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Employee education: It’s not an injection

Feb 1, 2005 12:00 AM


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Gorelick’s Management

Before proceeding to write this column about employee education, I feel obligated to state that I am president of a national not-for-profit training organization. (Graphic Arts Sales Foundation provides industry-specific one-day programs and five-day institutes in the disciplines of sales, customer service, business development and general management.)

Too often, owners and managers send a staff member to a training program expecting that employee, in a week, to suddenly become motivated to productively work a 16-hour day. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but nonetheless, there are a couple of problems with this scenario. First, employee education usually is viewed as remedial or as a third-party primer for newcomers.

Many sales departments are inhabited by conscientious employees who were once star performers. In many cases, they were left alone as long as the numbers were good. When no problems are evident, don’t assume all is well. Would a 25 percent performance improvement by your best salesperson yield greater sales and profits than a 100 percent improvement by your company’s worst sales rep?

Training: an investment in the organization
The second problem: Employee education should not be viewed as strictly remedial, or as a "quick fix." I frequently see attendees who are doing their best to succeed but should never have been hired.

We often see staff members elsewhere in a company who do not have meaningful job descriptions or whose supervisors or managers have not supplied clear expectations. I’m often greeted with blank stares or a sheepish expression when I ask, "Who in this organization is empowered to accept or reject a job?" or, "Who in this organization is empowered to say that specifications will or will not be estimated?"

Good third-party training can do wonders. However, it is not a formula, injection or serum. Only a charlatan would promote a program or seminar by promising that attendees will all magically emerge overnight as million-dollar salespeople. Those claims are especially reprehensible if the trainer doesn’t first poll the registrants to determine their backgrounds, job responsibilities, experience and "burning issues."

Even if a trainer is phenomenal, third-party classroom training is only as effective as the reinforcement that occurs between classroom sessions. This is the key to attendees’ long-term performance improvement. Managers and owners sending staff members to seminars, institutes and other training programs should view training as an ongoing obligation.

At five-day Graphic Arts Sales Foundation institutes, the last three hours or so are spent on "re-entry," orderly integration into attendees’ respective organizations. The reason: While attendees’ management wanted third-party training to effect change in their performance, management and coworkers might not be receptive to new ideas and techniques, particularly ones that are at odds with "the way we’ve always done it."

Industry-specific training and education is all about change—and management needs to participate in that process. It cannot be abdicated to a third party, although the third party can serve as an important change agent.

Recent research has shown that the effectiveness of third-party education is enhanced if a company sponsors attendance by two or more staff members, preferably from different departments. Retention and comprehension is elevated when there is dialogue about the training curriculum both during and after the sessions. Our experience confirms these findings.

Cultivate an effective workforce
Finally, and perhaps most important, I once again return to the issue of competitive differentiation.

An educated salesperson is most effective when supplied with a unique, differentiated reason to do business with the company—one that leads to elevated perceived value by one or more buying organizations.

The bottom line:

  • Budget and invest in employee education.
  • View that investment in terms of improvement for even your company’s best-performing, not only worst-performing, staff members.
  • Invest wisely in staff education. Don’t expect miracles. Speak to instructors before making an investment. Ensure that the curriculum is consistent with your firm’s objectives.
  • Consider having two or more staff members from different functional areas of your company attend training together.
  • When selecting education programs and attendees, think in terms of overall organizational performance, not simply the sub-par performance of some individuals.
  • Consider your role and commitment to building upon the message of your investment in third-party education.
  • Don’t believe in "secrets" to instant success promoted by many speakers and sponsoring associations.

Dick Gorelick is president of Gorelick & Associates and the Graphic Arts Sales Foundation. He can be reached at info@gorelickandassociates.com.