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Looking Forward Instead of Back: Rethinking the Traditional Performance Review

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There seems to be a split in regard to the perceived value of traditional performance appraisals. It continues to be a pressing debate in Human Resource circles these days.

As it turns out, 95 percent of employees and managers today are unhappy with the way their companies assess their performance each year – 90 percent don’t believe the process even deals with accurate information.

In addition, 65 percent of employees claim that the old school performance review process undermines their productivity. 65 percent of managers claim that the information considered isn’t even relevant to their jobs.

Why is everyone so averse to them, particularly milennials?  In their defense, besides the fact that they’ve been shown to be condescending toward talent, ineffective, expensive, inconsistent, and that they undermine team dynamics and momentum, perhaps not too much else.

Consider that if performance reviews as we know them are not slated for utter elimination, they are definitely trending toward quite an overhaul sooner than later.

A number of trendsetters have already begun to move away from the traditional annual employee assessment, including Deloitte, GE, and Accenture, and don’t be too surprised to see that the hot new emerging corporate trend is a new approach to giving employees feedback and making it worth their while to stick around.


It’s a Talent Retention Strategy Thing


Employee performance reviews date back to the 20th century when employees were considered to be easily interchangeable parts in a company machine – and the process has run its course.  You won’t turn many heads with your talent retention rates with the same approach today, as the traditional approach demotivates and instills dread.

A 2013 study by Kansas State University Associate Professor Satoris Culbertson and colleagues showed that high-performing employees were affected negatively by critical feedback on their annual performance appraisals.

In exchange for what modern skilled talent is expected to bring to the table, the expectation in return a more trusting relationship with their employers, as well as more meaningful autonomy in their professional lives.

Furthermore, when employees are treated as replaceable, faceless appendages, their unique strengths and talents go to waste, if not completely undiscovered. And the dynamics of business suffer.

Gone are the days when a manager fulfilled the role of overseer and taskmaster. The modern demands of being competitive look to leaders to be coaches and stewards, to understand each team member’s strengths and weaknesses, and to get them to buy into and align with organizational goals.

Forget about controlling your people.  When you look out for them instead, you get them to a place where it’s easier and more natural to unlock their potential.


A New Model for Employee Review


If the performance appraisal is done for, what should replace it with? According to 15Five’s CEO, David Hassell, a more relevant modern approach would involve:

  • Holding a predictable cadence of weekly and quarterly conversations with employees
  • Checking the pulse weekly on the morale of employees, and better understanding their engagement levels
  • Giving employees time throughout the quarter to reflect on performance to improve it
  • Having a formal performance conversation quarterly
  • Disconnecting compensation conversations from performance conversations
  • Connecting employees to a shared purpose to illuminate why their work matters


As businesses look for ways to improve their corporate culture and employee experience, the vertical relationship between managers and employees will become more cooperative than heirarchal, and they will unavoidably need to update how they assess their employees’ contributions. The performance discussion needs to empower employees to improve month over month, not year over year, according to Hassell.

Employees don’t want or need to be carrot-and-sticked, and companies that understand this sooner than later will focus more on working steadily with employees on improvement in the future rather than on merely reviewing the past.


  • Jonathan W. Crowell




Human Resources Sustainable Strategic Planning: Better Focus on People, Less on Programs


“HR continues to be about relationships rather than programs and a deep understanding of the business. The key skill set for future HR people will be how to effectively understand and manage the impact of mergers, demergers and globalization. These changes have profound impact in the workplace…”
 — Jenny Arwas, MBE, Former Director, BT Group Functions HRBT, November 2015

Recruitment, training, succession planning, conflict resolution: The management of human capital (HCM/HRM) is undoubtedly one of the more daunting time and emotional investments when it comes to operating any-sized company or organization. At times HRM can seem to dominate all other aspects of operations, and often make those involved wonder whether it’s all worth it. This is especially true since the returns on HR investment are difficult to accurately quantify.

It should come as no surprise that the income rate growth among companies that most care about and invest in HRM are consistently higher over time, in comparison with companies that don’t (to the tune of between 60 and 130 percent higher).

According to Keagan Kerr, vice president of corporate affairs and human resources for Coeur Mining Inc., “You’ll see more HR practitioners learning more about organizational effectiveness and culture and people because that’s what makes a difference in the organization.”

If you’re having some difficulty picturing more specifically what “investing more in your people, and less in programs” looks like, here are a few guidelines to help you focus.

  1. Develop a plan to develop a sustainable HRM plan
    If you really want to improve the ways and means by which you most effectively manage your human capital and their individual and collective talent, you need to establish a long-term plan, which includes having those in leadership positions to develop HR management skills and experience. Don’t get gun shy about developing an effective HR strategy because of feeling overwhelmed – research and study the best practice methods used by similar companies to yours within your industry. Start out with one area of your HR strategy and then slowly add on as things get rolling.  Solid HRM strategies are not just a checklist afterthought, they are a non-negotiable for success in business today.  Hire an HR firm, if necessary, to work with you to get things rolling.
  2. Begin with an end in mind: Develop your HRM operations and planning as far as seven to ten years out
    Set an ambitious seven-to-ten-year time horizon for your HRM planning. This type of HRM planning needs that kind of time to survive economic, industry, and legislative changes that may arise, to say nothing of restrategizing that may come from leadership, companywide crises, and advances in technology. It’s reasonable to assume that it takes at least seven years for leadership to install, gestate, tinker with, improve, and reap the benefits of HRM plans and policies, to eliminate unproductive and ineffective approaches, and to hire the next generation of company leaders. It can also take that long for a new foundation of trust to be developed (or rebuilt) between employees and leadership.
  3. Start small and focus on the basics
    Anyone can dramatically improve whatever it is that they do best, by focusing on doing the basics better – and effectively managing human resources in an organization is no different. Department by department, start going through all the HRM-related activities and motions with real focus and intent. Research has shown that several such procedures (recruitment, training, compensation, job definition, succession planning, etc.) are performed hurriedly and far less than adequately.
  4. Constantly be looking to nurture commitment, build consensus, and foster mutual understanding
    Human (and organizational) nature tends toward a pull in the direction of disconnect and alienation, without conscientious and consistent efforts to curb this dynamic. If leadership continuously fails to listen, fails to explain, fails to anticipate problems, fails to communicate expectations, and fails to approach HRM proactively, employees will ultimately drift away. A rebound from a disconnected workforce would be difficult, at best, if not impossible. Leadership can indeed work with HR to nurture and develop team that can – and will be willing to – meet and exceed the organization’s performance needs.
  5. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time – “We’ll work on it…”
    Having an expanded time horizon allows you and your HR team to develop a paradigm, a unique philosophy, as well as specific objectives, and a tried and proven overall strategic approach. Human resources strategic planning still invokes some degree of mystery when it comes to being able to know how to do and predict for everything, and it may take a while to get up to speed, but it’s far better to get going now than to wait until you can formulate the perfect scientific approach – don’t be afraid to experiment, evaluate and improve as you go.

Human Resources is a huge investment in resources, but it pays off, especially when you focus more on your people and less on your processes.  Do your homework, and if necessary, call in some expertise.

How is your HRM strategic planning looking these days?  We’d love to hear more from you about what’s working best!  Drop us a line!

— Jonathan W. Crowell

How Well Are Your Employees Engaged? 4 Non-Negotiables of Employee Engagement

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The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently released a report (“Employee Job Satisfaction & Engagement,” 2015) that gave a unique perspective on challenges that companies and HR professionals will most likely need to consistently prioritize over the course of the next decade, if not right away.  Indeed, employee engagement in the U.S. has been steadily reflected at a mere one-third overall over the past four years, according to a 2015 Gallup survey of more than 80,000 professionals.

Oddly, even though 90 percent of today’s business leaders think that their bottom line is critically impacted by how well they engage their employees, only 25 percent actually follow through and take steps toward implementing some sort of strategy to address the issue.  These will be the leaders claiming that employee engagement is more important than the customer, because they understand that some business outcomes that are directly related to a company’s success (e.g. customer experience) are strongly tied to how well engaged employees are.

If you ever thought that a culture of well-engaged employees is “an HR problem,” consider that companies with a very engaged workforce experience a 19.2 percent growth in operating income over a 12-month period, compared with companies that don’t, that earn an operating income 32.7 percent lower.

1.  Make Employee Engagement Part of Your Company Culture

It’s not an event, or even for just periodic review or teambuilding exercises.  Employee engagement is all about relationship-building and inclusion, and the sooner you begin engaging your employees after they start working on the team, the better – get creative and begin by making their integration and training fun and engaging.

New members of your team who are brought into an engaged work environment will feel more  validated and comfortable with moving forward in an engaged company culture.

2. It’s not Just an HR Problem

One of the top factors considered to gauge employee job satisfaction according to the above SHRM report is directly related to the quality of the relationships between employees and management – aka, the better relationships that employees feel they have with managers and leaders in the company, the more they feel a sense of belonging and inclusion (engagement).

It behooves company leadership to invest the time to get to know each of their employees as individuals, as well as spouses’ and childrens’ names, as well as, to an appropriate degree, a bit about their personal lives.  You don’t have to be everyone’s best friend, but take an interest in the lives of those on your team.

  1. Trust and Empower Your Employees

Neither you nor your employees will ever know what they are capable of unless you loosen up on the reins frequently and give them the opportunity to take on more responsibility and get confident “doing difficult things.”  You should trust them more, and give them opportunities to learn to trust themselves and build their confidence.

Encourage them to take risks and stretch themselves, observe, and if they happen to fail, you’ll be there to help them resolve and bounce back.  Employees become intrigued and engaged when given room to explore and exercise their abilities more freely.

4. Let Employees Help Build Your Consensus, and Recognize Their Contributions

Get input from your team on common goals, and include them on the “on the same page” process – no hidden agendas.  Employees will be much more likely to get behind a vision they feel they helped build, rather than feeling they have to buy into contrived plans.

Afraid they’ll come up with something that is out of sync with your organization’s goals?  Help them see the “how” and “why,” and let them choose for themselves the importance of aligning with company goals as a guideline.

Remember, employee engagement is well worth the attention and sustained effort, and it’s returns don’t just come in terms of income.  Highly-engaged employees have been shown to experience the following:


  • 2x higher customer loyalty
  • 2x higher productivity
  • 2x lower turnover

In sharp contrast, one disengaged employee can cost your company as much as $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary.
Before focusing so much on employee performance, focus more on building a more employee-engaged culture.

How are you engaging your employees?  We’d love to hear about it – Drop us a line!

— Jonathan W. Crowell


Five Steps to Boost Customer Loyalty with a Better Content Marketing Plan

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It’s the Golden Age of inbound (content) marketing.

If you don’t believe me, ask LinkedIn’s Technology Marketing Community: 72 percent of marketers have an inbound marketing strategy, and starting this year, as many as 60 percent of companies will have a dedicated executive whose specific objective is to direct his or her organization’s content marketing.

Regarding ROI, for one, content marketing costs 62 percent less per lead than traditional marketing, and secondly, it produces three times more sales leads per dollar spent than the outbound marketing processes that we all know and love.

What Is Content Marketing?

According to the Content Marketing Institute, “Content marketing is a strategic marketing methodology focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action (emphasis added)”.  It’s a core driving element of the modern sales (a.k.a. conversion) process, turning potential customers into buyers, and subsequently, into loyal, returning customers.

I remember in the early 90s when Pearl Jam’s debut album “Ten” was still on the up and coming list – I grew up a huge fan, but I’d never heard of them until I won a local radio station promotion which included the CD, a T-shirt and poster.  I really liked the band’s music as I listened, but as you can imagine, this win made me a die-hard fan on the spot, not only of the band, but also of the radio station.  Plus it made me an “early adopter,” so I got the bragging rights of “discovering Pearl Jam,” however accurate that self-assessment may or may not have been.

Your actual and potential customers love free stuff: articles, video presentations, infographics, podcasts, downloadable e-books, pdf’s, etc.  It’s a great way to sell yourself as an expert, while building rapport with your audience.

But giving away just any content or coupon doesn’t fly anymore.  According to Forbes, 76 percent of Business to Consumer (B2C) marketers use content marketing, yet only 37 percent report that their strategy is effective.  The market is becoming so oversaturated with mass-produced content, that the demand to produce higher quality content for users is ever on the rise.

With a good, solid content marketing plan, you can have the same effect on your audience as the radio station prize package did on me as a kid – and you can increase traffic, revenue and bolster customer loyalty.

It’s a time investment for sure, so if you can’t spare the time yourself, you might want to consider reviewing your budget to hire a professional firm to work with you on your plan.

Your Content Marketing Plan

1. Map it all out first.  Outline, identify channels, identify appropriate content/message and end goals, as well as action steps.  According to research conducted by the Content Marketing Institute, those that get their strategies down on paper are more likely to consider them effective, and feel less overwhelmed by the process, and more confident in being able to spend more of their budget on it.

  1. Know Your Audience. Exactly who are they, and how do they interact with content? What social media do they use? Do they watch YouTube, or read industry-informative articles and blogs? What are their needs, how can you help them resolve them, and what content would work best?  Are you willing to expand your social media horizons across platforms to build your audience?3.  Consider all Your Channels and Share Your Expertise

There are countless ways to get your brand out there, so make sure you’ve considered all your best options.  What channel is your content best suited for, and where will it have the greatest reach?  Who can you partner with to get it out there? How about writing a downloadable e-book, making it available on your Web site, with social media posts to let your audience know how to get a hold of it?

  1. Be Sure to Consider User Experience

Another important thing not to overlook is what your users are experiencing while attempting to access your awesome free content.  How many click-throughs does it take to get to your content?  How easy is it to download?  Are calls-to-action easy to respond to?


  1. Be Sure to Mobilize

Even with the best content in the world, if it’s not optimized for mobile device access, it may as well be stored in your garage.  Mobile is king: mobile searches are about to replace desktop searches outright, and currently 58 percent of Americans use smartphones, a statistic that is only expected to grow, along with smartphone use worldwide.

Just remember, content marketing is a proven way to increase your traffic, with a better than 200 percent ROI.  Get creative!  You can do this!


What is your content marketing plan looking like? Let us know – we’d love to hear from you!


— Jonathan W. Crowell


Top 5 LMS Off the Beaten Track Infographic

Top 5 LMS Off the Beaten Track Infographic via Insider Hub


Marketing Automation – is your money on the right horse?

Marketing automation is a hot topic lately and has been trending in various business circles for a while. What marketing automation entails is a more organized process flow and easier integration with different business activities. But is it really so?

Marketing automation is expected to grow up to 50% in the upcoming year according to many resources, but the most prominent reports from 2013 were showing that 25% of Fortune 500 companies already adopted marketing automation, as seen in this report from ClickZ. Also notable in this report is that the marketing automation tools were mostly used for basic functions, like visitor tracking and content creation, and much less for lead nurturing.

These trends have most definitely changed, with more focus being put on lead nurturing and conversion follow-ups than before. According to this great infographic from Salesforce’s very own Pardot marketing automation tool, only 23% of interviewed sales teams would say marketing efforts bring in a steady flow of sales lead. This is a startlingly low number, but fear not – with marketing automation, these numbers can gradually increase.

What do you get from Marketing Automation?

First of all, Marketing Automation is a great way to tighten your marketing and sales cycles and deliver higher number of qualified leads. This will, in return, help with higher sales closures and increase in revenue. (This is probably the one thing that gets the CEO’s interested in this kind of investment.)

According to some research, there are slight but constant rises of productivity, both in sales and in marketing. Even though the improvements are not to be clearly felt in the first 6 months of the implementation, seems like ‘slow and steady wins the race’ rule applies here.

Is the marketing automation strategy fool proof?

On the contrary, marketing automation field is wide and full of trenches. If you don’t have a solid foundation – your investment will very likely be in vain. According to this great summary from HubSpot, many companies tend to get overly excited about the prospect of generating more leads and tend to expect too much from their tool. They, in fact, focus on just one piece of the funnel and same as with every process – if you focus on one piece of the puzzle, you will not see the big picture or in the end have good results. Unfortunate fact is that many marketing automation related investments fail and can even hurt your efforts instead of helping you achieve your goals.

What can you do to make sure you’re not wasting funds?

If you’re considering taking the step of implementing a marketing automation tool, it’s best to make sure you have the basics covered. Ask yourself: is your base healthy enough? Is your database stable and clean enough? Is you prospect behaviour defined?

If you can’t or don’t know how to answer the above questions, my advice is to get an advisor into the picture. Cox eLearning Consultants can definitely help you make better decisions according to your current situation, goals and budgets. Even reading up on real user experiences, like on CollectMyThoughts, can go a long way.

So are you betting on the right horse?

Marketing automation has a bright future, and the chances are that it will become the new standard for businesses of all sizes in a couple of years. But if you’re not sure if your base is stable enough for this kind of effort, it’s better to refocus the energy on generating stronger foundations before making any investments. Marketing automation can turn out to be a great investment but can also come back to bite you.


5 Inbound Marketing Activities Every Small Business Should Be Doing

Inbound marketing is a critical component of marketing. Creating and distributing interesting and valuable content through a variety of online channels, and becoming active in online communities, are essential for all companies today and are proving to be very cost effective for small businesses. If you don’t have an inbound marketing strategy yet, I encourage you to do so immediately. Here are 5 simple marketing activities every business should be doing to generate leads and build their brand.

  • Start a Blog

Not only can a blog help with search engine optimization and to drive more traffic to your website, it can also provide your visitors with thought leadership and turn your readers into leads.

  • Social Media

Ask open-ended questions and start a conversation. Inbound marketing takes advantage of social media by inviting people to respond. You can then take the information you’ve gathered and convert it to content such as a blog posting.

  • SEO and Keyword Optimization

You’ve heard “content is king” but so is keyword optimization. Researching, analyzing, and selecting the right words and phrases to drive qualified traffic from search-engines to your website is a vital part of your inbound marketing strategy.

  • Provide valuable information and hold it ransom

By providing valuable information and answers to burning questions or common challenges your audience faces then holding it ransom in exchange for contact information such as an email address is a great way to not only build your opt-in list but also to judge who is interested in your content or website. Some good examples are white papers, tips sheets, ebooks, training videos and assessments.

  • Form Fills

Be sure to include frequent, easy-to-find form fills on your website for a prospect to submit their contact information and ask questions.

Keep in mind that it is not your prospects responsibility to stay in touch with you but rather the other way around. With inbound marketing, every blog post is not only a chance to capture new leads but also to nurture existing leads; and every tweet or status is an invitation to start a conversation that builds your brand and may lead to your next piece of business. Inbound marketing is the perfect opportunity to stay in contact with your prospects, and is something you should start taking advantage of today.

If you want more information on inbound marketing tactics and strategies, contact the experts at Cox eLearning Consultants to see how you can get started implementing an inbound strategy.

Create a Coordinated Marketing Plan

The best way to market your company is by using multiple methods. There are a lot of free and paid ways to market your business and through a coordinated approach you can get great results for your company. Some things you can include in your marketing plan include:

  • Start a blog

This establishes you as an expert and is a free way to promote your brand. It gives you a platform to put your point of view out there regarding your industry.

  • Keep your website updated and relevant

Your website is such an important tool in representing your brand to the marketplace. Make sure you optimize the impact you can make by keeping it current and relevant to what your customers are searching for.

  • Use social media

Keep your links updated and find great ways to get your customers directed to your pages. Something offered through CollectMyThoughts (CMT) sponsorship is a direct link   to your social media pages through one click. The website attracts buyers looking for a HR or Training solution and they can get to your company information through one click. You can also put links to your social media pages right in your signature line that you use in your email communication. Every email you send will put that customer one click away from more information about your product.

    • Directly reach out to prospective customers

Nothing really replaces reaching out directly to your customer base and finding buyers looking for your solution. If you do not have the internal resources to cold call, you can use telesales providers like Cox eLearning Consultants to get you results.

      • Create strategic partnerships

Partnering with other companies in your industry that are trying to reach your customer base makes a lot of sense for you and them.

Many companies get tunnel vision and get focused on using a particular method to market their company. The most effective plans include a variety of different ways to reach those customers you are trying to connect with. Using multiple methods to market your brand will get you the best results and allow you to optimize sales for your company!

The benefits of mobile learning

Do you remember the time, when cell phones and lap tops were considered most atrocious classroom distraction? Although it was not long time ago, that time has passed. Mobile devices and lap tops are more and more associated with learning. You can even improve your organization’s training outcomes by implementing mobile learning as a core strategy for employee development.

There are many reasons we recommend mobile learning as part of our learning blends:

Significant training cost reduction

This is one of many natural benefits of mobile learning. It takes away the cost of instructors, facilities, and all the physical materials as is common in the traditional instructor-led model of training.

Easy access

Mobile learning can be easily used at any place and any time, which is a great benefit to the learners. Not only it makes possible for the learning to never stop, but learners have an advantage of spending their free time during travelling, in between meetings or during weekends to focus on subject they want to learn.

It can be applied on-the-go

Even if this benefit faces the connectivity limitation, a fact that mobile learning can be access at any point of time and applied immediately makes it pretty great, right?

Learning at own pace

No two learners are the same. Everyone has its own way of understanding the content or strategies to learn. With mobile learning, learners are now able to learn in their own style at their own pace.

Collaborative Learning

Mobile learning encourages collaborative learning. Allowing the learners at different locations to get in touch with their peers or others teams to discuss and learn can be very useful – people learn from each other.


Contact the experts at Cox e-Learning Consultants, for additional consulting and assistance on e-learning.


Tracking Marketing ROI

Is your marketing budget investment delivering the expected return?

Every business monitors the return on investment (ROI) of marketing funds. Implementing a marketing measurement model so you know what your breakeven point and profit margins are is vitally important to properly track this important budget item. When sales and accounting departments work together in setting realistic goals regarding the marketing budget, profits will increase. When planning a marketing budget it is vital to consider both the short-term and long-term ROI on allocated marketing funds, as the long-term sales impact the core of your marketing program.

A common ROI calculation notes that for every $1.00 spent on marketing, the business needs to generate $4.00 in gross sales to break even. Depending on the product or service being sold, most businesses look for this ratio to be at $6.00, $10.00 or even $20.00 in gross sales for every $1.00 spent on marketing to meet the desired profit margin. Cox eLearning Consultants can assist with additional metrics or determining your expected ratio.

Tracking sales sources is another vital component to accurately predicting and reporting marketing ROI. Direct sales are the simplest to track, while influenced and referred sales are not as clearly reported. Sales that are influenced by a previous marketing campaign as well as referred sales need to be accounted for correctly to get the most accurate ROI calculation. While difficult to do, it is not impossible if you know where to start. Temporarily outsourcing an expert in this area, such as Cox eLearning Consultants, is something to consider if you don’t have the resources or expertise in-house.

When you strategically invest your financial resources and time into developing a marketing measurement model, you position yourself for future success.  You’ll optimize your marketing program arsenal and fine-tune individual high-producing programs to increase profits and market share.