I recently made the transition from a small service driven organization focused on staff training to a very large and diverse organization that seems to have forgotten about training. I find myself shocked on a daily basis when I see smart, hardworking people struggling to perform the tasks that make up their daily work life, in a broad organization that has not made the investment in training. I am liable to talk about the key role leadership would play in moving people forward and in accomplishing an organizations goals but without training our people are not capable of success and cannot possibly accomplish the tasks we would assign them. Training is a key step in setting our people and our organizations up to be successful and if we are not training we are very likely not succeeding.
Training at its heart is change management. Done right and by that I mean consistently and with an eye toward quality, training is a very subtle effort toward keeping our core knowledge and skills in line with our emerging organizational goals and performance priorities. A consistent effort toward training is so subtle and so inconspicuous that most among us would hardly even know it was occurring or be aware that our knowledge, skills and abilities were being upgraded and enhanced, our natural and normal fear and resistance to change barely having the opportunity to rear its ugly head. Unfortunately most businesses and organizations under commit to training and rather than celebrating the opportunities that training affords us, we are in a position of forcing change and get to experience all the happy interactions that go with that. None of us, particularly older males, like change. A consistent effort toward training avoids our having to reinvent our job every quarter and allows us to grow and improve without our being afraid or even aware.
Training is the very best way to achieve our team and organizational goals, accomplishing this by setting up our individual team members to be successful. As leaders we can talk in terms of mission or task accomplishment but unless we are including training in our strategic plans, our chances of success are minimized and those lofty expectations we have laid out for our people and our organization will likely go unrealized, with our status and stature as a leader compromised and our people unwilling to follow. People, our staffs in other words, tend to be very unforgiving of failure and have long memories when led down that path. Training does not guarantee success but it does ensure our people are properly equipped to take on the tasks and challenges that are likely to come their way. Failing to train our people is a genuine and imminent threat to the viability of our business or organization and sells our staff short by setting them up for failure.
Most among us do not look upon training the same way we look upon a vacation or cashing our paychecks but most among us do understand the need to stay current or ahead of the game. Beyond this, training is one of those things that contribute directly to a sense of self-worth and confidence, which in turn drives morale, production and goes a long way toward establishing a culture of accomplishment and success. Training is critical way beyond the tasks we would learn or the information we would pick up. Training drives success but within a business or organization, it is only important if the leadership says it is and unfortunately leadership is often the cause of inadequate or nonexistent training plans. Great training demands great leadership.
In establishing the worth and importance of training I would note that there is good training and bad training and bad training is far worse than no training at all. At its heart, training needs to support our business or organizational goals and mission and is much more complicated than our standing in front of a group of students spouting facts and figures. Training at its core needs to have a training objective and training needs to be engaging and in some basic way connect with the tasks we take on every day.
Training is so critical, so important to the viability and success of any business or organization, it is a wonder that it is often handled with so little thought toward its scope, implication or impact. Maybe there are industries out there that are static and not seeing dramatic change in the ways we would go about doing business but I would have a hard time listing any of those types of businesses or organizations. From buying a cup of coffee to traveling, to ordering products and services on-line, we are living in a dynamic business environment and if it is nothing more than learning how to interact with customers on social media or accepting payment from on-line consumers, just to stay even with the competition in this environment is difficult and training is an important key. More and more Americans are avoiding the mall in buying the goods and services they need in their daily lives and if it is nothing more than teaching our people the technology that would allow us to survive in this market, training has to be an important part of our business plan and strategy going forward. If for no other reason than because our customers and end users are changing and making different demands upon us, training our people is a strategic necessity if we would hope to survive and thrive.
Many years ago, when I had as full a head of hair as the US Army would allow me and when my belly did not have a zip code of its own, I attended the noncommissioned officers academy in Ansbach, Germany. The primary focus of this course was developing leadership skills in young sergeants and would be sergeants. A strong secondary focus was training trainers. Too often we look at training as a distraction or “a necessary evil” and rarely approach it with the sense of urgency its impact and long term benefit would suggest. And then on top of what and the how of training, we are even worse when we are deciding on ‘who’ will do the training for us. You would almost think that training was torture and being a trainer a jail sentence. I am not generally seeing our high achievers guiding us into our organizational future; it is generally the guy who can’t make it to work on time or somebody from the back of the pack, not generally the brightest bulb in our box. With so much riding on our staying ahead of the learning curve and competitive, I am not sure why we trust our futures to the least accomplished among us. Many more than past accomplishments, a trainer has to have the ability and the desire to move people and the stubbornness to do this despite objections from both above and below. Much more than knowledge, the ability to engage our staff is key. If we do not have the right person now, my very strong suggestion would be to hire them. Training is that important!
Another mistake I run into frequently, particularly when we are training anything that would involve technology, is our taking on trainers that cannot relate to our staff. We get technicians who speak a completely different language and somehow expect that our staff, the men and women interacting with our customers every day are going to pick up or understand any of what this highly intelligent but otherwise unintelligible individual would spout in his efforts to train us. Trainers have to speak the language and relate to us in terms that we can understand. Being smart and knowledgeable is no guarantee that an individual can teach and if he cannot be understood, I would promise you that he will not be effective. There is a very good reason why teachers are licensed and why they have teaching degrees. If anyone could effectively do it, I am guessing they would. Trainers need to know how to train and all the technical knowledge in the world will not overcome this necessity.
Its 2011, the economy has not quite decided what it wants to do but business is at least okay and we have good prospects that we will be here tomorrow, next week and next month. A great way to ensure what happens beyond that and a great way to ensure that our vision for tomorrow becomes our reality is a great training plan delivered by great trainers.
"The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership."
-- Harvey S. Firestone
Great training is all about ROI and framing our future in competence.
About the author:
Brian Canning is a regular contributor to weLEAD and a business analyst working in the federal sector. For the past thirty years he has worked in the automotive repair industry, most recently as a leadership and management coach with the Automotive Training Institute in Savage, Maryland. After serving as a tank commander with the 1st Armored Division in Europe, he started his career as a Goodyear service manager in suburban Washington D.C., moving on to oversee several stores and later a sales region. He also has been a retail sales manager for a large auto parts distributor, run a large fleet operation and headed a large multi-state sales territory for an independent manufacturer of auto parts. His passions are history, leadership and writing.
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