Perk Power

Experience Required

Small-business owners were also asked to identify the employee skills they felt were most valuable. Surprisingly, they ranked communication skills and assertiveness far ahead of computer abilities, leadership and even sales talent.

Even more astounding, employers say they are unwilling to train employees--even in the skills they value most. For instance, 81 percent value communication skills, but only 17 percent are willing to pay to train employees in the skill.

Time and talent are the barriers here, Doescher believes. "The only way small businesses can train is for the owners to train the employees themselves," he says. Yet few entrepreneurs are talented trainers, and fewer still can spare the time to tutor workers. One solution Doescher recommends: Send employees to low-cost seminars.

There are also creative ways for entrepreneurs to offset the cost of employee training. Dynamix, for example, funds an extensive training program with the help of IBM, its main vendor. IBM sets aside a portion of the discounts it offers resellers like Dynamix and uses it to, among other things, fund a technical training program in which the resellers can participate.

The survey also found that entrepreneurs seem to be wary of formal policies. Most firms in the survey don't do performance reviews or have written policies for dealing with disciplinary problems or sexual harassment. Only 11 percent have formal drug-testing policies.

Entrepreneurs believe they have good reason for being leery of written policies: They fear giving up their flexibility. Hirshberg warns against that attitude, however. A self-proclaimed '60s flower child, he hesitated to institute a drug-testing policy at Stonyfield. But safety concerns compelled him to start prescreening applicants and even randomly testing company drivers.

Since his employees operate machinery, having a drug-testing policy lowers his insurance premiums, Hirshberg says. Employees also benefit from the policy. "We've caught people who are in trouble," Hirshberg adds, "and gotten them into employee assistance programs."

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This article was originally published in the July 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Perk Power.

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