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Do All of Your Employees Really Need Training?

Hiring Matters When you mention training, many people think of athletics first. They may also think of the military, a highly structured environment. When it comes to job training, we often think of technical fields related to production. Manufacturing jobs, in particular, might be at the top of your list of positions that require training.

When I mention training to my clients in professional services, they often give me a blank look. Their employees come with several years of advanced education and licenses in specific fields. They should know how to do their jobs on the first day, is the assumption.

Training is actually a very important part of the hiring process for any position, regardless of education or experience. You see, there is not a law school in the country that teaches the customized use of case management software. Engineering schools do not cover the report-writing protocol practiced at individual firms. And architecture programs are mostly about buildings and little about building relationships with clients.

No matter how much education and experience your new employee has when he comes through your door, he has never worked for you before. At the very least, he will need to be trained on your office protocols and informed about how you would like to see things done. Most new employees will also need instruction on the hardware and software used in your business and future upgrades to that equipment.

I worked for a software company once and considered myself one of the least technically adept people in the office. I was just a copywriter for user manuals. The tools of my job included a PC and word processing software. As an English minor in college, I was well familiar with these tools.

It was unusual for the president of the company to visit the copywriting department in the basement of the building, but on one auspicious day, I found myself the focus of her attention. She came downstairs with a VP and a project manager to discuss a manual I had worked on. Huddled around my cubicle, they explained their idea to transition the company from paper manuals to online.

This was long before everyone in the corporate world became familiar with the .pdf format. I had desktop publishing experience from years before when Pagemaker was Apple’s newest software. Everyone else in the room went mute on the topic of how we might create these online user manuals.

At the end of this brief but scary encounter with top management, I was left with a box of software containing a training guide and a two week deadline. Without benefit of any other technical resources from the company (like say, the programming department,) I learned to use Adobe Acrobat from a book and mocked up a prototype of the first online user manual.

This gamble worked but only by accident. The president mitigated her risks by investing no money in training, very little in resources (Adobe was already sitting on a self in her office,) and keeping the overhead low. Two weeks of my time, one of the lowest paid people on her staff, was not a huge loss if it didn’t work.

At the time, I was too young to realize I had been put in a compromising position. The president of the company put an expectation on me without giving me the training I needed to be successful. This situation could have easily gone horribly wrong. Had I not been able to follow written instructions and apply them to a real-world project, she would have been disappointed in the outcome. My career at the software company would have struggled to overcome that disappointment, though it would not have been my fault.

Employers have expectations, and employees have to trust that they will be given the training they need to meet those expectations.

I was in a client’s office one day and overheard a young associate speaking on the phone to a client. The conversation was so shocking, I couldn’t stop listening. At one point I thought maybe I was mistaken about who was on the other end of the phone, but the client’s name was confirmed at the end of the conversation.

When I had occasion to speak with the managing partner, I brought up what I had heard. This young associate used an overly familiar tone and clearly unprofessional language, to include profanity, on the phone with an important municipal client. The managing partner just shook his head because he had heard it all before.

Apparently, they were having this sort of problem with this particular employee. The managing partner told me the guy is just so young, he doesn’t know how to speak with clients and show them the sort of respect a professional in his position should. I asked if he had been trained in client relations or even phone etiquette, and got that blank look again.

I later found out that the employee in question had come from a very small, informal firm before this where he had picked up his communication habits. Since no one at the new firm had trained him in certain protocols, he assumed he was doing fine. He didn’t know any other way to speak to clients.

Some basic training when this young man joined the firm would have avoided all the discomfort and potential damage to the business he was causing. Instead of training him, the partners simply observed his behavior and said nothing. They somehow thought he would figure it out on his own. In the meantime, clients were being mishandled and business was suffering.

You may think that client relations is common sense, especially for an experienced professional. What exactly is common sense? That question can be answered with training. Training is what makes all of the protocols and practices of your business common among all employees.

You might not need to train professional employees in their core discipline. But for them to be successful, effective employees in your business, you do need to train them on how you want their expertise applied to your clients.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Christine,
    Really good article with real world examples that bring the point of the article clearly into focus. Thanks for sharing your insights. Your new position as a Featured Columnist will be a big plus for the Bizcatalyst web-site.

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