Anne Huntington Sharma Of Huntington Learning Center: “Create meaningful methods of communication”

Create meaningful methods of communication — from the company to its employees, the company to its customers, and vice versa. Digital transformations make reaching more internal team members and external customers much easier. Strong and clear communication channels are a must- have in order to do business. It can be as simple as integrating a texting platform […]

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Create meaningful methods of communication — from the company to its employees, the company to its customers, and vice versa. Digital transformations make reaching more internal team members and external customers much easier. Strong and clear communication channels are a must- have in order to do business. It can be as simple as integrating a texting platform or focused digital marketing campaign.

As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anne Huntington Sharma, President of Huntington Learning Center.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’m extremely grateful to my parents for showing me what positive, impactful, and purpose-driven leadership looks like. Through their example, I have learned how to lead with conviction and heart, how to build something that can stand the test of time, and how to let your mission be your guide.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

“David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” by Malcolm Gladwell is a book I always go back to because of its impact on me. This book illustrates examples of the “David and Goliath” story today sharing examples of persons, who despite all odds, overcome adversities and succeed. It’s a humbling and great example to never give up. I strongly recommend it.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

When my parents started Huntington Learning Center in 1977, the mission was to give every student the best education possible. Now, 44 years later, that mission is stronger than ever. We provide the most effective individualized learning programs out there so that our students can develop the skills and confidence they need to succeed both in and out of the classroom. Our vision and purpose are clear — to fulfill our mission and to provide world-class student results and franchisee profitability, which is our vision.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

Yes! At Huntington, we’re always looking for new ways to provide results-oriented services for our customers and to help our franchisees be even more successful. This year we’re focused on continuing to perfect our digital-first and hybrid learning models, and on expanding Huntington’s footprint with new locations across the country. Our goal is to make Huntington’s programs even more accessible — whether that means making them available on more devices and platforms, offering more flexible hours and on-demand learning, or opening more brick-and-mortar centers across the country, you’ll see Huntington working to reach even more students in the coming year.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level, what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation means tapping into the latest and greatest tools to help make your business stronger, in every sense of the word. It can be removing and replacing outdated processes and procedures, using new tools to communicate and serve your customers and employees more efficiently and effectively, or developing new revenue streams made possible through digital tools. Since launching our hybrid learning offerings, which means in-center and online tutoring and test prep programs, we’ve seen student participation in our programs increase by nearly 40%, and the length of participation in our hybrid test and subject tutoring programs has nearly doubled. A digital transformation doesn’t always mean complete business transformation — I believe that you must always stay true to your mission, no matter what tools you’re using — it can mean optimizing and strengthening it through the advantages that digital tools provide.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

While every company can benefit from digital transformation when the time calls for it, legacy companies that were created before today’s technology platforms took off can benefit significantly from modernizing their practices through digital transformation. For Huntington Learning Center this hasn’t meant reinventing the wheel or throwing our tried-and-true playbook out the window, but rather looking for ways that technology can help us provide even better services for our customers, streamline our operations and create greater systemwide unity and collaboration, and help us reach even more potential new students through a wide array of communications channels.

We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.

Through the launch of a digital-first offering, HuntingtonHelps LIVE, our online tutoring, and test prep platform, as well as hybrid offerings, we’ve been able to meet our customers’ needs and preferred ways of doing things. We’ve not only been able to offer continuous service to our customers at the highest quality levels that they’re used to, but we’ve been able to ensure that our results are equal, if not better, than what our in-person programs offer.

I’d like to say that everything happens overnight, but that is not the case. Any transformation, especially a digital one takes time. Of course, the exception to this rule is when we rolled out online tutoring in a matter of days, but that was necessary to ensure the survival of our system — before March 2020 we were completely brick-and-mortar, so once the pandemic hit, we had to act fast. Nevertheless, digital transformations can be large or small in scale. Different departments go through different transformations over time. For example, we are in the final stages of a digital transformation for our call center, which during the rollout hit some road blocks. Nevertheless, by working together we overcame the issues and the updates are greatly improving the overall efficiencies of the department. In addition, we have moved our entire data warehouse into the cloud and continue to enhance and expand our IT infrastructure to ensure smooth operation and cost savings at all levels. All and all, digital transformations continue to happen every day at Huntington because we are building for the future and ensuring that we can continue to deliver our results-driven programs to our customers.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

Change is always challenging, even for companies that are open and willing to innovate. Having the confidence and follow-through to shift your way of doing things can be the biggest hurdle of all. This is especially true in legacy companies where leadership and employees may be used to doing things a certain way. In situations like these, there can sometimes be resistance to change among the ranks. This is where open and clear communication and a well-thought-out roll-out plan comes into play. By getting your teams excited about the possibilities that digital transformation provides and giving them ample time and training to adapt to the new ways of doing things, you’ll make the transformation process all the more successful in the long run.

Another challenge is being thoughtful, strategic, and measured in your efforts and how you spend your resources. Because speed is often the name of the game when it comes to digital transformation, it can be easy to fall into the trap of doing too many things at once or over-investing resources in areas where you don’t actually need them or which ultimately won’t get you where you want to go in the end. There are countless shiny new tools out there just waiting to be sold to you, but transformation for the sake of transformation can be a red herring. When leading a digital transformation within your business, it’s important to have a deep understanding of where your business needs strengthening and where the opportunities are, and to be shrewd with how you spend your company’s time and resources.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Create meaningful methods of communication — from the company to its employees, the company to its customers, and vice versa. Digital transformations make reaching more internal team members and external customers much easier. Strong and clear communication channels are a must- have in order to do business. It can be as simple as integrating a texting platform or focused digital marketing campaign.
  • Increased cyber security is very important and digital transformations can help with security and potential issues. Cyber security is all over the news, and this is a topic you do not want your company featured in unless of course it’s showing a strong security system.
  • Streamline processes and procedures to be more efficient. Especially for legacy companies, there may be multiple places for the same answer; therefore, by streamlining the processes and procedures the company can save time to do a particular task, be more efficient and more clear on what the particular rules are. At Huntington, we have over 40 years of documents … imagine those meetings streamlining processes! And yes they still happen — this is not a once a done option, it continues overtime.
  • Develop new revenue streams that are enhanced through digital transformation. This not only helps the customers and increases results; it can positively impact the company financially. Yes, there is a cost, potentially a serious one, but overtime, the benefit might outweigh the initial investment. We spent millions during the pandemic on tech-forward projects when, quite frankly, little revenue was coming in, because we needed to ensure we could continue to fulfill our mission and vision; and, now we are seeing very positive results.
  • Reach new customers through innovative marketing techniques, which is the name of the game now and another must-have. Every wonder why you get served up advertisements that resonate with you … it’s because of digital marketing.
  • It’s crucial that leadership understands the big picture from a strategic standpoint, and is aligned on priorities. Ultimately, each of these examples is a part of the whole picture. Digital transformation sounds good, but for it to work, the company needs to understand the cause and effect digital implementations will have, and operationally how everything fits together. Once this is all understood, then the company is on its way to the next level.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

In my experience as a leader at Huntington Learning Center, I’ve found that encouraging collaboration and communication at all levels and functions of the company contributes greatly to building a culture of innovation. There are formal and informal ways to make this happen. For example, we have dedicated councils that focus on different aspects of the company such as an “e-tutoring strategic council”, “tutoring council” and “test prep council”. These forums create constructive conversations and venues for the entire community to collaborate. We also have various “helpdesks”, where any member of the Huntington community can submit a “ticket” or question/concern and it is addressed accordingly.

Informal ways are discussions via Zoom or when we meet in person is another great way. The key to having a competitive advantage and a culture of innovation is really to have trust and clear and open communication. Feedback is important and ultimately, regardless of the company, it’s essential to understand the end-user, which in our case, is the student and the family. Therefore, it’s critical to be involved and understand the landscape of the market — in our case, education and franchising. Therefore, when there is that innovative idea, we can all work together to make it happen.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Trust but verify” is a quote that is relevant because it’s important to always get as many data points as possible to get the full picture. I try to gather as much information as possible for every project and issue. It was especially important during the early months of the pandemic, facts changed seemingly overnight; and, therefore, I continuously had to double-check and make sure everything was as up-to-date as possible. Again, “trust but verify”.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can follow Huntington Learning Center updates on our company blog and can follow me on LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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