A few years ago, the mid-market faced significant disruption due to the increased prevalence of automation, a dearth of skilled applicants, and the rumblings of economic downturn. It was necessary to upskill employees to ensure they were capable of growing alongside the company's technology suite and the industry's demands. Budgets were tight, and it was more expensive to onboard a new employee rather than train an existing one.
The current economic situation has exacerbated these issues, particularly in the United States where the downturn is in full effect. Increased rates of inflation and layoffs have created a tough situation for many employees and companies. Those who can find and keep a job are generally overworked and underqualified, with no free time for continuing education or on-the-job training.
Additionally, companies are using 2023 as a chance to veer away from the drastic pivots they executed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, to cope with the shift away from the pandemic tech demand surge, a host of major tech companies initiated significant rounds of layoffs. This is not a viable forward strategy.
Upskilling employees remains the most effective and cost-efficient way to increase tenure and cut hiring costs in the mid-market, and recent tools enable employees to take control of the upskilling process for themselves. Tenacious companies are learning that it takes a village, and trusting their employees is the first step towards survival.
Smarter not harder
SaaS technology for the mid-market has come a long way. Now, even employees with zero experience in a discipline or field are afforded tools that pick up on its nuances. These tools have become progressively easier to use, but that doesn't mean employees require hand-holding.
For example, Liberty Security Systems, offering home and office solutions, found that consistency of software and trusting its employees' intelligence are the keys to sustainable upskilling. A few years ago, it implemented a technology overhaul that included an analytics function on the back end. This was in line with how it did business, as the company preferred to drill down into the nitty gritty of each transaction and customer interaction to produce custom reports and forecasting. With only a single person on staff experienced in data analytics, it required software that was easy to use and produced results that were actionable and simple to interpret.
Zoho's analytics platform, integrated with their existing CRM, provided robust financial information without the constant guidance of an analytics person. The output, pulled and interpreted from the data of daily business was streamlined, sorted, and delivered to the right spots within the CRM, ensuring accessibility. Though the platform was being viewed by employees of all backgrounds, many of whom had zero experience in data analytics, the company discovered that employees welcomed the challenge of upskilling themselves. No facet of the results was watered down or simplified, meaning all employees were able to converse in the shared vernacular of data scientists. This also ensured that when employees changed departments or evolved into new positions, they maintained access to the same level of analytics.
This fluency encouraged a feedback loop – better conversations around data meant the organization could make precise changes to the process, which, in turn, produced even better data.
Mid-market employees have proven they want to learn, but there are some hindrances that might get in the way. The most prominent one is simply not having enough time to accomplish the daily routine and spend time learning—a lower priority task that's easy to keep pushing off.
Lubrication Engineers, an industrial lubrication provider, wanted to fold the operations of its disparate departments into a shared, cloud-based location where it could exchange information and establish shared workflows. It also recognized that new employees came into the company with a wealth of distinct expertise, and it wanted to find ways to share that knowledge more widely across the organization.
The first thing the company did was centralize all of its training resources and programs into a single location. Employee time was limited, so education materials needed to be available everywhere, anytime, so they could be used within small cracks in schedules. The company also realized that it didn't need to monitor the courses themselves, only the results. It established a testing protocol that ensured the new knowledge was sticking, but the employees were able to learn at their own pace. Existing employee knowledge was entered into the system and disseminated across the organization, potentially finding its way into future learning opportunities.
Ifs, ands, or bots
The common variable between these use cases is time: how to get more of it, and how to best use what little free time can be afforded. Luckily, time-saving tools are generally available across the board. Virtual assistants such as Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, or Zoho's Zia can index a server's worth of data and distill key findings—all while interfacing with users conversationally. The technology has spread to almost all SaaS platforms and is available right out of the box. Even in just the last few years, bot intelligence within SaaS has increased exponentially (to say nothing about generative AI).
But, that's not to say these tools serve as a substitute for human learning. They're great at presenting information but poor at fully contextualizing each data point or drawing actionable, specific conclusions from it. The technology is less prone to error, not stubborn or obtuse, and won't BS its way through a topic it knows nothing about. Humans are more prone to error, but far more prone to a motivational force more powerful than even the most super of computers: catharsis. "Aha" moments, after indeterminate lengths of confusion, can motivate employees to prioritize learning and retroactively correct past mistakes. They also lay the foundation for a contagious learning culture that endures long after the employee leaves the company.
Humans and bots do share one inclination, which is when resources become available, they'll get used. Mid-market companies must capitalize on this opportunity and encourage their employees to start their learning journey by understanding how the bots operate and where they can slot seamlessly into the daily grind. This not only frees up employee time by tackling tedious tasks or tracking down data, but enables employees to fundamentally reconfigure their role to one that includes learning at its core.
On the up and up
Upskilling can serve as a form of team building. With an understanding of what other employees are up to, and a basic understanding of how they do it, mid-market companies can unite the organization around a shared cause. Employees feel more invested and appreciated, and therefore stay longer and try to involve themselves with more. A company's people are what keep them in business, and to survive in today's rough business climate, it's not just about who you know, but what they know.