HR Indaba Africa 2019: Excel at Microsoft Excel with Excel Academy

Founder Dan Stillerman will be sharing some of the best-kept Excel secrets at the HR Indaba.

Most people don’t know how to use spreadsheet technology to its full capabilities. Microsoft Excel is a valuable tool in the HR and Finance professions, but most people are only using about 5-percent of the software’s capabilities, says Dan Stillerman, Founder and Managing Director at Excel Academy, who believes that many people are still working inefficiently simply because of a lack of knowledge.

What is Excel Academy and how long has the company been around?

I founded the company in 2014 after working as an actuary in an insurance company for four years. I went from being an Excel disaster when I started my first job, to becoming proficient, confident and productive in it. I got to a point where I really began to appreciate the power and capabilities of Excel as a business tool. I also began to realise that I had a passion for teaching and a real passion for helping people to overcome their challenges and to help them to become more productive and successful. At the beginning of 2014, just after qualifying as an actuary and resigning from my job, I founded Excel Academy.

What was the inspiration for starting the company?

Research has shown that most people use less than five percent of Microsoft Excel. I was fortunate that I had the opportunity all day, every day for four years to really get to grips with Excel and to push beyond what I thought was possible. The reality is that most people in the working world really don’t know what they don’t know when it comes to Excel’s capabilities. We help people to overcome two major challenges when it comes to Excel. The first is helping people to work smarter and maximise their efficiency.  The second is helping people to ensure accuracy in their work and to avoid potentially costly errors. 

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How do you differentiate yourself from other competitors in your space?

When I started the business I didn’t really know what the differentiating factors were. The first training manual that I created was a black and white, spiral-bound training manual, and I would deliver the training face to face. Each course would take eight hours to complete. But, over the past six years, the delivery model has evolved quite significantly. One of the main differentiating factors is that we’ve created a fun, colourful, dynamic, and unique approach to learning Excel. We’ve created unique, memorable systems such as The High Five Efficiency Formula™ – five steps to fundamental Excel efficiency, which we cover in Excel 101. These systems give the structure of the workshop and package the content in digestible chunks. Our whole delivery method has also completely evolved. What started as traditional classroom-based learning, has now transformed into a “Gamified Blended” approach.

This model includes a one-hour kick-start session, either face-to-face or via live webinar. This serves as an introduction to how the course works, and what is expected of the delegates. Then there is a period of online self-study, which is typically 2-3 weeks per course. Each delegate receives a unique username and password. Delegates can log in on any device at any time, and access the content at their own convenience. The learning is self-paced and flexible. The online platform includes videos, Excel exercises, multiple choice quizzes, and an assessment at the end of each workshop level. 

We also use WhatsApp Groups to stay in touch with delegates and provide support and encouragement. The back-end of our online platform allows us to monitor each delegate’s progress, and we post regular leaderboards on the WhatsApp groups. This keeps things fun and competitive, and also holds each delegate accountable. We offer coffee or smoothie vouchers as incentives for timely completion. So it’s become a really unique learning experience that delegates are loving. Our clients appreciate the blended approach because it also saves them time and money. There’s much less time out of the office, and courses are more affordable now that we’re sending a trainer for one hour instead of eight hours.

After months of trial and error, we’re proud to be seeing close to 100% engagement and course completion 

What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge facing the HR profession today?

I would say the biggest challenge is retaining high-quality staff and maintaining engagement with your staff. The turnover of staff in today’s world is so frequent. Gone are the days where people stay with companies for over 40 years. The average turnover these days is a few years.  People are keen to grow and to be stimulated. I think a huge challenge for the HR profession is to engage with staff, to keep staff happy and stimulated, to keep them feeling safe and inspired.