Training With Strategy for Continuous Improvement

An introduction to Excel. What a daunting software to learn from scratch. For my readers who know and use Excel, think back to not only learning features, but also the interface.

Instead of passing off the mental exercise of I can’t imagine, I did imagine.

For some time I’d been in discussions about delivering a training. Last week I conducted that training. The agenda is below.

As you read it and the remainder of this article, think about how I used strategy to found a more comprehensive message, defined an organizational challenge, framed the solution (Excel), and determined the overall value served to both the organization and its staff.

Strategy: A Context

It is important to know why an organization uses Excel or any other tool for that matter. There must be a reason. It cannot be because it’s the standard. If that is so, then why not use PowerPoint, Slack or a web browser for spreadsheets? Of course, that’s silly. Similarly, rationalization and justification, i.e. because it’s the way it is, help neither the organization nor the users.

The answer may just be how the organization chooses to use the tool. Configuration, for instance, might set the tone for the rest of the organization. This could have cultural implications even.

Organizational culture affects and regulates the way members of the organization think, feel and act within the framework of the organization.

Clayton M. Christensen, 2006

In that context, for example, if leadership creates forms from Excel that serve as data-entry templates, then the focus is validating data. This works really well for the company–we need this information, here, in this format–but talent progression of the employee will probably suffer. Employees learn only the way the organization operates. The effect is the organization that limits its ability to do things differently, generate new ideas, or have the organizational/collective wherewithal to alter the standard when better methods do the same thing more advantageously. Anyway, how will staff members learn new skills, new report formats, how reports are generated and what different ways are possible?

Communication: A Learning Organization

What is really important to know? Could I have just jumped in to typing, coloring in cells, formatting currency, creating functions, and pivot tables? Perhaps.

This is instead what I spoke to at the outset.

  • Leadership / Followership.
  • Excel is just a tool.
  • Be a mechanic of your own Excel activities.
  • What do you work on?

The organization that chose to ‘hire’ training for its staff (‘customers’) wants something more than just the technical competence. “The key to success is understanding, from the customer’s perspective, just what the entire job is and making that job the focal point of value creation” (Strategyn, 2019). For this reason I was enthused to provide the training.

Average companies give their people something to work on. In contrast, the most innovative organizations give their people something to work toward.

Simon Sinek, 2013

I offered the following hierarchy for defining the problem to be solved: comprehending the broader context of the organization through its operations.

Business Processes Solve Problems

That hierarchy gives a high-level explanation of how an organization structurally interprets data – from operations at the base, to middle management in the middle, and to leadership at the top. Excel, then, is a tool used to solve a problem; it’s use is the process to create value.

From my October 2018 blog post, Process Development: Why Strategy Comes First, “Solving business problems aligned to the business’s core strategy, mission and values is the job of process development.” In other words, how can data be captured is a method for satisfying the organization’s use of it.

That is the value that started with strategy.

Thus, my agenda was…

  1. Basics
  2. Using Excel To Create
    1. Lists
    2. Spreadsheets
    3. Linked reports
    4. Charts

Indeed, after discussing strategy and how information is communicated internally, it was only then that I began discussing how Excel actually works. The table below should be read column-by-column, from left to right.

Tour, StrategyCommon ActionsFormattingOther Features
Ribbon, MenuTyping, Ex. creating listsNumberFormula bar
Tabs10-key (for numbers only)AlignmentWrap text
How Excel is presented (rows / columns / cells)Formatting (CTRL + 1)FontMerge & Center
What Excel is not (database)Inserting rows and columnsBorderPrinting – Page Break Preview
What is data?Copy / PasteFillFormatting as a table
Why use Excel?

From his book, Start With Why, also quoted above, Simon Sinek explained WHY versus HOW versus WHAT. Before I quote him as a final thought for continuous improvement, think about how I’ve channeled his concepts sequentially in my training methodology to get to this point. Specifically, and by now, it should be clear. How Excel works is the least important aspect of this article – and the culmination of my focus for the training I provided. How to use Excel is more about the organization’s purpose. That’s the case with any tool when you think about it.

A WHY is just a belief. That’s all it is. HOWs are the actions you take to realize that belief. And WHATs are the results of those actions…If people don’t buy WHAT you do but WHY you do it, then all these things must be consistent.

Simon Sinek, 2013

Christensen, Clayton M., and Kirsten Shu. What Is an Organization’s Culture (Case Study). Boston: Harvard School Business Publishing. 1999. Print. Sourced January 16, 2017 for BUS 511 Cross-Cultural Management; Dr. Sam Holloway, Pamplin School of Business, University of Portland.

Strategyn, LLC. “Jobs-To-Be-Done Theory | Methodology | Strategyn”. Strategyn, 2019, https://strategyn.com/jobs-to-be-done/jobs-to-be-done-theory/. Accessed 30 June 2019.

Sinek, Simon. Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. London: Portfolio / Penguin, 2013. iBooks.

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