Category Archives: Training
For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Jeffrey A. Fox is a management and executive consultant, and a great leadership author. I enjoy reading his books for a number of reasons, some of which are because he succinctly gets to the core point of what he’s saying. Each chapter is a precious nugget of richness, solid in truth and invaluable to those yearning to grow.
While not his latest book, “How To Be A Great Boss” is a read that I have thoroughly enjoyed every page of the way. One of the chapters hits the nail on the head about where your time should be spent among your people. It’s entitled “Spend 90% of Your Time With Your Best People”.
It seems that so much of leaders’ time that they spend on their staff is consumed with the so-called “high maintenance” employees. They are the ones that literally cost the company precious time and money due to their lack of performance, disruptive behavior, or both. A few years back I reported to a C-level executive who confided in me that 80% of their time was lost constantly on 20% of their “problem children”. While they didn’t know how to swing that around (and couldn’t see how they themselves had created this culture that they were drowning in), I used my personal experience to shed some light and help them understand what Jeffrey Fox layed out for the rest of us.
Years ago I knew a manager who was charged with creating a new department for an entertainment company. This department was an offshoot of an existing one, yet it was to run co-dependently at first then become self-sufficient within 60 days. It was an on-the-fly task that was literally dumped on him; part of his benefit package for being promoted.
The staff that he and his supervisory team were given were the employees that none of the other supervisors wanted to invest time in. They were deemed “unproductive” and by jettisoning them to this new area, they were relieved of any further obligation to work with these employees. So this manager had a staff of about 50 untrained and unmotivated employees to start a department with.
He immediately started to recognize three types of employees: those that worked hard no matter what, those that worked well but not always consistent, and those that were never motivated and failed to do the job at all. Unconsciously, he started investing the bulk of his time with the hard workers, as he needed them to anchor the day to day tasks. He then spend most of the rest of his time with the second group, realizing that they had potential but were never properly trained or shown they had value. He did spend time with the unmotivated group, mostly in corrective action, but never let them consume his valuable time.
Well, a peculiar trend started to happen in this manager’s new department. He noticed that the hard workers dug in and worked harder, and set a great attitude and pace for the entire team. He then saw that the middle group felt needed because they were given attention finally, and, seeing the first group energized, started to perform on a pace close to the hard workers. But what the manager saw in the unmotivated group literally shocked him. He noted that many of these workers, previously deemed problematic, started to perk up and step up their game. Their attitude and performance improved remarkably. When asked, they generally said that they had never been a part of such a team before, and didn’t want to be left out, or left behind. Granted, there were a few dissenters that needed to be groomed out, but the vast majority clicked with the team dynamic and their first year brought incredible sales success and profitability that they did not forecast they would attain for at least 3 years.
By focusing on your 90%, Fox states, you invest in the biggest return in your company. If you invested in those underperforming stocks, you would most certainly look for better returns in higher potential stocks. Why should it be any different with your staff? Invest where it counts, and you’ll be surprised at the results. And so will your team.
You’ve successfully onboarded your new employee and trained them in the skills needed to do their job.
That’s a great accomplishment, but it is just the beginning….
Here’s a question to ask yourself:
How does our training ensure our people strengthen their learned skills and understanding over time?
Many organizations have realized, and are realizing, the value of reinforcement training. Not remedial, but reinforcement. This is the type of training that keeps certain skill sets sharp and increases retention of methods, behaviors, and procedures to keep their people at peak performance on an ongoing basis.
It is a powerful antidote to the tyranny of the “one-and-done” training so many companies employ. That’s the method where employees get the basic training they need, and the company assumes full proficiency and competence without any further enhancement of those skills.
It is also not a positive or negative reinforcement training, as used by some companies and even dog trainers. It’s the cultural mindset to ensure behaviors and knowledge are continually reinforced, shored up, and strengthened over time.
There is a difference between reinforcement training and ongoing training. Ongoing training means learning new skills, whether methods, policies, or products and services, and folding them into the current pile of items employees are juggling. Reinforcement training gets back to the basics of each area to ensure that each one does not atrophy but continues to stay solid and grow.
A well thought out plan will identify certain intervals for this to occur. By keeping the material fresh and in front of the team, (and also with alignment to the company goals and core values) they will not forget those tools and methods they need to excel at their jobs and help achieve the vision of the organization.
There are new tech companies that even assist in online/device training called microlearning. One example is Duolingo, a microlearning app that allows you to learn a foreign language in small intervals, and then prompts the user to rehash certain word skills to keep their fluency up as they learn. This is a great example of reinforcement training and how the “one-and-done” does not work. This is a growing segment that one simply cannot afford to miss tapping into.
Make a plan to get your people further along in their training. Build them up through the year, not just one time. Like exercise, you cannot see results by working out just once.
Remember: Training is a process, not an event.
Over the last few weeks I have had three conversations that underscore how poorly companies train their people in general.
The first was a young man who worked in a regional financial institution. He was selected with a handful of colleagues from other branches to have lunch with the COO. During the meeting the COO was asked about better training and said they could not afford that right now. He then talked about a new branch opening and detailed a thin and flawed training plan for those new staff. He then asked the employees why they thought turnover was so high, to which the employees responded that the lack of training was a key factor. The COO dismissed that, then continued on to other items.
The second conversation was a very intelligent young woman who was hired to process data and market information. She felt as though what the job she just took on is not what was promoted to her. She feels she is not being taught as she goes, and that her skills are not being utilized to her true talent level. She also felt isolated, needing more formalized training, and that she cannot get the answers or resources she feels she needs to both understand and perform her job.
The third discussion was with a industry trainer after a coaching session conducted for a hospitality group. The staff hung on every word of the training as they saw an immediate value in what was presented. The owner of the group came in and out and would discount some of the ideas, saying that the staff doesn’t do such and such. The trainer’s response to the owner was that we’re not worried about what happened in the past, but going to focus on how to make things better starting today. While they are still working on the owner’s understanding of best practices, the staff all hung around for 30 minutes afterwards to gain more advice and show how excited they were that someone was showing them how to service customers better.
Training is an essential part of the leadership job description. Leaders that allow poor training to occur usually are of the opinion that it’s the fault of their people, or just plain ignorant of their lack of leadership skills when it applies to training.
The following are actual reasons from various leaders and organizations on why their training is poor, followed by some common sense thinking on where the real issue lies.
“<So-and-so> does all the training”. This response is a deferral to others and an excuse that the leader doesn’t qualify the training content or type of trainer. Not knowing what is going on in your organization is a dangerous habit that allows poor practices to seep in.
“There is not enough time to train”. Also, “don’t have time, too busy”. While there may indeed be too many things going on or too many distractions, you cannot let the business dictate whether you train or not. Leaders must plan to train in spite of all the obstacles.
“I expect you to know what I’m thinking”. Yes, this is an actual quote someone’s boss said to them. An arrogant or indifferent attitude will never have the trust or best efforts of their staff.
“I know what the job description says, it also says ‘other duties as assigned’“. Training must cover ALL facets of the job. And when a new wrinkle comes up, then great leaders find ways to teach their people, and themselves, how to succeed in those new circumstances.
“The employees went through a couple of days of training, they should know what they need to do”. In some states, it takes 40 hours of parent-supervised driving before a teenager can sign up for driver’s education. In order to gain competency in any task, at least 21 days of teaching and habit-forming practice must occur to master a baseline, let alone gain complete understanding.
“It’s not my job”. Beware of leaders who foster this attitude, particularly among themselves. No sense of teamwork will ever come from them or their people.
“We need to watch expenses”. Translation: “We don’t make it a priority” Money before people is a sure-fire disaster for any organization. People properly trained will always yield a higher return.
Many times poor management of training leads to unwarranted performance issues, not of the employee’s own doing. Great leaders know how to generate great results, returns, and retention metrics by knowing how their people are trained and getting them the right training in the right manner.
Don’t fall into these excuses. Determine today to make your people better by deliberately making your training top-notch.