Saturday, 3 May 2014

Sales Matters in EdTech: Ineffective Tech

In my first EdTech "Sales Matters" post I tried to "re-orientate" educators about some of the reasons there is negativity around the sales people. While some of this negativity can be perceived, it is also the result of being sold ineffective tech. It's a week since the "Teachers Know Best" report was published and out of the 940 Tech tools that educators mentioned in the report;

50% of the EdTech was seen as INEFFECTIVE!

Today I want to explore some of the reasons that ineffective Tech can be developed, and how it makes its way into the classroom... After all there are numerous people within a school and EdTech company that are involved with the development and procurement of the tech. Is this because of bad sales people, poorly developed Tech, the procurement process at the school, or is the issue with the company's CEO and the culture they establish?
If the EdTech community decide to be defensive about the Gates Foundations findings with comments like; "Yeah, but this is only a sample of 3,000 educators... it's hardly representative all educators" 

What about Gallops' findings where Director of Education, Brandon Busteed, highlighted in an Inside Higher Ed article: 

"At a national level, there is no evidence that educational technology has reduced the cost of education yet or improved the efficacy of education... Maybe there will be some day, but that's the question: How much longer do we think it will take before we can detect movement on the national needle?" 

Now these findings are surely a concern for all stakeholders involved with EdTech, whether developer, schools/district procurement department, educator or student. But what would happen if we were to take any ineffective tech out of this research and/or if 100% of EdTech was effective? Would the results of this research be different? You would have thought so... you'd certainly hope so!
This post explores some of the reasons bad EdTech might exist. It might be useful to start by highlighting Dave Feinleib's observation in his book, Why Startups Fail; 

"No one sets out to build a bad product, yet it happens all the time" 

His book explores why this happens and, with Feinleib's kind permission, I have taken his findings and applied them to education in our EdTech report. Jim Collins highlights that an early warning sign to look out for in any organisation that may be failing is hubris.

A Lesson in Self Awareness... From the Bottom of the Class 
I wonder how often educators have to arrange meetings with parents who want to talk about issues around "Why is my kid in the bottom set for english/maths" or any other subject. Sometimes this is not so much to find ways to support their kids development, but to demand that they get moved up. 

I have experienced this with my own kids as they were... erm... well not exactly "top of the class." But before marching into the school demanding answers, I called an educator friend to discuss the situation. I asked how I should handle this... Should I arrange a meeting with the teacher? Should I ask that my child get moved up? Or should I lay the blame of any poor performance on the educator's ability to teach. Lol. Here's the kind of advice I received;

"I spend so much time dealing with these types of enquires. Obviously every parent cares about their kid... they want what's best for them. Of course you want to support them in their studies and you hope that they do well in school... every parent wants their kids to be the top of the class. But William, someone's kid has to be at the bottom... why can't it be yours? What would you prefer, that they get moved up only for them to struggle, get left behind and lose confidence? Would you consider this supportive? ...Don't worry about it. Just keep practicing with them at home. It will all work out in the end"

"Doctor, Doctor... I'm having visions of Grandeur" 
Not only was this great advice and an important lesson for us as parents, but it was also a great lesson in self awareness for our kids about their strengths, weaknesses and the importance of preparation and doing your best... and about being honest with yourself about their abilities.

Compare this parental outlook with a University lecturer I know who has parents calling him and asking why their kids got a bad mark, I understand his answers are along the lines of "Because they handed in a poor assignment." Does this attitude have an impact in adulthood? In a study of Doctors at a hospital who were asked to self assess their performance with their colleagues. The results? Not a single Doctor rated themselves in the bottom 50th percentile.

Does the same thing happen in EdTech? Like it or not, someone in the Teachers Know Best research is developing inefficient EdTech;

Why can't it be the EdTech YOUR company develops? Would you know if it was? 

Delusional EdTech? 
How easy is it to spot our own short comings? Athletes who are at the top of their game have coaches to help build on their strengths, develop their weaker areas and to identify the "blind spots" that everyone is susceptible to. 

For business executives Marshal Goldsmiths book "What got you Here won't get you There" is dedicated to this topic. In "How the Mighty Fall" Jim Collins details the 5 stages of decline that failing organisation go through 

Stage 1: Hubris born of success
Stage 2: Undisciplined Pursuit for more
Stage 3: Denial of Risk & Peril
Stage 4: Grasping for Salvation
Stage 5: Capitulation to irrelevance or death

Stage 1: Hubris born of success 
Great enterprises can become insulated by success; accumulated momentum can carry an enterprise forward, for a while, even if its leaders make poor decisions or lose discipline. Stage 1 kicks in when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they lose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place"

Here's what one concerned executive asked after he heard Collins present his findings;

“When you are at the top of the world, the most powerful nation on Earth, the most successful company in your industry, the best player in your game, your very power and success might cover up the fact that you’re already on the path to decline. So, how would you know?” 

Collins goes on to highlight that every institution is vulnerable, no matter how great. No matter how much they’ve achieved, no matter how far they’ve gone, no matter how much power they’ve garnered, organisation are vulnerable to decline. There is no law of nature that the most powerful will inevitably remain at the top. Anyone can fall and most eventually do. 

Arrogance in EdTech
If any organisation is vulnerable to decline is there arrogance and hubris in EdTech?

The New York Times has been exploring the issue of Technology companies having strong "alpha male" cultures: Technologies Man Problem and GitHub Founder resigns after investigation 

Among the weaknesses that Alpha Males have which poses risks to their organisation are that: "They can be arrogant, stubborn, overly opinionated; imposes own views; closed to others' thinking" (Source: The Alpha Male Syndrome
Source: New York Times "Technologies Man Problem"
So, the technology sector may have some Alpha Male issues. Then there are senior managers' personalities that we need to consider. Would you want to partner with people who have the following character traits; pathological liar, cunning & manipulative, impulsive, irresponsible, fails to accept responsibility for their own actions, lack of realistic goals, a lack of empathy, grandiose sense of self worth.

These are some of the 20 signs of psychopath CEOsand Professor Kevin Dutton's research found that more psychopaths are CEOs than any other profession... Maybe it's cunning and manipulative CEOs that have played a role in giving sales the bad name that it has today? 
Channel 4 Psychopath Night
Are you now thinking the same thing as I am;

It makes you wonder that as much as 50% of EdTech is effective?  

Do They mean us?
I may be looking in the wrong places, but I have not seen much discussion from the EdTech community asking 
"Do you think the inefficient EdTech in this report includes us?" This is perhaps unsurprising as these are not the kind of discussions you might have in a public forum... although an open debate on the issue might be welcome by educators. 

Neither do the great EdTech providers need to ask this question because they KNOW they are doing good work. They know because they obsess about it, they go out of their way to establish great relationships with their clients.

These great providers can either pick up the phone to their customers and ask "Do you think this means us?" Equally, educators who work with these providers know that their input is valued and taken on board, so know to get in touch if they are not happy and/or if any issue needs resolved. These relationships lead to collaboration and co-creation of new ideas.
EdTech Collaborating with educators at EdSurge's Baltimore Summit
... And Would the Arrogant CEO Care?
But what about any arrogant alpha male (or psychopathic) CEOs in EdTech? (That is of course IF there are any in EdTech...) What if the founder/CEO's hubris and arrogance means that they develop ineffective EdTech, they would be less likely to ask their customers or employees for feedback? Indeed even if someone highlighted any inefficiencies, wouldn't they simply refuse to listen to any concerns?

Are these the kind of companies where the CEO and IT Director go into a meeting room for two hours and come out with a "game changing solution" in education and if the sales department asks "But doesn't XYZ product already do that?" They are told that they are being negative and "Are not being a team player," and get sent out to sell a bad idea. 

They are ridiculed in meetings with educators about how bad the idea is, and how other products do a similar (but better) job. They return to the office and their sales experience is called into question "Maybe it's not the product, maybe that you can't sell" is the retort, despite the fact that they have a proven track record in sales within the organisation.

The MD goes out and promises the earth on the functionality of the product despite it being nothing more than a drawing on a whiteboard, convinces a couple of clients who buy into "the vision." At worst the service is never developed, at best some limp half-baked project is delivered (late). Corners have been cut because of the financial pressures that a company in decline faces and the stress that everyone is under due to the internal strife.        

BillAuletCulture2How the Arrogant Fall
Going back to Jim Collins "stages of decline" I have worked at an organisation who went through each of these 5 stages over the space of a 12 month period. I sent the MD an email which highlighted that "I could see some of these signs of decline within the organisation." This was by no means an easy thing to do! But I cared a about the company and my colleagues, so felt it was necessary. 

As you can perhaps imagine, the response I got was not a good one! Nevertheless, the warning went unheeded and 12 months later the MD had to take the decision to close one of the offices because of a loss in revenue. 10-15 hard working, loyal members of staff were made redundant... all because of a failure to see the signs, or listen to colleagues. 

During the redundancy process I presented the e-mail highlighting the concerns I had 12 months ago. My MD said nothing, but when I shared the email with my colleagues they commented; 

"It's like the author of this book was sitting in the office watching all this unfold" 

This was not a pleasant thing to go through but, as is always the case for an optimistic realist, I am grateful for the experience. 

Culture is Everything

I now know what the early signs look like, so I'll know when an organisation is headed for trouble a lot sooner in the future. Indeed, I have a better idea about what to look for BEFORE getting involved. I had an interview with an EdTech company and I asked "What's the Culture like here?" The Managing Directors response was "We work hard and play hard!"  

"Is that it? That's the sum total of your description of your culture?" I thought to myself. Erm... thank you and goodbye! I have an idea of what culture is and what it is not... and this wasn't it!

Are there any arrogant EdTech companies who decide to ignore their customers and staff? I don't know how typical this is, but my 13 years experience in the industry suggests that there are. The knock on effect is that these companies' behaviour makes it hard for everyone. It was after watching Panorama: reading, writing and rip offs where educators lost their jobs as the result of unethical sales people that I decided to write my EdTech report.

This is obviously an extreme example but if organisations are not going to listen to educators when they become their customers, maybe educators need to inquire about the organisations' culture - as well as the EdTech - before buying their products. Maybe this will help improve the statistics with ineffective EdTech. 

"Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization's makeup and success — along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like... I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn't just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value." Lou Grestner, Former IBM CEO 

If you want more of an example of just how much culture matters check out "Culture eats strategy for breakfast" as well as Talent Culture (@Talentculture#Tchat (Wednesdays 7pm ET/12am GMT.

I was doing some research on Go Boundless' website before joining thier new #TextBookRevolution Twitter Chat... it sure is good to know that there is EdTech like this around!

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