"All of us do not have equal talents, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents."
John F. Kennedy
"Our people are our greatest asset."
If somebody were ever to build the Hollow Business Phrase Hall of Fame, this one stands right up there with "Your call is very important to us." Everyone says it because it makes sense. Yet when times get tough, too many businesses abandon investment in their people. Studies and surveys for years have shown that business leaders recognize the value of training. You don't need me to regurgitate these consistent findings to tell you something you know is true.
Developing your internal employees and your franchisees should never be viewed as a cost center. Like marketing communications, when done properly, it is an investment in your business's future success that is directly measurable.
Devoting time, money, and effort enhancing the skill sets of your entire work force helps your system in so many ways. Bettering your employees and partners betters your chances for innovative problem-solving, customer retention, employee retention, and ultimately, sustainable and profitable growth.
Conventional wisdom about training in an economic downturn says it's too important to cut off abruptly. Unfortunately, many franchisors have been forced to do it anyway. I maintain that their behavior is simply a survival instinct. They know it's only a short-term cash-flow fix, but they believe they have no choice. Therein lies your opportunity for a long-term competitive advantage in today's market.
I sometimes have a problem with the word "training." The concept is so general it doesn't really mean anything. I am concerned that too many franchisors focus their training investment in the wrong areas. I call it push-button training: "Here's how you push the button on that point-of-sale system to make it work. Here's how you push the button on your computer to produce this report. Here's how you push the button on the phone system to transfer a call." Too often "training" means teaching new hires and new franchisees how to work with your internal processes and procedures. Obviously, some of this is necessary for any system, but it's not the opportunity.
Here's your real training opportunity:
Be sure that everyone who works with and for you is steeped in customer-driven training. What satisfies your ultimate customers and potential customers is never obvious. Your entire team benefits from training systems that continuously teach them what really matters to those they purport to serve. Answers to the following questions are what effective employees at all levels really need to know:
When you can identify the answers to these questions and effectively train people on them, you will have earned a distinct and sustainable competitive advantage in any market. Regardless of what is happening in your product or service category, company, or community, investing in your system's talent always makes sense... and it makes even more sense when others aren't doing it like they should.
Here's one final training opportunity.
No matter how hard I've tried in the past, there are two things for which I can't really train: innate problem-solving ability and general pleasantness. I can't train someone to be smart and I can't train someone to be nice. I can improve their acumen on specific skills and I can increase their respect for other people to a degree. However, it is always better to train smart, pleasant people to do their jobs better. People who struggle with learning have trouble grasping what you need them to know. People who don't have good people skills can improve those skills, but they never approach the level of "great."
Never settle for less than potentially great people in your company--and be sure this notion carries through to your development strategy. It will be next to impossible to get less than great franchisees to attract, train, and retrain truly great personnel.
Steven S. Little is a sought-after expert on business growth and the future of opportunity. He is the author of three books on business growth and was a keynote speaker at Franchise Update's Leadership & Development Conference in October 2011. Visit him at www.stevenslittle.com.
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