Most New Year's resolutions include dieting and fitness training. But if you're one of the many entrepreneurs running a small business who hasn't had the time to implement management training, I'd suggest you put it at the top of your 2015 business resolutions list. It's just as important as sales, product development, or any other core offering.
I spoke with Jeff Solomon, partner and co-founder of WorkplaceU (a dashboard solution to help companies organize internal professional development content and the analytics to monitor employees' knowledge and efforts) for some pointers. Jeff provided six quick tips to help you create a smart, cost effective program:
1. Cultivate a culture of learning. Entrepreneurs are in the business of creating new systems. Training needs to be ingrained in the system at the core. Start proselytizing.
2. Pave the way. Make it easy for your employees to participate. Hold lunch-and-learns. Create a central repository for content. Provide an easy answer to the question, "Where do I go for...?"
3. So where do you start? Partner with your management team to create a basic onboarding course that covers everything from your mission and vision statements to your workplace policy's nuts and bolts. Doing so is invaluable and helps assure everyone is on the same page.
4. Now what? Supplement your training modules by obtaining relevant suggestions through crowdsourcing. Tap into content available on such sites as Lynda, Udemy, Khan's Academy, etc. Encourage your employees to participate and feel empowered to advance the culture of learning.
5. Accountability. Hold your employees accountable for participating in the organization's training programs. Make sure they understand continuous improvement is mission critical for their success as well as the firm's.
6. Keep your eye on the prize. A robust training program should improve the three R's: retention, revenue, and ROI. And, frankly, there's no better justification for getting started today.
Once you have a training program in place, it's obviously important to include modules that address the basic skills needed to succeed at your organization. But you should also challenge your team with unconventional sessions that are both fun and relevant. Here are just three we've implemented at my marketing communications firm:
1. Work the plan. A number of surveys have shown that most small companies have some sort of crisis plan in place. But those same surveys reveal those same companies seldom, if ever, test their plans (Note: One does not want to test a plan in the midst of a crisis).
Our marketing communications firm works the plan. Every year we gather our junior and middle-level executives in a conference room and present them with a prospective doomsday scenario (e.g. all senior leadership were lost in a plane crash, three key leaders have departed and taken 40 percent of our client portfolio with them). We then split up the group and ask each to develop a crisis response aimed at different audiences: the media, our clients, relatives (if appropriate), etc. The groups then present their recommendations. There is no right or wrong in this exercise, but it helps surface any gaps in our existing plan, and teaches junior management the necessity of crisis planning.
2. Listening skills Since the advent of social media, the vast majority of younger workers have become incredibly adept at Twitter but increasingly inept at face-to-face communications. So we hold regular listening workshops that show employees how to listen to a client, prospect, or co-worker, read nonverbals, and develop rapport. Our enhanced listening skills have proven so popular that they've found their way into our tagline: "Listen. Engage. Repeat."
3. Show-and-tell. Each month, we ask a group of employees to bring-in/demonstrate the latest, greatest tools and technologies available to us. We then brainstorm to determine if the tools are appropriate for our business and how we might use them to improve client service. These Innovation Showcases, as we call them, have helped ensure we stay one step ahead of client needs.
Training has made a huge difference to the fortunes of my firm. It's resulted in our being named the top workplace in New York City by Crain's New York Business. It's also played a prominent role in helping to attract and grow customers and recruit and retain employees. Try it. You'll like it.