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Your business Training will be even more important in a post-Covid world

Alan O'Neill


Staff training is no longer a ‘nice to do’. It’s a ‘must do’

Staff training is no longer a ‘nice to do’. It’s a ‘must do’

Stock image

Stock image


Staff training is no longer a ‘nice to do’. It’s a ‘must do’

The call came but this time it wasn’t about the project we were doing for his company. Bill asked me if I’d do him a favour and meet his daughter for a chat. She was going for a job interview and needed some help preparing for it.

In her previous role, Lorna had been the best salesperson in the organisation. After three years of record-breaking sales, she was promoted to the position of sales manager to replace someone else. After 18 months in the new role managing a team of five, she and her employer came to the mutual conclusion that it wasn’t working out, so they parted company. Lorna went from being a proud and confident achiever to being a public failure by all the usual measures. (Names have been changed.)

What happened? Lorna eventually realised that the knowledge, skills and attitude required of a sales manager are entirely different to those of being a rock star salesperson. I hope her old employer also recognises that so they don’t make the mistake again. This is a common error, where organisations make grave assumptions about the difference between, and overlook the interdependence between, enablement and empowerment.

They gave Lorna the promotion, and empowered her with the necessary authority and responsibility. They completely overlooked the need to enable her, by supporting her with additional skills and leadership competencies.

But the converse can be just as damaging. Imagine if you enabled someone to do a job with great training, but didn’t allow them to actually do it? That is equally frustrating. In fact frustration is not the only result from either scenario. The electric shock to the person’s confidence can take years to recover from. Not to mention the damage to the business in the meantime, where morale of the whole team is impacted. Lorna’s reputation took a hammering for no good reason. It was all preventable.

Experience is a tough teacher. It is also slow, painful and unnecessary.

I have heard too many macho characters saying, ‘Well that’s how I learned. I was thrown in at the deep end and it was sink or swim’. Yes I get it. If only it was still 1991, not 2021.

With the pace and volume of change in the last 30 years, it is ridiculously unfair to expect people to cope in this new world with dated practices.

Besides, there is so much data available that proves the commercial impact of formal training. The upside when it is taken seriously is measurable. The downside of ignoring it is also measurable.

Not only that, young people put a very high value on ‘learning’. I’m greatly encouraged when I listen to young folk talking about how much they have learned in their job.

Just in the last few weeks, I have been conducting ‘discovery’ interviews with employees of a number of different organisations. As part of their culture refresh programmes I need to understand their current culture. I do that by speaking to colleagues at all levels. If I had a euro for every young person that used the word ‘learning’, I could go for a nice meal. (Well, if only I could).

Tips to elevate your training agenda

Start by developing a training needs analysis. This is simply a matrix that for each person identifies the knowledge, skills and mindset to deliver on their role. This is informed with a top-down approach and a bottom-up one. Top down is where you extract training needs from your strategy, your employee engagement survey and customer feedback surveys. The bottom-up needs are taken from those identified through mutual discussion in your annual appraisal process.

Consider formal training delivery options. There are a multitude of formal training programmes that can be tailored to your company by an external provider, or some generic ones available on-line.

Appoint internal trainers. You may have some internal stars that are superb in their respective roles. Rather than fall into the Lorna trap discussed earlier, don’t assume that they can train others. Give them the additional skill of how to train. This small investment will pay dividends as you cascade the learning in this way.

Set up a buddy/mentor programme, where senior mentors are paired up with learners on a one-on-one development progamme.

Develop a coaching culture, where line managers are encouraged to coach their teams on the job. That practical support often has greater impact than classroom-type training.

The last word

In a post-Covid world, organisations would do well to put extra budget into training.

We know that it feeds right in to your attractiveness as an employer. It’s a tool of engagement that is motivational and it’s also a retention tool. In fact I’d now go so far as to say that if you’re not spending at least 3-5pc of your income on training, you won’t even get past ‘go’ in the competitive employment market. It is no longer a ‘nice to do’. It’s a ‘must do’.

If you thought the world was moving fast before Covid, let me warn you that the world will never again move this slowly. There are new skill requirements coming down the tracks fast and furiously.

The hard skills required for AI and ‘Internet of Things’ is only part of the mix. There are also lots of soft skills around adapting to changing customers’ expectations and more.

Alan O’Neill, author of Culture Matters, is a Change Consultant and Keynote Speaker, specialising in strategy, culture and structure. Go to www.kara.ie to get support in growing your business.

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