Managing Employee Skills & Knowledge
In business today it is more important than ever to keep pace. But keeping pace is not just a matter of having the latest and greatest technology. It also has a human face. Keeping pace requires understanding that employees are essential participants in maintaining your business's competitive edge and that they must be qualified to meet your customers' evolving needs.
That doesn't necessarily mean you need to hire new people all the time (unless, of course, your business volume constantly warrants a larger workforce.) Often, the best solution is to invest in staff training. Research shows that a regular commitment by employers to building their staff's skills and knowledge produces a measurable return on investment. Benefits to the employer include improved productivity and job performance by staff and increased employee loyalty and retention. And improved staff performance translates into higher customer satisfaction and ultimately higher profits.
Six Steps to Implementing Staff Training
- One way to start is to delineate the staff skills required to partner with your customers and meet your business goals effectively. Consider not only technical skills (or so-called "hard skills") but also interactive (or "soft") skills. Anticipate any changes you plan in products, procedures, or technologies and what training employees will need to adapt to them.
Also remember the importance of ensuring everyone is trained in company procedures and of providing health, safety and hazardous materials training. A certain amount of Environment, Health & Safety training is mandatory, plus it also makes good business sense.
Performance appraisals may help you identify further training needs, as may feedback via interviews or surveys from clients, staff, and other key business partners. (In assessing their feedback, it is equally crucial to analyze whether external factors may also contribute to poor staff performance; i.e., to what extent ineffective workflow or management practices are responsible.)
- Also assess your existing human resources. You may even be surprised to uncover some hidden talents! Because as a company owner or senior officer you can accomplish more by delegating and empowering your people, you first need to evaluate their potential.
Consider, for example, a sales rep who has reached a plateau largely through good instincts. By providing sales or technical training, you can help that individual reach a higher level of achievement. Or suppose you've decided to promote a production coordinator or an operator to a supervisory or managerial role. By recognizing that management is new to that person and providing appropriate training, you can help him or her make the transition from managing work to managing people and process.
Besides pinpointing which employees to train or reassign, also identify any new staffing needs as well as unhealthy dependencies (i.e., cases where only one employee holds crucial skills or knowledge that should be disseminated more widely.)
- Set clear objectives for your training. Professional trainers suggest these objectives should be SMART-an acronym that stands for: "Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based."
- Research the many training opportunities available. Review your company's existing resources and assess the benefits and pitfalls of in-house training. Also survey the many outside training options available to find those that best meet the needs of your business.
Of course in today's technology-driven business environment, technical training is paramount. This type of training will enable your company to maximize all its tools from business and workflow management through to cost-effective operation of production equipment. Upgrade training can enable you to change or add to an individual's responsibilities. You might also want to bolster your company's sustainability by including some cross training and succession planning in the mix. On your shopping list of "soft skills" development programs, think about leadership, team-building, coaching and motivating, conflict resolution, or building customer relationships as possible training topics.
- Uncover the most practical, effective delivery methods for your needs. For instance, in some cases, public programs geared to large, general business audiences may prove more time- and cost-effective than customized training.
A new learning mode that is gaining momentum is the webinar. Delivered via the Internet, it is a cost- and time-efficient way of gathering people together for training, meetings, or events. Some webinars have interactive participation built in, though rarely to the degree of a classroom setting.
Some webinar service providers, such as Webex, supply either general-information webinars or else they will disseminate content you develop yourself. Their services include password protection and automated guest invitations, registration, reminders, and post-event follow-up. Also industry organizations such as WhatTheyThink or IPA offer high-value webinars with relevant, up-to-the-minute content delivered by leading industry experts.
- Determine a budget and plan, including ways to encourage staff to participate, to monitor attendance, and to measure return on investment. Choose a time and place that will help maximize staff attendance. Cautionary note: a particular risk of internal training is that it will not be taken seriously and will be overshadowed by day-to-day work; so in such cases, a policy of mandatory attendance may be necessary.
Some companies elect to pay for employee training programs outright. Others have the employees pay and then reimburse them upon proof of course completion. Other creative reimbursement methods can also be devised based on predetermined achievements resulting from training.
Evaluating the effectiveness of training is crucial. Monitor its impact on both staff and business performance, using such measurable indicators as waste and error reduction, sales, employee turnover, or the number and nature of customer complaints. Ask employees whether the training was relevant and appropriate. Evaluate whether the training met your original goals and, if not, why not.
Skills needs-analysis and subsequent training activities are a continual process. Think of them as the basis for opportunities to improve your profit picture. So the ideal is to build a culture of regular professional development in your company.
Accordingly, empower management and supervisory personnel to establish a formal procedure for planning, implementing, and evaluating training. And make sure they have the expertise and resources to do it. If equipping them appropriately requires a financial investment, it will be money well spent.
Consider a train-the-trainer program so your managers or supervisors can conduct the required training themselves or facilitate appropriate programs. Might this training method portend the return of an apprenticeship-like program that acknowledges the value of seasoned employees to enlighten people who are new to the company? Just be sure you alleviate the fear veteran staff may feel for their job security when asked to participate in this type of growth-and-succession planning.
Just one area where inside trainers may prove to be a boon is strategy training to integrate new equipment into your workflow. An example is a capital equipment company that trains sales people and customer service reps on how to sell their equipment's capabilities. If the capital equipment company does not offer this type of training, they will at least have statistics on how other companies have made money from the equipment-so you'll need to get these and do your own. In this case, an added bonus to having insiders as trainers is that they are especially well positioned to address staff concerns over job security after the "new baby" becomes part of your household. But again, consider implementing a mandatory training policy, because otherwise it may be just too easy for staff to dismiss inside training by saying, "I have something else more pressing to do. And besides I can talk to the Jack the trainer any time, since he's always here."
A Tool to Evaluate Trainees
At PrintLink we encourage the use of personal profile testing for a multitude of functions-including to confirm an individual's suitability for a specific position, or promotion potential, or capacity to acquire new knowledge and skills. Your financial outlay for a reputable test and a qualified interpretation of the results is more than recovered in protection for your business's future and your investment in time and money to hire and develop staff.
Your skills-needs-analysis and training plan should be integrated with your hiring strategy. When you identify hiring criteria, aim for a balance in prospective candidates between education, training, career goals, and experience that meets your specific job requirements. (But remember to hire not only for the job, but also for the company.) And when you are hiring, let prospective employees know you are a company that advocates systematic professional development-a significant drawing card for you as an employer, since the best employees seek opportunities for betterment and are motivated to join companies that nurture their careers.
To be most effective, training, retraining, and skills upgrading must have full management support. Encourage your managers and supervisors to know, value, and invest in people, then allow those people to think make decisions, and participate actively in the growth of the business. Not only will you accomplish more through maximizing your staff's talents and a program of effective delegation. But also when you do so, your staff and your customers will respect and value your company far more highly.