I'm renovating my kitchen, so I've been spending a lot of time at The Container Store, choosing drawer and cabinet organizers to make the most of my new space.

The store nearest me is always very busy, especially on Saturdays. But no matter how crowded and chaotic the store gets, employees are always friendly and helpful. And my recent experience reminded me that The Container Store has a well-deserved reputation for treating employees well, so they're motivated to deliver great customer service.

In fact, The Container Store has seven "Foundation Principles" that guide the organization. Not surprisingly, principle #1 is "1 Great Person = 3 Good People."

But here's a principle you might not expect: "Intuition does not come to a trained mind. You need to train before it happens."

That speaks to The Container Store's practice of providing a lot of learning for employees: In the first year alone, full-time employees receive 200 hours of training, while part-time employees are trained for 100 hours. (That compares to just eight hours most retailers devote to training new employees.)

How can you adopt The Container Store's philosophy for your own team? After all, even the most talented, experienced employees need to develop skills so they can succeed in their current roles--and be ready to advance to the next level. The problem, of course, is that it's difficult to find time for learning and development when your company is busy focusing on "real work." In many organizations, learning falls to the bottom of the list, where it rarely gets addressed.

As a result, your people don't develop the skills they need to take on greater responsibilities, leaders don't delegate because "I'm the only one who knows how to do this" and everyone is frustrated.

To develop an approach for learning that isn't too time-consuming and doesn't break your budget, follow these six steps:

Step 1: Define skills that your team needs Get together with your leaders and managers (at the beginning of the year or periodically) to define needed skills in the following categories:

  • Interpersonal skills (such as collaboration, listening)
  • Technical skills (such as Microsoft Office, HTML)
  • Professional skills (such as writing, facilitation, design, project management)
  • Conceptual skills (such as strategic planning, decision-making, leading a team)

Step 2: Identify skills that individual team members want to develop (and/or that their managers think they should develop. My firm does this every year as part of our performance management system. We ask employees what they want to learn and ask their managers what they think their team members need to develop.

Step 3: Organize and prioritize. Once we've built our overall list (step 1) and understand employees' preferences (step 2), we decide which skills are a priority for our entire team, a function or a level. While some employees will develop their skills on an individual basis ("I'll attend a workshop to learn HTML 5 programming."), we also create a short list of learning topics we'll address as a firm.

Step 4: Decide on learning methods A good learning plan goes beyond sending an employee to a class, and includes a mix of:

  • Learning events (internal and external), such as: workshops, courses, conferences, seminars.
  • Experiential learning, such as: work within role, special assignments, coordinated swaps, job shadowing.
  • Mentoring/teaching (because teaching creates learning as well as shares knowledge), such as structured mentoring/coaching, buddies, common interest groups.
  • Knowledge management, such as: best practice sharing, reference and reading materials, internal standards and documented processes.

Step 5: Develop a learning plan for six to 12 months Keep this simple--you don't want to overreach--but create a simple framework as follows:

  • Methods
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Timeline/calendar

Step 6: Rinse and repeat. Now that you've got the party started, build on your momentum by:

  • Collecting periodic feedback from team members
  • Revisiting your plan every quarter and adjust as needed

As The Container Store puts it:
"When life experience are combined with proper training, we believe our employees' creative genius is set free."

Published on: Jan 30, 2019
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