How can we teach our employees to understand our business?
Leadership & Strategy mentor Keith Lamb responds: Business literacy and financial training are hot topics these days. Many companies are spending lots of time, energy, and money to teach their employees how the business makes money. There are plenty of good reasons to do so. Engaging your employees -- involving them in the business -- can drive revenue growth. An educated workforce can also make better decisions, work more efficiently, and seize opportunities faster. Teaching your employees to be smart businesspeople can be a big investment, but it's one that can have a significant return.
Unfortunately, a lot of companies do training only on the front end (as part of new-employee orientation, for example) and then they stop. Not only does this leave employees bewildered, it also significantly lowers the potential return on investment provided by an ongoing training program.
To really make the learning stick -- and your investment in human capital pay off -- you need to make business education part of your culture. Repetition and employee involvement will sustain your learning program. Your goal is to align your people with your business objectives and allow people to see and use your key numbers every day.
Start by developing a train-the-trainer program. Gather your managers and make sure they understand your basic financial tools: income statements, cash flow forecasts, budgeting process, and key departmental numbers. They'll be answering employees' questions, so it's important to get them up to speed first. Then survey your employees to find out what they already know -- and don't know -- and use that information to design your workshops.
Remember: Homegrown lessons are best. You're trying to educate people about your business, not create a bunch of CPAs. Make the learning events casual, even voluntary. Maybe your chief financial officer can walk people through the budgeting process and the profit-and-loss statement. The people at our company really started to get interested when we showed them where and when and how their daily work affects our financial statements. Make those connections for people, then reinforce the lessons in regular departmental meetings. Ultimately, you want to reach the point where peers are teaching peers -- employees tend to learn better from one another.