Making the leap from an “analogue incumbent to a digital disruptor” has delivered success for 3P Learning, its CEO Rebekah O’Flaherty once said. And the need to reimagine how business should be done in the digital world has enabled the company to evolve in that capacity.
A company founded about 10 years ago, 3P Learning was ahead with its promise of digital technology in the classroom. As of date, the company is serving about six million children worldwide and going through aggressive expansion. But even though the company had a good product to take to market, it did not have the right systems and processes to support or create any kind of scalability until about 18 months ago.
As that stage, 3P Learning embarked on a transformation to take it from an analogue business to one fueled by digital.
Our entire sales and support cycle were all manual for every step along the way and since we were aiming for global reach, we decided that it wasn’t a sustainable model.
The company then engaged a new CEO and I was also brought on board to define its digital transformation in terms of objectives, outcomes, processes, change management and project planning to take it to a point where it’s self-sustaining.
But the term transformation means different things to different people. For most businesses, there are two ways to approach change:
Optimisation – improving systems so that they continue to do what they do, but better and faster. That’s not as exciting, but it is what most organisations end up doing.
‘Real’ transformation – we don’t start from where we are; we do something different to what was in place before. It’s a deep transformation from that perspective.
For 3P Learning, we went ahead with the second approach as our objectives were to reimagine and redesign our business to make it scalable. So, we changed up our entire marketing and sales processes, along with our operating model, team structure, internal roles, etc. and this was reflected across every layer of our organisation.
Scalability isn’t a word used often in many businesses. We needed to do what we were doing with the same amount of resources or less. It wasn’t a cost cutting exercise – it was one of expansion at near zero cost.
We had to remove a lot of the manual interfaces, manual efforts, touchpoints, etc. and automate many of these processes, giving our staff time to meet customers directly and have valuable conversations with them. It also gives them peace of mind knowing that we have the processes and backend in place to automate what they did manually before.
Mainly, we found that the pre- and post-sales processes were the most challenging, so what we did was set up a trial for two to three weeks, and change the entire workflow for those processes. In the past, it was all manual. Now, thanks to Salesforce technology, this is automated. What the technology does is take the usage data and automate it so that no one needs to manually go into a system and check on the workflow process; it all happens automatically now.
But, that process wasn’t easy for us, we faced challenges along the way, regardless. One of it was that the first change process plan that was implemented was multifaceted. What we needed was a really good outcome, not a really good plan.
Another challenge was that people weren’t accepting change. It’s quite common for many organisations to have people that struggle with change at one point or another within their businesses because they think that automation is going to take over their jobs. So, the c-level layer within an organisation needs to constantly reinforce to staff that it’s not the case.
There needs to be that constant education and reinforcement for staff, not just a couple of information sessions where everyone just “gets it”. They don’t. There’s a lot of nurturing that takes place and it’s a long process. We need as many people as possible with ownership over the transformation and leading that change. This empowerment piece is absolutely critical.
The most important lesson from this is that people should not be afraid to make decisions. Leadership needs to step up and take over change and run it for the betterment of the company. It’s no use just talking about making changes, actually doing it, that’s what’s important.
At the same time, they should be involving staff through this process, coaching and training them so that they’re more comfortable. The skill sets required for digital is also different as things are changing so quickly and they’re now operating in a world that’s a lot more ambiguous. So, they need to be able to make decisions quickly and comfortably even if they don’t have all the facts at their fingertips. And even if they do make mistakes through their decision making process, it’s okay as long as they learn from it and move forward.
That’s what we did at 3P Learning to about 20 of our staff. We forced them out of their comfort zones and into scenarios where they had to make some decisions that they’re not always comfortable making. That was a very important piece of training for both our c-level executives and employees alike.
Another lesson to learn is that going digital is all about data. This data needs to go across all of the organisation. As such, businesses need to, and this is what we did, create specific data programs to get every employee involved in it. This also solves the problem of the past around opinions as now, staff can back their claims up with facts from data; it’s an entire culture shift.
Leading this change should be c-level driven, with a digital mindset as the backbone for a successful transformation process.
A leader can’t walk into digital transformation and say, “I want you to give me a 20-step plan with everything mapped out and risk management around it”. That kind of thinking isn’t going to work. By the time they get halfway through that plan, something else will come up as digital disruption is so fluid and always changing. Leaders need to be crystal clear in their purpose – why are they embarking on digital so they know the direction to move forward in.
From there, they need to plan the next step – we’re not planning the next few steps, just that one step ahead. That’s because we want to test if we’re going in the right direction. Once they’re at the end of that step, they can plan the next one and carry on this process all through to the end. You need that agility to change your direction very quickly if something doesn’t work. This is a skill essential for a c-level executive, instead of being blinded by all these metrics upfront.
Some companies have an option of doing nothing during a change. That is the worst option as that will leave the business lagging behind and soon after, it will be a race to the bottom. It’s better to make a wrong decision than to not make one at all.
Leaders also have to keep in mind that cycles have changed. They used to be long – some projects even take years. Today, there’s no such thing as a two-year project, so planning cycles have to be in shorter runs. Because of this, in the past, we used to think big, plan big and execute big. That has now changed to thinking big, but planning and executing small. Leaders need to embrace and embody this to drive success, otherwise, it just becomes optimisation and you get stuck in the loop of not transforming your current state.
What’s happening in the Edtech space is the same as what’s happening in many industries – we have a lot of data. The next big thing for this industry and many others is going to be Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. For our business, these technologies will be used to look into student outcomes and student behaviours. We can then link it back to the behaviours of the students in the past and derive solutions. This will be best of process to maximise learning. We are doing a fair amount of research into these technologies and building up our strategy to use it to better personalise our processes.
We need to be data conscious as it underpins the future. The metadata that we have today can be used to plan the future. We look at the data, understand it, build a new digital operating model around it, then add process over the data. Data is much more scalable than process, so new-age digital operating models should encompass this.
We’re already having these discussions with Salesforce and want to use more of its technologies to drive change and scale our business. It’s all about growing our business and adopting what’s current in technology, leadership, digital etc.
Check out our latest State of IT report today to learn more about the changing role of technology