High-society events aren't my scene but when an opportunity came up recently to mingle with a group of independent business owners over free wine and hors d'œuvres, I couldn't pass up the chance to build my personal learning network (and enjoy a free lunch). And sure enough, within a few minutes a woman tapped me on the shoulder seeking my professional advice.
Over the next hour we chatted about her small retail business and about her need to migrate an existing manager-led training program to online training as a way to lower employee on-boarding costs and increase efficiency. As I dug deeper into her company's needs it became increasingly clear to me that this effort would be more involved than just adapting existing training for online delivery. Her business was facing a perfect storm of serious challenges, including:
- High employee turnover
- A training audience of highly inexperienced employees
- A high-stress work environment where (because everyone is always new) no one knows what they're doing and customers receive poor service.
With profits down and skyrocketing operating costs for recruiting, hiring, and training (not to mention marketing to constantly attract new customers) it's no wonder why she was looking at her training strategy to save money! But was online training really the best place to start?
1. Recognize what training CAN'T do.
Training, regardless of how it's delivered, is not a miracle cure for every business challenge. Training may be one component of a successful recovery strategy, but by itself, it's not likely to fix the underlying problems that brought about the current state of dysfunction.
2. Act now and analyze later.
When a severely wounded patient arrives at the Emergency Room do the doctors all stand around debating the cause of the injury? Of course not. Their immediate focus is, rightfully, on stabilizing the patient. It should be no different for a wounded business.
In this case, the owner's immediate need was not for training. They needed to slow or stop the vicious recruit/hire/train cycle that was killing growth, draining their bank accounts, and earning them a lousy reputation with customers. While migrating to online training may realize some immediate cost savings, I suggested that they start more simply by looking at their recruiting and hiring practices. Why train if you can minimize or avoid it?
- Could they hire more experienced people that needed less training to get up to speed?
- Could they put some incentives in place to retain the high performers or senior employees they still have?
- Are there any simple changes to the work environment? It's amazing what a simple FAQ job aid can do to help employees provide better customer service. Even a series of brainstorming meetings to let employees share their insights could help to engage them and alleviate some of the stress that's driving employees (and customers) to leave.
3. Prioritize the To-Do list.
I'm no change management consultant, but I do know that most big turn-arounds don't happen overnight. Building a more stable foundation requires that you shore up the most at-risk areas of your operation, first.
To identify those areas, ask:
- What are the biggest risk areas if things remain as they are?
- Of those risks, where are the gaps between what you need and what you have?
- Can those gaps be closed through training activities, like an online course or a one-on-one coaching intervention?
- Or, do the gaps require non-training actions, like process improvements or technology upgrades?
Once you've sorted required training actions from everything else, it becomes easier to prioritize specific actions and to measure your results against specific targets.
Recognizing the value of calculated risk-taking is especially challenging for businesses who've been in survival mode. When you're seeing the need for fresh thinking but don't have a clue where to find it and how to foster it, take a cue from successful business leaders and seasoned academics by adapting and scaling their big ideas to your operation.
- Check-out this great blog entry from Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh about using a "Pipeline Strategy" to overcome the problem of knowledge attrition.
- For some real-world examples and applied activities around change management try reading "Switch" by Chip and Dan Heath. As a practical follow-up to the book, you can also download Switch Your Organization a free workbook developed by the authors based on the lessons from their book. To download the workbook (and lots of other goodies) just register for an account at heathbrothers.com.
- Daniel Pink's blog is amongst my favorite reads for consistently great insights into motivation, emotional intelligence, and innovation in the workplace.
- For a kick-in-the-pants take on reinventing the way you do business, check-out the book "Rework" by Jason Reid and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37 Signals.
Want some more applied advice about the needs assessment process? While it's still on my Amazon reading list, I've heard nothing but praise for "A Practical Guide to Needs Assessment" by Kavita Gupta.
How do you determine if training is needed? Where do you start? Tell us about your approach and leave a comment.
Trina Rimmer is a learning and communications consultant with twelve years experience designing, developing, and delivering smart, engaging training. When her skills aren't being tested by her children, you'll find her helping others to develop their own training design muscles.