I have been teaching Microsoft Office since the suite was first released in 1990. The big question? Could Microsoft pull computer users away from the most popular products of the day: WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3 and Harvard Graphics? They could. They did.
In the world of computer training, the 1990’s were dominated by Word, Excel and PowerPoint courses. One corporate rollout required me to teach Introduction to Microsoft Word twenty-eight days in a row. By the end, I struggled to keep the class from sounding like a well-rehearsed museum tour. I knew the material by heart, what jokes were most effective, exactly when students would ask certain questions, and what steps in the lab exercises would be a sticking point.
But that was 1994. In 2017, Logical Imagination conducted hundreds of online and onsite training courses, yet Microsoft Office productivity courses made up a small percentage of the total. Clearly, training in Word, Excel and PowerPoint are no longer a priority. So, what changed? Are these products so intuitive now that training isn’t necessary? Are there so many free, self-paced training options for these products that people don’t need formal, live instruction? Perhaps.
On a recent flight, I chatted with the man next to me. He remembered the days when companies invested in basic technology skills. We joked that I had probably been his Introduction to Microsoft Word instructor. But he made a poignant statement. “Yeah, those days are gone. Now companies just assume people know Microsoft Office.” He entertained me with stories of how the lack of solid Excel skills on his team of pharmaceutical sales reps had cost his company in time and productivity.
His statement matches my experience. I find that most people writing proposals and reports have no idea how to use styles or the Navigation Pane, both of which are game changers. I was teaching a User Experience course for a major tech company, and the room was filled with recent college graduates and new hires. I referred to using a pivot table in Excel. The group stared at me with blank expressions, and yet many of them were in roles that would benefit from adept data analysis skills. I asked if they had ever received formal Excel training in high school or college. No. I ran through a list of Excel skills I knew they should have in their roles, and they had none of them.
When I do have the opportunity to train workers in Word or Excel, I hear comments like, “I wish I had known this two years ago.” or “Are you kidding me? This will save me hours!” or “I never knew I could do that”. The truth is that excellence with core productivity tools like Word, Excel and PowerPoint should not be assumed by corporate America. Heck, mere competence in these tools should not be assumed. The majority of users subsist on the knowledge of a small percentage of features.
IBM found that 84% of employees at the best performing organizations are receiving the training they need compared to only 16% at the worst performing ones. And, when teams are appropriately trained, companies save an average of $70,000 annually and receive a 10% increase in productivity. The same study revealed another startling statistic: A full 90% of organizations do not have all the skills they need to be successful.
Training is a necessary and valuable business investment, not an optional benefit or a luxury item that should be cut the minute budgets are tight. And, while there are many advanced technology skills that are needed, consider providing thorough and advanced training in the basics…like Microsoft Office!