Minimising the Excel Risk

Minimising the Excel Risk

Clients often come to me looking for help with a new staff member.

The scenario is usually the new staff member, when asked in the interview process about their level of skill with Excel, responds that they at an intermediate or advanced level.

Whilst decisions about whether to employ someone or not don’t normally rest solely on the response to this question, for a manager, it can be frustrating to have to re-train a new hire in order to get them to the level they need to be at, to do the job they have been employed to do.

Not only does it cost more. But if not tackled head on at the start, the consequences can be costly.

Damn Excel!, How the ‘most important application of all time’ is ruining the world, a 2013 article, refers to instances in the US where simple errors in Microsoft Excel usage resulted in significant losses for organisations during the global financial crisis. Whilst these types of incidents may have many organisations thinking, “that won’t happen to us”, I’m pretty sure none of the global brands referred to in the article thought it would happen to them either!

So, what can you do to minimise the risks in the process of hiring new staff, working with new team members or just to do a regular “check in” with your team to see if their skill levels are where they need to be right now?

Here are some tips:

As part of performance appraisals, ask them:

  1. What the most challenging task they have had to do with Excel has been in the last twelve months?
  2. What do you do when you don’t know the answer to something? Do you ask others, Google it, or put yourself under pressure to find a solution?
  3. Do you know what a macro is and how to create one?
  4. Do you feel confident in your current skill level with Excel?

An open and honest conversation with your team members individually can help draw out the strengths and weaknesses and enable you to prepare a strategy to build their Excel skills in the same way as you would do a competitive SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity, threats) analysis.

It could be as simple as getting your team to cross train each other or bringing in an external expert who can evaluate their skill levels and needs then determine the fastest way to fill the knowledge gaps and minimise the risk of errors.

The challenge for most people today isn’t using Excel at the base level, it’s being able to leverage it to make sense of the big data technology generates. These skills aren’t acquired by sitting some one in a classroom running through eight generic topics and hoping they’ll see the applicability, or giving them an hour to run through a few free YouTube videos.

Having your team share information on what they know, how they do different tasks and encouraging them to create their own best practice not only encourages communication, it also inspires a desired to collaborate and work in as a team.

Therefore, wouldn’t it make sense to create a system to get this done as quickly and efficiently as possible, so you and your team can spend more time making decisions and less time checking the numbers are correct?

Donna Hanson is a productivity and technology speaker, trainer and educator. She is the CEO of Prime Solutions Training & Consulting a productivity training company. Donna works as a special adviser to help executives and their teams minimise time spent on technology to enable them to get on with business. For more on how Donna helps visit

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