Make It Part of the Routine
Many busy CEOs regard employee training with the same dismay most of us feel about exercise -- it's a great idea, and it's essential to one's well-being, but who has the time for it? That attitude doesn't wash with Connie Connors, who takes a "just do it" approach. "To maintain our competitive advantage, we have to train," says Connors, whose $2-million New York City public-relations firm, Connors Communications, has doubled its sales in each of the past three years. Connors has integrated education into her corporate culture. Last year she spent approximately $40,000 on the following in-house programs:
· TIPS (Tips for Improving Performance) are 15-minute on-site training sessions held approximately every two weeks. The five employees who constitute the training committee set up mini training sessions based on employee feedback. "TIPS have ranged from finding your way on-line and perfecting your pitch to budget management," explains Connors. The firm's employees or outside experts run the TIPS. Because the nonmandatory sessions are short (OK, they really last closer to half an hour) and are held on-site, they're usually well attended.
· Annual training budgets of $200 to $2,000 are allotted to all 25 employees, who are encouraged to attend industry or skill-related conferences and seminars.
· Company meetings, which include training sessions, are held twice a year. Connors used last summer's three-day retreat in the Catskills to explain the company's pricing structure and to teach effective schmoozing in a simulated-cocktail-party setting. As the company grows Connors will probably limit the retreats to one companywide event and one just for managers.
· The "Connors Bible" is a customized software program that gives employees instant access to information on the company's clients and its philosophy, organizational structure, procedures, and policies.
· The buddy system helps new hires get a handle on what's what at Connors. For their first two months new employees have designated buddies who are "close to their levels -- definitely not the people they report to," says Connors. A buddy might, for instance, give a neophyte the skinny on office politics. That's not training per se, but, since the size of her staff has tripled in the past two years, Connors thinks it's crucial that new hires familiarize themselves with the intangibles.
What's the effect of Connors's commitment to training? Wendy Handler, head of the TIPS committee, points to several positive developments: the variance between projected and actual monthly billings has narrowed significantly; new associates feel comfortable making media calls; and everyone in the company is now adept at using electronic mail. Next on the agenda: mastering the Internet.
DONNA FENN is the author of Upstarts! How Gen-Y Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.
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