Avoiding Complacency Risks: Basic Proficiency in Microsoft Office Isn’t So Basic

This is the 2nd article in a series on avoiding complacency risks in organizations.

Although the Microsoft Office Suite isn’t always viewed to be at the cutting edge of innovation, for many private and public sector employees, it serves as an important technological gateway. If your job involves staring at a computer screen, then demonstrating proficiency in Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint can improve your chances of success in most of the tasks you will ever be asked to perform. And that fact isn’t likely to change anytime soon; Microsoft reports that “Office 365 is on track to become a $1.5 billion business – one of the fastest growing in Microsoft history.”

Technology certainly changes and reinvents itself. Accordingly, workers are expected to adapt to new editions of Office and maintain at least “basic” proficiency despite the changes. However, “basic” skills look very different across employees, especially when Office releases new versions – and when a large portion of people’s proficiency in Microsoft Office products is attained through trial-and-error over years rather than through formal training in accomplishing work in the most efficient way for a particular organization (e.g. how to best use the templates developed internally).

What does this mean? A workforce generally uses Office products every day. If your workers are not up-to-date with the functionality of these programs, then being complacent about fixing the problem results in lost productivity every day.

According to the American Society for Training and Development, organizations spend $156 billion annually on training and development. Making sure that this expense shows a return on investment is at the top of the list for any organization. The most common reason for a poor return is lack of opportunity to apply the training. Yet, programs that employees use everyday (where a return on investment is most likely) are often overlooked  or ignored when it comes to training.

There is certainly an assumption in the modern workplace that people have “basic” Microsoft Office skills. This phrase is a staple in many position descriptions. Nevertheless, it is imperative for the organization to ensure employees’ “basic” Office proficiency matches the potentially “advanced” needs of the organization.

Here are two questions you can ask to ensure that “basic” and routine technology capabilities do not get lost in your organizational shuffle:

  1. When was the last time your organization weighed the capabilities of your employees in Microsoft Office applications before making a decision on a large IT procurement?
  2. How much money is spent by your organization on technology products whose capabilities could have been replicated by common Office products (or other common desktop applications), if employees only knew the true capabilities of the programs right at their fingertips (Do you even know the full capabilities of Office products to answer this question adequately)?

So how can an organization overcome any potential deficiency?

  1. Incorporate Office proficiency goals and objectives into your organization’s Strategic IT Plan (you may have bigger issues if you don’t have one of these).
  2. Develop and/or publicize common and best practice uses of Office and other desktop programs for your organization/industry.
  3. Develop an internal Office proficiency test to determine employees’ capabilities to address your organization’s unique and on-going needs.

If all else fails, buy everyone an iPad and start from scratch….

Dr. Paul Eder is a Senior Consultant with The Center for Organizational Excellence, Inc. (COE – http://www.center4oe.com). The opinions in this piece are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of COE or innovategov.org.

 

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