I learned a long time ago that people are your most important asset. Whether you have one employee or a hundred, the stronger, better, more productive your employees are, the more successful you and your business will be.
Training is an essential key to this goal.
If you’ve ever experienced the outstanding service of an Apple Store, a Ritz Carlton hotel or a Nordstrom store, it’s clear that they do something very special. This doesn’t just happen. It’s accomplished through training: long, hard, never-ending training. You can achieve this same level of great service by teaching and practicing the skills needed via your very own, thought-out and implemented training program.
Every employee deserves the opportunity to try and become the very best they can be in their position. In order for them to achieve this, you, the business owner or manager, must afford them the opportunity to succeed. This is done through training, great communication and consistent motivation.
Most of you offer informal training, i.e. on-the-job training. Either you or someone else acts as a mentor or coach when time is available (which doesn’t happen often enough). Your intentions are good but because of all of the day-to-day responsibilities of running the business, too often, the employees are left alone to find their own way. This is not fair to you or the employee.
I urge you to go beyond the informal training and develop a written, formal training program. This should be done whether you are a two-person business or a 200-person operation.
Your training program should start day one – and never end. It should be in writing. It should be a step-by-step program that leads people to maximize their efficiencies and productivity. If there are a number of different positions in your company, there should be a written training agenda for each position.
A large majority of the training will take place at your business, but there are numerous other opportunities available, including:
- Trade Associations – NKBA, ASID, NARI and several others in our industry offer a number of educational opportunities, many leading to various certifications. They also offer books, brochures, live workshops, online classes and more.
- Publications – This fine magazine would be one example. I urge you to subscribe to several industry publications and read the articles that grab your attention. They should also be made available for your employees.
- Your Firm’s Educational Library – Put together a collection of books, CDs, videos and publications that your employees can “sign out,” digest and return. You can even offer small incentives for those folks to take advantage of them.
- Seminars and Workshops – These are a tad more costly, but a day or two spent in a classroom with a really good instructor can be very beneficial. Plus, the opportunity to network with peers and other attendees is very helpful.
- Trade Shows – Whether you are showing or not, there are great educational opportunities available. Just walking the show, seeing what’s new and what other folks are offering will help keep you and your team up to date on the latest and greatest.
- Weekly In-House Team Meetings – At our place of business, we did a weekly team meeting 52 weeks a year. They were one hour long. There was an agenda and a facilitator. About half of the meetings were designed to enhance product knowledge. Some of these sessions were put on by our manufacturer partners and some of them we did ourselves. About 25% of the meetings were directed toward company policy, procedures, computer training, etc. The remaining 25% were directed toward selling skills.
The area of sales is important, too. Ours is a selling business (I know you’d rather design than sell, but let’s face it: Without sales there would be no business). So why do so many of you fail to teach selling skills?
I’ve had the pleasure of presenting selling skills workshops and doing online Webinars for a number of dealers and manufacturers in our industry, so I know first-hand how beneficial these can be. There are a number of great books, videos and CDs on the subject. Please search these out and add them to your library and encourage your team to take advantage of them. The rewards will more than justify the investment.
To develop and initiate a written, formal training program and make it a habit (remember: “never ending”), you must budget for it, schedule it and delegate it (unless you are a very small business, in which case the delegation probably falls on you).
Let me show you a very abbreviated outline of what a training program for a sales/design person might look like:
- Day One – Orientation to the workplace, workstation, teammates; complete new employee paperwork, etc.
- Week One – Assign a mentor, go over written job description, give them all of the tools necessary to accomplish the job, provide an introduction to the computer, start studying one of your vendor partner books, have them shadow the mentor.
- Month One – Continue to learn the computer system, learn all of the products on display in the showroom, continue learning the vendor products and services, start learning selling skills, continue to shadow the mentor.
- Months Two and Three – Continue learning vendor products, both on their own and with the manufacturer reps, master the computer, continue learning and practicing selling skills, start meeting and greeting clients on their own, do initial designs working with their mentor.
- Months Four Through Six – Continue building their product knowledge, continue learning and practicing selling skills, start working with clients and doing their own designs (with the mentor checking and evaluating the work), start NKBA design course.
During the first month, there would be a weekly evaluation of progress and discussion on what would need to be accomplished the following week. Then there would be an evaluation of each month through month six. After that, there would be bi-annual performance evaluations.
During the first six months of employment, the trainee would be sitting in on the weekly team meetings. These meetings would continue to be held each week as described above.
Once the initial formal training is completed, training in all areas would continue via the various methods outlined earlier in this article.
As the title of this article indicates, training starts day one – and never ends. If your long-term goal is to operate the very best business possible, I hope you will start today implementing your very own customized formal and informal training program.