Training: Your Secret Weapon
This is one competitive advantage you can hide in plain sight.
We're among friends, so let's be frank, shall we? Training is one of those boring, tedious necessities that we businesspeople must politely endure--while examining our fingernails. Once we nod and agree that, oh yes, training's important, we can maybe change the subject to much more pressing matters, like product development or finance.
That's what I used to think, too. In fact, I was dragged into paying attention to my training department because I needed financing to grow my debt-collection operation. The rating agencies really wanted to see a comprehensive training department before they would give my company a solid rating.
I threw some money into developing a training program, never expecting it to become much of anything. Was I ever wrong. Our training became our secret weapon, because error rates plummeted and productivity shot up. Over time it expanded into a full-time, six-week intensive program that was called one of the best in the world for our industry. In fact, the training program was one reason we became a Harvard Business School case study.
Let's examine six myths about training and the cold, hard reality.
Myth: If I hire quality people, I don't need to train them.
Reality: That's fine if you're a cottage industry with a couple of employees. But the bigger you grow, the more detached you'll be from daily operations. You simply cannot assume that even the best people are aware of your practices. Customers are far too expensive to attract and retain to leave them to haphazard treatment.
Myth: Highly trained employees will just leave and go to competitors.
Reality: Maybe, but so what? Ray Kroc built McDonald's on the philosophy that "We can invent faster than they can steal." Besides, great training programs are actually an employee-retention tool.
Myth: It costs too much.
Reality: An expense is something you pay that doesn't pay you back, like potted plants. Training is an investment that should immediately pay big dividends in the form of fewer costly errors, higher productivity and greater customer retention.
Myth: I'll do it when things get better, or I'll do it when things slow down.
Reality: We're among friends, remember? This is a lame excuse and a cop out. We can always kick the can down the road by saying now's not the right time for anything we don't feel like doing. Even mud knows to take the path of least resistance when flowing downhill. Leaders are supposed to be smarter than mud, and strong enough to make difficult investments today that will pay off big in the future.
Myth: On-the-job training is the best training there is.
Reality: I'm a big believer in on-the-job-training, but only when it's part of a much larger package. We had our loan-collection trainees make calls very early on to live customers, but they were closely monitored. We discovered that when we just shoved them out to sink or swim, the learning curve was longer. When we mixed the live practice with classroom work, the trainees asked practical questions and could immediately put the answers to use on the next call.
Myth: We have something better than a training program; it's a mentoring program.
Reality: This is a variation on on-the-job training and is almost always a cop out. The so-called mentoring consists of employees showing up to work and being run through a sheep-dip orientation by personnel. Then there's the obligatory matching up of the New Guy with the Old Hand. It's all new for the New Guy, but this is the twenty-eighth kid the Old Hand has trained. Because there's no money or incentive in it, that training mainly consists of "monkey see, monkey do." Unless you run a zoo, that's no way to operate your business.
Create a superb training program, not for the brownie points it will get you, but for the cold, hard cash it will drop to your bottom line. Trust me: Your competitors will never figure it out.
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