Business Survival is Based on Progressive Employee Training

All companies have developed some form of employee training.  In some companies training may consist of a formal regimen of prescribed classes that are handled by training specialists with clear objectives.  Training in many companies is informally conducted only when needed by managers, owners or tenured employees without any set curriculum, while in other companies training is completely ignored.  Companies that have training programs that are unorganized, unproductive and that fail to focus on employee growth can be successful; however, companies that sponsor progressive training programs that encourage individual as well as corporate growth have greater immunity to economic downturns.

There are numerous examples of ineffective and unproductive training programs in companies, industries and governments.  Faced with rising costs and unproductive training programs many companies simply reduce or eliminate training completely.  For example a 2010 article in the restaurant industry journal, Nation’s Restaurant News, explained that many restaurants have reduced training:

Our industry collectively trained less in the past year. Unit managers received an average of 12 hours of ongoing job-related training between September 2008 and August 2009, which was down 20 percent from 2007. QSR [quick service restaurant] hourly team members received an average of six hours of post-orientation training, which was down 30 percent. Multiunit managers received an average of 2.5 hours of job-specific training, down more than 40 percent from 2007 numbers (Sullivan, 2010).

Even companies that continue with training programs find it difficult to have meaningful and cost effective results.  The issue is rarely a company not understanding the importance of having a cohesive plan in place to train employees “to boost employee productivity and morale, strengthen customer relationships and hone a competitive edge. But a new survey finds that many training programs underperform for distinctly mundane reasons: time constraints, lack of employee availability and cost” (Citrix, 2010).

The failure of training programs is not limited to a single industry either, in all businesses there are numerous examples of failure.  The industry journal Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News reported “four reasons HVAC industry training often fails and how you may actually play a role: 1. looking at training as a cost, 2. not training for the right reasons, 3. viewing training as an event, not a process, and 4. lack of follow-up or reinforcement of training” (Vannoy, 2010).

In the automotive industry the lack of training for salespeople and sales managers has long been an acknowledged fact.  During the economic recession starting in 2008 the lack of training was a contributing factor in the collapse of hundreds of automotive dealerships across the country.  One dealership that failed during the downturn was a multi franchise dealership in New Mexico.  The dealership was founded in 2001 and followed the standard training program for new sales people: showing new employees their desk, where the break room was located and explaining the basic requirements that were expected.  Continuing education at the dealership consisted of the sales manager conducting the weekly sales meeting with very little planning and no input by anyone with a human resource, adult education, or corporate training background.

The lack of training was explained in part by a former sales manager at the franchise “We were told often to train our employees on the sales process.  The reality of the situation was however that any time spent training took the manager off the sales floor because there was no one else assigned to do the sessions.  We were so busy there was no time to have the training sessions, especially since there was no pressure to train, only perform” (Personal interview, 2010).  He continued to point out that what was really important in the company was not training but as he stated “at the end of the day all that mattered was numbers.”  The automotive industry’s explosive growth created such a torrid pace dealerships could prosper without implementing a formal training program.  When the sales pace slowed to normal levels there were few properly trained sales people and sales managers to deal with the economic change.

During the years that the economy was expanding and demand for vehicles was very high the lack of training was overshadowed by the high demand.  Once demand vanished and sales fell from two hundred units per month to fifty units per month and revenue fell to the point of bankruptcy the lack of training became evident.

The decline in sales seen during the close of 2008 was not limited to just a single dealership.  “U.S. auto sales overall dropped 18% in 2008 to 13.24 million vehicles, with Chrysler down 30%, General Motors Corp. down 23%, Ford Motor Co. down 21% and Toyota Motor Corp.’s U.S. sales down 15%, according to figures compiled by Autodata Corp” (Riedman, 2009).  Automotive dealerships of all kinds succumbed to the economic disaster of 2008 but those that had been focused on a consistent training program survived in much greater numbers.  One example of such a dealership was a Ford franchise in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Starting with the hiring process, which focused on aptitude testing for sales positions, they focused on having all sales people certified by Ford Motor Company as well as having weekly sales meetings conducted by a senior manager.  Although sales dropped dramatically during the economic recession the foundation of training has allowed the dealership to survive.

Progressive and productive training programs are only successful if the entire organization is committed to their success.  This means that management understands that training is not something to be looked at as an expense that can be eliminated as if it were some frivolous employee perk.  Frontline managers and employees must be just as committed to the success of company sponsored training programs.

The second feature that all successful training programs share is that the training is well planned and consistent.   By creating a curriculum that everyone is aware of and then by almost fanatically impressing the need to complete it, companies breed success.  An article in the magazine Executive Excellence listed ten traits of great organizations including training:

Fanatical training and development. The leader is a believer in the capacity of people to grow, change, and adapt. The high-performance culture invests in people. It is bullish on training. This is not the first activity cut in times of financial stress, but rather it is increased to help pull the enterprise out of a slump! Absolutely no one is immune. There is unrelenting practice with key skills and activities. New training technologies and techniques are aggressively sought, analyzed, and applied. (Cebrowski, 1995)

The third key to establishing a successful training program is choosing the proper trainer for the material.  The trainer involved in successful programs keeps the training material fresh by using current examples and material as well as making application to the specific audience of the training.  A great trainer needs to display the same qualities that any great teacher needs to have including “fluency with a range of techniques, including elaboration, evaluation, clarification, amplification, explication, imagination, and collaboration” (Fuss, 2009).  Keeping the class on schedule and topic is another responsibility of the trainer which is one reason that the most effective sessions are often run by trainers not from the same department or even the same company.  Outside companies that run training sessions for other companies are often very successful because they have no personal bonds with the participants.

The final ingredient in a successful training program is emphasizing the higher purpose of the training.  A training program that does not focus on personal growth of the participants misses the mark but a training that does not include the overall growth of the organization involved misses an opportunity.  Great companies do not miss the big picture possibility of training programs as shown by Addus Home Health Corporation.  In a 2010 article in Smart Business Chicago Addus president Mark Heaney was quoted on training programs “Regardless of the topic, there’s always an opportunity to emphasize the bigger picture.  ‘There are two important purposes for the Addus Learning Program,’ he [Heaney] says. ‘One is to develop personnel. But the second – and, frankly, maybe the more important thing – is to create a vehicle for communicating the culture and values of the organization’” (Bates).

As the evidence shows employee training in any form is much preferable to not having training in a company.  Some companies view training as an expense that can be eliminated from the budget when economic times are hard while other companies view training as the key to surviving such difficult times.  Successful training programs have a clear curriculum, dedicated participants and great trainers.  The examples clearly show that companies that are committed to progressive employee training are more likely to have the knowledge and skills to survive economic upheavals.

References

Bates, Brooke.  (2010, February). Living values. Smart Business Chicago, 7(4), 12.  Retrieved April 16, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Dateline. (Document ID: 1973022401).

Cebrowski, John W.  (1995, May). Ten traits of high performance. Executive Excellence, 12(5), 18.  Retrieved April 18, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 5366693).

Citrix Online; Corporate Training is Impeded by Scarce Time and High Travel Costs, Citrix Online Survey Finds. (2010, March). Technology & Business Journal,92.  Retrieved April 2, 2010, from Career and Technical Education. (Document ID: 1970548301).

Fuss, D.. (2009). Teaching Theory. Minnesota Review,(71/72), 180-188,325.  Retrieved April 18, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID: 1678682511).

McKenna, Terry.  (2002, April). The loyalty quotient. NPN, National Petroleum News, 94(4), 16.  Retrieved April 2, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 116121532).

Riedman, P.. (2009, January). Auto fleet sales run aground. B to B, 94(1), 3,28.  Retrieved April 16, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 1635817441).

Sullivan, J.. (2009, October). Tough economy has MUMs working harder, so train smarter. Nation’s Restaurant News, 43(37), 16,69.  Retrieved April 2, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 1886587441).

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