“Great organizations invest heavily in their people.”
Whenever I see a trend reproduced in several unrelated areas, I know two things: it’s a good idea and it’s working. And I don’t mean pumpkin spice flavoring in drinks, room fresheners and toilet paper. I am referring to business policies that allow companies to improve their “edge” over everyone else.
Not everyone treats their staff the same. Leading companies go out of their way to spread the wealth of knowledge around the organization.
Our church sent the staff on a trip to the Holy Land last summer in order to gain insight on their teaching and spiritual awareness. Last month, they sent the staff on a trip to Western Turkey to learn more about the journeys of Paul and John in the New Testament. They have shared their insights almost every week at every opportunity. Everyone has benefited from their experience. Why wouldn’t you want your leadership team to get more enriched and share that with everyone as a team?
About 20 years ago, I wanted our leadership team to attend a cutting-edge growth conference in California for the benefit of my South Carolina employer. But I was told to “find a conference close to the state.”
Eventually, management begrudgingly allowed me to attend a conference in Florida — by myself. It took months to communicate everything I learned from the conference to fellow staff and leaders on my own.
Several months ago, I met the CEO and leadership team of a local propane company at an event. They were attending the annual convention as a group. The CEO wanted the top leadership to learn more.
“It saves me from having to educate them in what I learned. If they learn when I do, then we can envision the entire organization,” he said.
This mindset is smart — very smart. He is empowering his leadership to act on new ideas and programs as he learns them. Why wouldn’t you want to educate the “influencers” in your organization in what you know?
There are several advantages to training the entire team and making your knowledge their knowledge. These advantages include:
1. You Become a Resource for Knowledge & Empowerment
Your library becomes the company library. The notes you took at conferences in the past and books you have read are now available to everyone who “checks out” books and workshop materials from your office. The podcasts you listen to in your car are shareable resources everyone can listen to on the way to work or on long trips. Never attend conferences, workshops or training alone. Make these experiences fun board retreats and go as a team. The company benefits from increased knowledge and expertise.
Some of the best conferences I ever attended were with the staff I worked with, and we each came away with our own ideas and perspectives on the information we learned. Board meetings gained enthusiasm and deeper discussion for months. And if you can’t bring your staff to training, find a way to bring the training to them.
2. You Attract Better Staff & Employees
Recently on examiner.com (for CBS Small Business Pulse), Mario McKellop wrote, “Investing in continuing education is also important because it will help you attract the best and brightest potential hires.” Today, everyone’s first question when asked to do a job is, “What’s in it for me?”
The best rewards attract the best people.
McKellop continues, “Whether it’s through a reimbursement program, an internal educational tour company or the temporary contracting of certification instructors, offering to help your staff expand their existing tool kits will be a relatively low-cost way to appeal to the most ambitious and innovative thinkers in the job market. One American Management Association survey even found that among today’s workforce, continuing education rated higher than raises as a perk when looking at prospective employers.”
If you want to retain the best people in your propane company, equip them with great skills. I was never taught how to equip people in school, yet that is one of the most important skills I needed as a leader. Develop it now and you will use it every day.
I have many times said your job as a leader is to work yourself out of a job. You can only accomplish that by providing the best training and advancement skills for your team.
You will keep the “all-stars” on your team if you keep them challenged and invigorated with new ideas and empowerment. All-stars hate being kept in the dark and being fed remedial material repeatedly.
If you fail to equip others, you wind up doing their jobs for them.
Walk your territory. I first read about “Managing by Walking Around” (MBWA) in the book “In Search of Excellence” by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman. The idea is that the people under your leadership gain something when you and your fellow managers get out from behind your desks and walk the territory. Hewlett Packard used the concept in management training in the 1970s.
Many great leaders in American history learned to spend time with their troops and staff in wartime. George Washington practiced this during the American Revolution.
At the winter camp in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, Washington rode among the troops each evening to encourage and survey his men. He knew he needed to keep his army encouraged and find out what they needed to keep fighting. It helped them survive the long, brutal encampment that winter.
Joe, a business friend of mine, leads an organization where his people work all over North America, South America and Europe. Joe visits the territories and hosts training events to let everyone learn what he knows.
When he saw the content of an event we were discussing for senior leadership, he said, “I don’t want just a few people to experience this; I want the whole team included.”
According to Forbes, MBWA refers to a style of business “in which managers actively get out into the trenches and listen to and engage with their employees. It’s not just about being friendly — it’s a way of keeping one’s ear to the ground to understand what’s really going on with the business.” This method is unstructured with an emphasis on unplanned “wandering,” rather than a planned visit from a manager.
Theoretically this principle increases morale and productivity as employees feel the boss has his or her ear better tuned to their lives and struggles.
W. Deming Edwards, a notable businessman of the 20th century, said, “If you wait for people to come to you, you’ll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don’t realize they have one in the first place.”
What are you doing to train your team firsthand? Frank Lloyd Wright, for example, insisted that apprentice architects in his school be seated directly across from his draft table, rather than at the far end of the room. He felt that with direct access to his wisdom, knowledge and skills, they would be better equipped to replicate his model and style. Why would he want them to learn from someone other than the boss to replicate his style?
I work with some organizations who only allow the top people to attend sales and management training events. I see some value in this, but having worked on teams in the past, I know that making great information available to the masses encourages them to exceed expectations. Otherwise, why should they even try?
If people know there is little reward unless they are in the top tier, many employees won’t try. If I am failing in my job, I need all the help I can get; so why shut me out?
Your team will never grow if you don’t provide growth opportunities.
Maybe it is time to reinvent your training structure. Perhaps people will step up and stand out if you give them all the tools available to do so. Is your organizational culture encouraging or discouraging excellence in performance and productivity? Encouraging will take more courage on your part.