One of my former jobs was as a CFO for a struggling wholesale distribution business. The company had once had a great reputation and solid products, but by the time I got there, it badly needed a boost.
Employee performance was way down. The company wasn’t hiring the best people, nor was it investing in training programs to develop them. Spending on tools was limited. Generally, the company was mired in a “hunker down and don’t spend” mentality that was driving the business right out of business. The company was quickly becoming a “going concern” to its auditors.
Though the CEO understood that employee education was likely to help, there was no money available to send workers to any kind of training program. So my solution was to take our training in-house. Here’s how we approached it:
Assess the company's skills shortages
The first thing we did was establish what skills our company lacked, and which ones had a direct impact on employee performance, engagement, and loyalty. We classified all these skills as a high, medium, or low priority. We found that customer service skills, product understanding, and mastery of the company’s computer systems were the most conspicuous skill shortages. We now had our list of urgently needed education topics.
Figure out what experts we already had
All companies have experts — employees who have a more profound knowledge of a particular subject AND an interest in sharing that knowledge with others. First we went to a few of the best front-line customer service employees we had — people with a loyal customer following. They were frustrated with the overall quality of service provided by their peers, and they immediately offered to share what they knew with their coworkers. Then we approached two employees who knew the computer system well and solicited their help; again, they were excited by both the attention and the effort to improve the business.
Build a learning plan for each employee
Initially our plan included one specific skill development topic (like learning the computer system) and two general topics (like communication, or broad customer service), using our in-house experts. We started by creating small classroom programs — very hands-on — and expanded it to include a self-directed workbook and webinar. We recorded the programs and created a library of topics for all employees to access at their convenience, housed on the company Intranet. Employees were accountable for completing the tests and all the action items in their programs. Follow-up plans were created and managed by the employees’ direct report managers.
Once the initial plan training was completed, employees were free to request other training programs. And they did. We found they wanted more education. This quickly changed the CEO’s perspective of training, particularly about the effectiveness of in-house training.
What we found was an immediate improvement in all performance. And workers responded, too.
- Our employees learned meaningful skills (that they’d previously lacked) that improved their daily performance.
- Our employees felt empowered by our attention to their needs, and we had an immediate increase in effort and loyalty.
- Our employees felt like part of something larger as they both learned and shared what they know.
- Our employees were rooting for us — they knew that if we could make the program a success, we could prove that it would be worth a larger investment that would allow us to expand our topics and our methods.
Taking training in-house not only allows the customization needed to make generic topics specific to the workplace, but also empowers employees to share what they know for the success of everyone in the organization. Start small. It shows employees the organization’s commitment to learning, growing, improving and performing. Great employees want to work for organizations committed to being better everyday.
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Jay Forte is a nationally ranked thought leader and President of Humanetrics. Jay guides organizations — their leaders and managers — in how to attract, hire and retain today’s best talent. He is the author of Fire Up! Your Employees and Smoke Your Competition and The Greatness Zone – Know Yourself, Find Your Fit, Transform The World. Jay is a member of SHRM, ASTD, the National Speakers Association and the Florida Speakers Association. Follow him on Twitter.