Vivayic Makes the Inc. Magazine Inc. 5000 List (and Celebrates for All of Two Minutes)

Today, Inc. Magazine released it’s 2016 Inc. 5000 list and Vivayic ranks No. 2934 on the list with Three-Year Sales Growth of 117.2%. Doug, my fellow co-founder, and I shared the news with our team on a bi-weekly call last Monday. We celebrated for all of two minutes and then went back to the work of helping our clients be really successful. Why only two minutes?

1. Growth is a Lagging Indicator for Us

Revenue increase of 117% in three years is a really big deal especially since we’re not really a start-up anymore. We’re celebrating our 10th anniversary in October, so it’s not like we captured lighting in a bottle out of the box. This growth was the results of a lot of years toiling away at our craft and dutifully doing the right thing for our clients.

We’ve never set a goal for growth. Never. And, as long as Doug and I are running the company (and hopefully beyond) Vivayic never will. Growth (e.g. increased sales) is a result of doing all the right things and we knew two years ago that we were starting to get to a place where clients were trusting us with larger and larger projects and they were referring us to others.

We didn’t predict this size of growth, but we’ve known for a while that we had a tremendous team, a phenomenal culture, and an approach that was earning reputation day-by-day. When we looked at the numbers last year, we knew we would make the list. We applied as a means to acknowledge the great work of our team. Team: this is all about you and what you do day in and day out to make us successful. Congratulations!

 2. We Celebrate How We Earned Our Growth – Not the Amount of It

Doug and I weren’t born into families of entrepreneurs and didn’t study business; we grew up on a ranch and farm, respectively, and are teachers by training. So, we’ve had to learn a lot about being and running a company in 10 years.

One lesson we learned early when networking with other entrepreneurs is that not all revenue growth is the same. Some have revenues without profits, which is okay as they are aiming to be acquired and enjoy the payout of selling their company. Others increase revenues by buying other companies with a strategy to get big enough to maintain a sustainable market position. We don’t have the stomach for that kind of debt and really don’t want to give any control of our company and our team to an external investor.

Our revenue is the old-fashioned kind: sales earned by bootstrapping on our own dime while working to earn the trust of clients. Our 117% increase isn’t driven by marketing (you’d laugh at how little we spend in that area) or by adding someone else’s sales total to ours. We earned our revenue growth through trust and performance – time and time again. Old school? You bet. Tiring? Yes. But, much like the hard work of our childhood and the unsung efforts of teaching, there is a deep satisfaction with seeing the fruits of your labor.

 3. There are Other Accolades We Are Striving to Earn

One of our business mentors explained that they applied for company awards not out of ego, but because it reinforces to the employees that their contribution made the company as great as it was. That was a huge paradigm shift for us. If you know Doug and me, you know that we nearly run from any opportunity for self-promotion. His advice got us thinking about which awards and accolades would reflect the values and purpose of Vivayic. We’re just starting to put that list together and work to make it happen. We’d love to have our team recognized for the quality of work they do, for their compassion and generosity to others, for the efforts they make to ensure Vivayic continues to be a wonderful place to hang out every day.

So, we’ll apply for the Inc. 5000 as long our numbers will likely qualify us for the list, but this growth won’t last more than a few years. And hopefully, we’ll have other opportunities to acknowledge the great team of people who have chosen to join the adventure that is Vivayic.

 

Vivayic at the Small Giants Summit

“It’s not what we do. It’s who we are®.”  Small Giants Community

On a weekly basis, someone will ask “what do you do?” whether at a Mizzou Alumni event, dentist office, or just a family get-together. I generally defer to Doug, who is much better at explaining it, and his explanation usually starts out as “We are a learning solutions design firm.” After seeing confusion on people’s faces, Doug offers a few more details or examples of our work, it becomes much more clear about what we do. However, for me, at Vivayic, it really is who we are and our culture, not what we do.

One example of our culture is our emphasis on learning. If we are going to design learning solutions, we better enjoy learning! One of the cool thinks Vivayic does is a bi-monthly book club.  We choose books related to our industry or business and meet via conference call (we are a virtual office) to discuss a couple of chapters at a time and brainstorm ideas on how to implement ideas we liked from the book. About a year ago, our book club book was Small Giants: Companies that Choose to be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham (Portfolio, 2006). The idea that there is more to a successful business than a bottom line really aligned with our vision for Vivayic. After a quick Google search, we found there is an entire Community that has the same belief and they get together at an annual Summit. No hesitations….sign us up!! (Ok, there was a small hesitation, we missed the registration for the 2012 Summit, but we added the 2013 Summit to our calendars in Nov 2012 so we wouldn’t miss 2013).

Fast forward to June 7, 2013, Doug and I set off to San Diego to attend the 2013 Small Giants Summit. We were prepared for “June Gloom” as they call it in San Diego, but luckily we did see the sun a couple of days! The Summit was held at a beautiful resort in Carlsbad, CA – that I would highly recommend, especially if you are into health and wellness, as it is the nation’s #1 wellness spa (La Costa Resort and Spa).

via lacosta.com

via lacosta.com

Our schedule of events included a Welcome Reception Saturday evening, all-day session on Sunday, social event Sunday night, and a morning session on Monday. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect from the Summit or the Community. We knew it would be a smaller group (75-100 people) and we knew they were interested in running their businesses in a similar manner, but otherwise, we did not know what to expect or what was in store over the next two days. Several of the participants came up and introduced themselves to us at the Welcome Reception and everyone was very nice, however, it seemed like many of the participants knew each other and I was worried because we didn’t know anyone that we might not get as much out of the conference as we’d hoped. As it turns out, my concerns disappeared by 10AM Sunday morning. The Summit was a format like I had never seen before. After the initial welcome by Bo, and an inspiring visioning session by Ari Weinzweig, CEO of Zingerman’s, we split into groups to “Network With A Purpose” where we chose a table based on different challenges we experienced within our own companies. Immediately, we were discussing and sharing advice with each other based on challenges we all face. This was extremely helpful because A). we were able to brainstorm solutions to a common challenge and B). we got to know and network with 8 other participants immediately and develop a relationship that would continue to build as the summit continued.

This theme of collaboration and culture continued thru the rest of the summit. It was not like other conferences I have attended with one lecturer and the rest of us taking notes. The Small Giants Community was very much willing to openly share their challenges and successes in their own businesses and what they’ve learned in the process. Nick Sarillo, owner of Nick’s Pizza & Pub discussed his focus on values, training, and his method of “trust and track.” Nick uses a feedback model that includes providing immediate and direct feedback to each of his employees at the end of their shift, which has resulted in a turnover rate of less than 20%, which is unheard-of in the food industry. Rochelle Rizzi, founder of Rizzi Designs shared the culture of her firm by taking us on a journey of what she learned at the previous Summit and how she took the information and incorporated it into her business thru the “Rizzi Games.” Jack Stack, owner of SRC, shared his insights about Open Book Management and the pride his employees have in building their organization. Finally, Paul Spiegelman, founder of BerylHealth, discussed company culture and our Culture IQs. Stay tuned for Vivayic’s results!

By the end of the Summit, we had a chance to develop relationships with many of the other Small Giants community members and we know that we have a group of people who care about who we are because of who they are. We are looking forward to next year’s summit already!

Footnote – just to circle back to our Vivayic Book Club, during our time at the Small Giants Summit, so many members of the community have published their experiences and knowledge; I added an entire shelf of books for our future book club discussions:

Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham (obviously)
A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business (Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading by Ari Weinzweig
A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader (Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading by Ari Weinzweig
A Slice of the Pie: How to Build a Big Little Business by Nick Sarillo
Why is Everyone Smiling? The Secret Behind Passion, Productivity, and Profit by Paul Spiegelman
The Great Game of Business, Expanded and Updated: The Only Sensible Way to Run a Company by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham
Business Brilliant: Surprising Lessons from the Greatest Self-Made Business Icons by Lewis Schiff

Yes, It’s Possible to Host a Successful and Enjoyable Virtual Meeting

Introduction
Four times per year, our team gathers in person for a two to three day meeting. As the team has grown, so have the options for meeting locations. This is good as Lincoln, Nebraska is a great city, but it doesn’t compare to Florida in February.

We enjoy getting together/we like each other/we have fun. However, our travel schedules had been unusually heavy this spring and the logistics for a May meeting weren’t coming together; hence the virtual team meeting. We are a virtual company so Skype, instant messaging and web meetings are part of our everyday. But the thought of a three-day virtual meeting didn’t stand out as something I was looking forward to.

To my pleasant surprise, the virtual meeting was one of our most productive, engaging and efficient team meetings to date with zero travel required.

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Keys to Success

As I reflect on the meeting, there were several things we did in preparation for and during the meeting that contributed to success.

    • Studied and tested the technology
      • After some research, we decided to stick with Adobe Connect, which we had already been using for basic webinars with clients.
      • We sent the diagnostics test links to each team member and asked team members to run them on the computer they planned on using well in advance of the meeting.
      • We put together a relevant reference guide including dos and don’ts plus  trouble-shooting ideas based on information from Adobe’s website.
      • We held a practice run with facilitators.
      • Established rules of the game
        • We let people know that everyone should have their webcams on throughout the entire meeting.
        • We made sure everyone cleared their calendar for the meeting times.
        • Modified a typical agenda
          • We met for four hours each morning as large group. Then we took time for lunch and any client work that had to be done.
          • In the afternoons, we met in smaller groups for one to two hours. Adobe Connect has a really neat feature where you can send people into their own virtual conference room and it worked well.
    • Added personal touches
      • The week before the meeting we sent each person a package containing a few of their favorite things and some goodies for their kiddos. We opened the meeting by opening the packages.
      • We threw a virtual baby shower. The last day of the meeting a second box arrived to celebrate a new little one on the way. It was complete with a blue and yellow-themed party favors, handmade cookies, a mini bottle of Champagne and a glass for toasting.
      • Utilized the chat function
      • I would not have predicted it to be a key to success, but the chat function in Adobe Connect was vital. We were able to chat with the entire group or just one person at a time. It allowed for banter without interruption and people could type in questions as the facilitator shared. It actually was a large contributor to the efficiency of the meeting because comments and questions didn’t pull us off topic as they would in person.

Issues

There were a couple bumps in the road. While annoying, they were not detrimental. At one point we were interrupted by what sounded like interference from a police scanner. Apparently there was a lot of action in St. Louis that day and Miranda’s speakers picked it up. We banished her to mute until break time. Having her swap over to her headset solved the problem.

Conclusions

While we have no intention of canceling all of our in-person meetings, it’s fair to say everyone was impressed with both the experience and the results of the meeting. We accomplished most of our task list and it was a good venue for showcasing recently completed projects. Perhaps best of all: we did not have to pack up suitcases and catch flights home.

 

 

The Business Case for Custom-Crafted Learning

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Custom-crafted learning, like portrait painting, requires specialized skills and tools. Just like you wouldn’t hire the guy who painted your living room to paint your family portrait, you need to find the people in your organization, or a partner for your organization, with the craftsmanship to realize the business value of custom-crafted learning. What is the business case for custom-crafted learning versus hiring external trainers to meet training needs? Here’s our perspective:

Organizations often see training as an expense—one that is often challenging to determine return on investment (ROI). As a result, it’s tempting for organizations to find the least expensive, most acceptable, off-the-shelf training services. After working with dozens of organizations in the area of learning and development the past seven years, we can offer five business reasons why you should rethink the model of relying on off-the-shelf training solutions to support business-critical goals and objectives.

  1. Paying for expertise you may already own. We see this most often in organizations—bringing in trainers when there are people within the organization with greater expertise and experience. Your internal experts may not be the right people to design or lead the training, but not utilizing their expertise is a lost opportunity to leverage their value. A custom-crafted solution captures the value of your experts and the real-world experiences they can offer.
  2. Inconsistency creates inefficiencies. This is the second most common situation we see. Take, for example, an organization never satisfied with the training consultants hired to teach managers how to coach. After six years and four different trainers, the organization ends up using many different models and terms that any discussion about coaching turns into a frustrating exercise in trying to understand one another. Progress toward the business objective halts while focus turns (once again) toward improving coaching across the organization.
  3. The cost of renting versus buying in the long term. Understandably, decisions are often driven by resources available in a fiscal year. Custom-crafted training is a greater up front expense, but once built the ongoing expense to utilize the resulting tools and materials is minimal. Hiring an external trainer can make sense in year one but can quickly become a more costly solution with ongoing stipends, materials costs, hosting fees, etc.
  4. Opportunity cost of “not quite right.” External trainers can solve issues quickly, but there is often a long-term hidden cost: the opportunity cost of under-performance due to a learning solution that is good, but not complete or specific to the needs of your situation and people.
  5. Wasted time of your top performers. Let’s say you put your 100 sales people through a daylong training seminar on negotiation skills and 20 of your highest performing reps report learning “nothing new.” The cost of their time, 160 hours, adds up quickly. When you custom-craft a learning solution, you can get feedback on the perceived value of the program before deploying it and investing the time of your most valuable human assets.
  6. Opportunity cost of not engaging high-potentials/top performers and  improving overall employee morale. The act of bringing in an external trainer can communicate the following to your team, “We need someone from the outside to fix us; there’s no one in this organization that can offer what this trainer offers.” Custom-crafting your learning solutions gives you a chance to engage your experts in identifying content and experiences, engaging your high-potentials in reviewing early drafts and showcase the contributions of fellow employees when the solution is deployed—all of which can contribute to greater engagement.

Obviously we’re proponents of custom-crafted learning solutions—in part because it’s the service we offer—but, more importantly we have a deeply held belief that organizations perform better when they maximize the value of existing expertise and accelerate the transfer of that expertise across the organization. It just makes good business sense.

Introducing a new Vivayic…Kind of

Sometimes it takes perspective to see how far you’ve actually come. We have a lot of runners on our team and last year I finally joined their ranks. I finished my first half-marathon in October and at the end (when I could actually breathe again) I looked back at the course and took pride in my accomplishment. Others have gone further and faster, but many have never done it at all.

Looking back on the six years since we started Vivayic, I have a similar reflection. Others have built bigger companies faster, but many more never leave the starting line or don’t finish the race. I’m very proud of our team, the work we’ve done for clients and how we’ve lived our values throughout. And I’m excited about the fact that it feels like we’re just starting to hit our stride.

Our team has nearly doubled in size over the past two years. As we’ve grown, it has caused us to take time to evaluate ourselves—where we’ve been, where we are and where we want to go. I’m excited that it has resulted in a more clear set of values, vision and purpose. If you haven’t seen the results, take a minute to check out this page on our site. In addition, we set five key goals for ourselves—each intended to drive us toward our vision. One of these is to share our collective insights and experiences about designing learning solutions with our clients and the greater community.

Our goal is to be the trusted curator of choice for learning professionals. Our team already scans hundreds of articles and ideas on issues related to learning, talent development, user-centered design and organizational effectiveness. We have a good sense of what’s useful, novel and credible. We’ll share these through blog posts and our Twitter feed. In addition, we will start sharing tools and resources that we use internally and have found to be especially useful in our work.

Why go to the effort to curate and share our expertise? Two reasons:

  1. We have a deeply held belief that when people and organizations have a better understanding of learning and talent development that it makes organizations more successful, people more fulfilled and everyone a little better off. This is about making our “dent in the universe.”
  2. We have a generational perspective on our work at Vivayic; this isn’t about a two year marketing plan. This is about creating a knowledge base and a culture of pushing ourselves to be as smart and useful as we can to those we serve so that we can add value to our clients for years to come. We subscribe to the adage “a rising tide lifts all boats” and we’ll all be well served when there is a collective understanding about how to develop people in ways that help organizations better serve their mission.

So, with that, I invite you to follow our curation efforts on Twitter at @Vivayic and to subscribe to an RSS feed of our blog. I would love your feedback—what works, what doesn’t, what would be more useful for you. We intend to start with three threads:

  1. Talent Development.
  2. Science and Practice of Learning.
  3. Learning Design and Tools.

We’ll also share occasional updates about our team and what’s going on at Vivayic.

Thanks. We hope you find value in these efforts and we look forward to what’s to come in the next six years.

Why do learning and training experiences sometimes fail?

I’ve been a learner in some sort of formalized learning experience for the past 28 years. Given the amount of structure my mother provided for the first five, I suppose I might be able to include those in the count of formal experiences as well.

These formal learning experiences have taken place in a variety of settings from academic institutions to organizations and, of course, in the workplace. Throughout my own personal learning journey, I’ve experienced a fair share of what I would consider flawed learning experiences. To be completely fair, I’m kind of a picky about learning experiences. Go figure, given my line of work.

I generated a list of reactions to several specific learning experiences that fell short of my expectations. See if you can relate.

  • The course content was really dense and difficult to follow. I felt like I needed a Ph.D. to even understand what the instructor was saying.
  • The online course was painful to navigate and completely boring!
  • That was an epic waste of my time, why didn’t the instructor just give me a handout with what I need to know?
  • The animations and videos looked awesome, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with the information.
  • Gimme a break! I can’t possibly coach an employee using the steps they suggested in that course. That was cheesy and completely unrealistic given the way things work around here!

As we work with new clients, we often encounter stories about learning and training experiences that fall short of meeting learners’ expectations. In all seriousness, my own experiences and the stories we’ve heard from clients spurred me to ask, “Why do learning experiences sometimes fail?”

It’s easy to blame obvious things like the format of the course—“Online courses just don’t mesh with how I learn.”—or people—“That presenter was terrible.” —or learning activities—“I don’t like group discussions.” —or the setting—“The workshop room was too hot.” I won’t disagree that these elements can play a role in determining the perceived success of a learning experience, but I think there’s something far more fundament at play when someone perceives that a learning experience falls short of their expectations. I think the real answer to this question involves the design of that learning experience.

As I reflect on the design of our team’s most successful learning experiences, there are a few elements that come to mind – Pedagogy, Need, Content, UX and Context. Together, I think these things form the DNA of a successful learning experience.  Here’s a visual to show how I think these elements fit together:

Learning Experience Model

Messy? Well, here’s a little-publicized secret, designing successful learning experiences isn’t an exact science. Let me briefly walk you through the diagram.

Pedagogy—Fun word, huh? It means, “the art and science of teaching.” As I describe this element, I’m going to focus on the science part a little more than the art part. There are several philosophies, all based on science, which guide the design of learning. Some of these viewpoints on learning happen to be more modern than others, but they all have something to help us shape an effective learning experience. For instance, you might hear someone propose a constructivist approach to a learning experience; this is just a way of describing their underlying assumptions about how people learn. For example, constructivists tend to believe that learners are active, meaning making learners participants in the learning process. As such, learning solution designers who approach courses from a constructivist perspective tend to include a number of hands-on or scenario-based learning activities. Bottom line? Effective learning experiences start with a scientifically justifiable basis for the types and sequence of learning activities that are proposed.

Need—This element refers to the learning experience’s alignment to a clearly defined learning need.  When we design learning solutions at Vivayic, we believe that understanding the learning need begins with clearly identifying a business case for the course. If you can’t tie the learning experience to a critical business objective, it might not be a good idea to spend resources to develop a course. Beyond clarifying the business reason, there’s a need to analyze the learners and the context in which the learning will happen. Even with that information in place, it is important to identify, and state specifically, measurable outcomes and objectives for the learning experience. Think of this element as a target. If we don’t know what we’re aiming toward, a shotgun approach is what will result…at best, a hit and miss learning experience. Defining clear learning outcomes and aligning those to a justifiable organizational need is critical to the design of successful learning experiences.

Content—When our team designs a learning experience, there’s usually no shortage of content from subject matter experts. Whether it exists in documents or in the heads of experts, relevant and well-organized content is a critical component of an effective learning experience. (Look back at the two adjectives I added in front of the word content. I want to make an important point about those two qualifiers.) All content that can be included in a learning experience does not need to be. Moreover, there’s a science (and some art) to organizing content in a way that leads to more effective learning experiences. Content in a successful learning experience will be structured and filtered based upon what our team knows about the learners, the learning context, and most importantly the learning outcomes.

UX —This is shorthand for user experience. I have to admit, in all my years of learning about learning I’m a bit surprised that I only recently came across this term. Those who develop online, technology-based experiences primarily own the term; but I would venture to say that it applies to the design of effective learning experiences—in person or otherwise. This element encompasses all aspects of the user experience from the usability of the workbook created for an in-person course to the aesthetics and layout of the user interface designed for an online learning experience. Successful learning experiences consider the overall experience of the end user and brand the learning experience accordingly.

Context—I had a professor who once said, “Culture eats training for lunch.” The saying stuck. (I think it’s actually a paraphrase of something Peter Drucker said about business strategy and culture.) If the context, which I assume includes aspects of the local culture, doesn’t mesh with the learning experience you can most certainly be assured that the learning experience will fall short of expectations. Context also includes things like existing policies and practices, systems, equipment, physical setting and more. When I look back on some of our most successful learning solutions we took time to fully consider the context and aligned the learning experience accordingly.

Why do learning and training experiences sometimes fail? When I think back on my own experiences it seems likely that one or more of these elements weren’t fully considered during the design of the learning experience. Designing successful learning experiences is complex, there isn’t a one-size fits all solution at Vivayic. We’ve all been through learning experiences that fall short of meeting expectations before, so we actively use this model as we design each learning experience. We have a deep belief that doing so helps us shape more successful learning experiences that not only meet participant expectations, but also achieve real results for the organization.

In case you’re up for learning more about this model, I plan to discuss each of the elements in more detail in future posts. Stay tuned, there’s more to come!
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