Happy employees make customers happy #MySuccessMetric

shutterstock_150555248Popular wisdom would suggest having happy customers takes priority over happy employees. I think it’s more nuanced than that.

At Udemy, the answer was very simple at first. Any startup has to focus on market fit, growth, revenue, and customer satisfaction almost exclusively at the beginning, when survival comes before all else. However, it wasn’t long before we also figured out that employees know customers best, and happy, empowered employees lead to satisfied customers. We hired our first HR lead in 2014 when we hit 30 employees (earlier than most startups) because we had already invested heavily in our culture and wanted to ensure employee success and happiness would continue to grow along with our other metrics.

Hitting the 10-million-student mark earlier this year was a huge milestone, but we look beyond revenue and enrollment numbers to gauge our success. As CEO, I’m now focused on scalability and sustainability, and we’re tracking other critical signals to measure our success, such as course reviews to measure quality and minutes of consumption to measure engagement.

Similarly, I’ve shifted how I evaluate our success as a company internally and want to make sure our mission of helping people build the lives they imagine also applies to everyone who works here. That’s why my metric for success is employee engagement as a holistic measure of company health. When the people at Udemy are engaged, rewarded, challenged, and supported, they perform better — and that’s directly reflected in the company’s overall performance. Innovation happens at the edges, where employees touch customers directly, so it’s critical to empower people in ways that make them feel good about their roles at work and, in turn, foster positive customer interactions.

There isn’t an exact science to fostering employee satisfaction, especially at a company that’s moving and evolving so quickly, but we have a few foundational practices that ultimately drive our business success too.

  • Show me the data: We conduct engagement surveys every 6-12 months viaCulture Amp and compare our responses to other “new tech” companies through Culture Amp’s benchmarks. When I see that 96% would recommend Udemy as a great place to work (versus 83% average at other “new tech” companies), as our most recent survey showed, I know we’re doing something right. From there, we dig into the details and how we can get all the metrics upon which we base employee happiness up to that rate of approval.
  • Hire the right people: Anyone we bring on board has to identify with Udemy’s values, mission, and expectations. People who are deeply invested in the value of lifelong learning feel connected to our mission every day and that translates into superior job performance. In fact, 88% of Udemy employees say our company vision motivates them. Commitment to our mission raises student satisfaction, as they learn skills and achieve their goals, and drives employees, who value the real impact they’re having on people’s lives. Sometimes, however, we get it wrong and bring on someone who doesn’t work out. They’ll be great for another team, just not ours. The key is to recognize and fix it quickly before the rest of the team starts grumbling.
  • Go above and beyond to retain them: It’s crucial to foster an environment that supports growth and development from Day One. Millennials are an ever-increasing presence in the workforce, and they cite training and development opportunities as their number one factor in job selection, and that’s certainly an area where a learning company like Udemy can really shine. Figuring out how we can improve employee satisfaction and retention is so important to me I personally review all exit interviews. These reports contain the most truthful insights into managers and culture. Another crucial part of retention is empowering managers to move employees around to make sure every team and team member is functioning at the highest level.
  • Don’t keep them in the dark: Getting frequent feedback on job performance and transparent communication keep employees engaged in their work and the company. Our process is called the “Udemy Conversation.” It’s an ongoing dialogue between managers and workers that helps teams make on-the-fly adjustments to goals and priorities, rather than waiting for a once-a-year review period. Employees are encouraged to set ambitious goals but have support from their managers to shift focus as needed and not worry about “failing.” Our business moves fast, and our people appreciate having open channels with their managers to revisit, revise, and reprioritize their work. The flip side of this is identifying and moving out low performers efficiently.

So, sure, I check our revenue numbers and track our growth all the time, but these days, I’m really watching employee happiness as a metric of Udemy’s success. With a strong workforce and low turnover, we can continue working toward meeting our goals and helping more people access high-quality online learning resources. The impact a company makes on the world will always be its true bottom line — but it all starts with our employees being happy and deeply committed to what they do.

April 29, 2016: Friday News Roundup

Welcome to the weekend! Check out these articles for the latest on learning, teaching, and careers.

Professors hate online education. To save colleges, they have to learn to love it.
We’ve previously shared articles about how college faculty and administrators have been resisting the pull of online learning, even as their students are embracing it. Here, a professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland urges his colleagues to open their minds to what he sees as an inevitable move toward more web-based instruction.

Impress your new employer by solving problems they didn’t know they had
If you’re a creative thinker who likes puzzling through a tough challenge, employers will love you. This writer suggests looking at big problems in the workplace as perfect opportunities to take initiative and demonstrate your value.

Bill Gates: Ed tech has underachieved, but better days are ahead
The Microsoft founder has been talking about the education space a lot these days and using his tremendous influence to shine a light on how tech companies, in particular, can help improve schools in the U.S. and around the world. Udemy CEO Dennis Yang was at the ASU GSV Summit where Gates suggested focusing on three areas: effective personalized learning solutions, an evidence base that works, and adoption of proven technologies.

The career funnel is upside-down
The director of Hamilton College’s career center looks at recent research into why so many grads are “funneling” into the consulting, finance, and tech fields, and agrees with findings that colleges and universities themselves are to blame.

National Teacher of the Year: I was a teenage mom, and teachers changed my life
Here’s a wonderful feel-good story to take into the weekend. Read about Jahana Hayes, who realized her dream of becoming a high school history teacher, despite growing up in a disadvantaged area and becoming pregnant at age 17. She’ll visit the White House next week and then spend a year traveling the country “as an ambassador for a profession that has been battered and bruised by bitter debates over education policy.”

Celebrating “Best Places to Work” 2016

2016 has been off to a big start for the Udemy team — we surpassed 10 million students, acquired Talentbuddy, simplified our pricing, and launched a new course-taking experience, just to name a few. We’ve been busy making major strides toward delivering the best possible learning and teaching experiences to help people succeed. This week, we were especially excited to celebrate that hard work and the people responsible for making Udemy a place where amazing things are accomplished every day.

We pride ourselves on a culture that encourages innovation, creativity, passion, and teamwork, and it’s nice to know we’re not the only ones who think so ;)

For the second year in a row, the San Francisco Business Times named Udemy a Best Place to Work in the Bay Area!” We ranked 14th on the list of mid-size companies in the top 125, and celebrated the honor in style. Here’s a peek of our champagne brunch festivities:

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PS. We’re hiring!


April 22, 2016: Friday News Roundup

Hey, it’s Friday! Got big plans for the weekend?

Scale up your CV through digital learning
First up, read our CEO Dennis Yang’s advice to working adults in India looking to get (and stay) ahead in their careers.

After years of intensive analysis, Google discovers the key to good teamwork is being nice
So much of our work these days requires cross-team collaboration, sometimes even among people in different locations. While you might think the most important success factor is who’s on your team, Google found, as the headline says, being respectful and considerate of others is the real “magic formula.”

The average 29-year-old
We’re all guilty to some extent of generalizing when we talk about Baby Boomers or millennials or twenty-somethings. This article, with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dispels many popular assumptions to show that “most people born between the early 1980s and late 1990s (a) didn’t graduate from college, (b) aren’t living in a city, and (c) generally hate being called ‘millennials.’”

Greater competition for college places means higher anxiety too
Just the latest dispatch from the crazy world of higher ed, where would-be students are applying to more schools with the help of the Common Application and schools are celebrating “their record-setting applicant pools.” The sad underlying truth is that high school seniors are just playing a numbers game, trying to up their chances of being accepted anywhere at all.

How to avoid extinction in today’s business world
Yvonne Wassenaar is the CIO of software analytics company New Relic, and she shared some words of wisdom at the Girls in Tech Catalyst conference. Here are some highlights, such as how women can overcome the fear of failing and not being perfect.  

India: Scale Up Your CV Through Digital Learning

shutterstock_236322589This article originally appeared on IndiaPages.

How do you keep learning and gaining new skills when you’re working full-time and don’t have easy access to local resources or training through your employer?

Given the rapid pace of change in today’s workplace and the increase in occupations impacted by automation, the question is hardly theoretical. Indeed, earning a university degree is no longer adequate preparation for sustaining one’s career over a lifetime. We’ve reached a critical juncture in our global economy where everyone needs to embrace lifelong learning and take initiative for upskilling themselves — but not everyone knows where to go for that type of education.

For more and more Indians, the answer has been to go online. My company, Udemy, typically sees the strongest demand in areas with young populations with growing technical economies, which describes India to a tee. We currently have almost a thousand India-based instructors teaching more than 3,300 courses, and more than a million Indian students are enrolled in our courses (a figure that’s more than doubled over the past year).

These include students like Harsh Raj, 27, of Bhubaneswar, who took sales and marketing courses so he could move into a different field of work;Vivekanand Avasarala, 33, of Mumbai, who supplemented his logistics/finance degree with courses in algorithms, predictive analytics, and artificial intelligence; and Amer Deep Gurung, 36, of Pune, who’s been working in IT for more than a dozen years but needs to keep up with new technologies and frameworks like AngularJS.

Overcome barriers of time and space

We’re actually just at the beginning of seeing the potential impact of online learning in India, but the demand is clearly there. By extending access beyond physical classrooms, online learning can help mitigate the need, expense, and logistical complications of in-person training and maximize use of existing educational resources.

Moreover, online learning does a better job connecting students to the most relevant and sought-after skills for today’s workplace, especially India’s hot tech startup scene. In India, entrepreneurship skills are among the fastest-growing courses by enrollment on Udemy, while core technical skills such as web development and programming are the most popular categories overall.

Whether hoping to launch a startup or work for one, Indian professionals don’t necessarily have the time, money, or desire to return to full-time education. Online learning fills the gaps in someone’s skill set with actionable knowledge that can be applied as soon as it’s gained. That’s a huge selling point for working adults who aren’t interested in theory and prefer to dive directly into the instruction that will help them reach their career goals quickly. [Read more…]

April 8, 2016: Friday News Roundup

Welcome to the weekend, everyone! Check out this week’s news and stories from Udemy about learning and working.  

Will you sprint, stroll or stumble into a career?
These three student types take different approaches on their “journey to adulthood,” a road that is getting longer and longer, according an expert quoted here. “The biggest change, he said, is the move to an information economy that requires even more education and job-hopping in one’s 20s.”

Colleges drill down on job-listing terms
Are students not as well-prepared for the job market because employers are so inconsistent with job titles? That’s what some academic administrators think. This disconnect between what employers seek and what educators deliver “has helped push U.S. job vacancies to 5.5 million… the number of job openings has exceeded the number of new hires, a reflection of employers’ difficulty in filling positions.”

The race for tech talent isn’t a marathon, it’s a sprint
We’ve all heard plenty about the shortage of qualified tech workers. Not only are business leaders struggling to fill positions, they can’t find those candidates fast enough. There are some powerful findings in a new Accenture survey, such as the fact that more than 85 percent of organizations surveyed believe they need to win the war for talent to secure a competitive advantage, and more than 80 percent believe the workers they hired five years ago are not the workers they need now.

Hackathons aren’t just for coders
Marathon coding sessions have been popular for a while. But what about organizing those events for other business functions “to stir up new ideas on everything from culture change to supply chain management”? This article proposes that the hackathon model creates[s] a structure and process around idea development.” Udemy embraces that spirit when we have departmental off-sites — we step away from our day-to-day responsibilities and give ourselves time and space to think big.

Keeping women on the leadership track
Our VP of People and General Counsel Lisa Haugh shares her thoughts on how companies and individual employees can support young women as they advance through their careers. Research has found many start out aiming for leadership roles but drop off along the way, while their male counterparts continue to pursue that same goal with confidence and ambition.

Keeping Women on the Leadership Track

By Lisa Haugh, VP of People and General Counsel

I’m raising two boys, so I actually think quite a lot about gender equality and how I can make sure my kids grow up with an awareness of and sensitivity to the challenges women face personally and professionally. I try to show them by example that a woman can be an involved parent and pursue ambitious career goals and be effective in an executive leadership position. My 14-year-old was reading something recently that cited the low percentage of women in corporate leadership roles and he asked me why that’s the case. As we know, it was an insightful question and a difficult one to answer.

My son then shared his own observation: the girls who were outspoken in grade school tended to clam up once they got to middle school. Entering the teen years and entering the workforce are both events when we become acutely aware of differences between the sexes – some real, some only perceived. Udemy is honestly the first company where I didn’t observe any tension around gender stereotyping and was one of the few that included a woman as leader of the engineering organization.

However, just because I’ve found a hospitable working environment doesn’t mean I’m not concerned about challenges women still face in most workplaces. Indeed, until every company establishes an environment where inclusion is the norm and everyone feels equally empowered to be leaders, all women will be impacted.

I have a few ideas for how we can support young women as they grow in their careers to ensure they continue to aim high:

• Equality in family leave: Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that he’d be taking full parental leave was met with both celebration and cynicism. Despite any progress, most people and companies still default to the assumption that childcare is primarily a woman’s responsibility. While my husband gets asked why he needs to stay home with a sick kid, the reverse has never been asked of me. We need to rid ourselves of this outdated notion that women should always be the ones to put work on pause for family needs, be it child or elder care. Young women need to see it’s okay to set their own priorities and manage their families how they choose and not be judged for it.

Peer support & role models: If you’re a woman in a leadership position, be out and proud. Use your bully pulpit to advocate for change and be available to younger women who might see themselves following in your footsteps. Reach out if they don’t approach you first. Be honest but encouraging and stay connected as they navigate workplace barriers. Male leaders need to step up too and think about their own behaviors and explore potential unconscious biases. Give equal time and support to your direct reports of both sexes, and if you see a young woman with leadership potential, go out of your way to smooth her path and let her know you have her back.

• Manager training: The Bain & Company report explains how frontline managers can affect whether their female direct reports aspire to leadership or drop out. Companies need to do a better job equipping managers with the mindset and skills to nurture ambitious young women. At Udemy, one thing we’ve done is move from once-a-year performance reviews to regular, ongoing conversations between employees and managers. Not only does this keep managers more in tune with how people are feeling about their professional growth and career prospects, but it helps build relationships where both parties can gradually become more comfortable speaking openly.

• Choose your partner carefully: My last bit of advice might stir up controversy, but I think it’s an important area where young women need to look out for themselves. To them I say, have the hard conversations early and often with your life partner about what each of you envisions for your future together — in your careers, your home life, and your family planning. Women need strong, secure partners who are more than willing to share the load of non-work responsibilities. Men face pushback at work when they prioritize family too, so be sure you’re both okay with compromise and sacrifice as you pursue your dreams together.

This article originally appeared on HR.com.

Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn on expanding global opportunity, teaching on Udemy

We were thrilled to announce earlier this week that Pulitzer Prize-winning, husband-and-wife duo Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have published a Udemy course called “How to Make a Difference,” based on their books Half the Sky and A Path Appears. As they describe it, the course “is designed for anyone who wants to leave a mark on the world, make a difference, and learn a few secrets about how to live a happier, healthier and more meaningful life.”

Half The SkyNicholas and Sheryl recently did an email Q&A with us to share why they decided to create an online course on Udemy and what they hope it will accomplish. They’re also doing a private video Q&A later this month, and enrolled students will receive more details on that soon!

Udemy: How does teaching online fit into your other activities, i.e., why not just another book? What was the trigger that made you decide you should create an online course and why do you see Udemy’s teaching/learning marketplace as the right channel for sharing your content and getting people involved in your project(s)?

Nicholas/Sheryl: We care deeply about the issues in our books–about empowering women worldwide, and helping people make a difference. But frankly, not everyone reads books: Picking up a 300-page book is a significant barrier, while watching videos may be a little easier and friendlier. We’ve heard a lot about online courses and thought we would experiment with this as a way of engaging our audiences–and challenging them.

Udemy: What were your goals and expectations when you started out to create this course? Did you have any misconceptions that were corrected along the way? Any happy surprises?

Nicholas/Sheryl: We frankly didn’t know what to expect, and it was pretty informal. We filmed in our house, without a script, just talking about particular topics. So it felt kind of cozy and informal. We do a lot of television, and this was much more casual than that–which was nice!

p. 172 The end-of-year party for students at Kennedy and Jessica's school in Kibera. Most of the students test above American grade levels, even though English is often their third language (Nicholas Kristof)

The end-of-year party for students in Kibera. (Nicholas Kristof)

Udemy: Why do people need an online course to teach them how to “make a difference”? What can you achieve through a Udemy course that isn’t possible in other formats?

Nicholas/Sheryl: A Udemy course probably isn’t the only way to get particular information, any more than a book is, or a documentary. Rather we think of the information we’ve acquired, and we want to distribute it across platforms. Some people like books and will want to access it that way. Others will watch our television documentaries. And some will find an online course the most engaging way to interact with us and the material. We’re platform neutral!

Udemy: What do you think of the power and potential of online learning to help people around the world improve their lives? How does this fit with the current state of higher education, especially in the U.S., where college is too expensive and inaccessible for many?

Nicholas/Sheryl: American universities were talking a lot about globalizing through overseas campuses, and then that conversation was overtaken to some degree by online courses. Look, we’re still believers in direct in-person teaching where that’s feasible. That’s optimal. But it’s not always practical, and the truth is that access to the best classrooms has always been limited. Now all of a sudden a kid in the tribal areas of Pakistan who has an Internet connection can take an online course, and so can a Nigerian girl or a Mongolian boy. A classroom can be expanded from 50 people to 7 billion, and that’s a fantastic boon for the capacity for human learning.

Udemy: What do you tell your three children or hope for them as far as their own educations are concerned? What are the things that keep you up at night when you think about the world they will inherit?

mukhtar1 mai not for course

Mukhtar Mai fought against her sexual assaulters and started a school for girls in Punjab, Pakistan. (Nicholas Kristof)

Nicholas/Sheryl: We tell them that it’s important not just to possess knowledge but to have critical thinking, strong social and communication skills, the capacity for leadership–and, maybe most important, the ability to solve problems. Those are the skills that will be needed in the mid-21st century. In the past, the most important skills were repetitive ones–the blacksmith, the boot maker, even the salesman–but increasingly those will be taken over by machines, and humans will be given the tasks involving creativity, problem solving, leadership and communication.

Udemy: Who’s the intended audience for this course, and what are the top one or two takeaways you’d want every student to get out of it? What are the actions you hope they’ll take as a result?

Nicholas/Sheryl: Our audience is everyone who yearns for a bit more meaning in life, for a bit more fulfillment or purpose. We think a lot of people would like to do something to make a difference, but they just don’t know how to help–and we want to show them that it is possible. Any one of us may not be able to save the world, but we can help transform the lives of people, by sending them to school, or giving them medicines or whatever the key is. As for what actions people will take after the course, we’ll leave that to them–but we do want them to act in some way. The purpose of this course is not just to educate people, but to help them take steps and do something. that will help others and themselves.

good pick abbas not for in course

Formerly trafficked, Abbas Be now works at the Prajwala women’s shelter in Hyderabad, India. (Nicholas Kristof)

Don’t forget to register for Nicholas and Sheryl’s course so you can join their live, private Q&A!

April 1, 2016: Friday News Roundup

Happy April Fool’s Day! We’ll leave the pranks to others and stick to the news.

Meeting students where they are
Bill Gates wades into the debate over the value of higher education in this post. The famous Harvard drop-out praises less “elite” universities for accepting “at-risk” students who weren’t star overachievers in high school, are first in their families to attend college, or come from low-income backgrounds.

Finding a job that works for you
Deciding where to direct your career can be really stressful. This article explains why it’s especially hard for young people, who focus more on short-term payoffs than long-term happiness. Fortunately, you don’t have to feel locked into the major you studied in school or the field you started out in.

Why learning to code won’t save your job
No one would blame you for thinking the solution to career insecurity these days is to become a programmer. Alas, it might not be that simple. This article explains why, although these skills are currently in high demand and well-compensated, much of that work will get outsourced or automated.

Medical, dental, 401(k)? Now add school loan aid to job benefits
This could be a real game-changer if more employers follow suit. Here, Fidelity is the company that’s announced a new student loan repayment benefit. But they’re not just being generous. As the article explains, “the benefit helps address what some employers describe as a challenge attracting and retaining younger workers, many of whom can’t see beyond the burden of their student debt.”

Kolkata is India’s untold tech story, and most challenging
India is “a laboratory of the future,” according to the country’s minister of state for finance, and foreign companies are lining up to secure their piece of the pie. In the city of Kolkata, however, a number of significant challenges stand in the way, including poor Internet connectivity and a limited talent pool. Udemy CEO Dennis Yang is quoted talking about how online learning is helping the region upskill the local workforce to meet demand.

March 25, 2016: Friday News Roundup

Welcome to the end of another week and the start of another weekend. It’s also the start of spring break for a lot of people, so if you’re headed off on holiday, have fun and stay safe! Perhaps you can use some of that vacation time to knock out a few Udemy courses?

Assessment: Are you in danger of becoming obsolete?
Online quizzes are always fun, but this one has a serious intent — to help you identify where you’re vulnerable and how you can avoid falling behind as automation creeps ever deeper into the workplace.  

How can the U.S. make life less draining for workers?
It turns out technology isn’t really making us more productive, we have more demands than ever on our limited time, and we’re putting in longer hours on the job. The pursuit of work-life balance can sometimes feel like an impossible dream. This article suggests ways to ease the stress, including paid family leave, affordable childcare, flexible schedules, and higher wages.

While Americans feud, Australia is stealing away immigrants with sought-after skills
Ambitious individuals from around the world come to the U.S. to study, and many of them would love nothing more than to work here too. Considering the well-documented skills gap U.S. employers face, you’d think we’d be falling over ourselves to grab these highly educated workers, but it’s extremely difficult for foreign grads to get visas. On the other side of the globe, Australia is opening its arms to this cohort and reaping the rewards.

What’s the last thing you learned — and when?
If you’re headed into a job interview, you should have a prepared response to that question. As more employers recognize the value of hiring people with a “learning mindset,” candidates will need demonstrate their own commitment to lifelong learning. Just log into Udemy and show them your My Courses page!

How a baker revolutionized her business by working from home
We close out the roundup with this piece written by Udemy instructor Chris Haroun that profiles two of his fellow Udemy instructors, Teresa Greenway and Rob Percival. Teresa and Rob followed very different paths to get to Udemy, and they’re teaching very different subjects, but they’re both enjoying the rewards of sharing what they know with the world.