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Diversify Your Training Strategies Get the most out of your employees by helping them develop well-rounded skills.

For most professional basketball players, training consists almost exclusively of playing basketball, lifting weights and running. Not so with the Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki, whose training has included walking on his hands, fencing, rowing and learning to play a musical instrument. Huh?

Okay, some of this makes sense. Fencing helps with footwork and rowing helps build back and shoulder strength for rebounding, but these aren't obvious training options if you're aiming to become one of the world's best professional basketball players. You can't argue with the results--Dirk is an all-star-caliber player, and Dallas has excelled during his tenure.

Long ago at The Beryl Companies, we determined that unconventional training methods might yield the best results for our employees, too. We decided pursuing a standard approach wouldn't help our employees reach the next level, build the skills to successfully serve our customers or give them a desire to stay with our organization over the long term. While most companies say they are devoted to employee development, they don't give employees time to really engage in training. We are committed to sacrificing revenue and over-staffing our team so that personnel have time to participate in training. Ultimately, this commitment is one of the reasons we are more profitable than our publicly traded competitors and why our attrition rate is one-fourth the industry average.

Here are a few unconventional ways to keep your employees growing personally and professionally:

Add a dedicated internal training department.
Having a dedicated internal training department that focuses on employee development around topics such as client interfacing skills, communications skills, software skills and delivering exceptional customer service is an essential element to sustaining a focus on training. Set a goal for every employee to log a specific minimum number of training hours each year; this forces management to monitor employee progress and makes training a priority for employees.

Start a company library and book club.
A true entrepreneur, Walt Disney once said, "There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." Designate a centrally located room to be the company library and stock it with business books and videos. Make it easy for employees to access this library before, during and after work hours. To stimulate interest in the library, consider launching a book club, and even offer to host lunch once each month for employees to gather and discuss what they are reading.

Reimburse employees who purchase any learning or development book if they donate it to the library. However, they must write a one-page summary of what they learned from the book they are donating. Encouraging employees to dig deeper into materials and report highlights to the team increases the likelihood they will absorb and use what they are learning, which is the goal.

Create your own curriculum led by your best employees (regardless of titles).
In addition to an official internal training department, create a development team that includes employees from across the company. Charge them with creating a curriculum that will help employees at all levels enhance their skills. These training forums can be offered through a "lunch and learn" platform or on Saturdays so that more employees can find time to participate. Some suggested courses: Time Management, Social Styles, Situational Leadership, Effective Business Writing, and Planning for Results. If possible, invite outside inspirational speakers.

For employees with high leadership potential, create a more intense learning track. Think of this as your internal MBA program--perhaps a 10-week curriculum for current leaders and other high-potential employees to help them learn advanced business and relationship skills. Modules might include Managing by Values, Business Acumen, Change Management, and Crucial Conversations. These courses should be led by senior leaders in your company to give the up-and-comers exposure to the "war stories" that only seasoned employees can share.

Bring rising stars out of the "shadows."
Create a formal job shadowing program that will allow team members interested in a new position to shadow an individual in that role for several hours each week. This allows them to learn the job responsibilities and determine if that job is a good fit for their future.

Invest in higher education.
It's not unusual for companies to provide tuition assistance; however, in a tight economy it's tempting to trim this benefit. Don't. Furthermore, don't place limitations on reimbursement. Provide assistance to any employee pursuing a degree, no matter the subject.

How will you know if your training program is paying off? Hopefully, you'll improve your ability to hire from within, enabling the organization to tap into employees who know your business and culture.

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