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The Value of Training

Training, when it works, is like a joke you hear at a party that you don’t get until you get home.

When you learn something new and you try it out and it works the first time – Great! It’s sort of like when you try telling a joke the first time after you have heard it and people laugh. You then want to keep telling the joke to others. If what you tried to learn doesn’t work, though, there’s a good possibility that you won’t visit the new concepts again for a long time, if at all.

We are creatures of patterns and habits. The longer we do something – such as sell boxes – the harder it is for us to try to adjust the way we do it. We get hard-wired in our approaches to tasks as well as patterned in our responses to certain situations, environments and to the difficult behavior of some of the people we deal with. It’s hard to break the patterns because, usually, we aren’t fully aware they even exist. So, it makes sense for us to try new ways and to learn new methods even if our first impulse is to resist change. If, still, we are reluctant to learn on our own then it is helpful to have someone close to us encourage us to grow. Otherwise:

If we keep doing the same things we’ve been doing, we’ll keep getting the things we’ve been getting – less 20% every year.

This is especially true in sales and the key to opening the windows to development is awareness - awareness of others, awareness of our surroundings and especially self-awareness.

Try to describe how your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend acts in an argument. Picture his/her hand gestures, face, voice, body motions.

It’s not so hard to do this, right?

            Okay, now try to describe yourself in an argument.

Not so easy, is it?

Much of the value of training simply comes down to becoming more aware of what you are already doing. Without this self-awareness it is nearly impossible to develop new and more effective ways of getting things done. Once, though, you are adept at self- perception – especially understanding who you are and how you behave under pressure – you can begin to make better decisions about how to proceed towards the fulfillment of the goals you are working to achieve.

The very best training comes from the people we know, trust and admire.

The second level of training (the first being self-awareness) is to build a toolbox of skills so that you can adapt to changing situations and needs more effectively. If you are a leader within your organization, presumably you have built for yourself a pretty large toolbox. Your skills are formidable and you have the wisdom to choose which tools you need for the different challenges you face. Your behavior becomes a model for others and, as such, is the most effective training you can provide to those around you. Additionally, you are interacting with others on a daily basis, observing their progress and, hopefully, coaching them to build and use their own toolbox of skills.

Some, though few, are capable of learning on their own. Most of us, however, need help. Unfortunately, the increased demands felt by all of us in this pressure-filled era have made it more difficult even for leaders to take the time to observe, coach and develop others. For those who struggle with learning independently because of these demands, it is natural to fall back on old habits and patterns even when those patterns and habits inhibit the pursuit of achievement.

Under such circumstances, outside consultants and training professionals can help. However, there is one looming question you will be asking yourself before you commit to making this sort of investment. “Will it be worth it?” I remember, years ago, a sales manager once said to me, “Mark, if you ever write a book, make sure one of the chapters is titled, Why Nothing Ever Works After The Consultant Is Gone.”

What I’ve come to realize is that training just doesn’t work unless there is effective follow-up. This has to be part of the process. Otherwise, in most cases, you’ve wasted time and money. This is especially true today with tighter than ever budgets and increased productivity demands.

To understand if the expense of the training development and facilitation is justified it helps to be really clear about what you hope to gain from the training. This seems quite obvious but without a clear set of objectives you increase the likelihood that nothing will really change. Perhaps the comment I have heard most often from managers attending programs I have given in the past is, “If I gain one thing from the training then I feel that my investment in time and money was justified.” I’m more demanding than that. I believe that to justify the expense and trouble of training (not to mention the discomfort I know most people feel sitting in a room for a whole day or two or even three) attendees must get an awful lot more out of the session than just an idea or two.

To help decide whether it is worth bringing in someone try ahead of time to be clear about what specific outcomes you want to reach before the trainer has developed your program. This way you can help to direct the development process of the training or at least feel more confident that the training you are sending your people to will lead to specific and positive results.

Some examples of questions to consider when choosing a training program:

  • From this training will the people attending the training session be more motivated and able to open x% (you fill in the blank) more new business over the next 6 months than they did over the last 6 months?
  • From this training will the people attending the training session be more motivated and able to increase their contribution margin by y% over the next 6 months?
  • From this training will the people attending the training session be more motivated to achieve an overall price increase of z% within the next 3 months?
  • From this training will the people attending the training session be more motivated to begin effectively tracking the cost savings we are providing our customers?
  • From this training will the people attending the training session be more motivated to achieve a reduction by 50% of non-compliance issues with our customers due to miscommunication within our own organization?
  • From this training will my sales team be more motivated to build and use an effective customer and customer industry research library?
  • From this training will the people attending the session come away with a more effective sales tracking system and will they be motivated to use it correctly?

Once you have a sense of the specific goals you wish to achieve, select a training program that you believe will help you to go where you want to go. Know how the training will be applied after the training sessions are finished. Make sure the management team is prepared to follow-up afterwards by having a plan for implementation of the learning points from the training session.

Follow-up can be created internally within your organization or you can use the training developer to help maintain the team’s focus after the sessions are over. Post-session assignments, role-play, small session practice, building case studies highlighting successful implementation of the training are all useful tools to help in the follow-up process.

The main thing is that the follow-up for the lessons learned from a training session – whether through a one-on-one coaching session between a manager and employee or as post-class telephone review or even as a return visit from an outside facilitator – must be reinforced many times for new methods, skills and habits to take hold. Otherwise, people simply go back to their old ways and the lessons are lost.

Some lessons in life are so good we simply insist on learning them over and over again.

Training is a big investment. Belts are still tight these days and so the decision to send your people to a public training program or to bring in an outside training professional or even to take the time to develop inside training requires a significant commitment of both funds and time. Yet, if intellectual growth and skills development do not take place there is a greater chance that your company will not be able to differentiate itself in the marketplace and you will stagnate. People will learn independently but, with the right kind of training, that learning will take place more quickly, more uniformly within the organization and in a more focused manner. Choose to help your team succeed through training by developing a conscious and directed process and people will get more out of it and you will get more out of those people.

In review:

  • There are basically two levels of training: Self-awareness and Skills Enhancement.
  • The decision to bring in an outside professional requires an understanding of the specific goals you want to achieve before the program is delivered.
  • A well thought-out and implemented process for follow-up must be established and implemented over time after the training sessions have been completed or else you will have wasted your time and money. Follow-up is the most important element of a training process. Make sure you are committed to it before you choose to train your team.

October, 2009


©2009 Mark Neely Seminars

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