Robert J. Feeney
Robert serves as the company president in charge of setting the vision and leading our contribution to the world of performance enablement through behavior change. He is the co-creator of the Ringorang SaaS platform.Follow Follow
Storytelling about Ringorang by Knowledge as a Service With Robert Feeney
Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 148. This week we have storytelling about Ringorang by Knowledge as a Service (KaaS) with Robert Feeney. During this episode, Robert and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing Ringorang.
Robert is president and chief vision officer at KaaS and an expert in all things learning and behavior. His passion to create change by turning undesired or negative behaviors into positive ones that when added together, create true, lasting change in people’s lives really comes through during the podcast.
Ringorang is a platform that delivers bite-sized information to users by gently nudging, reminding, and motivating them to adopt new habits daily. It leverages learning science and rewards to engage the brain and encourage people to return. It helps ensure that the most important messages and information are never lost or forgotten; it is always at a person’s fingertips.
A few things we talk about today: How do Ringorang and “micro-learning” correlate? What are people asking to learn? And of course, how can organizations utilize Ringorang for their teams?
There’s more, as always! Tune in to learn. Please leave your thoughts as comments!
Show length: 31 minutes
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Welcome to RecruitingDaily’s Use Case Podcast, a show dedicated to the storytelling that happens, or should happen, when practitioners purchase technology. Each episode is designed to inspire new ways and ideas to make your business better. As we speak with the brightest minds in recruitment and HR tech, that’s what we do. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
Ladies and gentlemen this is William Tincup and you are listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today we have Robert on from Knowledge as a Service, that’s KaaS, K-A-A-S, and his product is Ringorang. And so we’re going to be talking a little bit about KaaS and also a little about the product Ringorang, and he’ll explain those things to us. Robert, would you do us a favor, the audience a favor, and introduce both yourself and let’s start with KaaS and then the product Ringorang.
Yeah, thank you. Knowledge as a Service or KaaS as we call it for short, it’s out to transform the way learning sciences are made use of through technology, usually in large scale enterprises. And there’s a product that we brought to market called Ringorang, which is a play on the word boomerang, and the idea is you’re using this software to send out bite size pieces of information or request for action from learners, typically the employees of a large scale enterprise, and then it comes back with data on what they know or don’t know about it. Keep that loop going.
So a couple of years ago we kind of got into microlearning, some of the water cooler stuff that was lost, and this is way before COVID of course. But some of the water cooler stuff that was lost, or some of the institutional knowledge or learning that was lost, and also people’s probably attention span and… It turns out people are busy and ADHD and all these other things, how caffeinated, whatever. So there’s probably a lot of things contributed to this, but… So this is kind of microlearning but on steroids because you’re casting out and then essentially validating in some way, do you know this, do you not know this? Do you want to know more about this? Et cetera.
Yeah. Well said. Because it is a two-way experience. The microlearning is definitely a format that we have. We also use gamification in there to make it welcome in the person’s life. And we were actually one of the pioneer… When we developed Ringorang, we did this long before Knowledge as a Service was around, we just didn’t have a business model, we were one of the early pioneers in 2007 of app based gamification and microlearning. But what we didn’t have at that time was how to get the feedback loop. So you were bringing back around what people needed to know and then what was working and not working, so you can change it in real time.
You put a little machine learning, a little AI behind that, underneath the hood of that, and then it learns what the people are learning. And as they’re learning, and again, everyone’s got their own journey. So every employee’s got their own journey and you don’t want to assume that they know certain things because they’ve been in certain meetings or on certain projects. So this is just a great way of closed loop to find out what they know. But also, what I love about it is what the engagement industry went through years ago from going from a once a year employee satisfaction survey, which is really boring, to more of a pulse survey kind approach; one question, three questions a week, you could set all that, the velocity at different points.
But the idea was, we’re going to have more of a finger on the pulse of what’s actually going on. And you’ve really made that easier for people in the training development learning world to then find out, what do our people actually know? Maybe even possibly, what do they want to know or what do they want to know more about? And so you can even unlock some of the learning that they’d like to do.
Yeah. And made that easier and also made it scalable, which was really the key here. How do you take that across a large scale organization where all the different divisions get siloed? Our job here, that we’re doing, is to pull together the philosophy of each organization that is our customer, to understand that people are people, first of all, and there are some fundamentals among all people in your organization that you you can access that will have them feel empowered when they get education delivered to them in a way that works. There’s the opposite is unfortunately most often true, which is that you’re delivering training in a way that is not empowering because it doesn’t actually align with the way our brains work. We’re just dumping information on us or spraying it as like a fire hose, and we’re expected to retain some of it because we tested out positive and we got it, someone ticked the box that we finished our training, absolutely absurd. No one on earth has ever learned anything that way. But it’s the norm that we’re now breaking.
Well, and what’s interesting is, again, older models, kind of the things that we grew up with, a classroom environment, teacher at the front of the room, kind of the bully pulpit, et cetera. And that works for some folks.
Well, think about this, William, it works in a classroom basically because you come back to the classroom every day. But you can’t do that in a corporate sense.
No. If you do you’re not doing your job.
Because it turns out you have this other thing that you have to actually… The company is paying you to do. And you know that doesn’t take into account learning differences and learning styles and all this other stuff, that’s really interesting. What do you see? What do you see with your clients in terms of linkages with all the things that we know or maybe even some of the things that we’re starting to learn about the skills gap?
Well, the problems that they’re… Well, let me start from the end in mind here. What each of these companies are trying to do is become experts at re-skilling or upskilling in some way, if that’s considered the solution to the problem in a way. But if you work backwards from there, what really is re-skilling and upskilling? It’s trying to figure out how to take some group of learners, usually it’s internal to the organization, not external, and help repurpose them from one area to another. The problem again there, is scale. If you have a subject matter expert on one particular, let’s take a simple one, it’s coding. Let’s say somebody is a coder on iOS, Apple, and you find a skill adjacency for them in Java. So you want to move them to code over there so that you can start filling a gap. Well, what you need is a subject matter expert and what are they going to do? They’re going to build a course. And the person’s going to go through the same true additional modes that everybody goes through that don’t work.
And so what you have is an inefficiency that you’re fighting against, but because it’s a norm, you don’t really know how to do it differently. The best that unfortunately companies have come up with outside of the technology we’ve introduced is, well, they might do something like microlearning, for example. Microlearning does make it better. And gamification, that might make it more interesting, that now makes it a little better. You might have some one on one tutorials or coaching, and that definitely makes it better, you can never beat that. But what doesn’t happen is they haven’t figured out how to put it at scale so that you could have reskilling across an organization, short of let’s say sending them to a canned course on [crosstalk 00:07:59]
So I can see Ringorang as being sold into the organization as a kind of a DEI product, kind of to rise all boats, engagement product. I can see it, an employee experience with tension, culture, training, and development. I can see many doors. So what do your customers, when you’re talking to them, what line item of the budget are they going to, I’d say steal from this, not the right word, but how do they appropriate the money or the funds to then fund Ringorang, how do they fund it initially?
It’s the question, and it’s the one that really hits the sweet spot for your podcast of course, too, which is the use case, and who’s making it right?
So it’s interesting. All of those categories you mentioned are all ones where doors and windows get opened up for us and like, Hey, let’s start using Ringorang for DEI and B for example. But also now think of it from our perspective, as a business model, we’ve found where we go is where the money is helping us build our organization and traction, and that usually is in sales enablement.
Sales enablement, think about it, that’s where obviously the companies care most about the performance of their people and what that gets to here. What’s different about our product is it is really a human performance technology. It’s not a learning technology. Better learning is an outcome that you get from using Ringorang, but it’s not the target. The target is how do you measurably have your people perform in the way that the organization needs them to perform? And of course sales, that’s where they care most about.
Could they see it historically as a performance management? That’s not going to work either.
It’s a good question though, you’re getting at it.
Yeah. Because it helps performance, but you’re not really there to manage. Historically, the way that performance management tools have been used, is more of lording over people, this is truly enabling success.
Important, so well said, it’s exactly. It’s like flipping that 180 degrees. Okay, so historically, I’ll unpack that even a little further if I may, you’ve got on one side of… Let’s say you’ve got two very distant points in an organization and one of those is performance. And the technologies around that are usually like performance enablement, performance management. And they do tend to be like, “Are we ticking all the boxes from an HR perspective? And if not we’ll put them on a PMP.” And it just feels really consequential and awful. Also out in that world of things, in a way-
Yeah, it’s punitive. So it’s an ugly cultural… It’s just unfortunate, and everyone knows it as a norm. But then you also have other performance softwares like CRMs, like salesforce.com that aren’t necessarily punitive, they are enabling. But they’re not learning, they’re performance oriented, which is fine. But over here, way off in the distance is this other area which is what we call learning in an organization, it’s training. Those two worlds have no connection to each other, zero, in any organization I’ve been into with more than 50 employees. Over here is training and what happens is this, someone from the performance side, let’s say it’s a sales manager since we’re talking about sales, they’ll lob a request over to the learning group, like L&D and they say, “Hey, I need a training.” So what does L&D do? They go, “Well, we need a subject matter expert.” And performance goes, “Well, we don’t really have the time to lend you that right now, our SNEs are all really busy.”
Six weeks later, they’re finally starting to get someone on the calendar and they just say, “Look, we got to get this training off. Just give us some materials.” So they give the learning designers some materials, they punch out a learning, they do some design, they get a course done, they cycle people through a tick the box, send them back out to the front line. Zero attribution as to whether or not their performance is in any way correlated to what they just learned, zero. So what is learning and development? It’s purely a cost center and it’s like a must have, you’ve got to go through it. But from a CFO perspective, they’re like, “Why am I spending on this?” There’s no alternative.
Well, and what’s interesting is, from a compliance perspective, when you have compliance training, that’s a completely different thing because that’s risk mitigation. And so CFOs can see it there because it’s like, “Okay, I spend this so that I don’t get punished for that. That’s fine.”
I’m going to have a regulator kick my butt.
Exactly. This is completely opposite. Don Rumsfeld famously has this knowns and unknowns bit, which is pure comedic genius in my opinion. But I don’t think he meant it that way, but it actually came out that way. I’m fascinated to learn what shocks practitioners about what their people either know, and maybe even know deeper than they might have imagined, or what they don’t know.
Yeah. So give me an example of like a practitioner, let’s do a profile.
So let’s do the sales enablement. So you got a sales leader, CRO, and thinks, “Okay, surely all my folks know, all my BDRs know to make a hundred calls a day,” or whatever the bid is or tactics. And so they cast it out, as Ringorang, they cast it out as something to learn, and they were shocked by maybe that their folks didn’t know that.
So with every type of training program, there’s always something like that. I’ll speak generally for just a second and then we’ll go to the sales manager. Generally, there are always surprises. You put out some event and then you do a survey or a test afterwards and there’s always going to be a surprise, “Gosh, I thought they got that as a [crosstalk 00:14:11],” and they didn’t. At Ringorang, we unearth those on a daily basis because it’s amazing what people who design a program think is getting across. But then getting specifically with the profile you just mentioned, let’s say it is a CRO, so a Chief Revenue Officer is assuming that there are certain activities of their sales organization that are working, so that’s certain kinds of activity in salesforce.com. Certain number of requests to re-up from their customers, certain amount of new accounts in the pipeline that come in. And those are the metrics they’re working on.
If they’re a good organization, they’ve at least got those kinds of metrics going. What they don’t know is something’s first on the general side, it’s amazing. They don’t know actually what habits have to be taken on by the humans in order to get them those metrics. And this is so fundamental when you think about it, but if I unpack it just a little further you’re going to get why this is so… It’s ridiculous but it’s deadly. It’s ridiculous that it exists. Wouldn’t you think that if you needed to get somebody across a goal line in a football game, they’ve got to go run across to the end zone.
Well, what habit does that person need to have? Well, they need to have some sort of habit that relates to how they juke and turn and pass and catch and everything in order to be able to get out there. You can kind of break it down in your head, even if you didn’t know football. ut in the sales organization, what does your person need to know how to do? Or what do they need to believe? Or what do they need to remember, in order to give you those active measures, more pipeline, more Salesforce activity, more re-ups from customers, they don’t break it down.
So what we do with our software is that we give that CRO and anybody who else is a stakeholder or a SNE in there, a 90 minute session. And this is part of the proposition that we offer them in the first place. We say, look, you’ve got to let your organization know that in 90 minutes, you’ll be able to shake out clearly one to one correlation between your business goal, which let’s say is 10% increase of sales of this, in a quarter, I’m just making that up. How do you reverse engineer that through attitude, skill and knowledge habits? ASK, it’s a method we have called the ASK methodology. And in 90 minutes they got it laid out, in the software, drag and drop simple. And from there every bit of dripped content and interactions and feedback, et cetera, all directly lead to the achievement of those goals and you measure that it’s been done.
Now, was it aptitude or attitude?
We found that that’s actually the key too. That gateway, is everything. And it almost never shows up in a training.
Do you think at one point you’ll be sitting on enough data to where you can actually screen for ASK?
But for candidates, for job candidates, and in any given position. So take that BDR position, they either have the aptitude, I guess skills can be trained upon and knowledge can be trained upon, but they… You’re going to know, especially success, because you’re drawing a dot to dot connection between those things and success, you’re going to know kind what the DNA of a successful BDR. And I’m just using BDR as an example, but really in any position, you’ll know what those things are. Do you think that at one point, this becomes a product on the front end of hiring?
Yeah. It’s really great. Very on the court kind of question there, exactly. Right now as we’re starting… We’ve been so horizontal, we’re now starting to go deep in areas like sales enablement and with some of these Fortune 50 companies. So that’s helping us to build out more of the profile of what’s needed. And down the road, so you mentioned also data mining or AI and machine learning. So the data mining that we’re actually starting to put into more active use at the end of this year is so that we can go through a trajectory of what we think is going to be about three years of really mining for what makes the difference across different segments of business sizes, business by industry, and businesses by discipline.
Right. Because again, there’s going to be a DNA for take that sales situation. There’s going to be software sales or technical sales versus pharmaceutical sales. So if you know the DNA of ASK for those folks, and again, cast at large, medium or small enterprise, and again, you can even break that up into international in all kinds of other ways. So I love that. Who manages Ringorang for the organizations? Again, I would assume that this is probably depending on where it’s placed, but who’s making the levers, who’s pulling the levers?
Boy, it’s a great question. When we first started this, we we were pretty service heavy, and so we almost entirely had to manage it for the organization. A couple of years ago, when we formed Knowledge as a Service, it was because we had made the effort to overhaul it and embed all of the methodologies and services into the product itself, as software, as a service. So now, it is a drag and drop simple tool set that has some different areas that can be managed conceivably by different parts of the organization, some on the front lines of performance, some over in the L&D.
But we’ve made it such that literally any one person could manage the entirety of the effort. It usually gets bought by the performance, whatever the performance group is, or it’s a project that’s around change. So it’s going to be sponsored by someone who’s director or VP level of sales. They’re going to have somebody in the sales organization that’s doing the monitoring, but they invariably are going to turn the software around to their L&D organization, say I need you to have learning designers involved in building the bulk of the content.
And they’re going to want to be involved. This actually helps them justify the…
Yeah. Well, of course. It’s in no way a hard leap for a learning designer or ID to move into what we do, although it does invert it a little bit, it does. Sometimes they go into it and they’re like, “Wait a second, this is backwards.” And you go, “Yeah, but just imagine it’s backwards for a moment. You’re going to appreciate it.”
Yeah. Well, that’s okay though. And again, this would a more adaptive training and development, or learning and development. CLOs, those folks are going to get it and get it immediately and go, “You know what? This just helps us justify our spend and justify our existence and all these other things.” They’re not going to fear it, they’re going to fall in love with it. Take me into the demo for just a second. Oh, actually let me go back to certification real quick. So as you release the product with a company, if not now, do you see it as a kind of a part of you all’s future of certifying users or admins to make sure that they really fundamentally know how to really, really leverage Ringorang?
Yeah. It’s something we have in the works right now. We’ve been very fortunate to have enterprises of the size that we have. There’s one in particular, a Fortune 50 tech company that has gone quite a distance with us to help form the capability around this. So it’s not just software, there’s a whole human resource capability end to end. And that’s now one of the thing we’re starting to put some certification muscle too. [crosstalk 00:22:11].
I think it’s great [crosstalk 00:22:12] and also you can use Ringorang inside of that, for all of your, let’s say admins. You can be also making sure that they understand as new features and new things happen with the product, you’re making sure that their skill level or knowledge level is also increasing so that they can then release that on your organization. So makes sense.
And they can become ambassadors too, which is great. As new things come up, they say, “You know what? We should put it into this mode. We should Ringorang that,” and they turn it into a verb.
Yeah. Well, that’s the goal. I think it also makes sense for the talent. I think it makes sense for… Both my kids are Gen Z, and they grew up with that little X in a corner of everything in their life. So it’s…
That’s a funny way to it. Universal X at the corner.
Universal X, that’s a conversation, that’s… Whatever. There’s an X in the corner of whatever they do. And you know what? If you’re not hitting it, they’ll X out of it. It’s funny because we think… You look at the attention span of millennials, Gen Z, there’s much research around how there’s a shortage, for about a average of four seconds of attention span that was lost, but what most people will misdiagnose is that they just make decisions faster.
Yeah. Really good that you say that, that’s so true. Microsoft Canada did this study about five years ago when they came up with the, we reduced our attention span to lower than that of a goldfish. I was like, how did they measure the goldfish? That’s what I [crosstalk 00:23:50] But anyway, I think that [crosstalk 00:23:53].
He told them.
I said, he told them.
All right. Give the goldfish an X in the corner and see what it does. But being able to look at it as, no, it’s a decision making rigor that we… In our science, the underpinnings of Ringorang is, it boils it down to two principles, two human factors, let’s call it. One of them is repetition. And we all know this, practice makes permanent. Over time the brain just needs to have neural connections strengthen by reposition. The second is reward. We’re making risk reward decisions at every moment in micro moments of our day, and we don’t even know that’s what we’re doing. But I think the next generation is able to do this at such an accelerated rate, in risk reward. And we can argue up and down whether or not they’re making good risk reward is too much. There’s just-
Oh, yeah. It doesn’t matter. They’re just making them faster.
That’s right. It’s like we’re in a new era of this modality.
Yes. Which serves, especially the future of Ringorang, it serves it well because this is served up in a way, content learning is served up in a way it suits their interest, it suits them as well. It’s like, okay, you either know this or you don’t. If you don’t, great, let’s learn it. If you do know, great, checkbox done, move on to the next thing. It’s fast.
And you know what? There’s a bit of a religion around it where we say only deliver one thing at a time. Do not deliver two ideas in one [crosstalk 00:25:31] And by doing that, we found… We actually took this through clinical trials for years with the federal government. We had national labs and universities working on this. And we found, after five years of this, there was this mode of just one thing that you want a person to about or do for a minute or less. It’s all that you can expect the brain to put its attention on. As soon as you expand to two ideas, you put it at risk.
It’s the myth of multitasking.
It is, right.
But what’s also fascinating about that from a research perspective is that’s multi-variable analysis. Whenever you do multi-variable analysis, you don’t know was it this or was it that, what were they answering? But if it’s singular, you know.
Multiplying that by the 74 things you want someone to remember out of a course they just did.
That’s right. You just see how broken. You just see how broken everything is.
It is, it is. We’re dealing with high school education all the way throughout. Two things last, and really quickly. One is, what is that aha moment or things during the demo that people just fall in love with?
I’ve never been asked that before, except internally, here in my company. I love that you’re asking this. All right, you’ll get a kick out of how simplistic it’s. First, there’s this kind of like heart swell, I’ll call it, that you get when they see the methodology in the demo. Because when you first just look at the app and you show what the user experience is, like, “Oh, okay. That’s fun. Cool.” But it seems deceptively simple. What’s behind the scenes? Then they see the methodology and they go, “Oh, that’s cool.” There’s this heart swell that happens. But the aha moment happens when you actually go to the interface and they create an attitude habit, and they, with their cursor, drag it underneath a business goal. So it nests underneath it. Literally that move, makes them go, “Ah-haaah.”
This is the alignment we’ve all been talking about.
And it’s just that they get to see it and they get to do it themselves. Yeah, exactly right. It’s a fascinating… It’s a hundred percent of the time that that aha moment, it’s right there.
Favorite customer story, or most recent, no names of course, just kind of favorite thing that you’ve seen a customer do with Ringorang and you go like, “Wow, that’s cool.”
Okay. Well, this couldn’t be more recent, because this happened on Thursday, favorite one ever just happened. And it is with a fore-mentioned Fortune 50 tech company. They have been working with us for, now almost going on three years, just before we formed KaaS. And it was really around their interest that we formed Knowledge as a Service. They have been working on trying to transform the thinking of it being a learning tool, to being a human performance technology for the business. It’s taken some obstacle course running to get them there, and a lot of building the case and bringing in a lot of sponsors and helping them see the tests and how it works.
Well, finally on Thursday, there was one more decision maker who really, was kind of servings a little bit of a skeptic, off to the side, on a big decision. And this was a decision to take on our software as a fully integrated, fully branded enterprise level software that will be integrated with their systems, et cetera. The decision had to get past this one guy. And this guy at a VP level, everybody else came in, there were sponsors in the organization and they kind of made their speech. They talked about the use cases, they talked about the successes we’d had so far, and then where the future was.
Right in the middle of the conversation, this skeptic sponsor stopped the conversation. And he said, “Wait a second. This meeting was teed up to be something different.” And everyone kind of said, “Well, what do you mean?” He said, “I was told that we were going to look to see if we wanted to continue with the technology and expand it a little further and buy some more licenses.” And he said, instead he goes, “I get what this… This is an entire transformation as to how we do learning all together in the organization, 300,000 employees.” And we all just stopped, stunned and said, “Did he just sell himself on what this is?”
I think he thought that [crosstalk 00:30:11]
Can we stop the meeting now.
I know. Exactly. I was like, please, everyone just shut up and let him talk.
Get out of the way.
It was poetic. From someone who’s an entrepreneur, who’s wanted people to really get the ground breaking in what we’re doing, that was a pinnacle moment in my career.
The light bulb actually went off.
It went off.
You got to actually see it, which is amazing. Robert, thank you for carving out time. Thank you for explaining both Knowledge as a Service, of course, but also Ringorang as a product. Love what you’re doing, you’re completely… You’re just innovating something that’s needed to be innovated for a very long time. So thank you so much for carving out time for us.
Oh, you bet, William. Thanks for the appreciation and thanks for the venue.
Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the Use Case Podcast, until next time.
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The Use Case Podcast
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.
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