The holidays are here and what does that usually mean for small business? You got it…training time. Yes, the time of year when small business owners are looking at the latest point of sale system, the best customer service seminars and the newest “management education” processes to push staff through in the first quarter. Anyone who has read this section knows that the Veterans Business Resource Center is all about training. However, not just training for activity but training for impact.
What is training for activity and why is it the wrong way to train a staff you might inquire? Well, there is a place for activity based training. When you must learn a new computer system or how to display a sales item, activity training is all that is necessary. However, if you want your staff to take initiative in training others on that system or provide strong feedback on improvements to displays, then you must train them with impact in mind. Offered below are a few tips on how to ensure your training is impactful and not just something to do.
Let us define the characteristics of activity based training. Activity based training is usually predicated on some symptom or request. As an example: A request from middle management for training on time management for staff in time for the holiday rush in three weeks. The initial request not only makes the ask but presumes the necessary training. There is no room for an assessment of the actual challenge. That request is usually requested with short notice. In order to be responsive, a program is purchased or created and implemented in an effort to train for better time management. Reaction to the solution or an evaluation is conducted and if the desired result is achieved nothing further is done. If not, the same program is tried again in an effort to reach a different result.
The challenge with this method is that it is a hit or miss method. It may well be that this time management is the right training needed, or not. The measurement at the end is not necessarily permanent. Small business owners who train this way often find that they must train constantly and repeat the training when new staff arrive. Since no evaluation was conducted to ensure that the training requested was indeed the resolution to the issue.
In contrast, training for impact requires a step back and stronger evaluation of not only the challenge but the experience and the environment in which the challenge exists. The process is much more inclusive of management, line staff and the organization as a whole. In the same situation above, a training is requested and instead of jumping straight into a “best practice” activity, the owner takes a step back.
First identifying the business need is necessary in order to ensure proper training. The business need is a function of the “work environment” and the “learning experience.” An example, a high end hotel shrank the size of their cleaning staff carts because they were unseemly in the hallway. They also decreased the amount of time staff had to service a room. The manager wanted guests to see a clean, clear space and get the cleaning staff out of sight faster. However, the hotel complaints on cleanliness of rooms, timing of room cleaning and employee dissatisfaction skyrocketed. The manager failed to assess the actual business need instead opting for what was a quick fix.
In order to assess a correct training challenge and identify the actual need, small business owners should identify the issue, form a collaborative relationship with the parties involved in the solution and conduct an initial project meeting. These steps are critical. They do not need to take weeks; these can be scheduled quickly but the must be purposeful. You as the business owner will need to decide what other task my need to take a back seat or recruit another team member to assist in task while this is done. Another critical need is to conduct a cause analysis. Asking questions such as:
- When did customers begin complaining?
- Is there a certain part of the day where time management is a bigger challenge?
This is the time to determine what “should be” happening as well as what is happening. The final few steps are equally as critical. A review of the performance, interpreting the data collected and reporting those results back to the project team. From there proper training can be created, purchased and then implemented. One of the most important steps comes in the end. Collecting data, interpreting it and ensuring that it adheres to the what “should be” happening result desired.
In the example of the hotel, the project team realized that reducing the carts of the staff may have eliminated them from view of the public but increased the negative comments left. After walking through the training for impact approach, the hotel project team located several rooms within the building that were not being utilized and turned them into suites for the cleaning staff. This gave the staff a nicer space to reload carts and provided an opportunity for them to rest and interact between cleaning. They also increased the size of the carts to hold more toiletries, towels and blankets which allowed staff to clean more than one room at a time. And they empowered the cleaning staff to engage with the hotel guest rather than shrink away from them.
This process is not one that can be implemented overnight and takes practice. For more information on how to training for impact and not just activity you can pick up many books. The one that describes impact training with the most depth is Training For Impact by Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson. You can also reach out to our agency for assistance in better understanding to train your team to reach the “should be” happening desired result.
Darcella K Craven has over 20 years of experience in corporate, government, non-profit and military organizations. She is currently the Executive Director of the Veterans Business Resource Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting Honorably Discharged Veterans, National Guard and Reservist and Active Duty personnel and their families with transitioning back into civilian life with starting and expanding businesses. An Army Veteran, she holds a Masters of Arts in Management from Webster University and is currently pursuing her Doctors of Management focusing on impact of military experience on small business decision making. Darcella has been featured in numerous articles for her transition from the military and the welfare system to an accomplished business woman and is actively involved in many civic organizations.