Training is a loop, a two-way communication in which an event at one end of the loop changes events at the other, exactly like a cybernetic feedback system; yet many psychologists treat their work as something they do to a subject, not with the subject. – Karen Pryor, Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training
What approach do you take to develop capability in your business?
For example, let’s say you want to expand into a new area or a customer asks if you can help with a task what’s your approach to resourcing that kind of project?
One approach is to hire the expertise – go out and find someone who has a track record in that area and can help you build your practice.
You could give it to your best member of staff – the one that is able to do things without being told how to do things.
Both these approaches have problems.
You often don’t know whether an expert will deliver until after you’ve set them on the task.
And if you use up your best resources then you’ll have less time left to work with other clients – maybe even existing ones.
In knowledge businesses this is a major problem – the costs of hiring expertise are high and so you’ll never be able to carry them without the revenue stream also being in place.
At the same time if you don’t have the capability then you won’t be able to pick up jobs when they come available on the market.
Unless you get better at training your people.
There will always be a shortage of experts when you most need them.
There will always be a surplus of people entering the job market looking for internships and training.
And quite often if you find someone with the personality and attitude that comes with a willingness to learn you will be able to train them to do the work.
As long as you know how and what to train them on.
Which is where a model from Professor John Seddon is quite useful to keep in mind.
Training in your business is very different from teaching or learning in school or university – and not everyone gets that.
In formal education you start at the beginning and go through to the end.
How many training programmes have you sat in where the leader goes through a hundred slides, taking you from start to finish through a process.
And how often have you listened?
Seddon, on the other hand, suggests that you should focus on training that gets people productive quickly.
What difference would it make if you could get someone working in hours or days rather than weeks or months?
Quite a lot – it turns out that speed wins.
The faster you are at something the easier it is to outpace others.
For example, lets say you run a graphic design agency and you have a new starter.
Would you give her the software manual and ask her to read it from start to finish?
Some people might.
A better approach would be to look at the tasks that you do quite often – what are the elements of graphic design that need doing?
For example, perhaps you need to lay out flyers or white papers – maybe that’s something that your set of clients use quite a lot in their process.
So, the skill set that’s required a lot is the ability to lay out pages in a professional and attractive way.
So, that’s a high frequency task.
If your clients ask for flyers quite a lot – perhaps a certain number a month – you might be able to predict how many jobs of that type come through by looking at your order book.
Finally, there’s demand.
One kind of demand is people calling you up and complaining that the layout doesn’t work for them and you need to do some work to fix things.
It’s work – but it’s bad work.
It’s rework, fixes, apologies.
Value demand is work that makes the client happy and that’s the kind of work you want to do as much of as possible.
In this situation, you need someone skilled in the art of laying out a flyer in a way that clients will like – that’s the high frequency, predictable, value demand tasks that you have.
So, train for that.
You could probably get your new starter doing that on their own in a couple of hours.
They will need support – but that’s what you’re there for.
When you know that, at the end of training, you will have someone working on work that matters and makes money, it’s easier for you to make the time to train them properly.
Because here’s the thing.
Your ability to develop your staff is as much of a competitive advantage as having experienced staff or software assets.
In fact, it’s probably an even better asset.
Anyone can buy software.
In many businesses when the experts walk out the knowledge and clients walk with them.
If you’re a training business – a learning one – then that problem doesn’t arise because you’re always developing the next batch of experts.
And they’ll stay with you because there is more to learn.