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Tough times call for tough training

Training takes time and money - two resources that are in short supply at the moment. Here's a suggestion that may help reduce costs and at the same time, improve the bottom line.

With the downturn in the market, good staff are still surprisingly hard to find, particularly at the operator level.

A colleague in the hospitality industry, spoke about his challenges:

"Good staff have become rare. Everyone's competing for the same pool of labour. The young, often with limited education, unskilled and without any career in mind, are just working for a couple of months until they find something they like. Our organisation is understaffed. Sick leave is on the rise, morale is down, productivity and efficiency are low. On top of that, the supervisors are overworked. We are caught in a vicious circle."

What can he do? The number one solution, both short and long term, is training. Often people think of "training" as only skill and knowledge building. However there are additional plusses from good training - motivation and a positive attitude. These can be even more important than the skill and knowledge development. Training takes time and money - two resources that are in short supply at the moment. However, both can be overcome with a little creativity. Before thinking about the type, content, length of training etc, there is one principle that must be at the forefront of every manager's mind:

"We are training our people to be the best in the business."

This is irrespective of how long they may stay with you, how junior they are, how inexperienced, or how de-motivated they might be. It must be a case of:

"We attract the best people. When they leave us, they leave with far more skills than when they arrived."

People must want to work for your organisation - this requires that you build a reputation. Your people must be seen as an asset rather than a cost. This can only start when the CEO and top people share this view - this attitude will show in their behaviour. Those of you reading this who are in the sales business, have probably heard of James Levenson's philosophy "From the cleaning people to the CEO, everyone is an important salesperson." (Levenson gave a speech back in 1974 called "And you think strawberries are for eating". It's one of the best sales leadership speeches ever given - look it up on the web, it's still there!)

The type of training?

Customer service training is the best because it incorporates all the skills that are transferable throughout the organisation, including management. What's more, it can help the bottom line.

Who should attend?

The training must start with the top team. All the top managers must undertake the training first. Then, each manager or supervisor in the organisation (including the CEO) must act as a sponsor to one training group - i.e.. he / she (in addition to having undergone the training first) must participate in the training of another group in the organisation. The sponsor should be there to support the trainer, follow up with participants individually and hold short team sessions with people on how they have applied the training. (These meetings can be as short as 5 minute sessions. In one organisation, they were called the "5 minute update" - very powerful and motivating.) Who should conduct the training?

You may have a good internal trainer. Alternatively, there are two choices. A very good external trainer, or convert one of your managers into a trainer. Turning your managers and supervisors into trainers (particularly in tough times) can be both a cost saving and a great boost to their personal skills - most people also find it highly motivating. How long should the training be?

Ideally at least a two-day workshop. However, in some businesses there is a lot of shift work and getting people together for any length of time is hard. In these cases it may be necessary to break the training up into small modules of 1 to 2 hours. Pay people to come in early or stay later. The benefits far outweigh the small costs.

Good follow-up systems, such as having the staff measure customer satisfaction (themselves, not the standard "fill in the form") adds greatly to the training effectiveness. In fact this is essential. At the start of the training, staff should be encouraged and coached in how they can measure their results. Then give them the responsibility of doing just that. How to make the training cost effective?

Once you've run a pilot session, why not offer it to other organisations in your area? They are facing similar problems to you, so why not get some revenue from your investment? Yes, you can even offer it to your competitors! With this strategy, you will start to build your reputation as the "best employer in town" - people should be saying, "I want to work there". How to get the best staff?

Make sure to stress the training and career development you offer. Even your adverts, should say "We don't expect everyone who joins us to stay forever. However, when you do join, we will guarantee you the best training and career development. In addition, if you want to make a career with us, we can offer a great future". Why is this training "tough"?

Much easier to focus on and quantify, cost reduction. Cost management strategies, whilst important, can often send the wrong messages.

Far better to run some team meetings and ask the staff "We are all going through a difficult time at the moment, what are your suggestions on how we can better manage our costs and still maintain our level of customer service?" You might just be surprised at some of the suggestions you get.

This happened with cleaners in a large university. Not only did they reduce costs, but they were soon running sessions for other maintenance people across the campus population of 12Free Web Content,000! Two cleaners even made presentations to the Board of the university and to groups of up to 200 other maintenance and administration people - truly amazing results. Tough times call for tough training.

Article Tags: Tough Times Call, Tough Times, Times Call, Tough Training

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Bob Selden is the author of the newly published "What To Do When You Become The Boss" - a self help book for new managers. He is currently researching topics for his new book on teams. Please email your suggestions for inclusion to Bob via

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