We discuss how Tom McClurg created an international internal control business training and certification program with LifterLMS in this episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of the LifterLMS team. Tom shares his experience and some strategies you can use to get more control over your business so you can make it a success.
Tom is based in England, and he is the CEO of the Association of Internal Control Practitioners. He describes internal control as nothing more than good business management. Many companies over the past few years have gone out of business because of dysfunctional internal controls.
The AICP is designed for everyone who’s in business management. Tom works with a lot of small to medium size businesses that have up to a couple hundred employees. Startups are an ideal situation for taking the AICP’s course programs, because they have the large opportunity to redo a business plan with the possibilities of risk being assessed beforehand, and startups can set up their businesses with control on the top end.
Tom and his colleagues at the AICP have put a lot of effort into the material they produce. They teach from a business management perspective, rather than an academic one. The AICP has audit tools as well, because businesses are run by people, not processes. So the AICP has assembled the tools to audit the human resource practices as well.
Many online course creators think their courses must have video in order to be successful, when this is not the case. Tom and his team don’t have any videos in their courses yet, and they are running a successful online education practice.
Chris highlights the importance of figuring out what you want to teach and how you’re going to teach it before choosing an LMS software when you’re creating a course or membership site. Tom and his team at the AICP embody this in their course creation style. They currently have 15 courses up on their site included in their training.
You can find out more about how you can use LifterLMS to build your own online courses and membership sites at LifterLMS.com. If you like this episode of LMScast, you can browse more episodes here. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us!
Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and I’m joined by a special guest, Tom McClurg from the Association of Internal Control Practitioners. Tom’s in England. But before we get into it, Tom, I wanted to welcome you to the show. Thanks for coming.
Tom McClurg: Why thank you, Chris. Thank you for the invitation.
Chris Badgett: So Tom has built courses into his institute with LifterLMS. I wanted to get into some of his story, so you can see just a journey of someone using Lifter to build up and expand a business. Tom, before we get into it, can you help the listener understand your niche? What is internal control?
Tom McClurg: Internal control is nothing more than good business management, Chris. Lots of companies have gone broke over these past few years simply since the last financial crisis. They’ve gone broke because of dysfunctional internal controls. In other words, the management had poor governance, poor risk management, and lack of control of their processes. It’s as simple as that, and this is why many companies in the UK, and probably the same in the US, have gone broke in recent months. Even shops in the High Street, big groups of shops. They’re gone. They’ve simply gone.
Now, you could put it down to poor management. Personally, I’d put it down to poor governance. The management from the top really did not have proper control over a business.
Chris Badgett: Is this relevant to the small business or the start up, or is this more for corporate or-
Tom McClurg: It’s for everyone who’s in business management. What we’ve built in the one of the programs, and we have this on the system using LifterLMS, we’ve built a model with a smaller business. When I say a smaller business, Chris, I’m looking at business up to a couple hundred people, a small to medium size. We built a program in there, which is an audit style program. It asks you a number of questions about your business, do you know it, do you really understand your business, and we go through about twenty different units, different questions and we give the answers to the business manager or the business owner. For a start up it’s an ideal situation, because you can actually redo a business plan with the possibility of the risks having been assessed and the controls and processes put in place.
Of course, they won’t have the same requirement as a larger business. A larger business is, sometimes, a nightmare depending on the nature of that business. Very difficult to control a very large business, because it’s broken into different parts, but it is possible, and we believe we have the tools to do that. Okay, it’s taken us three years to bring them together, but we have the tools either through LifterLMS on a very, very simple training program. We even have accountants join our program [inaudible 00:03:44]. But a smaller business, ideal. Ideal to the smaller business as well.
Chris Badgett: So, what is your target market? What’s your ideal association member? Who joins your side and starts taking your training? What are they like?
Tom McClurg: That’s an interesting question. We have business managers, but primarily we have risk managers, accountants, we have internal control specialists, and we have people who simply want to learn what it’s all about. So, a very broad range, but to say who do we target, we’re targeting accountants, we’re targeting lawyers, risk managers, business managers, supervisors, anyone who is involved in managing an element or a subsidiary, whatever you want to call it. We have members in 14 countries at the moment, within 3 years, and we don’t think that is a bad effort. A lot of those have come via the knowledge that we have Lifter on our systems. Anyone who is in business management will come to us, but not everyone will qualify. There’s a qualification limit. You’ve got to have some experience, because to go into this blindly without having some management experience or supervisory experience, it wouldn’t work for you. You just need to have a little bit experience in business.
Having said that, we’re also look at the student element. Now, I have spoken to a number of universities over the past few years. We couldn’t undertake what they were asking us for, because they were looking in terms of a more sophisticated program that we had. The fact is, we’ve now got that. We can deliver the program via online, we can deliver in the classroom style and we have the people to do that. We want to move this up the educational curriculum into the universities, but in time. We haven’t rushed this process. We’ve kept it quite fine, quite slow, methodical, to make sure that it works for us. Not only for us, but it works for the people who join our organization. So, it’s a tough one, but we will help anyone who is in business.
Chris Badgett: That’s fantastic, and for you listening I encourage you to check out theAICPglobal.org and I’m looking at your course catalog, Tom, and I’m seeing 15 or so courses. How long did it take you to put all those courses together? Quite a while?
Tom McClurg: Quite a while, Chris. It’s taken about two and a half years. When you’re seeing individual courses there, we have the educational curriculum for the internal control risk management certification, but a lot of those courses can be bought by the individual. If someone is only interested in risk management, they can buy that course. If they’re interested in the small business management they can buy that course, but if they’re interested in the certification program, then there are eight modules. Eight. Still trying to work out how to be bringing them all together, but we’ll work that out in the not too distant future. The eight programs have got Lifter in every one of them with a number of questions at the end of each module, and then at the end of the course there’s the hundred question test. Now, you haven’t got to be a genius. If you’ve studied the papers then it’s not a difficult task to pass.
But we are looking at people like that will have about 3 years experience before going into that framework. It’s not an easy one, but a lot of learning, a lot of enjoyment out of it for people. But yeah, nearly two and a half or three years, and we’re still working on the procurement one, but we’ll probably take another month.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. How many people are involved in making these courses? Is it just you, or multiple people, or what?
Tom McClurg: I have certain expertise in the internal control practice. I helped a couple of organizations in the states. I helped to coordinate the internal control systems across Europe for one organization, but there were things lacking, and one of the things lacking was the training. There are absolutely no training, but we have a colleague in Hungary who helps on the procurement front. We have the president of the association, he is an ex president of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply. What he doesn’t know about procurement isn’t really worth knowing. I’ve managed large procurements, multi million pound procurement operations in finance companies and banks, plus consultancy, plus training, so we do know a little bit about the business but we come at a different attack.
We are not an academic company. We come at it purely from a business management perspective, because you could listen to academics all day long and learn nothing. So, we have taken the internal control processes and we put them into a business management process. For example, one of the universities wanted to lift our programs and put it into part of an MBA and we refused. We said it wasn’t ready, there was a draft, but we would wait until we were absolutely satisfied that we had the program that we want. Now, the program isn’t just academic, Chris. What we also have are audit tools. Audit tools in business management, audit tools in human resources, because you’re looking at a business. Businesses are run by people, not processes. So, we have the tools to actually audit the human resource practices as well.
So, these are little add-ons that, maybe, people haven’t seen before. This took a little bit of thinking, we’ve also built into the program, and some of those will be on the list there, I think they all are from what I remember, on Lifter. We have, what we call, standards, and every process every business must have standards. We have written the standards in internal control and risk management, and we’ve written the standards in procurement of supply chain management practices. Our guy in Hungary, at the moment he’s looking at electronic procurement. Amazed to be seeing what we put into Lifter with [inaudible 00:11:51] funded procurement but it will be good, because we’re not going to give anything which is not of value.
Chris Badgett: That’s great. Let me ask you some instructional design or teaching questions. When you’re making a course, what do you put in the lessons? Are they videos? What do you do? How do you teach in your online courses?
Tom McClurg: Well, at the moment we do not have video in the courses. We are now planning that. Videos will be in the courses within the next three months, because I think what they will do, they will move the programs just that little bit more forward. I want to do introduction for every course we have. That will come, but we still need to finish the procurement supply chain management operations, tools there. Like I said, that is 90% done, and that’ll be launched in June.
Chris Badgett: I think that’s great, and I just want to highlight the fact that some people get hung up on video. They have to have video, but you’re up and running without video with lots of courses, adding value in the marketplace. You don’t have to have video. I see some people get stuck at the video, whereas you’re saving that for when you’re ready to do that. So, that’s really neat.
Tom McClurg: We weren’t going to move forward until we had things right and that has taken so long. The three years you’d think really would get a business off the ground. It’s a long time. Our business, the membership is self perpetuating, if you understand. We don’t have business development managers or anything like that, because the development is very specialty, and it’s gonna be written very simple. We have a slogan that we’ve made learning easy, and we’ve made learning easier with LifterLMS.
Chris Badgett: Yeah [crosstalk 00:13:59] I have another instructional design question. You mentioned certification.
Tom McClurg: Yes.
Chris Badgett: So, how did you design the certificate? Is that where people take all the courses, or only certain courses have a certificate, or-
Tom McClurg: Yeah, that’s quite a good question, Chris. There’s two elements to the certification program. Keeping procurement stuff aside for the moment, because we’re not ready to put the academic curriculum out on that, but there’s two methods of certification. We have certification for the professional. Now, they may be an accountant, they may be a lawyer, they may be risk management based, but they want a few years practice under their belt. Now, they can apply for certification based purely on their job experience, work related, and we’re very happy to accept people into the association based on their work. The second one, the education one, I’ll give you an example. We’ve launched the educational curriculum three months ago on Lifter, and I just put it aside. I didn’t want to do anything with it because I was still trying to bring all the modules together so we can have [inaudible 00:15:32] the modules in one go. What I did was, I just stood to the side and suddenly I had an accountant come alone and say, “We want this program. I want this program.” I said, “Fine, you can have this program. It’s relatively cheap.”
And we did step the fees relatively cheap, because we are a not-for-profit business. Any money we make is plowed back into the company. I thought, “Hang on a moment.” I didn’t want to give those up just yet, so we waited, “Let me think of how I’m going to do this. I could give you access to the electronic side online, or I can give you a piece of paper. What would you prefer?” “Well, I could take a piece of paper if you’d like, but we want the online course. I want the online course. I want to be able to sit on the train coming home at night with my tablet or my telephone and I can sit and do that. I don’t like to be carrying a piece of paper around.” I said, “Fine.”
So we had this lady accountant who is the first accountant we’ve had into that particular program, although it was relatively new. Fine, we are looking for a lot more accountants to join us, because if you think back with internal control, really the emphasis came from the US back in the early 2000s. With the [inaudible 00:17:08] situation following some dodgy experiments in companies over there, and you probably know better than I do. So, we lived through that and I thought, “No. The accountants have written this, but the accountants are, maybe, not quite sure how they’re going to practice it.” So, we have set a bar for accountants, solicitors, anyone. Clear understanding, simple to apply, simple to use, simple to learn. These are the processes. This is how we’ve built this particular business.
Chris Badgett: That’s great.
Tom McClurg: We’ll make the academic programs but keep them simple. We’re not going into anything complicated.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, keep it simple and keep it useful. That’s great. I wanted to ask you, just going into some technology questions. It looks like you’re using the astro theme.
Tom McClurg: I wasn’t to begin with.
Chris Badgett: Yeah?
Tom McClurg: I wasn’t using the astro theme to begin with, I was using a theme which a guy in the US set up. I think that’s where I found Lifter eventually. Then I thought, “Hang on a moment,” I saw your recommendation on Lifter, I think it was your recommendation on Lifter, and I thought, “Fine, okay, let’s try Lifter.” Looks fine. Works fine for us. We’re quite pleased with it.
Chris Badgett: That’s great. Your site looks great and it’s a great theme to pair with LifterLMS. What was your background? You saw a gap in the market, you saw an industry you wanted to serve and you had expertise in it. What was your technology experience before decided to build an online training program?
Tom McClurg: You really want me to answer that?
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Tom McClurg: I tinkered now and again with a few websites over the years, because I write a little bit [inaudible 00:19:25], but I thought at one time I’d put myself up on a website, and I’m going to be an author. One of the, I don’t know, multi million selling authors. Of course that didn’t quite work. So, I had a little bit of knowledge of how a website was put together. In fact, mine were always thrown together. So, to say I went into it blind, no. I didn’t, but YouTube is a very handy organization when you want to learn something. Your videos alone are, I can’t remember the many times I’ve looked at your videos in one shape or form, and then I took the views of other people on YouTube and I find that if I needed to know something, I got onto YouTube and I found out.
But what I found was, your side of the business was easy. It’s something I knew, something I think I understand this. And I knew I wanted to put into the program, and if you know what you’re going to put into it to begin with, that makes it easier.
Chris Badgett: I just want to put a pin on that point for you out there listening. It’s so much better to come at LMS software, or the technology, when you know what you want to put into it. What are you gonna end up training? Because sometimes people start with the technology without the training, concept, ideas together at least mapped out on paper, or whatever. It’s a lot harder that way, so I commend you on what you said there. I just wanted to highlight that.
Tom McClurg: Well, it wasn’t too difficult. We once rewritten the program, then we had to find a home for it.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Tom McClurg: It wasn’t difficult for me to simply copy and paste and the like.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, I’d like to [crosstalk 00:21:23]I’d like to use the analogy of a school This is an online training school and if you just go and you buy the building and the real estate, or if you have the teachers and the content ready, it’s much easier to put that inside the real estate you just bought than just start with the real estate and-
Tom McClurg: Exactly, yes. Don’t lease a house after you’ve bought it. This is why it’s taken us so long. It hasn’t taken us a long time because we’ve been working with all the people, we’ve been building relationships, we’ve been doing a few presentations here or there. I like to think that we’re kind of a virtual company. We’re not going around knocking on doors. We say to people, “This is what we have, we believe it’s useful for you, and hope that you’ll agree with us,” and fortunately, tap the wood at the moment, a lot of people are agreeing with us. This is the way that businesses should be run. These are the standards that we should be setting.
The problem we have, typically in the UK, the UK doesn’t seem to grasp the internal control aspect as much as we would like them to, and if you think in terms of some of the big names in this country who have actually gone to the wall, they’re in business one day, then gone the next. One of your American cousins Toys “R” Us. Big business, closed down all of UK. Clothing store Debenhams went broke, completely gone. Empty shops in the high street. I could reel them off there were just so many. That’s hardly due to bad management, but really, at the end of the day, it’s due to poor governance, poor control. That’s my view. Maybe, someone will come along and tell me I’m wrong, but I don’t think they can.
Chris Badgett: So, what do you do for marketing, or sales? It sounds like you do some [inaudible 00:23:44] where you reach out to companies or organizations that would benefit from this type of training, but what’s your growth plan? What do you do?
Tom McClurg: Well, that is part of the growth plan, and it’s not something that we’ve done simply because we had the tools ready, we didn’t have the tools good enough a few months back. I looked at them, got people to read them, give me the comments back. Now, people said, “Oh, this is fine. This is going to work.” I certainly wasn’t satisfied myself when I looked at them again, so we scrapped everything. We didn’t throw it away, we simply looked at what we had done, we looked at the content, we looked at the presentation style, it wasn’t together, if you know what I mean.
Now, it wasn’t Lifter, that gave us the opportunity to put the program together in bits, but in a logical order. So what we’d done just out of a change up from them, and what we did, we’ve taken the structure of Lifter and we put it into paper format. Does that make sense?
Chris Badgett: Yeah it does. Yep.
Tom McClurg: So, when people deliver the course and the classroom environment, their delivering exactly the same with what’s online, but to answer your question. How we’ve expanded this? We have a board of management, we have a board member in South Africa, we have a board member in Hungary, we have a board member, he doesn’t know it yet, but he will be very soon, in India. So, the continent of India is wide open for us. The Middle East, we have an accountancy consultants and they approached us and asked whether they could deliver our program throughout the Middle East and across to North African countries. I thought it was a spoof email at the time, but I said, “No, it’s not.” We had the company set up and the plan’s programs is to be delivered to them through banking associations and accountancy associations. We really couldn’t ask for much better than that at the moment.
We failed a couple of times. We’ve appointed people as, in the early days, we’ve picked up a few people thinking, “Fine, they’ve got the experience, they’ve got the skills.” It didn’t work. They just did not deliver. Maybe that’s our fault. Maybe we didn’t explain to them precisely what was needed. You need skills. Fortunately, we’ve got those skills now. They’re delighted with the Indian connection. Population is what, a billion people? With a very highly qualified guy running the business out there. We simply used our connections. We used LinkedIn a lot. We used LinkedIn. People-
Chris Badgett: How do you use LinkedIn?
Tom McClurg: Personally, I don’t use it a great deal myself, but I do the occasional write up on it, but one of my directors, they use it quite a lot and they connect with people who they feel might be interested in what we’re doing, and it works. People come to us, “Fine, we’d like to join you. We’d like to deliver your programs,” but of course it’s like a job interview. If we don’t think they’re up to it then it wouldn’t be fair to them to suggest they deliver our material when they would probably fail. You just need that little bit extra. You need the business management experience. You touched on my background a moment ago. I’ve been in business management for more years than I can remember. I’ve entered finance, money lending, debt collecting, business development, consumer credit law, procurement with one of the largest financing companies in the UK and also I ended up on various strategic committees of one of the major banks as well in terms of procurement operations.
So, we’ve got a lot of experience on this, and we can probably talk to someone and we can say okay, we don’t think they’re gonna make it. We think we’d be wasting their time, they could be doing something else, but we’ll give them a better return on their investment in working with us. So, I think that’s the fair way of doing it. We don’t bring in people just for the sake of bringing people in, because if they fail then we fail.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, so you’re qualifying. You’re making sure it’s the right match.
Tom McClurg: It’s gotta be the right match, otherwise it’s not gonna work for anyone. We’re very happy with the way it’s gone so far.
Chris Badgett: I wanted to ask you another question just to make sure I clearly understand. With the Association of Internal Control Practitioners, and for you listening out there you can head over to theAICPglobal.org and check out the site we’re talking about, does the association do in person classroom training in addition to online training?
Tom McClurg: Yes.
Chris Badgett: Someone called that blended learning. Is it an either or option, or sometimes people do both, or it’s a choice?
Tom McClurg: You’ll find, Chris, that it’ll be the videos that come to the online learning.
Chris Badgett: Okay.
Tom McClurg: Although I’m going to be expanding that, hopefully, in the coming months where we have companies coming to it as well in groups, so that is something for the future there. What happens with the classroom style learning, it’s no different. We do look at who the [inaudible 00:30:35] are going to be-
Chris Badgett: It’s the same material though, right?
Tom McClurg: Same material, but obviously it’s got to be delivered with some degree of confidence. The knowledge is not so important, but the confidence is. Usually a company will say, “Fine, okay, we have ten of our people that we would like to put through the course, or maybe the bit of the course,” so, we have the people to do it. I don’t do it myself these days. I’m a rather busy person on all the things, but if, for example, someone came to me today and said, “Fine, okay, we want certification for five of our people, and we want to do it in house.”
Chris Badgett: Does somebody get on a plane, or what happens?
Tom McClurg: That is something that I would probably do myself, because although the program itself, the educational program, could probably take three or four months on the online, we have a what we call a fast track process. We could, I’ve done this in the past, we could fast track the learning program for either procurement, or the internal control and risk management and governance practices, and what we do is, we say, “Fine, okay, first week will be a very intensive course. We’ll cover some of the modules. You go away for a month, you come back for another week’s intensive course. At the end of the day you do the test for an hour and a half, and if you pass, great.”
Chris Badgett: Why do they go away for a month? Is that to apply the learning, or-
Tom McClurg: It’s to apply the learning, yeah. I may make it sound a little bit simple, Chris. You’re not gonna pass the test, although the test is quite simple there’s nothing complicated about it, it’s a hundred questions, four multiple choice, an hour and a half-
Chris Badgett: But it’s not about passing the test, it’s about the business results, right?
Tom McClurg: You’ve got to read the detail. You’re not gonna pass the exam unless you do that. I gave this test to my president Allen Robinson and I said, “Allen, I’d like you to do this.” He had come back the next say and said, “I’ve failed. I’ve failed,” he said. “I only got a 60%,” and I said, “Well, fine Allen, you’ll have to resign, won’t you?” But no, you’ve got to study and this is the gap there. It could be a week, a month, week. Or, it could be a week, two weeks, gap, then another week. Depends what the companies ask for, but if the company comes to me with a plan and said, “This is what we would like,” we would tell them whether that’s practical, whether it’s gonna succeed, and whether we can do it.
Chris Badgett: That’s great.
Tom McClurg: So, that’s how we work, but we really need to take it into business. Usually if there’s a group, extension is what we’re doing. Let people choose the courses, bundle those courses together and take them into the business. That’s the plan. It won’t be this month, it won’t be next, but it’ll certainly be this year.
Chris Badgett: Anything else on the vision for the future for the platform?
Tom McClurg: Yes, we’ve got the multiple choice situation at the moment. We’re not gonna move away from that. We’re not gonna move into your more complex questions just yet. These programs are continually being reviewed, continually updated, and continually improved. What I’d like to do is to end up, maybe before the end of the year early next year, with courses where the answers are written. Does that make sense?
Chris Badgett: Like, graded?
Tom McClurg: And graded.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Tom McClurg: Yeah. Now, that will probably lift our programs to a different level, but it’s just time consuming to grade these. We just don’t have the time at the moment. So, once everything else is in place, yeah. This is what we will do. We will use Lifter, your expert questionnaires, also to make some of these a bit fun. At the moment learning can be boring, but Lifter gives us the opportunity to add a bit of comedy to it as well, a bit of fun to the learning process. I haven’t worked out how I’m going to do it yet, but we will. We will.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, Tom McClurg, ladies and gentlemen. The Association of Internal Control Practitioners. Check him out at theAICPglobal.org
Tom, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your course creation, your institute building journey. It’s really inspiring and I’m really excited and honored to see what you’ve done with LifterLMS [inaudible 00:36:26]. Thank you so much.
Tom McClurg: Thank you, Chris. Thank you for the opportunity, thank you for Lifter.
Chris Badgett: Absolutely.