The way we communicate and sell has changed dramatically in the past two years. We learned how quickly people and organizations can shift to stay productive and keep businesses moving. We’ve become experts by necessity in virtual communication — Teams, Zoom, email, text and many other digital and hybrid tools that are shaping the future of our lives and of distribution.
But many companies have struggled with keeping their teams and outside stakeholders engaged in increasingly noisy digital channels. So I was interested to explore the subject of online learning and effective communication with Jay Platt, who first created an online learning system in the 1990s as part of his leadership team at Platt Electric Supply, and then spun that platform into a service provider to the industry for the past 20 years.
“What we were really trying to do was to take whatever information that we were moving within the organization,” Platt says in this week’s MDM Podcast. “And we were trying to create an environment so that regardless of what position you were, you could access that 24/7. And historically, that type of information all sat in filing cabinets; I think at one time we retired 3,000 filing cabinets within Platt. It wasn’t that we were trying to go paperless or that sort of thing; what we were just trying to do was to make sure that whether you were a customer or an employee or a vendor, that if you needed information — whatever that was — that you had access to it virtually 24/7.”
The company created Platt University in the 1990s, and invested in a studio, video production capability and continuing education programs. It was a first-generation learning management system that took a very different approach. “A lot of people misunderstand training, and they think, ‘I gotta sit down with a book’. I remember when I first started in the business, a branch manager handed me a stack of catalogs; I went home and fell asleep on them. It has to be simple, easy, fast. So we were trying to take that into consideration. Everybody has a different learning style.
“If somebody was on the counter, and they had five minutes between a break or something, they could take one module, because the modules weren’t more than five minutes. And then everything that they had done, or they were on track to do, was stored within the system that they can access anytime they want.”
Our conversation probes the ways in which Platt leveraged the digital communication platform, including for technical training, company compliance and policy communication, and culture development. It became an important onboarding tool for the company, where in the first year, new employees completed the Platt 360 program, with 1,000 open-book questions and 90-day program segments.
“That was just culture,” Platt says. “Do you care, does it matter to you? Because if it doesn’t, you’re not going to open the book. That’s all we really were trying to figure out. And we wanted to make sure that anyone who ever came to any one of our employees — regardless of position, length of time or anything else — that they can answer some basic questions, and they can help that customer get directed towards the resource that they needed, versus the head-scratch type of thing… ‘Gosh, I don’t know, maybe if you try this or that,’ that type of thing, you know, we were trying to level the democratize service at the highest level possible.”
Our conversation also dives deeper into the elements of successful communication and the need for training and communication systems to be tailored to the way people can best absorb and retain the information. And we talk about the ways organizations can overcome the challenges today to build and support a culture of communication. The culture I experienced at Platt in the 1990s was distinctive, with respect for clear, direct communication. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Jay Platt as much as I did.
Listen to the full podcast with the audio player above, and check out all of our previous MDM Podcast episodes at our webpage for them here.