NEWS AND RESOURCES

General Business News for September 2001

Teach me!
If you want to make your life easier, keep the following rule in mind when dealing with employees:

Train up an employee in the way they should go and when they get older, they shall not depart from it!

Granted, this is a slight revision to an old proverb, but it is true nonetheless. In fact, the opposite of this is:

If your purpose is to make your life more difficult and lose money, DON’T train your employees!

Assuming you prefer the first rule, let’s take a look at why your business should be taking a keen interest in employee training.

Depending on your business, this can be a slam-dunk decision. Most professions require some sort of continuing education. Doctors, lawyers, certified public accountants, nurses and many other professionals require a certain amount of continuing education to maintain their license. Even occupations that don’t require formal continuing education require continuous training for survival. A perfect example is an auto mechanic. You wouldn’t want someone who is trained to fix only a Model T to work on your 2002 Cadillac, would you?

What if your training needs are not so obvious? What if all you have is a receptionist/secretary and yourself in your office? Obviously there is no need for training, is there?

If you say no, you might want to rethink your answer. Who is the first person a customer or potential customer talks to when they call your company? Is it you, the receptionist or someone else? There’s little worse than calling a business and being greeted as if you are more of an annoyance than a valued customer. That this would push customers away rather than draw them in seems obvious and we both know you would never intentionally do that, but the wrong person in the wrong place may do just that – without even realizing what they’ve done.

One firm we know of has a very pleasant employee. This employee is highly competent and as willing to work as anyone could be. However, she has a telephone voice that makes you wonder if you’re calling a professional services firm or your sixteen-year-old daughter. While that isn’t bad in itself, the receptionist's voice does not convey the strong, trusted advisor image the firm wants to project. With a little training, the employee would be able to see this and may be able to project a better “telephone image" to benefit both her and her employer.

The simple fact is that all people in your organization need training. This applies equally to the entry-level employee and the active owner. No one can escape the fact that we are living in a constantly changing world and change means keeping up. The trick is in trying to find the right training to meet your company’s needs.

So what kind of training is available to your firm and, more importantly, what do you rally need? The answer to the first part of that question is you can find training on just about anything. The answer to part two may take a bit of reflection on your part.

As a first step, we suggest you look at your organizational chart and identify those who can help you make meaningful decisions. Depending on the size of your company, this could mean one person (you) or many (department heads). Once you have done this, bring everyone together and tell them you need a wish list of the training needs for their departments. They can then get information from employees and report back to you on what they perceive as their department’s needs.

Note, we said tell them this is a “wish list." At this point, all you’re trying to do is identify what your company needs. Included with the list, you should have them give you an estimate, in both dollars and lost productivity, of the cost to the department to take everyone away from their job for the training. With this information, you’ll be able to move to phase two, which is making a determination of what wishes you’ll make come true.

Unless you have a company of geniuses, you’ll probably find there are more needs than you can address in a single year and that’s fine. The prime reasons for providing training for your employees are 1) increase their productivity through increased knowledge and skills, and 2) increase their loyalty to you (which will also increase their productivity). Making the commitment to training and showing that commitment by starting a formal program will accomplish the second goal immediately and the first goal over a period of time. The dividends for your company can be substantial.

From the wish list, take a hard look at your company’s goals and objectives for the coming year. Say you presently have a pretty efficient production department and your current bottleneck is in collections – i.e. you ship the stuff, but you can’t seem to get the cash back in a reasonable period of time – then you may wish to send your billing personnel to special training on how to get the bills out faster and manage accounts receivable.

What’s that you say? Your billing people are blaming the shipping guys who blame the production guys for never sending the right paperwork? Perhaps what you need is a company-wide training session on communication or perhaps paperwork flow. The scenario could go all sorts of places, but we think you get the idea. Every organization has needs and the only one who can prioritize them is –– you guessed it –– you.

Once you have all of the needs prioritized, it’s time for sticker shock – training is not inexpensive. In fact, it's very expensive, but can you afford to forego it? We suggest that in order to build a successful company you cannot ignore training.

There also are other ways to minimize training costs. You don’t always have to send your entire sales staff to an intensive one-week sales “boot camp.” Sometimes, it’s just as effective to send one lead person to a seminar and require them to present their findings to whole group upon their return. The advantage is obvious – greater coverage at less cost. The disadvantages are that you may upset those who didn’t get to go and/or they may miss out on the benefits from the interaction that generally occurs at a seminar or conference.

Another way to provide for training is to bring a trainer to your location. Perhaps you need to get everyone up to speed on Word XP and you have 30 people who need training. That could run into some big bucks by the time they take off work and go to an offsite training facility. If you have the room, why not create your own training site and have the class come to you?

Sometimes it's beneficial to go offsite to get your training. For instance, assume you want your receptionist to learn how to effectively greet customers. It will be pretty hard to learn anything while answering the telephone. Suppose you have a new piece of equipment that'll be installed in 60 days and you need an employee trained on its use before then. Again, they can’t learn without having a machine to learn on. Finally, conferences can be some of the most valuable learning tools for professionals in any field. Between talking to peers and listening to various presentations, you and your staff can walk away with a wealth of knowledge.

Whichever method of training you choose, you’ll find there’ll be a cost in lost productivity plus an out-of-pocket cost. But, the rewards can be very great. We know one CPA firm that recently installed a very expensive software system which required a significant training commitment. However, the payback took less than six months. The cost of the software was around twenty thousand dollars and the company will realize a forty-thousand dollar increase to the bottom line each year because of the new software. Did we mention the only way the software would work is if everyone in the company knows how to use it right? Training is the key.

We could continue extolling the virtues of a well trained workforce, but the bottom line is training, wisely chosen can either make or save you money, increase employee satisfaction and retention and is a tax deductible expense. What more could you ask?

If you're having trouble or need a sounding board on changes in any part of your business, give us a call. As business advisors, it is our job to help you find better ways to increase your employees’ and company’s productivity.

Have a great September!

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