If your business depends on efficient and courteous email skills, effective management of tasks, good preparation for meetings, and accurate documentation of time spent on various activities, are you regularly reviewing the way your organization builds and assesses Outlook proficiency? What skill level do you expect from newly hired employees? From team leaders? From managers? And what are you doing to help them reach and maintain those skills? Here in my corner of the world, where students are getting ready to return to school and too many people are on vacation to get much substantive work done on various projects, it seems like a good time to think about Outlook training and assessment.

One place to start is by reviewing the objectives and materials available for the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) exam for Outlook 2003. MOS is Microsoft's testing and certification program for Office end users. A Google search for "Microsoft Outlook 2003 specialist exam" will lead you to Microsoft's page for the Outlook certification and to many companies that offer books, self-paced training, and classroom training. Even though the Outlook 2003 certification exam itself is offered in only a few locations, the list of 19 Outlook skill standards will give you a good idea of what a competent Outlook user should be able to do--everything from organizing messages to customizing Calendar settings to previewing and printing items.

A fun way to help your users find out how much they know about Outlook is to encourage them to take the quizzes that Microsoft offers at http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX010380471033.aspx. In addition to the Outlook basics quiz, the site contains two quizzes about Calendars and one about managing junk mail. The quizzes take only a few minutes to complete and provide instant feedback with detailed screen shots that illustrate the concepts.

If you think your users need more training in Outlook skills, go to http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX010380471033.aspx and browse the two dozen or so free courses, each running 20 minutes to 50 minutes. These courses include self-paced lessons and practice sessions, quick-reference cards, and self-assessment tests. Each course covers a handful of key concepts with practical applications. For example, someone who completes the "Become an Address Book Expert" course will understand which address lists Outlook displays; how to manage those lists in the Address Book's Tools, Options dialog box; and why some contacts don't appear in the Address Book.

Quick-reference cards, such as those included with the courses mentioned above, are a great way to get key skill tips into users' hands. Many companies make attractive, informative, laminated cards--not just for Outlook 2003 but also for Outlook Web Access (OWA)--that cost just a few dollars each. You could also include quick-reference information as a tear-out supplement to your company or department newsletter or post it on your intranet desktop support site.

On the section of Microsoft's Web site dedicated to teachers, you'll find tutorials for not just the Office applications but also for Windows and Internet technologies. The Outlook topics include managing email, time management, and collaboration. These tutorials are designed either for individual use or for instructor-led training and come with student instructions and, for instructors, a PowerPoint presentation and a guide to performing the demonstrations covered in the course. Even though these tutorials are oriented toward educational institutions, other organizations should have no problem adapting the material to the way they operate.

Finally, newsletters such as this one and those from other Web sites that cover Outlook topics include tips that you can share with your users. In addition to passing along those tips, ask your users to submit their own tips and have a contest for the best ones. Reward the winners with the opportunity to see their names in print in your inhouse publication or on your intranet Web site. Pretty soon, your less-savvy users will know that the person in the next cubical might have the answer to their Outlook questions, and your more skilled users will enjoy the recognition of their skills in communication, organization, and collaboration.

Microsoft Office Specialist

http://www.microsoft.com/learning/mcp/officespecialist/default.asp

Microsoft Office Specialist Objectives: Outlook 2003

http://www.microsoft.com/learning/mcp/officespecialist/objectives/Outlook2003ExamSkillstandards.asp

Hands-On Tutorial Packs

http://www.microsoft.com/education/TutorialPacks.mspx