HR in the Car - Episode 4: “For the Love of Spreadsheets"
We welcome Kathleen Pingelski, owner of MicroKnowledge and President of ProKnowledge to join us on Episode 4 of HR in the Car. Listen in, as we discuss Kathleen’s perspective from being a business owner in the professional development and training world. She shares her thoughts on what it was like to shift from a classroom-based model to 100% remote and how that’s changed things for the better. While we can tell you all day that investments in training can help with recruiting and retention, hear for yourself how investing in training and development can have a lasting impact on your ROI and more.
More about Kathleen Pingelski:
Kathleen Pingelski is an owner of MicroKnowledge, Inc., and president of its affiliated professional development training company, ProKnowledge. She manages client accounts and new business development for both companies, including oversight of large training rollouts. Kathleen regularly presents to customers, associations, and community organizations on a variety of topics related to the use of technology in the workplace. Her technical experience includes the development and delivery of numerous transition projects, including Office suite proprietary technology rollouts.
With more than 28 years of experience in creating and delivering training to end-users and professional trainers, Kathleen consults with clients in creating effective, efficient training plans for varying audiences within a single organization, identifying target skills and business processes, and then building training programs to meet those needs.
Kathleen is committed to giving back to the community and has served on several boards of directors. Currently, she is on the Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce board and is a committee member for Circles of Mercy. Kathleen is on the Links to Leadership committee. She is also an officer for the Edison Club and is involved in the American Heart Association.
Under her leadership, MicroKnowledge was named an Albany Business Review Best Place to Work in 2004 – 2008, and 2016. Kathleen was honored with the Capital Region Chamber’s Women of Excellence award in 2017 and the Times Union’s Women@Work Top 10 Women to Watch in 2016.
When Kathleen is not at the office you can find her outside golfing, hiking, biking, playing pickleball, or traveling to a beach.
Organizations Kathleen Supports:
Voiceover: Welcome to HR in the Car with Miriam Dushane and Tom Schin of Alaant workforce solutions where exciting HR Professionals and business leaders share laughter, insider stories and maybe even a few tears about HR in today's world. Buckle up for the best half-hour of your week.
Tom: So, Miriam, when I speak about training and computers and cycling, what's the first person that comes to mind?
Miriam: Well, for training and computers, I definitely think Kathleen Pingelski. Where's the cycling come in?
Tom: She is an avid cycler. While we didn't talk about it today,
Miriam: We didn't even talk about it!
Tom: I know. Well, we're going to get to that another point when we bring her back later on. But yeah, Kathleen is an avid cycler and we had the pleasure of speaking with her and learning some great stories today.
Miriam: No, she had some great insight in terms of training and how you really should approach training, training dollars. And she had a great story about saving lots of time with your, you know, beloved spreadsheets.
Tom: Ha ha ha, spreadsheets. Ahhhhh.
Kathleen: Keep em.
Tom: Let's listen in.
Tom: When you're at a cocktail event and you've got to describe less so of the 60-second commercial, but when you have to describe to others what you do, what is that? How would you describe that for others?
Kathleen: That's a great question. I basically solve customers and clients skills gaps if they're having a challenge there. We call it Swiss cheese in organizations. And, you know, they have a little bit of knowledge here and a little bit of knowledge there. And what we do is we help identify those gaps, put a training plan together and then train their team, workforce department, etc.. So it's a different way to saying we do training and consulting, which is kind of very dry. It really is helping organizations use both their technology and their professional development skills to the best ability.
Tom: Love it. Yeah, it's one of those. You're right. When you talk about trying to say that we do training and consulting it's so vague, there's so many different avenues that you could go with that. So I like how you fine tune that for folks.
Kathleen: Yeah. It helps them understand where their gaps are. Training doesn't mean you have to start at A and get to Z. There are pieces in between that you can hone in on and have success with a training plan.
Miriam: In terms of the training that you offer. It's both hard skills and soft skills, right?
Kathleen: It is. So we do a technology training and that brand is is micro knowledge and it's been in business. I think, man, I lose count, but it's about 35 years. And then in 2015, I founded Pro Knowledge, which focuses on, as you kind of call it, the soft skills, professional development, anything not to do with technology. There was a shift in the market. It was interesting because I'm old enough to remember, but I'm not quite sure everybody is old enough to remember. There was no technology in the workforce. Right. So in the early nineties, every organization was investing in technology, you know, CRM, green screens. The whole investment went in an organization towards their technology. And then, you know, they did the infrastructure and built out the systems and the databases and everything else. And it was an interesting shift to watch organizations forget how to communicate with each other. They were doing coaching and performance appraisals and handling a difficult conversation via email, you know, or in their direct chat. And it was like customers came to us and said, like, you need to help us remember how to communicate with each other face to face and have a conversation. So that's where Pro Knowledge was born out of that.
Miriam: Could have used you about 20 years ago. I had a situation where I worked with a chief financial officer in my organization. This is before I was, you know, managing partner of Alaant a long, long, long time ago. And our boss actually forbade us from communicating via email because we would get so angry at each other because we were always mis perceiving what the other's intention was or the tone of the email was. So I can totally relate to that. I could have probably used that myself about 20 years ago.
Kathleen: Yeah, it's been a shift and even now that we're even more so dependent, right? You have more remote workforce, you have a hybrid, you have people all over the place working for you. So the professional development side of the world is equally as important today as the hard skills and the technical skills, etc..
Miriam: Absolutely. I actually think it probably is even more important because we have so many young people coming out of school and college that are afraid to communicate verbally with one another, even if they agree each other. And it's fascinating to me that this art of communication is almost starting to become obsolete in a bad way, because we don't have they don't have the skills to comfortably carry on a verbal conversation with someone. You know, we tell them to pick up the phone in our office and we get like these death stares on what exactly are you asking me to do?
Kathleen: You want me to talk to somebody?
Miriam: To talk to people?
Tom: Yeah. And Miriam and I have both have teenagers that go through this. And so we speak from experience and knowing that they're fully capable of picking up the phone, it's just so much more comfortable. Like, why would I do that? I can just text them and they'll respond with a one minute message or the two second spurt of information they're looking for. And I'm always baffled when they say, Well, no one got back to me or they didn't respond and said, Now you know how I feel when I message you.
Miriam: Exactly. Exactly.
Miriam: So, Kathleen, you know, maybe on that note or not on that note, what are the trends that you're seeing in their industry that companies are looking for?
Kathleen: Yeah, it has been trending in this direction and the pandemic and I hate to even have a conversation on that because I'm so over it. But it really accelerated the speed of the shift. So we were we were bricks and mortar training for 35 years. Right, we did in-person. We went to client sites. They came to us. We traveled all over the country, for that matter, for training, hands on, instructor led, face to face. And you could see a trend, I'll say, over the past ten years where there was you know, we have another department in the western part of New York. Can we tie them in via video? And they could get the training as well. And we'd say, sure, no problem. They had the technology and we did that. So we've really been doing kind of this hybrid model for 15 years plus probably. And then when the pandemic hit, we had an in-person class scheduled for Monday, March 17th, I think was the date. 12 people were coming to our facility for an access class. And on that Friday we made the decision we need to flip it to online, live, we call it, and we need to simulate the training experience in an online platform. And we did it over the weekend. In hindsight, that would have taken us six months to a year. We would have had analysis paralysis, we would have had meetings, we would have had project plans, we would have had rocks, and we would have just planned it out to nauseum. And it forced us to say we're either going to give up and not be able to train our customers or we're going to figure out how to do it equally effectively. And we haven't looked back yet. The industry is and it's always been kind of the best model of a little bit of in-person, whether a client does it internally with their own resources, plus some sort of online live kind of an online library type of concept. And a blended approach is the most effective and I think that will be here to stay. But we have clients now that we trained last week or a couple of weeks ago in Excel from California. And so we've just widened our geographic net to be able to train anywhere, any time at a you know, any place. So it's it's really a great benefit to clients. There's no travel expense. They used to bring in people. A lot of state agencies, you know, we do we're in the capital, so we do a lot of state business. They would bring in departments, teams from all over the state, and they would pay for the travel, pay for their hotel, food expenses, the whole thing. And then they would pay for the training. So now they're able to stay in their remote satellite locations and have the same experience of the training and delivery. So it's actually saving people money. I put a little asterisks on the question that said, it's actually a positive trend because I think training dollars are going a lot further than they used to.
Tom: And I have to imagine with that scenario, Kathleen, that especially on the computer side, people can pull up their own files when you're trying to say, let's show you this and let's show you that, or if you have a data set that you're trying to manipulate in Excel or a PowerPoint slide, they have it on their computer already versus coming to the classroom. So there has to be some other advantages for them along those lines as well.
Kathleen: For sure, adult learners make the connection when they're using their own files. I could, you know, train you on Excel and I could use ice cream and widgets and all these kind of examples. And then you and Miriam would need to go back and apply it in your world. Well, how does this relate to employers and, you know, staffing and all of those things? And you would have to make that connection. If we can train you on your files in your world, you don't have to bridge that connection. We're making it for you and you're even getting the work done right. Why go back and work on the Excel worksheet? Let's do it in the session.
Kathleen: Learn and get your job done. So the argument is all, we don't have time. I can't take my staff out for four days. It's bull@#$& basically because there is time and you're investing in them. And I kind of counter from a business development perspective, how would you like to train them and get the work done at the same time?
Miriam: Absolutely, I was thinking the same thing, that that would be my pitch, that would be my pitch. You and I think alike.
Kathleen: Yeah. I mean, now what's your objection?
Tom: But I always argue with that time concept because there's always time. It's just you're choosing to do other stuff. So you're choosing to go pursue this or pursue that or do this or do that or procrastinate this or procrastinate that. The time is there on the calendar. It's finite. And you just have to decide what's more important. Is it going to be skills development so I can be better three, six, 12 months from now? Or do I want to lag along? So I always balk at that. I don't have time. You're choosing not to have time. That that's a choice.
Miriam: Yeah. And I totally agree with that. I mean, we're talking about that in our office. I think especially if you have a hybrid team and they're all kind of working in their own silo several days out of the week and they're not, you know, collaborating as much as they would if they were all sitting in the same room in an office for the entire week. We're already noticing some gaps on our team. And so I you know, I'm putting a plan together to, you know, just for our industry, make sure that everyone is on the same page and train the same way. And we're going to have mandatory trainings on a monthly basis in our office just because of that. And yeah, are we taking away from their time of producing or recruiting? Absolutely. But in the long run, they're going to be stronger and they're going to produce more and they're going to be more effective because we take the time out to do the training. And I see it the same way for your clients, too, Kathleen.
Kathleen: Exactly. You know, we get asked the question, ROI. And it's hard for me to equate. Okay, Miriam, if you invest 2 hours of time for your team to get training, you're going to yield X. That equation is hard, but from experience, I can remember a customer and I won't I won't share their name, but I was there for a meeting and unrelated to this project it was on like PowerPoint or something like that. And someone grabbed me and said, Hey, can you just quick look at this Excel file and maybe there's a more efficient way to do it. So they had, I don't know, a couple hundred thousand rows of data that they were manipulating and kind of trying to subtotal and etc.. And it took an FTE about 8 hours to do this. I think it was a monthly report, about 8 hours to go through. It was getting done and the employee was spending 8 hours and it was accomplished and it was great. It went to the board, it went to senior leadership. It was perfect. I showed them a feature and I was walking by, so I wasn't even there for that reason. I showed them a feature that allowed them to do what they were doing in a very manual way in about 15 minutes. And so all I have to say and sometimes I get on like this crazy soapbox and I want to shake people because it's like, we don't have time and we don't have money. And I'm like, listen, that 15 minutes, if I build you a hundred bucks, would would you would you pay that? There's no defense for spending time, resources or spending time, but they're not doing it in the most efficient way. And it's not because they don't choose to. They just don't know.
Kathleen: You know, you don't know what you don't know.
Tom: Well, and especially for those of us that have used Excel since the start dating ourselves here. Sorry, but you know, you get used to what Excel can do. We'll use that as the continuing example. And you forget you forget to pay attention to the new updates from generational version diversion. I was fiddling around last week and I had found this little tip about importing data from a table out on any URL and it'll import into a in a formatted spreadsheet with just three or four clicks. Yeah. So I did it in front of the group and I'm just hooting and hollering. They're all looking at me funny. I'm like, You don't understand. This is a game changer.
Kathleen: Exactly. It doesn't take much.
Tom: A couple of little steps.
Miriam: Definitely not for Tom and Excel, I guess
Tom: There are certain applications that get me excited. Excel is one of them, you know. I've just always loved it.
Miriam: You know, it's so funny because I'm definitely different than you guys. I threaten my team to not send me Excel spreadsheets. Like, last thing I want to see is you organize something in Excel. Like, it's just like, I can't do it again. Spreadsheets. God. So anyhow, go ahead Tom.
Tom: So, Kathleen, we regularly run. If you I know you pay attention to our newsletter, we run these questions of the week and they come out every week. We put them out on our social feeds, we put them up on LinkedIn and they're usually quick, yes, no or choice A-B-C kind of questions. We wanted to run one of them by you to kind of see what's your take from your lens from your perspective? The question we wanted to throw out to you, and especially this time of year, is your thoughts about offering summer working hours for your employees. Our poll results landed itself to say that 35% of our respondents said yes, they do offer that, and a surprising number of 65% said no. I actually thought the no's would be higher than that. I was surprised to see that we had so many folks entertaining it. But what's your take on summer hours? What are you seeing out there?
Kathleen: That number really surprised me. 65% say no. It is one of the easiest, cost effective morale boosters in any organization. It doesn't mean you shut down for the summer. Right. There's there's a lot of kind of varying elements. But from 4th of July till Labor Day, we shut our facility on Fridays at 1:00, and we've done it for years. We did it before it was even a thing. And it is so fascinating. The team is so effective. They get so much more work done. They lean into each other and it's an easy way. As a small business, we have to be creative to be competitive at really at the end of the day. Right because I can't go pay somebody the top, top salary and you two know the market right now and the talent that everybody's looking for. And it's just a way that can be a differentiator. And only 35% of the people are doing it. To me, it's just like low hanging fruit.
Miriam: Yeah, it really is. You're right. It is absolutely the low hanging fruit. And I, I talk about that all the time with businesses because they're like, we're small. We can't afford all these things. It's like, well, it's this tiny things that are the ones that usually make the biggest impact, like you were saying.
Kathleen: Absolutely. And I know that there are kind of some limitations. Right. If you're a retailer or you're a sandwich shop on the corner in, you know, downtown Troy or Albany, etc., that, you know, you really can't just close at 1:00, but there are creative ways that you could do it. And you can do like I want somebody to answer our phones. It's important to me that when someone dials, they get a live person on the phone, call me old school. I still do it. We have auto attendance up the wazoo, etc. But I'm still I want someone to answer the phone. So they set up a schedule and they rotate it through that the phone is going to ring and you take one Friday afternoon, a summer that you're on phone duty and I'm in the rotation. My business partner, Lisa's in the rotation. I mean, we all take our our turn and it's really not impactful. So you have, you know, maybe that small sandwich shop says we can't shut down. Well, you have rotating and somebody gets an offer. There's creative ways to do it. And I don't think employers ask their team to help solve it enough. We as employers and small businesses think we have to come up with the answer. I go to the team. Here's what we're trying to solve. I would like Kathleen would like to golf on Friday afternoons. Would anybody else like to have more family time? Would you like to go to your lake? Would you like to do their like yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, how do we do that? Right. And creatively come up with that solution? And I think our customers and our clients respect it as well.
Miriam: I think it's great.
Kathleen: We come back fresher.
Miriam: Yeah, absolutely.
Tom: Well, and at the end of the day, Kathleen, you can think about at any time of the year, if you had to leave at 1:00 on any given day throughout the entire calendar year, you're going to make sure that you got all your stuff done before you left. And if it was for a long weekend, you would have button it up anyway and you would have known three or four days in advance. I need to make sure I get this email out and this out in this out because I'm going to be out the rest of the afternoon. It's no different than that. It's just you're planning it out ahead of time and letting everyone benefit from that. And whether it's the Friday afternoon departure or coming in late on Monday, there's all sorts of ways, as you put it, to mix and match some of that stuff, even if you have to split it up amongst several people.
Miriam: You know, Kathleen, it was really interesting. I loved how you said I want to play golf on Friday afternoons. I've run my business the same way. Like the reason I wanted to do summer hours for Alaant was because I want summer Friday afternoons off myself and there was no way that I would do that without affording the same luxury to my entire team. So it comes out of my own want as well. But it's interesting you say about asking your employees. I asked all of our employees about a year ago about a four day workweek, and they freaked out. I thought they were all going to love it. They were like, no, that's not enough time. We need a little bit more time than that. And that's when we came up with the abbreviated schedule over the summer, and we actually do a different version when it's not summertime, in addition just to give a little bit more time. But yeah, you definitely have to get the feedback from your employees.
Kathleen: For sure.
Miriam: So in your career training, I mean, we talked to a lot of HR people and of course, HR people give ridiculous stories. But if you were going to write a book about one of or just like a chapter in a crazy book moment about training, what comes to mind is one of the craziest or most interesting things that have ever happened while you were doing that. I mean, the Excel thing alone is a great story. Hello? 8 hours to 15 minutes. I mean, done. But is there anything else that you know, when you saw that question that we send it over that came to mind to you as something like, Oh, yeah, I always think about this one.
Kathleen: Yeah, I think it's more when I read it, it was more about customer service as opposed to a training story. We have we call it mobile knowledge and we pack up laptop systems. It's like a LAN in a box. And we we go to a customer site with 12 laptops, a little mini server, and we can train in their training room, but they don't have to have the equipment. And we were down in Long Island and we have a process and everything gets packed up. The trainer grabs the bags and out the door they go. I get a call from the trainer about 7:00 in Long Island and they say, Kathleen, I don't have the power packs to the laptop.
Miriam: Oh, no.
Tom: Oh, no.
Kathleen: I'm like, what.
Kathleen: And he is a military person. He goes, I own this because I didn't check my pack. And I said, John, what are you referring to? And he goes, I took my parachute and I didn't check it. I said, okay, so how are we going to solve this? So that was about 7:00. We had to get to Long Island. I knew the customer really, really, really well, had been doing business with them for a long time, got a hold of a customer, said this the situation. I have a driver in route. It's on the way down. Being power cords nowadays, you're like, Kathleen, couldn't you just get universal power cords and, like, be on your way? Yeah. There was no such thing as universal power cords back then. It was very specific to the laptop. So we packed up 12 power packs and hired a driver, sent them down, and they were able to start training that first morning. They started training at their normal time of nine and then we had some battery life, obviously, but it wasn't just a one day training session. It was a three day training session.
Miriam: Yeah, that wasn't gonna last.
Miriam: Yeah, it wasn't going to last us that long. We knew we had a little bit of time, but not that much time. So it's one of those technology as much as we plan and prepare. And you know, with this technology we're using today for this podcast, you know, three of us are in three different locations. We tested it before we made sure everything was working. We went through everything we could to mitigate the risk. There was nothing to say that we wouldn't just pop on today and the whole thing, like, not work and and we just did it yesterday in a test environment.
Tom: So you knock on wood Kathleen. You knock on wood.
Miriam: Couple more of these do today.
Tom: Yeah, what you referenced reminds there's a book called The Checklist Manifesto. It's by I'm going to mispronounce his name but it's Atul Gawande and it's exactly that about points about checklists and critical components and health care in aerospace industry, engineering and so forth. But it's exactly to that point. It's like you you create these lists and sometimes if you're not checking them, they're they're not going to be as useful as you intended to be.
Tom: So was there any particular group or charitable cause, how personal family work related that you wanted to mention? You know, we're very community minded. We support a lot of organizations around the region. We wanted to give our guests the opportunity to kind of share, give a plug for theirs as well.
Kathleen: It's interesting, you know, Alaant and micromanager very aligned in many, many ways. Right. When I think of the community, I think of Alaant . When I think of a great work environment, I think of Alaant You know, it's just interesting the similarities. I always find that fascinating. I have so many, but there's probably two that really touch, you know, personally, definitely one. So I'm a big supporter of the American Heart Association. My dad passed away at a young age, 64ish of a massive heart attack. And then my step mom. Has 11 stints, you know, healthy, but basically had a heart issue and her one of her main arteries kind of dissected. The cardiologist described it all kind of give it as a one word, a nylon ripping in a pantyhose. You know, her artery just went and that that was it. So that's always been really important to me. And we support their Better You program, which I was a participant actually the first year. It's a 12 week program that goes through. They pick 12 women, 12 or 13 women that go through a 12 week program. And it focuses on how do you know your numbers and be heart healthy. It's not about weight loss. It is totally about learning how to care for yourself and making sure you're heart healthy, so to speak. So that's something near and dear to me. And then Miriam and I were at an event this week for a Women's Employment Resource Center.
Kathleen: And that organization we have supported for 35 years. And it was a different name. It was displaced homemakers. Yeah. Now, years and years ago. And the mission is really getting women back into the workforce and the skills that they need, which aligns with what we do every day, all day. It just so happens we do it for organizations and not for profit state agencies, etc. But work really. Women's Employment Resource Center helps women get those skills that they need to get back into the workforce because maybe they took time off to raise their family or their kids and their husband has passed away. Something happened, something changed in their life, and now they need to get back in the workforce. So we offer any women's employment student to take any class at our facility and we do training for them and we support them in every way that we can. And we hire we've hired work students in the past. So it's a great relationship and partnership. Those are kind of the two that that really hit home. We try to be as community focused and minded as we possibly can in lots of different ways. But those I have kind of personal connections to.
Tom: That's wonderful. If I'd never known about the Better You program that sounds really interesting. You know obviously American Heart Association does a lot of great things and a lot of fundraisers, but having some of these individual programs to give folks kind of a long term step versus come in for 4 hours to listen to this presentation, you know, having a dedicated program that's almost like a half a semester course, if you will.
Tom: There's so much more behind the scenes. And that's, again, to the point of having folks share their stories. This is a perfect example. So thanks for sharing that.
Kathleen: Yeah, it is. It's a it's a great program. And they're just building out kind of an alumni program because after the 12 weeks, right. Every you go back into your I called the durable cage. You know, we're spinning our wheels and we're doing that same thing. And I'm running three kids around and I'm doing all kinds of stuff. So what do you do? You go through the drive thru, you go back to your your old habits. So with the alumni program, it's continuing what you did in those first 12 weeks and continuing on with, you know, walking, healthy recipes, lots of programming. So it's a great way to continue on the mission.
Tom: Wonderful. Well, Kathleen, we really appreciate you taking time to speak with us this afternoon and explaining some of the stories that you've had and the trends in your industry and everything that's going on. I know it's busy everywhere. All all industries seem to be picking up and getting busier and busier. So thanks for spending the afternoon with us.
Kathleen: Yeah, I appreciate it. Thanks so much.
Miriam: Thanks, Kathleen.
Tom: Well, that was a lot of fun. We didn't get to the cycling story, of course, but we'll we'll talk about that offline. What did you think about her story with the giant eight hour spreadsheet?
Miriam: Oh, my God, 8 hours. First of all, you know me. I can't look at a spreadsheet for more than 30 seconds. So to even imagine that someone was spending 8 hours manually crunching numbers and putting reports together when it could be done in 15 minutes. Good Lord. That's amazing. So it just goes to show you that, you know, we think we know how to do stuff and then, you know, new upgrades and things come out and change it around. And and then even what you thought was really fast isn't as fast. So it's so important. And then in terms of just communicating the soft skills, that pro knowledge also helps train people on, I just think putting both of those things together was genius when she when she opened Pro Knowledge a few years back.
Tom: Yeah. That, that was really insightful. And I, I can appreciate the shortcuts because I'm a huge shortcut person, but even that eight hour blip just blew me away. I remember those days back and maybe many decades ago when Excel was new. But, you know, I think the thing that stood out to me was learning about that Better You program. I hadn't heard about that. I knew American Heart Association did some great things. But having that sort of forum to continue to teach people how to have their best healthy self. It's amazing.
Miriam: Yeah, it's interesting. She said it's not focused on weight loss, which is so true. I think a lot of people think they'll just be healthier if they lose weight. And of course, that's part of it, but it's not the only thing. So that program I actually had heard of that program and I know some women who've gone through it and it really did help change their lives and also their perspective. Women sometimes don't take good care of themselves, and so that will help them do that. So then they can take care of others like we love to do.
Tom: Well, for those of you listening, we'll have notes here along on our site at Alaant.com. So please visit us. You'll find contact information for Kathleen regarding micro knowledge and pro knowledge and be sure to come back and listen for more podcasts from Miriam and myself on HR in the Car and we look forward to speaking with you soon.