Cream of the Crop

The editors of Human Resource Executive® list their choices for the top HR training products of 2005.

Sunday, October 16, 2005
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Once again, the editors of Human Resource Executive® have chosen 10 HR products and five training products that they believe represent the very best of what vendors introduced to the market during the period of July 2004 to July 2005.

Out of the 100-plus entries received this year, we narrowed down our selections by judging each one on innovation, the value it adds to the HR function and its user-friendliness. We also consulted with industry experts to determine just how original the products are. In the end, the products we chose (the overwhelming majority of them are technology-based, in keeping with the trends of recent years) exemplify the smart use of the Web to streamline the workflow involved in everyday processes such as benefits enrollment and new-employee orientation.

In all cases, the editors feel strongly these products deliver value to HR professionals, but stress the importance of conducting the necessary due diligence before making investments.

To see the Top HR Products, please click here.

Here are the Top Training Products:

Centra 7.5

Centra Software, Lexington, Mass.

What It Is: Centra 7.5 enhances the company's existing online training application-service-provider program with the addition of a new performance-support system and a live help component for personalized, on-the-job learning. Three new modules have been added to Centra's core Centra Live technology: Info Guide, an on-demand performance-support system; Performance Insight, a Web-based enterprise reporting system; and Instant Assist, which provides real-time application or business-procedure support through online chat screens and help-desk representatives. Components of the application and add-on modules can be licensed separately or together. Pricing varies based on configuration and scope of services. A typical configuration is priced at $50,000 (based on about 100 named users).

Why We Like It: We generally don't select product updates as winners, but in Centra's case, the additional modules have dramatically changed the way this product meets online-learning needs. What's more, the additions are innovative and unique enough to make this product stand apart from others in the event-based training and evaluation space. We're especially impressed with Instant Assist, whereby users can converse with experts in real-time chat rooms without losing track of where they are in a particular learning process and can share their desktops virtually for fast issue resolution without having to keep track of which application their question pertains to. We also like the fact that help-desk representatives can transfer or invite other experts into the conversation and all involved can paste in links to other information guides. The fact that transcripts of conversations are automatically e-mailed to the employee, the help desk and all those involved in the session ensures a level of reporting and follow up we've not seen elsewhere.

Full Throttle

Solutions House Inc., Tampa, Fla.

What It Is: A business game with design elements similar to Candy Land and Monopoly, this product utilizes active or discovery learning in order to build financial awareness and understanding of the sources of a company's economic value. It's customizable and can be adapted to meet other teaching needs, such as management development and leadership coaching. Full Throttle is a two-part, one-day program modeled around a fictitious motorcycle company bearing the same name. Participants spend the morning in the role of the company controller, learning how business events cascade through financial statements and how the operation is affected by such things as vendor capacity, sales pipelines and competition. In the afternoon, they become the CEO who keeps track of key gauges, such as financial rating and market position, and makes decisions concerning strategies and board-of-director relationships while assessing impact, risk and tradeoffs. The product sells for $65,000 and includes a lifetime license to use and reprint.

Why We Like It: While Full Throttle employs discovery-learning strategies similar to other business-acumen games by competing vendors, it takes employee engagement a step further than those predecessors. By reaping the very rewards or setbacks they sow through on-the-spot choices and adjustments they make, players are forced to fully consider the impact each business decision has on an organization. As the CEO, the player sees the broader picture of a corporate structure and learns the tenets of a balanced-scorecard approach while, in turn, gaining a deeper understanding of senior-management decisions. For companies facing challenges such as layoffs, mergers and restructuring, it can help employees gain a sense of alignment with management's hard choices and a better understanding of their own contribution to the overall mission.

Enterprise English Assessment Service

GlobalEnglish, Brisbane, Calif.

What It Is: An online tool that can provide an accurate measurement of the English language proficiency of thousands of employees across a broad, geographically distributed workforce. The 25-minute adaptive test consists of listening and reading sections that assess a test taker's ability to understand written and spoken English. The test "adapts" the questioning to become easier or more difficult, depending on previous answers. Although the test focuses on reading and listening ability, individual questions focus on a wider range of skills, including grammar and vocabulary. Test questions are presented with text, graphics and audio prompts to assess a learner's understanding of language use in a real context. The test provides each user with immediate individual test results, which includes a test score, feedback on strengths and weaknesses and a recommendation on where to focus learning. The program's reporting function allows test results to be aggregated and analyzed over groups that match each organization's structure, which will help objectively and efficiently determine which employees need to improve their English skills, and place employees into the appropriate levels of English training. Pricing starts at $50 per test with volume discounts available.

Why We Like It: Diversity, both in terms of cultural background and in terms of nationality, has been proven to be a positive for many enterprises. At the same time, many enterprises are going global, or making plans to do so. Despite this, the English language, with all its quirks and subtleties, is still the language of business on much of the planet. As a result, businesses are encountering a new difficulty -- employees who need to be truly fluent in English, but are not as fluent as they think they are. What, for example, is a Shanghai-born administrative assistant, who has diligently trained in standard English, to make of a phone message from New York that a company executive is "all tied up for the rest of the day?" This easy-to-follow test is designed to discover if she will calmly reschedule the planned meeting or consider calling the police.

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Executive Challenge

Enspire, Austin, Texas

What It Is: Executive Challenge is a team-based simulation. Each participant is assigned a unique leadership role within a simulated company, tasked with specific duties and given limited resources. Participants make real-world business decisions, both individually and collaboratively. Participants use their own computer, connected to a server, which provides them with a personalized screen. This interface tracks resources, budget constraints and time limits as well as the progress of projects. Pricing varies based on number of participants, number of implementations, levels of customization, etc.

Why We Like It: Enspire says this simulation was designed to provide organizations with a transformational learning experience focused on creating meaningful change, and they have succeeded in creating a program that does just that. The game helps participants learn to balance individual vs. organizational objectives, and short-term vs. long-term decisions, when faced with tough choices and adverse events. Ultimately, the simulation provides a platform for participants to test their leadership skills and identify personal blind spots. Importantly, participants spend as much time strategizing, debriefing, communicating, receiving coaching and reflecting on the experience as they do in front of a computer screen. The result is an experience that is more memorable and, ultimately, more effective.

GeoMaestro, Version 4.4

GeoLearning Inc., West Des Moines, Iowa

What It Is: GeoLearning's GeoMaestro, version 4.4 is a thorough update to the GeoMaestro system, which can now centralize and automate the entire learning process, from traditional classroom instruction to Web-based training, on-the-job training and self-directed study. Built-in collaborative communication tools include e-mail, automatic notifications, electronic calendars, bulletin boards and text chat. Also included is GeoLearning's Classroom and Event Schedule, which provides built-in test and survey creation engines, a searchable course catalog and cumulative course rating system, and MyPlan Competency module, used to develop, assign and track progress.

Why We Like It: Nearly all of the enhancements in this latest update demonstrate that careful thought was given to the day-to-day needs of training administrators. The new reporting options mean they can share reports with any user in the system regardless of their access level. The new multiple-domain structure gives them the ability to deploy branded websites. The reorganization of the Classroom Scheduler functionality allows them to resolve conflicts as soon as they arise. They can now attach documents and comments to user-defined tasks, and on and on. In short, an impressive enhancement to an already praiseworthy system.

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