The 'T' Word: key to profitability, productivity

by DAVE BENAK
Contributing Writer

What is it about "training" that puts some people off? Maybe it's the association with "basic training," "training manuals," "training wheels" or "potty-training." Or perhaps the negative feeling of compulsion, anal compliance, ignorance or "not ready yet" that sometimes accompanies it. Some employers will tell you it's a waste of money and time. I'm here to tell you that training pays huge dividends for you and your employees. The "T" word is a good thing.

I find it odd that companies spend thousands of dollars to maintain their customers, equipment and facilities; but neglect to commit any money on their most important asset: people. Many companies spend more money emptying waste baskets than they do on training their employees. Sure they pay their employees. But just like a truck that is "paid" gas or diesel to make it go, regular service is also required to protect the investment and keep it running as long as possible. Employees need, want and often demand knowledge, information and training. Sure, it costs money. But if they don't get it and move on, they hand you an even costlier turnover, recruit-ment and retraining scenario.

I've heard all the arguments for not training:

No time: But why is there never enough time to do something right the first time, and always enough to do it over and over and over again?

No money: Every organization pays for training whether it does any or not.

Not now: If you can't implement training right now when profits are down and you won't need it when profits are up, when will your people get the training they want and need?

Nobody trained me: What would the world be like if everybody felt this way? Why should anyone have to learn the slow, old-school, trial-and-error way? Why not learn faster and avoid the bad habits through the shared experiences of others?

We trained our people three years ago: You eat more than once a day, right? Training on a regular basis feeds that never-ending learning and growing machine: your employee.

No return on investment: We all want instant results, instant gratification. But we have to give people time to absorb new information. It takes 21 days to make a new habit and 65 days to break an old habit - that's three times the work. Training alone will not produce dramatic results. Follow-up, feedback and reinforcement must be given to provide a nurturing environment for employees to feel comfortable in applying what they've learned. Besides, how do you measure the results of your public relations or advertising?

Want proof that training benefits your bottom line? Look at such successful companies as General Electric, Southwest Airlines, Sears, Wal-Mart or Motorola. They train in good times and bad. Leading companies spend an average of 3.5 percent of their annual payroll on employee training.

Who's responsible for training? Companies and employees are: employees for wanting to improve performance, requesting assistance, guidance and self-development; companies for stimulating, encouraging and assisting their employees and also for providing the time and money for training.

Training should be practical and fit the company mission. It must make sense to the employee and needs to be applied as soon as possible before its value and excitement levels diminish. Everyone ought to understand it so that all the parts can be interchangeable.

For employees, training reawakens untapped potential and releases a pool of energy that isn't being utilized. It's an incentive for employees building skills and adding knowledge. They're excited to contribute more to your company because you have invested your time, expense and respect toward their future.

No company can guarantee employ-ment, but it can guarantee employability. A well-trained staff works harder and smarter. When people learn and are being challenged, they're on fire and feel part of their company.

You don't need a big training budget to get results. You can go in-house or outside to get the training your emp-loyees need. If you use in-house training, job rotation and cross training increases versatility and protects your productivity during vacation and sick leave. For a couple hundred dollars, you can send your employees to a high-quality seminar that gets them excited and makes them feel like they have a future. Save money by training at your own facility. If you go to an outside trainer, beware of fly-by-night promises that seem too good to be true, including promises of taking your least-productive employee and making them leaders in six hours.

Everyone needs it. New employees need training most, but don't forget your veterans for whom it can serve as a refresher course. Don't be shy about asking your employees what they need to do a better job and what other jobs they would like to learn.

Training is never a substitute for compensation, security, promotion or advancement. It's the icing on the employment-package cake that can make a huge difference in the quality of people you hire. It is not a cure-all for a company's problems. It doesn't replace weak or abusive leadership. Many companies face organizational, structural, and or cultural issues that transcend the help that a training program can give them.

The two objectives of training are simply: 1) ensuring that all employees are adequately trained to perform their present duties; and 2) developing and preparing those who qualify for promotions and advancement.

Training will make a significant contribution to the overall success, stability and long-term profitability of your company. Isn't that what you really want?

Dave Benak was the training officer for Consolidated Freightways for 33 years. He teaches leadership, management and supervision at Clark College and owns and operates "Training Pays," a training and development company with clients up and down the West Coast. He can be reached at (360) 944-7571 or benakdc@aol.com.


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