You are only as good as the person you sit next to.”

That’s something we heard in one of our research interviews that stuck with me the most. Even at the largest and most successful companies on the planet, so much of what we know about how the organization functions has historically been left to the lottery of seating charts.

A knowledgeable employee is a productive employee and a productive employee is a happy employee. Everyone wants to feel as though they’re succeeding at work. That’s why companies invest huge sums of money in training and education. The only problem? It’s not working. According to Harvard Business Review, “barely 10% of the $200 billion annual outlay for corporate training and development in the United States delivers concrete results.” 

That’s crazy. Why is it so hard to learn? 

The Skills Transfer Gap

To start answering that question we need to break down what it takes to acquire new skills. Most companies focus on the "skills gap": the space between what an employee knows and what they need to know. This is the driver of much of the re- and up-skilling happening as part of digital transformation efforts. But, equally important is the “skills transfer gap”, which is the space between where someone learns something and where they practice it. Here is how Forrester describes it

Most training fails to connect its content to actual on-the-job application. This phenomenon is called the “skills transfer gap,” and it happens when employees can’t bridge the divide between where they learn a skill and where they will apply it. The divide doesn’t have to be physical; it grows in the absence of context that makes learning experiences relevant, such as social context (who are they learning from and with?) and functional context (what are they using these skills for?).

Train like you Fight

The problem described by the Skills Transfer Gap isn’t specific to the context of companies. It’s true in any learning environment. In the Army, for instance, they have a saying: “Train as you Fight, Fight as you Train”:

Moore said it is vital that the first time Soldiers encounter the sights, sounds and smells of combat, it happens in a controlled training location -- not during an engagement with the enemy. The Infantry Platoon Battle Course, located at Range 24, allows Soldiers to see what it might be like to move through an enemy-occupied location. 

The point, again, is that the more you can shrink the space between where/how something is learned and executed, the easier it is to put the education to use.

Okay, this all sounds reasonable, but what does it have to do with Variance? 

Learn where you Work

At the center of our approach to driving mastery of your systems is a belief in the value of doing things in the flow of work. In fact, this is one of our design principles:

Context always. We believe that things are easier when they're in context. When we design interfaces we always try to allow for actions to happen in the context of the work rather than moving people to other spaces. One easy example of this is that you should be able to edit the application description in the modal rather than forcing people to move into the admin.

To deliver on this our whole application exists in the context of the software you use on an everyday basis. Rather than asking users to stop what they’re doing and search the knowledge management system for answers to their questions, we believe the employee needs to learn where they work. That is why we are developing a way to provide context, right where the user might need it. This kind of learning is called "near transfer" and it’s powerful

Indeed, it’s much easier to use a new skill if the locus of acquisition is similar to the locus of application. This is called near transfer. For instance, learning to map the aluminum industry as a value-linked activity chain transfers more easily to an analysis of the steel business (near transfer) than to an analysis of the semiconductor industry (far transfer) or the strategy consulting industry (farther transfer).

Here is an example of how “near transfer” works with Variance working across all any of your applications. This example is of a guide that takes you through our Salesforce set up for both lead qualification and how to appropriately fill out an opportunity: 

Teach where you Learn

But the ideas behind Skills Transfer go beyond just learning and extend to teaching and documenting. If there is one thing everyone agrees on as it relates to documentation, it is that it’s very hard to do. 

Why is that? 

When you document you are almost always context switching between the application you are trying to document and a blank page of  Word, Docs, Confluence, and the like. It’s a classic “blank box problem”, turning the arduous task of moving between clicks and documentation into something that can feel insurmountable. To do this well is a skill in and of itself. To do this well and keep documentation constantly up to date? That’s nearly impossible. 

How do we solve this challenge? The same way we do it for users: context. Whether you’re guiding or being guided, it needs to happen inside the application where the work is being done. 

Imagine making your documentation right on top of the application you are in. That is all possible with Variance. Here is an example of editing the guide I showed you above in Salesforce. It is as easy as writing right on top of the page you want to document: 

From Far Away to in the Flow 

We believe deeply in that Satya Nadella quote above. The Skills Transfer Gap can be solved and we believe there is a better way to bridge the gap between teaching and learning. There is an increasing demand for a better way to work as we move to remote work environments and, particularly for big companies, as we grind through much needed digital transformations.

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