Training is Learning … to Succeed

Humans evolved by adapting and adjusting to change. We learned by experience to manage threats.

Businesses operate within competitive environments, but it is not just a Darwinian “survival of the fittest.” By understanding market demand, businesses can respond to customer needs … and if they innovate, improve, and differentiate themselves—they can become financially successful.

It’s the people within each company that recognize opportunities, solve problems, and provide solutions. Management guru Peter Drucker recommended that companies invest 5-15% of revenues on training and development. He was really saying that if a company’s greatest resources are its people, then they should be treated as assets to be developed. Employee knowledge and capabilities are the tools a company uses—to build its customer base.

Many professions require continuing education, but too often companies view training as “overhead” costs to be minimized, rather than as investments in people—and in the future of the business. Consequences of this short-sided thinking are mistakes, unsolved problems, negative customer experiences, lost time, and revenue.

Autumn is traditionally “back to school.” Because the marketplace is always changing—businesses are never out of school. To manage change, businesses should embrace continuous learning.

  1. The purpose for training should be clearly communicated to employees, and why improving specific job capabilities is good for the company.
  2. Training should have direct application to each employee’s job, whether it is to expand knowledge, build skills, or improve collaboration within teams.
  3. All company leaders should fully commit to training.
  4. Company leaders, managers, and supervisors should become coaches, use constructive feedback, work with employees to improve specific behaviors, and monitor everyone’s progress.

Job specific learning is crucial for employee development. Engaged employees are better at providing quality products and services to their company’s customers.

Success is when all company leaders and employees do the right things at the right time. Whether training is applying job specific information, or about building a positive company culture … there is no substitute for learning.

Important Questions

Do You Have Too Many Customers? This question was posed to a room of about 80 business owners and senior executives. Not surprising, there wasn’t anyone in the audience that said yes. In fact, there was a low chorus of chuckles and incredulity.

The presenter then asked: Are you making too much money? The collective response was the same, but noticeably even louder, with more laughter. The entire audience was fully engaged. EVERYONE wanted MORE customers and money. Go figure!

This presentation was about customer experience and journey mapping – very important topics for all businesses. Yet, it occurs to me that every business owner and executive charged to grow their business might reflect upon these two questions and arrive at completely different change initiatives to generate MORE customers and MORE money.  It might be improvements in IT infrastructure, operational efficiency, HR hiring practices, marketing communication, and/or a host of other critical business activities.

Our advisory practice helps businesses to improve “customer-facing” employee motivations, capabilities, and habits, and the company processes and business practices that support customer creation and customer retention. We help sales teams to sell more effectively and all employees to deliver customer services that keep more customers. Many business owners have concerns in this area.

While the challenges (we call them GAPS … hence our company name) vary in each company, it is important to frequently evaluate poor financial performance to determine what is causing the shortfalls.

For instance, if the challenge is weak revenue growth, the resolution of that issue may reside in the sales team, or it may reside elsewhere in the business. It may derive from dysfunctional company hiring or onboarding practices, or order processing procedures. Numerous factors can combine to have a negative impact on customer perceptions of the value delivered.

We believe all business owners need to understand the root causes of underperformance, the resources required to resolve those challenges, and how best to prioritize the resolution of those challenges.

The perspectives of independent expertise can help businesses in this discovery process, and implement specific initiatives that can move the entire organization to being significantly less forceful in answering the two questions posed in this post.

One final question: What are you doing about it?


Want a Strong Business? Work on Your Gaps

A business culture is all the thinking, decision making, and actions within that business. Put simply – it is observable and measurable behavior that happens every day.

It is not a secret … strong business cultures are more successful than weak ones.

The short list of attributes of a strong business culture are:

  1. Clear vision, and achievable mission
  2. Leaders who inspire
  3. Supervisors who coach rather than manage
  4. Employees who work from talents and strengths
  5. An engaged workforce, aligned to the business purpose
  6. Job specific training
  7. Career paths
  8. Rewards and recognition
  9. Customers who become advocates

Almost every person has some awareness of what is not quite right, or what is missing from their lives. The striving to be better, to live better, and to have more of what we want stimulates the progress of individuals, companies, and even society.

In a competitive business environment, there is no place for complacency. Being GAPWORX … we want to have conversations with business leaders who are CURIOUS about how their business culture stacks up – their strengths and weaknesses. All businesses have gaps, and we think every business should work on them.

We help our clients work on cultural gaps, and that directly affects what we call Customer Building. Some employees have job-specific selling roles and responsibilities, others for serving. But generally, to fulfill the company brand … Everybody Sells and Everybody Serves.

I would be surprised to learn of any business that did not have to continuously create more customers. I would also be astounded to know of any business that did not have to continuously serve those customers well … to keep them.

Gap analysis is quantifying (measuring) the difference between what is, and what is desired. Qualifying (understanding) the rational and emotional discomfort about gaps, is why problem solvers and action takers succeed better in reducing their gaps. The awareness is … “I don’t like my results, I want something better, so I must do things differently.” That is simple psychology. Even though it is not complicated, it is still not easy.

The correlations are clear … strong business cultures create engaged workplaces. Engaged employees who are aligned to vision and mission, and who feel they have a place in the company – create stronger customer relationships.

If you want to sell more prospects and keep more customers … first understand your cultural gaps, and work on them.

Is The Status Quo Acceptable?

Almost without exception, business owners and executive teams would say an emphatic NO. Everyone is seeking greater levels of individual and organizational performance. Whatever type of organizational change or initiative you plan – be it a strategic or tactical initiative – there are a few basic things to keep in mind.

  1. Plan Collaboratively. This isn’t a solo endeavor.
  2. Set Priorities. Determine what “gaps” most need to be resolved.
  3. Assess Resources. Finances, time, expertise, and experience.
  4. Be Realistic. Use outside expertise to leverage ROI.
  5. Designate a Champion. Accountability drives achievement.
  6. Be Urgent. Change can happen fast. Don’t wait.
  7. Be Explicit. Set specific and measurable goals, with deadlines.
  8. Be Clear. Keep all employees informed.
  9. Set Expectations. Share realistic roles and responsibilities for everyone.
  10. Work Your Plan. Achieve goals. Reassess the status quo.

There is an eleventh thing to also consider; be flexible when appropriate. Change doesn’t happen in a controlled setting. External forces can constrain or provide opportunities to accelerate the initiative.

One last THING – be sure to celebrate achievement. It motivates the next change to be equally or more successful.

THE PEOPLE CORNER – The Self Examined Company

I value the ancient wisdom of Socrates. ”The unexamined life is not worth living.” As a former metal health practitioner, I encourage everyone to take the inner journey to self-understanding. Self-examination that leads to clarity and purpose – enables a person to change. In my work now as a behaviorist and change management facilitator, I believe the forces of life significantly influence people. Happily, becoming more aware of external and internal forces can uncover new possibilities to shape the future they want.

Self-examination and awareness are important to every business.

Businesses that understand their place in the marketplace can make more prudent and better strategic decisions. Analyzing external variables of demographics, economics, technology, and the like contribute to smarter choices. Regular analysis such as GAP, S.W.O.T. and Root Cause, and evaluating strategies and tactics, make good sense for business directors.

Large companies with deep resources are especially keen on organizational analysis. They typically have departments staffed to address and improve culture, leadership, employee engagement, and customer experience. They allocate time and money to turn over all the stones, and find where the problems lie. They use comparative analytics to see how their company performs compared to competitors in their relative markets – to discover even small competitive advantages. They review long-term research statistics, to finetune company performance and adjust continuously.

But what about the small company that must operate with tight budgets and busy schedules? The rub is that they encounter the same market and organizational pressures as large companies, albeit on a smaller scale.

Small companies can still become more self-examined and more self-aware. It does not take a lot of money or time. Take an afternoon with key employees to clarify company vision, mission, and purpose. Spend a few hours to work through a cultural or employee engagement exercise. Ask questions of employees and customers to understand what is working and what isn’t.

Individual and organizational self-awareness can pay off immensely in productivity and effectiveness. Managers and supervisors can take stock of their strengths and gaps in performance, and determine what leadership potential they have … to help them become more than just managers.

There is no autopilot setting for business.

Small companies need to know which training and development exercises will help them reach the next level of success. The status quo will get you the same results you already have. It might take someone from the outside to help you become more aware of your current processes – giving you objectivity, perspective, and expertise that doesn’t reside inside your company.

The inscription at the ancient Oracle of Delphi was “Know Thyself.” We say, “Know Thy Company.”