rather than through personal networks – is really shaping the order of knowledge sharing for years to come. They’ve already closed a deal with Jones Lange LaSalle (JLL — a $6.7B company). Not a bad catch for a small startup just finishing up their first year!

They’ll certainly grow to a 100+ person company within a one to two years, and likely, they’ll be as common of a tool in enterprise technology stack as Slack. I was – and am – so thrilled to be part of this rocket ship that is Spekit and equally thrilled to see two female entrepreneurs achieving so much success so quickly.

About Nicolle

Nicolle Paradise has been architecting and leading client-centric organizations for 15+ years that deliver value for clients, profitability for shareholders, and inspire employees. She is an keynote speaker, Head of Attendee Experience for TEDx San Francisco, and has had the good fortune to travel to all 7 continents.  

Learn more about Nicolle at