Volume 8, Issue 3        May/June  2006

Customer Service
t i p s   f o r   q u a l i t y   s e r v i c e


Make Training Count
by Carl Tompkins

Each year, thousands of companies spend tens of thousands of dollars training employees, all in an effort to increase good things and decrease bad things. Sales, profit and productivity are all examples of good things. Rework, low morale, negative work environment and poor customer satisfaction are all examples of bad things.

Training is a must, and more effort needs to be allocated to this subject for companies to improve their market position. When employees are trained well, they become a positive differentiator when customers compare your company’s offerings to the competition and the greater the difference between your company and the competition, the higher your value and worth to customers. 

What is most unfortunate about training is that it seldom works. To provide more detail, the skills that training programs provide companies are very seldom adopted or followed. Consequently, no positive change is noticed by management. What is so amazing about this fact is that, even under such circumstances, companies keep on spending money for more training. 

While I’m a huge proponent of training, from my many years of experience I find two major things must be accomplished in order for training to work and, without them, training is a waste of time and money.

Accountability First
The first element of need is for company management to make the skills taught a written part of employees’ job descriptions. As an example, a selling skills course I teach provides four distinct skill models that must be followed by salespeople in order to develop effective relationships with customers.

These four models are opening sales calls, concluding sales calls, handling objections and fundamental communications. Prior to any salespeople enrolling for such a class, management must incorporate these four models into the proper job descriptions and alert their course attendees that such skills will be reviewed on a regular basis in order to measure each employee’s merit of accomplishment. Such accountability demonstrates the serious nature of training to each employee, and that management expects the knowledge attained in training to be put into practice. Further, when such skills are entered into the written job description of employees, it provides management with an accurate checklist to utilize during performance appraisals.

Take Part
The second element of need is for management to take part in the course and follow the same skills. As Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “Example is the only educator.” In 1991 I was involved with a two-year program that involved the training of 700 employees. I assisted the human resources department, which conducted a written survey at the end of the course that asked a multitude of questions aimed at identifying an overall picture of the employees’ views on training, their company and needs. The number one question asked by all employees was, “When will my boss start doing the things I’ve been taught?” The executive vice president of the company thought the program was a failure because he had received reports that nothing had improved. When asked by the outside consulting company, Learning International, why he and upper management had not taken the course, his reply was, “My job was funding the project and your job to get it to work.”

This is an enormous oversight that must be seen as a priority before any funds are spent. 

Another powerful example of the need for management to practice what they preach comes from an independent consultant who was granted a large contract with a national banking organization, based in Pittsburgh, to teach a course called Spin Selling. Before accepting the contract, the consultant insisted that the CEO of the bank be first to attend the class, receive certification and then practice the skills. Following a lengthy discussion, face to face, between the two parties, the CEO saw the light, followed the advice of the consultant and, as a result, had 100 percent buy-in and participation by everyone in the company.

Another Story
Training is extremely critical. Knowing how I love to tell stories and provide examples, I compare effective training to a situation I’m involved in where I’m shopping for the proper type and size of outboard motor for a new boat. I could save a lot of money by buying a 150 horsepower motor compared to the recommended 200 hp unit. The advice given to me by a knowledgeable and trusted friend is to buy the highest powered motor that the boat is capable of handling. While it is more money up front, he said that I would never regret the cost since the boat would operate easier, never lug because of being underpowered, be capable of hauling heavier loads and require less fuel and maintenance since the motor would operate at maximum efficiency. 

The boat is your company; the motor is your training that enables your company to push ahead. The most powerful training is a must in order to make sure that your speed, direction and operation is most efficient and effective. The gas and the oil compares to your accountability and example; missing either one will not allow the motor to run at all and you boat is dead in the water. 

Carl Tompkins is the Western states area manager for Sika Corp., Madison Heights, Mich. He is based in Spokane, Wash.

© Copyright 2006 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.