Given the shortage of skilled technicians and salespeople our industry is facing, it’s more important than ever to ensure we are retaining the people who positively impact our companies on a daily basis.
Not only is turnover costly and inconvenient, it can also be a huge point of stress for owners and managers. It’s been proven companies that foster a culture of learning, continued growth and training have the lowest turnover rates, so we need to focus on what we can do to encourage that type of culture.
As an industry coach and consultant, I have seen all different types of company cultures, and I can confirm that a business with a training culture not only tends to experience lower turnover rates, but they also have higher-performing team members across the board.
That being said, cultivating a strong culture of growth and training takes focus, follow-through, clear strategy and targeted systems.
Creating a training system
Here are some keys to developing a training system that will help you retain and grow your current team members.
Be consistent, no excuses. This is the first key, because it’s the area I see most companies fail when it comes to developing a culture of learning and growth.
I hear all kinds of reasons why people just can’t seem to find the time to have meetings, whether it’s around the holidays, during busy seasons, or there is something seemingly more important that needs to be accomplished at that time. Successful companies, in contrast, have a “no excuses” mindset regarding their training meetings.
Unless there is a massive natural disaster that makes it unsafe for team members to come to work that day, the meeting happens. This communicates the expectation that personal development is a nonnegotiable part of their job and that constant improvement is an all-encompassing goal for the organization.
Communicate goals and whys. You’d be surprised by how few companies communicate company goals and provide the “why” behind them. Having collective goals helps build a strong culture and sense of camaraderie, but team members also want to know where those numbers come from.
If it seems like a goal is just pulled out of nowhere, it’s harder for people to get behind it. But if you express: “Our goal is to grow X% over last year, bringing us to this number, and here is our plan for reaching or exceeding this,” it appeals to a sense of logic and understanding. Then, team members can understand how targeted training is one of the best ways to improve their skills to achieve certain results.
Every one of my progressive clients has clearly defined goals and is not afraid to share them. So many owners and managers don’t communicate goals because they’re afraid of failing to achieve them. Put your ego aside and communicate what you want to accomplish.
Have a plan and desired outcome for each meeting. One of the worst things you can do when trying to develop a learning culture is to hold boring, pointless meetings. You don’t want team members to absolutely dread training sessions. You need to bring energy and excitement along with a focused topic, delivery plan, and desired outcome. Ask for feedback, and make it interactive. It’s great to teach skills, but you also benefit greatly from hearing direct personal responses, ideas and objections.
A common meeting mistake is losing focus and trying to communicate too much in the time allotted. If you’re having a sales meeting, just talk about sales — don’t add on something about the new insurance plan at the end of the meeting. Whatever your topic is, give it the full attention it deserves.
My company offers a resource called the “Instant Meeting Planner.” If you’d like a free copy of it, send me an email mentioning this column and I will give it to you as a thank-you for being a loyal reader.
Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce. You know the drill: You have a trainer visit your shop, your team members get excited and motivated, their productivity improves, and, the majority of the time, their stellar results start to decline after a while. This happens because the training topics and techniques are not being reinforced.
Follow-up plans are crucial for real, lasting behavior change. For example, even with the online training videos my company offers, we strongly recommend having several meetings on one specific topic so techs and salespeople can use what they learn in the field for a week or two, have an open discussion about the application of their new skills, and ask questions of managers and peers. When you have a culture of learning and growth, people want to help their fellow team members improve, but if you only talk about a topic once and expect to see results, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Also, don’t be too critical of your team if you don’t see immediate improvement; sometimes, a new concept takes a couple weeks of using it with clients for them to hone their new skill. If you still don’t see improvement after multiple reinforcements, it’s important to get direct feedback from team members about what isn’t working. Remember, Michael Jordan didn’t stop practicing free throws after he won his first championship; he knew he had to consistently reinforce his skills to remain at the top of his game.
Train everyone, not just salespeople. I’ve spoken with so many CSRs and DSRs who see techs and salespeople getting all the training, leaving them feeling a bit neglected. In general, people want to improve, and creating a culture of learning and growth should include every team member.
Managers and owners also need training. Just because they are the ones who usually facilitate the training doesn’t mean they don’t need any themselves — it’s just the opposite, actually. Managers and owners can stagnate, get caught up in the daily “firefighting,” and fail to focus on strategically growing the business. Managers and owners also tend to feel like they are on an island from time to time; they have the pressure of meeting numbers and keeping the company running smoothly.
Effective training for leaders and managers typically includes aspects of self-development, focusing on discovering personal strengths and uncovering weaknesses that shape who they are as leaders. As we’ve seen too many times, great technicians don’t usually make great managers without a large amount of work on their communication and leadership skills, while still focusing on personal growth. Making sure everyone in the company is feeling like they are getting trained equally is a great way to retain your key team members.
Every day in our industry, key team members leave companies, costing them time and money to replace, and in the labor pool we are facing, we want to avoid this as much as possible. There are many reasons for turnover, but a major one is team members feeling like they don’t have opportunities to grow within the organization.
Providing training gives your team members a sense of accomplishment as well as opportunities to advance, both personally and professionally. Investing in team members provides great returns, and focusing on building a “training culture” will help you retain your most important assets: your people.