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  • Oliver Gleeson

Is Your Company Making this Critical Mistake with your Employees?


“What am I doing wrong here?”, said the business owner, clearly exasperated.


“We do Pizza Fridays”, he said. “We have a ping pong table in the back. I think we’re fostering a good culture here. Yet, we still have issues with performance and retention. It feels like we are always reinventing the wheel”.


Although early in my relationship with this business owner, it became quickly clear to me that he was making a critical mistake with his employees.


What does your Training Program look like?”, I asked.


My what?” he replied, bemused.


There you go.


Pop Quiz. Three Questions:

  1. Are you a business owner or organization that desires better performing employees with reduced turnover?

  2. Would you want to raise the skill levels of your team if it reduced the dependency on senior leadership to drive your business forward?

  3. If your employees were lightening the burden, and not adding to it, would that appeal to you?

If you answered “YES” to all three questions then it’s time to embrace one critically salient concept...


TRAINING


If you find this ‘reveal’ overtly glib or lacking eloquence, perhaps you prefer the sage words of Tom Peters, prolific author and globally renowned and respected strategist and management guru:


TRAINING. TRAINING. TRAINING. TRAINING. TRAINING. TRAINING. And....MORE TRAINING.

(see link above, it’s worth it)


Countless organizations fail to maximize the potential of their teams because they do not invest enough in employee training.


Don’t make this mistake. Don’t let this be you.


By the end of this article you will:

  • Understand that growth companies are training companies

  • Learn that training brings reward to those who do it well, yet significant risk to those who ignore

  • Know key tips and techniques to launch a training program and build a better team and better business.


What is a Trainer, Anyway?


In my article, How to Plan with Strategy When You Don’t Know What You NEED or where to START, I acknowledge the overlap between the Consultant, Coach and Trainer. For the purposes of this introductory article on training, a trainer is defined as an internal or external resource that effectively teaches new hard and soft skills to your employees that dramatically improves productivity, communication and teamwork.


A Common, Sad Scene


Employee disengagement has no borders. Every industry at any stage of growth is prone to invariable people challenges that, unaddressed, can sink an organization. It is a common, sad scene, however, when frustrated employers pin the company’s struggles on listless employees, spewing hackneyed workspeak such as:

  • We micromanage because we have to, not because we want to

  • We don’t want to spoon feed everyone; everyone has to manage their own work

  • We have difficulty onboarding new people


Too often, the true culprit is a lack of employee development and engagement. The byproduct, naturally, being employees simply going through the motions, waiting to jump ship at the next available opportunity.


Are you one of these employers making this critical mistake with your employees?


If so, let’s put an end to that.


Use this introductory article on Training and give yourself the skills and confidence to invest in your employees and transform your business into a learning organization that fosters a culture of continuous improvement.


With decreased employee turnover, increased employee loyalty and retention, as well as critical company knowledge remaining in-house, you’ll look back at the day that you amped up your training program as one of the best days ever for your business.


Let’s jump in.


SEVEN TAKEAWAYS ON TRAINING


1. Your People are STARVING for Training...


...so feed them what they need! In fact, your team’s desire to learn and grow paralleled with your willingness to support them will dramatically influence whether they choose to remain with you, or find another company who will invest in their development. A 2019 study by LinkedIn uncovered the number one reason why employees would stay longer with their current organization (and it wasn’t a raise). Yes, you guessed it - training. And it was a whopping 94% of employees surveyed who indicated such.


Now, as a “finger on the pulse” employer, you might think “no way. If 94% of my team wanted training, I’d certainly know about it.”


Not always the case.


Of the hundreds of people and organizations I’ve had the privilege of training, they fall into three distinct groups:

  1. Employees who demand training - the size of this group varies within each organization. But those passionate about training will continuously be in your face if a training plan is not put in place.

  2. Employees who really want training (but don’t want to make noise). The silent majority. The group of your employees that desperately wants training but are afraid to rock the boat. Often the most enthusiastic when the training plan is unveiled.

  3. Employees unaware they desperately want training. Steve Jobs infamously said people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. I’ve engaged with numerous employee groups that appeared indifferent or disinterested in training. Once they get a taste of it, though - look out! These employees transformed into engaged, inspired and highly performing team members.


In my experience, groups #2 and #3 are usually the largest. Add up all three groups, and you will find the 94% of employers wanting to learn and grow, consistent with the LinkedIn research.


So, be a hero boss, and increase your employee retention and loyalty while you’re at it. Start training!


2. This Sh!t Really Works!


An early 2020 workforce study by Gallup examined levels of employee engagement and its impact on organizations. Gallup’s research found that increases and decreases in employee engagement are best attributed to changes in how organizations develop (i.e. train) employees.


Organizations investing in training were rewarded with employees who:

  • produce substantially better outcomes

  • treat customers better and attract new ones

  • are more likely to remain with their organization than those who are less engaged

  • have the capability to solve issues on their own

When your team really starts lightning the burden and not adding to it, scale and growth come quicker. For those currently stuck in micromanagement, how does this sound?

Conversely, organizations that are making the critical mistake of not investing in employee development, produce employees “who are psychologically unattached to their work and company and who put time, but not energy or passion, into their work. Not engaged employees will usually show up to work and contribute the minimum required. They're also on the lookout for better employment opportunities and will quickly leave their company for a slightly better offer.


Which path do you prefer?


3. Training - where to begin?


A great place to start, particularly with organizations under 100 employees, is with cross-training (and, no, not the kettle-bell throwing or box jumping type).


The cross-training I am referring to is the process of training people to perform different jobs within the organization. In smaller organizations, critical specialized knowledge is often not systematically captured, and remains in the head of a few, and sometimes only one, employee. An unexpected absence of these individuals poses a massive risk for your company. I’ve seen it in organizations where this critical knowledge goes out the door, resulting in customer and client losses. It can take a company months, or potentially years, to recover.


Although your enthusiasm for training should be high at this point, it is imperative you audit the business to ensure all critically important skill and knowledge is captured and can be replicated prior to moving into the more ‘glamorous’ aspects of training (leadership, sales, strategy, etc). If you discover any of the risks described above, be sure to cross-train on these elements immediately.


4. Unlock Your Team’s Potential - Go Beyond Hard and Soft Skills Training


I firmly endorse hard and soft skill training!! (after all, it IS a major pillar of my business!). There is opportunity, though, to elevate your employee training to a higher level and discover potential in your team you perhaps thought not possible. To reach these heights, expose your team to the most strategically vital thought and decision making processes in your organization.


Exposure to concepts you feel may be beyond the scope of your employees day to day job will pay unexpected dividends for your business. In his 2020 book, Personality Isn’t Permanent, author Benjamin Hardy succinctly captures the power of exposure, stating, "You can't make decisions and choices if you don't know they exist. Your ability to make choices is limited by your context and knowledge. When you expand that context, you expand your options."


Applying this logic to your business, employees who are exposed and trained in the Organization’s higher level thinking see their daily role through a more sophisticated and strategically holistic lens. Your employees become more emotionally invested in the business, and attack their day with more vigour, purpose and intelligence.


I’ve been fortunate to put this into practice with several clients through a custom training I’ve designed entitled “C-Level Skills”. The Program trains employees at all levels to think and act like C-Level executives by exposing them to the high performance methodologies that C-Level Executives use to drive businesses to great success. Again and again, I see employees outperform their employers expectations by exposing their team members to this higher level of thinking. By “going beyond” hard and soft skill training, employees will increase performance and results and simultaneously reduce dependency on the senior leadership to drive the business forward.


5. Understand that Training is an Investment with a Payoff, not an Expense


Tom Peters is widely considered as a preeminent expert in strategic management. Peters is maniacal when speaking on the subject of training and believes every leader has a moral obligation to ensure that when an employee leaves they are better prepared than when they arrived. Accordingly, he implores employers to invest in training, quoting famously “Train everyone lavishly. You can’t overspend on training”. (I encourage you to review a couple of Tom Peters Training Manifestos here or here)


For those now concerned I am being too liberal with your cash flow, I have good news. Peters also vehemently declares that Training is the #1 mid to long term profit maximization strategy. And, from my experience, I agree. I’ve worked with countless organizations whose growth of both the top and bottom line were directly connected to their investment in employee development.


Remember, training is not an expense - it is an investment with a great return. So spend lavishly on training with confidence.


6. “Objection! There are Risks Associated with Training.”


You are correct. There are risks. But those risks lie with you, the Employer.


A common objection I hear regarding employers' reluctance to train their teams is “why would I train my people to get better? They will just leave and go to a competitor”. My gut reaction to this tired excuse is to give it the wave of the hand and a “Pish Posh!, à la C. Montgomery Burns.


Instead, I reference a non-fictional global icon who most leaders admire tremendously - Richard Branson: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don't want to.” Part of the ‘treat them well enough’ in this powerful truth is you investing in training. As for the other components of treat well, this is where the cultural elements of your business kick-in. Remember the business owner talking about the Ping-Pong Tables and Pizza Fridays? These efforts on their own don’t increase loyalty and performance. Combine these efforts with great employee engagement and training and you create a culture of continuous learning that brings growth and stability to your company.


If you are making the critical mistake with your employees by not investing their training, a more significant risk is them getting up and leaving. This risk is financial, physical and emotional. The list of negative repercussions is long, but consider this few, and multiply by the number of people who walk out your door:

  • The cost of losing an employee can be up to 33% of that employee's salary.Extensive time involved in interviewing and hiring new people.

  • Loss of productivity within the role or across the organization. Negative momentum grinding down your company

  • Cultural loss - employees leaving due to lack of development can spread like a wildfire

So now that we see the risks associated with Training, it’s time to be on the right side of that risk.


7. Should our Training be Internal or External?


Any Training Program should be customized to meet the unique needs of every organization. I will quickly define both options and present considerations for each.


Internal Training Programs are designed and run by your Company.. Properly executed, these in-house Programs can be highly effective and cost efficient. Some tips:

  1. Have a Plan - don’t wing it. I’ve seen organizations start strong and quickly fizzle out due to lack of planning (curriculum, timing, participants). Starting and then stopping can have a worse effect on employee engagement than not beginning in the first place.

  2. Assign an internal Champion - One person has to lead the Program. It doesn’t mean they do all the work but they ensure those committed to contribute follow through. This is a big job. As a good employer, carve out the time in this person’s schedule so that they can effectively lead the process, and don’t simply pile on top of an already heavy workload.

  3. Teach. Don’t Tell - critical that you teach your employees in these trainings and simply don’t tell them what to do. Following the latter path turns your team into robots who won’t extend their thinking and challenge themselves. They will just sit and wait for the “boss” to make the call.

External Training Programs bring in subject-matter experts from outside your organization. Training is big business - whatever your need, there is likely an expert in your geographic area. And, now that the entire business is more comfortable on-line, you can receive high-impact training in a digital environment. Your trainer can come from anywhere! Additional considerations:

  1. You’ll need to invest - great Trainers bring great value. Your investment in training (which we know pays off) will far outweigh the costs of replacing employees.Invest with confidence if you need to go outside your organization for skill development.

  2. Grants may be available - Many governments believe in the power of training and provide companies with grants to help develop your employees. Check in with federal, state, provincial and local governments for training grants. I have worked with clients who benefitted from very robust government training grants. Although you should want to invest in training regardless, these grants are certainly helpful.

  3. Inspire your People - Bringing in outside expertise will really energize your people. Your team will feel pampered and inspired that you only want “the best” for your employees. You get paid back in performance and loyalty.

ACTION STEPS


Let’s put an end to micromanaging. Get your team thinking and acting like C-Level Executives, regardless of their role or function in the organization. It’s time to start training. Here are some quick steps to get you going.

  1. Make the Commitment - you have the evidence. Training increases engagement and loyalty. Performance increases and reliance on senior leadership decreases. And we’ve learned that training is the #1 mid to long term profit maximization strategy.

  2. Identify your Danger Zones - what critical information is stuck with one key person in your organization. Make a list of these danger zones and begin with cross-training.

  3. Get inputs from key team members - remember, your people are starving for training. Talk to your generals and lieutenants and have them help you develop a training plan that works for your team.

  4. Build & Execute your Plan - starting and then stopping can be worse than not starting at all. Develop the criteria, high-level curriculum points, and calendar. Rely on your Business Coach to assist with development and whether to train internally, externally, or both (if you don’t have a Coach, read this). Stay committed!

  5. Wear Training as a Badge of Honour - once you get up and running, boast and be proud of your Training Program. Not only does training work for retention, but it also does wonders for recruitment. Training makes yours a top company to work for!

  6. Invest in Training but still Seek Financial Support - although Training pays off, access grant programs for training if available.

Are you already running a Training Program with your team? Please share your best practices, successes or challenges in the comments, below.