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Three “AHA”s needed for your managers to be truly teachable

If you are a business owner you know that once your company grows to a certain size, your success depends on the success of your managers. I recommend basic training for all new managers, whether they’re new to management in general, or new to managing in your company. Before you invest one cent or minute in training, though, you should be sure that the ground is fertile. In other words, is your company cultivating a culture that supports a heart of teachability in your managers?

At the heart of successful training is successful learning, and the heart of successful learning is being teachable, and the heart of being teachable is being vulnerable. Ugh. Being vulnerable enough to be teachable is one of the most difficult challenges anyone can master in life, and failing to grasp it will (not might, will) limit your growth in every circumstance. There are significant barriers to experiencing this vulnerability, both internal and external, and my experience is that how we deal with the discomfort of vulnerability varies depending on gender, age, and culturally.

In order to be teachable, the first ‘aha’ needs to be an awareness that there’s a gap between where you are and where you want to be. Sometimes the gap is obvious and doesn’t really need to be pointed out. For example, if you haven’t been given a promotion to management that you aspire to, you are all too aware of this. Other times it’s not so obvious. This is that area of unconscious incompetence that was developed at Gordon Training International, and basically means that you have to know you don’t know something before you can learn it (simple, right?).

Once someone becomes aware of a need for training, the next step is to access that training. If you have a healthy, intact ego and a healthy, non-toxic culture, it’s a relatively painless process to explain the need to training and education to your boss. Here is unfortunately where so many people get blocked. Here are some of the thoughts that block new managers from seeking help:

  • I should already know this
  • My boss thinks I should already know this
  • If they find out I don’t already know this, they’ll demote/fire me

In an unhealthy and toxic culture, this fear is actually perpetrated by senior management. I’ve known business owners and senior leaders who want their managers to remain in a state of insecurity because it keeps them from asking for more money (really, this happens), and/or are otherwise vested in keeping the people who work for them feeling slightly unsafe. They will usually say it’s to keep people ‘hungry’ or ‘competitive’ but it’s pretty much nothing more than a raging case of narcissism or deep insecurity.

The second ‘aha’ needs to be a realization that you can acquire the skills necessary to thrive in your role. Your level of self-efficacy, or belief in your ability to learn, is directly correlated to your success. Dr. Carol Dweck has proven that our mindset determines our teachability. The more we believe certain things are innate, as in we have them or we don’t, the less likely we are to seek out or embrace training and coaching. When we talk about ‘born leaders’, we’re actually discouraging people from asking for help, because the assumption is that if you need help, you’re not cut out for your role. A growth mindset, on the other hand, values progress over perfection and is perfectly suited for training and coaching. If you as a senior leader don’t intentionally create a growth mindset in your culture and with your managers, you will find yourself with a singularly unteachable team.

The third ‘aha’ is a belief that this training will actually improve your performance. The problem with a lot of management training is that your managers can become jaded if it is too general to be useful, or if there’s a new ‘most important thing’ every month. Before investing in training, make sure you understand what is going to be taught, how it will be taught, and how relevant it is for your managers. If you do your homework, you’ll have a stronger belief in the outcome, and your confidence will be contagious. Once your managers are confident the training will help, they’ll be more receptive (teachable) and more likely to implement what they’ve learned. The success they experience will reinforce them to keep going. On the other hand, if you say something along the lines of “I’m going to send you to a seminar today. I have no idea if it’s any good, but we got a discount from our vendor, so you might as well check it out”, do you want to guess how likely it is that whomever you’re sending will be very teachable?

So vulnerability, mindset, and belief in the value of the training are all critical components of teachability, without which you really should reconsider investing in training at all. Although you obviously aren’t in control of your managers’ teachability, you can definitely set the stage for a culture of successful learning and development, which creats a high-performance, high-impact culture!

For a more in depth discussion about how these all work together, click here.
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Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people.  With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work.  Carrie can be reached for consultation at carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com

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Why growing businesses NEED a management selection and training process

When you’re the owner or senior leader of a growing business, one of the hallmarks of growth is the need to elevate managers to help oversee your operations. I think we tend to underestimate the difficulty of this step. Managers change the blueprint of your company instantly and irrevocably, and yet so often a selection and training process is overlooked. What should  leadership development program look like and how can you implement this amidst the chaos of rapid growth?

In a perfect world, you will have anticipated your growth and will have these plans in place well before you need them. But we all know that things rarely go according to plan. All too often, it looks more like this: You experience a dramatic increase in business and revenue. At first it’s fantastic, and you’re excited (and relieved) that all your hard work looks like it’s paying off. All the fear and anxiety you’ve had about whether this business is really viable, and/or if you’ve got what it takes, is alleviated and it’s a wonderful feeling.

Before long, though, you start understanding the term ‘growing pains’ in a whole new way. You just aren’t able to keep track of things by yourself. There have always been facets of your job that you know aren’t your strengths (maybe it’s administrative, maybe it’s managing day-to-day tasks, maybe it’s dealing with angry customers) but before you were able to stay on top of things. Now, the sheer volume of things to do means you’re spending a much greater amount of time doing things you don’t like, and aren’t that good at. You start dropping balls, and realize that you can’t keep going this way and maintain the service and quality that led to your growth in the first place.

So you hire or promote managers.

If you’re like most owners, you may assume that your managers are on the same page as you regarding their role, and how to perform it, and what’s really important in your company. This is your first mistake. The second most common mistake is to underestimate the importance of a strong proficiency in management and business basics. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this can make or break your culture and ultimately your business. As a management and leadership consultant, I am frequently called in after the problems have started, and each and every time prevention would have been much easier and more cost effective than problem-solving. This is accomplished by a leadership development program that allows you to select and train your managers to ensure you are putting the best people in the roles, and providing them the support necessary to gain proficiency in the foundational skills.

The foundational areas are: Basic legal compliance, employee relations (leadership), and performance management. Before you can begin training your managers in these areas, you first have to determine who should be in these roles. Some foundational skills are rather easily trained, and some take longer and are more challenging. Here are the skills to look for and/or train in order of difficulty, from MOST to LEAST difficult (approximately).

  • Ability to inspire and lead others by casting a vision of the bigger picture and articulating each person’s contribution to the whole.
  • High emotional intelligence, with the ability to manage perceptions, exhibit self-control, and communicate consistently, respectfully, and optimistically in times of intense pressure. Must be able to represent your company professionally and courteously to employees, stakeholders, and vendors, regardless of the circumstances.
  • Strong communication skills, with the ability to convey complex and abstract ideas clearly and concisely in a written and verbal format, to a variety of audiences.
  • Thorough understanding of your product and service, with the ability to train and coach every aspect of the operational role.
  • Proven ability to identify and utilize performance metrics to help individuals perform to their highest and best level.
  • Ability to address and resolve performance issues while reinforcing each employee’s intrinsic value and value to the team.
  • Understanding of business basics, such as profit and loss statements, revenue drivers, and profitability drivers.
  • An understanding of protected classes, basic employment law (FLSA status, wage and hour laws, ADA, and HIPAA protections).
  • Legal and effective coaching skills and the ability to dress behavioral problems in the workplace.
  • Legal and effective interviewing skills.

A good leadership selection protocol will identify these areas behaviorally and allow you to score applicants as objectively as possible to ensure you are being fair and consistent in selecting your future leaders. You need to take into account the urgent needs of your business while considering the long-term implications of selecting a candidate lacking an important, hard-to-train skill. Regardless of the experience and skillset of your manager-to-be, it’s important to train them in the basics before fully endorsing them as managers. There’s a legal benefit to conducting and documenting training. Not only that, a basic tenant of management is to treat each employee the same. Bypassing training on a ‘highly qualified’ candidate sets the tone right out of the gate that they’re above common protocol.

When conducting your leadership training, I think the best approach is a combination of low-hanging fruit, and impact to operations. Therefore, I recommend a quick and thorough review of legal compliance. First, because it’s easy to create standardized training – whether it’s an orientation webinar, or pre-recorded training of some sort. This is a great preventative measure right out the gate.

The business and performance management piece also lends itself well to group or virtual training. The specifics of your business are unique, but profit and loss concepts are universal, as are the fundamentals of performance management. You can often standardize quite a bit of this training, and have individualized training as a second or third step.

Last is the vision, communication, and emotional intelligence quotient of the job. Hopefully you haven’t hired anyone for a significant leadership position who is lacking emotional intelligence or communication skills, but it’s not uncommon to need to work on these skills when promoting from within. If you’re promoting your top performing individual contributors, there may be a great deal of leadership training and coaching you need to invest in. Ideally, this will be done as part of a succession plan, and not on-the-job. Similarly, the tribal and product knowledge specific to your company will not be present in candidates from outside your company. You’ll need to decide how important this is. It can be a deal-breaker for some companies, and simple enough to overcome in others.

To wrap it up, you’re doing yourself, your managers, your employees, and your company a huge disservice if you neglect to create a management selection and training process. True, you can hire and promote managers without it, but dollars to doughnuts you’ll spend a lot more time putting out fires if you go that route.

If you enjoyed this, please share the love…and sign up for a freebie…Quick tips for legal and effective interviewing…right here! Come hang out with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people.  With certified Executive Coaches, Performance Management experts, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work.  Carrie can be reached for consultation at carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com


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Why great employees quit and what you can do about it

After being in the Human Resources arena for more than twenty years (does that mean I’m officially old? Eeek!) I have seen employees quit for a variety of reasons. When the employee is a high potential, high contributing one, or a well-loved manager, it can be a devastating blow to the company. If the employee is non-performing or toxic to the culture, it’s not but shame on you for not addressing it before they resign. Here are the reasons I’ve been given for why great employees quit:

  • I didn’t see any opportunity for growth here
  • My manager doesn’t care about me
  • My manager doesn’t know what they’re doing (I’m not saying this is true, I’m saying this is what I’ve been told)
  • The company doesn’t care about me (or the company owner doesn’t care about me)
  • I haven’t received the training I was promised
  • The job isn’t what I was told it would be
  • I am not being compensated what I’m worth
  • I’ve been here X years, and have never even gotten a review
  • This is a really negative environment
  • I’m expected to work so much that I never see my family anymore. I need balance
  • We’re having/have had a baby/small children, and want to make a change so we can be home with them
  • I thought I could stand the commute but I can’t
  • My spouse accepted a transfer, so we’re moving

All of these reasons, with the exception of the last two (possibly three but I think there are some improvements to make here), are completely avoidable. The problem is, by the time someone is ready to quit over these things, there’s really nothing you can do to keep them except to desperately offer them more money, which I’ve never seen work long-term.

Retaining an engaged workforce of high-performing employees does not happen by accident.  In my experience, this only occurs when you have a comprehensive performance management system in place. Some employers try to circumvent this by implementing perks without getting to the core issue. I liken this to putting beautiful buttercream frosting on a liver pate cake (or a custom paint job to a car without an engine if baking analogies don’t work for you). It looks nice and might fool people for a minute, but won’t stand the taste/drive test. Additionally, these interventions cost money without adding to the bottom line. Some examples I’ve seen are:

  • Foosball or pool table in the break room
  • Free food
  • Unlimited PTO (that hardly anyone takes because they think it’s a trap)
  • Awesome employee benefits
  • High-above-market pay
  • Employee BBQs (Potlucks if times are tough)
  • Monthly birthday cake for employees (or cards signed by everyone in the office)
  • Bring your pet to work (if you do this, please have a plan for poo patrol)

I’m not saying any of these are bad. I think they’re great. I’m just saying they don’t do anything to retain great employees if you don’t have a robust performance management system in place.  So what does that look like?

  • Accurate documentation of the job details as well as the knowledge, skills, and ability needed to perform the job
  • Clear and accurate understanding of what behaviors lead to team and department accomplishments that lead into desired revenue and profitability goals
  • Behavior-based training for employee and managers detailing HOW to perform the job and not just what is expected
  • Correctly functioning equipment as appropriate to perform tasks
  • Clear, articulated explanation of the company goal, mission, and how each job support that
  • Accurate individual performance metrics provided weekly to employees to give them feedback on how they’re doing
  • Contingent positive reinforcement for performing tasks at or above expectations
  • Regular goals to promote job achievement, and growth
  • Personal development plan to support employee’s and organization’s growth plan
  • Ensuring struggling employees are coached and supported, and ultimately removed from jobs in which they can’t or won’t be successful

This is relatively simple, but not easy, and it’s a lot to navigate with all the other pressing business items to manage. If you’re interested in learning more about setting up a performance management system, click here to set up some time to walk through a complimentary overview of a proven performance management protocol. Or just reach out directly to carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com

Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people.  With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work. 

If you enjoyed this post, please share the love, and come hang out with me on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.


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How performance management will improve your revenue, profitability, and give you your life back

I started my career with a degree in psychology and a professional goal of becoming a) a best-selling author or b) something that helps people somehow. By luck, fate, or something else, I ended up mentoring under a pioneer of applied behavioral science, and learned some of the most powerful performance management practices I’ve encountered to date. I thought I was diverting from my chosen path into the business world for a ‘little while’. What I ended up discovering was that understanding how to improve individual performance in a business absolutely helps people, improves lives, builds companies, and makes a difference.

There are many ways to look at performance management. I recommend a twofold approach. First, I like to train new (and even seasoned) managers on the basics of your profit and loss statement. I’ve found through the years that this is worth reviewing even with long-time managers, because sometimes there is not the clarity you think and it’s often the case that your managers won’t tell you if they don’t understand something. Make sure everyone understands your revenue lines, your costs of goods sold, and particularly the labor line items. They should also be educated on gross profit, operating expenses, net income, and EBITDA. Some company owners are uncomfortable sharing all the financial information, and some prefer open book management. Regardless of your preference, sharing the how’s of a P&L will enable your managers to make better decisions, and to start looking at the business as a business, and not a bottomless well.

Once managers have a strong business understanding, you can introduce a more robust performance management system. This intervention is where my team and I get the most excited, because this is where you get to make more money, keep more money, experience less stress, invest more in your people, and start loving your business again. In other words, this is where the fun is!

Performance management (as we teach it) is based on the understanding that a business – any business – is comprised of the activities performed by the employees. The goal of performance management is to clarify your business outcomes, identify the milestones, and map out the steps needed to hit the milestones. Once that’s done, we look for the ‘tracks’ that proper task achievements leave, figure out the most effective way to measure them, and provide feedback on those measurements to each individual employee.

If it sounds like work-process mapping, it is. If it sounds like behavior-based training, it is. If it sounds like individual performance metrics, it is. If it sounds like individual, team, and departmental key performance indicators, it is. If it sounds like the only proven way I’ve ever seen to drive double digit improvements in top and bottom line performance, it’s that too. But it’s more than that.

What I love (love, love) most about performance management is that at the end of the day it’s connecting employees to the big picture of the company, and about connecting managers with their employees. It means making sure important conversations are happening. It means that great performance gets recognized, not taken for granted. It also means that people who need help, receive it. It’s also exciting, because while there are certain predictabilities (like, you as the owner will be super frustrated at the first set of metrics because of how hard they were to get, and how much less is happening than you assumed) there are also always exciting gains, and huge increases in morale as employees come together to solve problems, figure out the best ways to do something, and feel heard.

So, while the best-selling author thing is still a work in progress, doing something that helps people has become a reality, and it’s even better than I thought it would be!

If you found this article helpful, you may also be interested in the three things you should train all your new managers (one of which is performance management, of course). If you believe your small or growing business could benefit from performance management, or other management training, please feel free to email me and we can chat.

Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people.  With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work.  Carrie can be reached for consultation at carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com


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Three of the toughest challenges you’ll face as a leader that might surprise you

As William Shakespeare is famous for saying, ‘Some are born to greatness, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” If you are in a position of leadership in your organization, chances are it occurred due to a combination of the three. During my twenty years as HR Director, and subsequent years after that as a leadership and executive coach, I’ve had countless people tell me their goal was to advance to some kind of leadership or management position. When I hear this, my first question is always ‘why?’ People think it’s a trick question, but it’s really not. Answers typically range from wanting to make more of an impact, to wanting a greater scope of authority, to wanting more money, to wanting to make a difference in people’s lives. I’m not here to make a value judgment on anyone’s motives, but some of the challenges of management are hard enough that I like to let people know that if their motivation is solely money, there’s probably an easier way. Here are the three toughest situations you’ll face in your leadership journey. We all go through them, and it’s these experiences that grow you and also leave you changed forever in both positive and negative ways.

Letting good people go

It’s never easy to fire people, but at least when it’s because someone has committed some egregious act it’s a little easier to call it quits. One of the worst experiences a manager can face is letting people go who did nothing wrong. In financial downturns, it’s not uncommon to have to let go of highly valued, contributing employees; some whom have been with you for years. Anyone who tells you that you can compartmentalize this and leave the personal out of it is either lying, a sociopath, or delusional. Even worse is when you are forced by higher ups to let go of good people for workplace political reasons. If you are in management long enough, this will happen to you.

I’ve found the best way to get through this is not to try to leave feelings out of it, but to lean into your emotions. Whenever possible, leave the person with as much dignity as possible. Remind them (because it’s true), that this is not the only job out there, and that other doors will open. Your employee may not appreciate it, but it may make a difference for them. Sometimes the story ends terribly. There is one situation that I’ll never forget, where a termination was the precipitating point for the employee of a severe mental and emotional breakdown that ended in violence and incarceration. These things can leave scars on your soul.

Having great employees

Weren’t expecting that one, were you? Having bad employees is no walk in the park, but it’s the truly great ones that will ultimately put you through your paces as a leader. One of the ways these people will stretch you is because to develop them, you will at some point need to stop giving them answers and encourage them to do things their own way. This is incredibly tough if you think you already know the answer, and if they make a mistake, or fail it will be very painful for everyone. Another way these folks will challenge you is that if you have gotten into the least little bit of a comfort zone (and let’s be honest, comfortable is not SO bad, is it?) your super stars will always be there pushing at the boundaries.

They’ll want to know, why, how, and what else for just about everything. You’ll want to tell them to just back off a little, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and they don’t need to change the world by Wednesday, but you won’t. Or you shouldn’t. As much as we want people to slow down and earn their promotions, we’re not serving them well by squelching their enthusiasm or stifling innovative ideas. It’s much harder to channel all that energy. It takes a great deal of investment to mentor and grow your people and fulfil the other demands on you, which is why having great employees is one of the hardest things about management.

Failing

I know what you’re thinking…duh…but stick with me here. If I were to ask any one of you if it’s okay for someone on your team to try something and fail, all but the jerkiest of you would say of course. But I’ll bet far less of you believe this is true of yourself. It’s one thing for a calculated risk not to work out your way, or for something to happen that’s beyond your control, like a failed economy, but what about real failure? Not acting with integrity, blowing up at a subordinate, cutting corners or making a mistake that has serious financial repercussions are all the kinds of failure that can break your spirit and make you feel like your career is over. Some failures are harder to  recover from than others, and it might not be possible to recover at your current company, but its these very things that can be a jumping off point for you. These failed life tests can be what turn us around, sharpen us, and give us a degree of compassion for others that we might never have had (and yes, I speak from experience). Really failing can turn you into a great leader, but only if you let it.

Of course there are other tough things about being a leader. Budgets, meetings, angry customers, and unrealistic deadlines are all par for the course. But if you really want to leverage your impact, change people’s lives, and leave a legacy, this can be a great way to do so.

If you’re a leader who wants to learn more about developing other leaders, click here.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, come hang out with me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, and please share the love.

Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people.  With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work.  Carrie can be reached for consultation at carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com


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Three things your new managers need to know and how to teach them

If you haven’t noticed by now, training new managers is one of the things I’m most passionate about in my consulting business. There is no other group that I work with that is more motivated to learn, more in need of the information, and better positioned to make a positive impact in their organizations. I remember from my days of running HR and Organizational Development departments for growing companies that there are literally thousands of providers offering so-called management training. Some are cheap and some are wildly expensive and it can get overwhelming. It doesn’t help that the people who need the training are usually not the best ones to determine what kind of training they need.

Case in point: It’s been my experience that most new (or even seasoned) managers will tell you that they need training in time management, communication, and management skills. If you’re the one in charge of arranging for this training, you can spend thousands before you realize that this hasn’t actually helped. For example:

  • Time management courses almost all present cookie cutter information that you can get yourself online, and won’t help the real problem, which is usually multiple and conflicting priorities and managers who don’t have the tools or resources to manage them.
  • Communication problems are not usually communication at all. It’s usually a lack of systems and processes, and a culture that has permitted lack of follow through and broken commitments. This is not fixed by role playing difficult conversations.
  • Management training means so many different things. My main issue with canned management training is that to be a good manager you have to be able to manage performance, and newer managers need very practical, relevant information about how to do this, which I just haven’t seen done well in affordable classes all that often.

I think there’s a pretty safe rule of thumb you can follow when arranging for or creating management training for newer managers. First is make sure they don’t get you or themselves sued, second is make sure they don’t drive away your great employees, and third is make sure they know how to manage your resources to maximize profitability.

1. Don’t get sued: Even if you have a good HR department, it’s advisable to educate managers on at least the basics of employment law so they know enough not to get you in hot water. You’d be surprised at what you might take for granted that they don’t know, and I always say that common sense and employment law rarely intersect. An overview of protected classes, overtime law, and the ins and outs of privacy and leave laws will inform your managers of areas where they will need to ask for help. This can easily be done via webinar or in person if you have the resources. I’ve found you can cover the basics in about three webinars.

2. Don’t drive away good employees: This can happen when managers are promoted, or are brought in to a new team. Most problems result from newer managers reacting to the real or perceived pressure of their new roles by setting unrealistic goals for their team, blowing up, or acting unnecessarily abrasively. This can be easily corrected by helping them understand the roles and responsibilities of a leader and by role-playing various tough situations they are bound to face. I like peer group settings for this type of training, because the more we can use real life situations, the more applicable.

3. Maximize your resources and profitability: I so often hear business owners complain that their managers don’t care, and this is hardly ever true. If we want our managers to steward our resources effectively, we have to teach them how. Don’t just tell them to manager their overtime without telling them how. Or even more importantly -why. Explain profit and loss statements, show them how their departments contribute to the purpose and profitability of the company. Give accurate and timely feedback. This can be accomplished best by theory, and by practical application. We can explain the basics of a P&L using the same terminology across multiple industries, but you would use different metrics to manage a sales team and a manufacturing one.

Of course there are many other areas that managers benefit from training. I’ve found these three to be the top priority. If you neglect training in these foundations, it will be difficult to reach your goals, minimize potential problems, and create the kind of morale you want in your company.

If you’re a leader who wants to learn more about developing your team, click here!

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, come hang out with me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, and please share the love.


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The business owner’s guide to virtual training

If you’ve been reading my previous articles, you’ll know that I’m very cautious when recommending training to fix performance problems. Although training is a fundamental part of the performance management systems that I implement, it is not sufficient in and of itself to achieve lasting change. Knowing that, I’m always a little bit skeptical when I see webinars offering to fix any host of problems in just thirty free minutes. At the same time, as a learning and development professional, with a heart to help smaller businesses find scale-able solutions, the affordability and flexibility of webinars and online training is irresistible. So how can you make sure you’re not getting ripped off?

First, consider the different types of online training. There are a lot of variations, but let’s first consider two sub-categories: Instructor-led and self-directed. In instructor-led, the participants are typically in a teleclass or webinar with someone taking them through material. In self-led, participants have access to the course content, whether it’s video, audio, transcripts, and progresses at their own speed through the curriculum. This is contrasted to traditional training, where an instructor takes participants through theoretical and practical applications, in real time, in real life (radical, I know).

I have been both a consumer and provider of all of these and there are clear pros and cons to each that should be taken into consideration when choosing the best training for your needs. But first, it’s important to put training into the correct context, to understand what it can and cannot do for your company.

Training is always an antecedent intervention. This means that it happens before a desired behavior, in order to elicit a behavior. Training purports to achieve change by a) notifying recipients of expectations, b) providing information about how to perform desired behavior, c) provide practice in performing desired behavior, and/or d) creating a desire in recipients to perform desired behavior. These conditions all need to be met in order for behavior to change, but just doing these will not get you lasting change. After all, how many of us aren’t doing the things that need to be done because we don’t know we’re supposed to, or don’t know how and how many of aren’t doing them because we find other things more important (I’m talking about YOU, exercise!).  Knowing the purpose and limitations of training can help you make the best choice.

That being said, if it’s truly training you need, let’s start with the two extremes; traditional and self-directed.

Traditional

Biggest Pro: Live interaction is highly effective, because questions can be addressed, and a skilled trainer can evaluate learner comprehension and task acquisition.

Biggest Con: This is usually the most costly training. Not only is there usually travel involved for either the trainer or trainees, there is also the possibility of lost work time as training typically is done during work hours.

Self-Directed

Biggest Pro: This is usually the most cost-effective training, as you’re not paying for the cost of the trainer, and the training can often be done outside of work hours.

Biggest Con:  Without significant follow up, it can be tricky to ensure course completion, and skill acquisition can be difficult to attain (or quantify).

Then there are the hybrids, where I think one can find a lot of gold. We’ve all participated in webinars. Some are incredibly valuable and some less so. Instructor-led webinars, with a chance for Q&A, offer the best of both worlds. The more opportunity for participant interaction, the more valuable the webinar will be received.

Finding the right type of training is like finding the right solution for any need. I would recommend doing your research and asking lots of questions. If you ever feel pressured to buy, are not encouraged to ask questions, are told customization isn’t an option, or the provider makes unrealistic promises, this is probably not for you. Wherever possible, try to seek out solutions that include the other requirements for performance change: feedback and ongoing reinforcement.

For example, I specifically work with small and medium-sized, growing businesses, mostly outside the tech space. I use a combination of traditional training and instructor-led virtual training because it allows me to overcome  geographical challenges and also keep costs reasonable. I also highly customize my training for my clients. When it comes to my OBM training (which is an 8-week course) I add a second Q&A or practical application session for my clients to ensure they’re able to apply the concepts correctly in their organizations.

Training is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. This is good and bad for small business owners. The good is there is a solution out there for you. The bad is the sheer number of options can be overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals, or help. Good luck with taking this important measure to improve performance and productivity.

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