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Employee Training: An Investment in Your Company’s Future

By Blaine Bagley, SVP
Operations, EnerBankUSA

Blaine Bagley
Blaine Bagley

Employee training. It’s possible that these two words together have a bad connotation with you or your management team. Maybe it’s because you sent an employee to an expensive conference. They came back with lots of good ideas, and then everyone went back to the same old ways. Or, you may think training is expensive, consumes too much time and takes away from production.

Some excuses that companies give for not training employees include:
1. We’ll spend time and money training them, and then they leave for another company
2. We have no time to train people, so they have to learn it on the job
3. Technology and processes change too fast — today’s training is irrelevant tomorrow
Zig Ziglar is quoted as saying, “One thing worse than training employees and losing them is not training them and keeping them.”

First, not training your employees costs you money. Without training, you have an uninformed workforce — about your processes, about your business and about your customers. Without training, you’re going to have higher turnover. You’re going to have unhappy employees. Most importantly, you’re going to lack task clarity, which causes inefficiencies — creating problems that are magnified as you grow.

Over the years, I’ve had so many sales reps come to my door trying to sell solar panels, but they don’t have the soft skills to represent their company effectively. And it’s not just the solar business; I’m seeing a lack of training popping up as an issue among all sorts of home improvement contractors. It’s amazing that some companies are just hiring people from the street and putting them in jobs without any onboarding or formal training — and it’s costing them. Employees are 12 times more likely to leave a company when they feel they cannot develop their skills and fulfill their career goals.

Replacing an employee costs about half as much as that person’s salary. A study by the Center for American Progress estimates that the average cost to replace an employee making $60,000 can be as much as $30,000-$45,000, with the minimum being about 30% of their wage. Moreover, the costs get higher the more expensive the employee is — company executives can cost up to $250,000 to replace.

Whereas a lack of training increases costs, creates higher turnover and fosters lower productivity, there are benefits to building a well-defined onboarding, training and learning program for your employees.

Training motivates your employees
The new generations of workers, such as Millennials and Generation Z, according to a survey conducted by PwC, say two of the top three characteristics that make a company compelling to work for involve training. First on their list is providing opportunities for career progression (52%), and third is excellent training programs (35%). While wages also made the top three at #2, items like benefits, company brand and even the specific industry the company operates in were less important than training and opportunities for progression.

Create a culture of feedback
Training is key to everyone knowing their role and their objectives. It creates opportunities to practice and to learn from the best people. Imagine the benefits of having your best salespeople discuss and model their best practices for serving your customers, and then giving them a chance to showcase their methods to others.
However, sometimes your sales staff can be the hardest to work with to create this culture. It’s not so much about forcing them to a particular process, but it’s more about getting them to practice different methods in a safe environment, so they’re better at their job. How do you accomplish that? Here’s an idea: instead of just sending your guys out on the first of the week to go door-to-door to talk to customers, practice role-playing scenarios with each other. Practice this seriously, and get someone playing the customer who’s going to challenge them. That kind of role-playing causes a bit of disequilibrium. It might even make the role player a little nervous. While it will never be as authentic as learning with real customers, the learning from these types of simulations will carry over to real-world success.

With role-playing and feedback mechanisms, your team will better understand how to talk about your products and services. You’ll also find that your employees will be better at receiving feedback because now they’re used to talking about their job, practicing, and getting another perspective. Receiving feedback constructively, especially in a work environment, is a learned skill. At first, it’s kind of awkward. Then, as you keep doing it, you’ll find employees expect feedback and yearn for it. You’ll develop better relationships among coworkers, and your employees will understand receiving feedback is not about calling them out or talking about failures. It’s talking about areas of improvement. Embedding feedback culture into your training programs and your onboarding is critical.

Reduce turnover
When you implement training, you’ll have a healthier ecosystem for your employees, which means they will be more engaged and stay with you longer. According to the Gallup organization, disengaged employees who leave early cost companies a half a billion dollars. The study also says that at the average company, up to 70% of employees are disengaged, risking very high turnover. Training will help your employees become more engaged, lengthening the time they are with you, and adding more value to your company.

Investing in training improves profitability
At first, from a numbers standpoint, investing in training seems like an expense, but it’s actually an investment. A study conducted by the National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce found increases in workforce education level were far more effective at increasing productivity than increases in the value of equipment: a 10% increase in both produced a productivity gain of 8.6% for education compared to only a 3.4% increase for upgraded equipment alone.

Easy steps you can do now to improve training
You can take several steps right now to improve your training to counteract some of the risks at your company and start seeing benefits immediately.
1. Test your employees’ knowledge. Use that test to create a baseline of what your employees know now. The results give you the gaps you need to close.

2. Record your best performers. For example, document what your best sales rep is doing to be successful. Literally record him/her on a sales call. Take notes on the processes they follow. Share that company-wide. You can’t clone people, but you can clone skills.

3. Create today’s version of a suggestion box. It can be a box where people drop notes for improvement. It can be an email box that only HR or one manager monitors. Or some other method. Done right, a suggestion box can create an environment where it’s ok to ask questions. Your employees will feel empowered by that.

4. Sit down with your teams to talk. Our team has an appointment on our calendars to talk every Friday. We don’t always keep that appointment, but we use that meeting to talk about aspects of the business. If we don’t have anything to talk about, we open up our training materials and go through a section together. But we don’t talk just about the content; we talk about the intent — the goals and purposes of the materials.

There’s more we can discuss about training and establishing a training culture in your business, but this will get you started. As you develop regular training, your employees will stay longer, will contribute more, and your business will improve.