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

face.

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
CHIEF EXECUTIVE
HANKER INSTITUTE
P. O. Box DS 2134
Dansoman Estates
Accra
+233-24-3065555_