Some busy CEOs regard employee training the same way many of us regard exercise - it's a great idea, and it's essential to our well-being, but who has the time for it? That attitude doesn't wash with Connie Connors, who has a "just-do-it attitude." "To maintain our competitive advantage, we have to train," says Connors, president and CEO of a 50-employee public-relations firm, Connors Communication, of New York City. So, through a number of in-house programs, Connors integrated education into the culture of her company - which counted 1998 revenues in excess of $6 million. Here are some of the ways she did it.

  • TIPs (Tips for Improving Performance). On-site training sessions are held approximately every two weeks for 15 minutes. The employees who constitute the training committee set up minisessions based on employee feedback. "TIPs have ranged from HTML coding to perfecting your pitch," explains Connors. The firm's employees or outside experts run the TIPs. Because the nonmandatory sessions are short (okay, they really last closer to half an hour) and are held on-site, they're usually well attended. Employees are also encouraged to attend industry or skill-related conferences and seminars.
  • Annual company meetings that include training sessions. One year, Connors used a three-day retreat in the Catskills to explain the company's pricing structure and teach effective schmoozing in a simulated cocktail-party setting.
  • The "Connors Bible." This section of the company's intranet gives employees instant access to information about clients, as well as company philosophy, organizational structure, procedures, and policies.
  • The buddy system. For their first two months at the company, new employees have designated buddies who are "close to their levels -- definitely not the people they report to," explains Connors. A buddy might, for instance, give a neophyte the skinny on office politics. That's not training per se, but since the company has grown rapidly, Connors thinks it's crucial that new hires become familiar with the intangibles.
  • Committees. Like the buddy system, Connors' committee system isn't, strictly speaking, a training program. Still, by encouraging employees to form committees to address issues that concern and interest them, Connors has, in effect, created another method of continuing employee education and development. "All of our employees participate in a committee," she says, but they can choose the one that interests them. The committees cover such subjects as marketing, finance, international dealings, and creativity.
What's the effect of the company's commitment to training? Connie Connors thinks her training programs help her retain employees longer than usual for her industry, and help her employees provide better service.