A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a meeting with some sales managers. It was quite a
great honour and an eye-opener as these middle-to-top management folks discussed a wide
variety of business issues. As was to be expected, the global economic meltdown and increased
competition from both local and global competitors topped the agenda. These business minds
talked at length about what was going on and how it could impact the local business
environment. It eventually came down to what specific actions could be taken by individual
businesses to improve sales, increase market share and ultimately profitability. Many good
alternatives were suggested such as introducing new products/services, improving product-
service offering, entering new markets and even buying out or merging with competitors.
As the discussion came to a close, one gentleman popped up an option of improving an
organisation’s fortunes through better staff training. Most of those present agreed that
professional training was a good option, but relegated training to something that should be
done only when needed. I left the meeting not feeling too excited, not so much because of the
seeming disregard for my profession as a sales and customer care coach but much more for the
erroneous impression that training was only an option. Business leaders who realise the
essence of training know this fact: TRAINING IS NOT AN OPTION!!! It is not a desire, feeling or a
mere notion, or a preference. It is not an occasional occurrence. TRAINING IS A MUST!!!
In preparing for this article I sought out the views of some sales managers and other business
leaders and the overwhelming majority agreed that training is important. Readers will agree
that we all have been beneficiaries of some training effort or programme, at one time or
another, and in one form or another. Therefore we are all likely to accept that training is
important. Inspite of the importance we all accord training, this assertion is not widely
practiced in the business world. Training is not given the place it deserves in business set ups
and is therefore not fully utilised to enhance profitability. Training should be elevated to a
point where it becomes an integral part of the company’s culture.
Why is that business leaders recognise the importance of training of employees; be they sales,
accounting, marketing or customer care personnel, and yet do not regularly practice what they
believe? I believe strongly that it all has to do with the perception management has about staff
training. Traditionally, managers have seen training as something to support the real ‘work’.
Some writers have argued that training is relegated to the background because it is seen as an
extension of education and since education has been traditionally viewed as a system of
supporting human growth and development, workforce training has slid into a mere supporting
role. However this is dangerous thinking.
Any manager that subscribes to this mindset is courting disaster. To see something as a support
places the ‘supporter’ in a secondary role. It implies that the supporting entity is important, but
not necessarily essential. A supporting system is put in place to enhance an essentiality and
therefore it can be done away with when it is perceived as not needed at any point in time. This
explains why in these tough times, most managers will not even look to professional training as
a vital tool to improving a firm’s overall market position. Training programmes will be among
the first cost items that will be done away with when times become tough on the business.
Traditional management will frown on my line of argument. I expect that because these are not
those traditional times. This is the 21st century and in these times employee training is no
longer optional. Practical training in the all areas of the firm’s operations is not to be organised
as and when management feels like it. In the new era we find ourselves in, an organization’s
capacity to effectively train its staff will determine how well it is able to survive. Organisations
that fail this simple requirement will soon be as extinct as the T-Rex. Good practical training
should be perceived as an engine or core of a highly skilled workforce. A core does not support
anything rather it is supposed to be supported. Likewise, training is to be at the heart of the
company’s drive to increase profitability.
There are two vital characteristics of good training regimes. One the training is consistent and
also training is “across board”, i.e. every member of staff occasionally undergoes some form of
training. Training should be from the CEO with a chain of degrees and qualifications down to
the cleaner with only a BECE certificate. I stand by this suggestion because the entire company
should be seen as one solid unit and not as individuals doing their own thing. For example, a
cleaner who has not been trained on new and improved ways of cleaning such as using new
cleaning equipments and chemicals will not meet standards expected by today’s sophisticated
customers. This employee might by this action (or in actions) cause a loss of a customer. This
would be through no fault of the cleaner. This cleaner would thus become the weak link in the
organisation’s chain, and as the saying a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. A holistic
training approach tends to seal gaps or loopholes in the organisational make up.
Lack of proper training can affect the overall profitability of the firm. This is because an
untrained and unskilled workforce creates inefficient work resulting in the loss of money. Lack
of professionally trained staff can cost the business substantially. These costs might include cost
for doing work all over again i.e. rework, lower profits due to poor work done, misapportioned
resources, i.e. money spent trying to fix a gap could be better spent elsewhere, loss of market
share, loss of potential word-of-mouth advertising from satisfied customers, etc. As can be seen
the costs of ineffective or non-existent training gaps can be far-reaching.
At this juncture I would, at the risk of coming across as biased, assert that all training should not
be done equally, i.e. not all types of workers require the same training. This is a fact. Training
should take into consideration the peculiarities within individual departments and must reflect
the needs of particular teams and functions within the organisation. I daresay that sales and
customer care staff should be particularly targeted since they happen to be the face of the
company in the eyes of customers. Just as you would take special care of your face before you
walk out of your house, so should every profit-oriented business entity take special care of its
I must admit that tailoring specific training programmes for different units comes at a higher
than normal cost but, believe me, it is worth it. It might seem expensive for the moment but in
the final analysis, I am of the opinion that bad or no training will be much more expensive than
good, professional and practical training. Therefore if you ask me what three things a manager
should concentrate on during these tough economic times, I would say TRAINING, TRAINING
and MORE TRAINING.
By: J.N Halm
P. O. Box DS 2134