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It’s a Training Issue!

By Mindie Burgoyne
this article also appears at the Writing the Vision website.
http://www.writingthevision.com/trainingissue.htm

There’s a common phrase used by Organizational Development and Human Resource professionals, when identifying kinks in the growth of an organization or company - “It’s a training issue.  The same phrase can be applied to almost any group of human beings that are working together to achieve a common goal. When progress stagnates and obstacles appear, you can retrace the path of movement and discover that things started to go wrong when someone wasn’t trained properly.

Have you ever experienced any of the following situations?

Fast Food Nightmare
You pull up to a fast food drive through window and a voice, with a foreign accent quickly spews out some inaudible words that you assume are probably akin to “May I take your order?”

The waitress from hell 
After being seated for thirty minutes at a local restaurant, a waitress finally approaches your table and asks if you’d like to order.  When you politely explain that you’re frustrated because you’ve been waiting thirty minutes, she condescendingly responds with a sigh, “The kitchen is backed up and I just had a party of fifteen in the other room.”

Know-nothing Receptionist  
You miss a much anticipated call from service person you’ve been trying to reach about a product you purchased that doesn’t work correctly.  When you call the person back, a receptionist says the person is not in and you should try back later. The receptionist is not sure when would be the best time and – no – the person you seek doesn’t have voice mail.

Travel Trauma 
After being on the road for twelve hours, you arrive at the hotel where you have a reservation for the night.  The check in time is posted as 3:30 pm.  You arrive at 4:30 pm but the room is not ready.  You are politely encouraged to check back in about an hour to see if the room is available.  The front desk clerk has no idea what you should do with the hour of “kill time” and can’t guarantee that the room will even be ready in an hour.

Office Chaos 
You work in an office and have a large amount of administrative tasks that bog you down.  There is an administrative assistant working ten feet from your desk who is supposed to offer support to your team.  His understanding of “support” and yours differ.  It appears that some members of your team get more support from this guy than others. You express the inequity of support to your boss who sees the conflict as “personality differences.”  You just want your darn copies made in a timely fashion.

All of the instances above show poor service and mismanagement – in some cases “abuse,” but it all could  undoubtedly be corrected through proper training.  Thus, the root of these corporate and retail nightmares are addressed as  “training issues.”

Training” is such a bland word.  The mere mention of the word conjures up visions of boring classroom environments, unenthusiastic training instructors and wasted time having concepts that common sense has already taught you rammed down your throat.  Few people are ever excited about training.  My husband, who is an iron worker, recently went through training mandated by OSCA that instructed all the workers on his team in the safety procedures for operating a forklift truck.  One of the most crucial training points was that “one should never leave the driver’s seat of the forklift while the motor was running and the forklift was in gear.”  Duh!

Despite the negative karma training has gained in the corporate world, and the hype it was granted during the dot.com boom, the simple truth is that training is not merely dispensing information about technique and skill.  It is also communicates expectations and requirements of the job.  People need to be told what is expected of them in clear terms, and relaying that expectation is a part of the training process.  Training lays the foundation for affirming performance as well as correcting mistakes.

In all of the examples above, the “untrained” employee has emotionally disconnected themselves from the person they are employed to serve.  Each has personal issues foremost in their minds which override their willingness to adequately serve others.  If you were to get their side of the story, you’d hear some of the following responses:

"Everything moves so fast around here.  It’s all I can do to keep up. No one really tells me what to do; they just tell me if I’m doing something wrong.”

“I could do my job if those I depended on could do theirs.”

“I’m tired of taking the hits for the poor performance of my superiors.”

“No one ever told me exactly what my job is.  I guess they think I’ll figure it out.  What I know of my job expectation has been mostly communicated by others telling me what I’m doing wrong. It’s every man for himself around here”


Poor service is not due to poor employees, but poor employers.

The bottom line is that lack of service = lack of growth, lack of productivity, lack of profits.  Your company’s lack of service will pay a high price in the world of your competitors. You will have to continually compensate with special promotions, additional advertising, increased hiring and give-aways to disgruntled customers.  Good service is linked to happy, valued employees that provide the service. Training is a crucial tool in helping employees feel valued in the work environment.

How do you use training to solve the problems mentioned above?  It’s all about having a training program that is set in place and held as a priority.  Don’t fall into the “training out of desperation” category and only offer training when you have to put out a fire.  Remember that training can be a form of giving your employees attention and recognition.  If done well, they will appreciate it and feel affirmed.

Always have some type of training scheduled.  It can be as infrequent as once a quarter or as frequent as once a week.  You can do it in house or outsource it.  Having scheduled training opportunities will prevent the development of service problems that cost you big time in the long run. 


New Hire Orientation

The most important training you’ll ever do with an employee will be when he or she first comes on board.  Here’s an example of training to put in place for new hires.

  1. As a company policy, be sure to have specific, written job descriptions for each employee, and a system established for continually updates.  Job descriptions should focus on competencies rather than functions.
  2. Develop an Orientation Training Program for each new employee that is hired.  The program can last anywhere from one half a day to a week, but it should include the following:
    1. Introduction to the rest of the staff.
    2. Thorough review of the job description and company policies with the direct report, clearly laying out expectations and processes for recognition and correction.  Allow time for questions and answers.
    3. Site tour – where are the bathrooms, kitchen, parking spaces, emergency exit, etc.
    4. Employee paperwork – W4, benefit forms, waivers, copy of Personnel Regulations and job description, etc.
    5. New hire should be given a thorough briefing on what the organization does, its goals, its vision, who it serves and the role of the new hire’s position in the grand scheme of things. 
    6. If possible, assign another staff person to be on call for questions that arise by the new hire.
    7. Be nice and have that staff person or yourself take the new hire to lunch their first day.
    8. Have a 30 day review set up (mark it on your calendar) where you will evaluate the new hire’s performance and inquire about their feelings and frustrations related to the job.  NOTE: If you reschedule or cancel this 30 day review, you'll send that employee a clear message about the priority you place on their training and development.  This meeting is crucial to the new hire and they anticipate it with great expectation.

A training program, aside from being a way to continually dispense needed information to your employees is also one of the most effective methods for gaining information about how to improve company infrastructure.  It is a safe environment for workers to share thoughts, feelings and ideas on how to improve the company.  In addition, training – when done properly – affirms employees, helps them to develop a sense of loyalty to the company, reduces turnover and creates a prime opportunity for building consensus. 


Training and development is an investment, not a cost.

Fortune 500’s lists on top companies, Best Small Businesses, Best Companies to Work For and Best Bosses have repeatedly displayed interest in employee satisfaction as well as training and development.  Edward Jones, a stockbrokerage out of St. Louis, MO was rated #1 for the second consecutive year on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.”  

According to Fortune it spends 3.8% of its payroll on training, with an average of 146 hours for every employee, and new brokers get four times that much.  When asked why it spends so much on training managing partner John Bachmann replied, “In order to grow, you have to be trained or you get trapped in the present.”  One administrative assistant at Edward Jones was quoted by a Fortune journalist saying, “I’ve never experienced working for a company that has so many satisfied employees.”(1)

A training program is an ideal starting point to take action to decrease turnover, improve employee performance and initiate loyalty.  It is also a strong foundation for developing affective communication within the company or organization. If you have no training program currently established, start with an orientation training program or look to your local university or community college for training opportunities.  Start a training library by ordering books, videos and periodicals that address competencies you want to develop in your staff.  Beginning or improving a training program shows employees that you care.


1.  Fortune Magazine, January 20, 2003 Issue: Summary on Edward Jones – Ann Harrington

 

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