Strengthen Your Team and Gain Satisfied Customers By Building a Training-Centered Corporate Culture

As seen in Carrier Magazine

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SUMMARY
Companies of all sizes can shape employee career paths as well as their own business trajectories by integrating training and development (T&D) with their cultures.

As business conditions grow more challenging, many of us are tempted to set aside activities that don’t overtly contribute to the bottom line. Training and development (T&D) might look like one such easy target. But training can be a low-cost, high-return generator of competitive advantage—if it’s integrated with the combination of people and values that add up to your corporate culture.

Smart companies believe in finding superior people and holding on to them. One of the ways to encourage them to stay put is to offer personal development opportunities that lead to a variety of career paths inside the company.

Employee incentives to advance along those paths will be stronger if:

  • As professionals, they understand training is the only way to keep up with an evolving industry.
  • Training can earn rewards, including cash bonuses and pay increases.
  • Employees can achieve certifications on company time and at company expense.
  • Continuous growth will lead to personal gain, increased job satisfaction while avoiding stagnation.

The ROI of Training

In today’s economy, channeling more resources into training might seem like a tough sell. Of course, the Insurance industry at large understands that continuing education for licenses or certification is a good thing. It covers the basics, and it equips a core of employees with enough fundamental skills and credentials to perform well.

The prevailing view is that education is important especially if it enhances your position and your company. Speak up. If you are an employee who wants to earn a certification or get training that reflects your specific job description, your company probably will support you.

Most organizations employ a lot of people whose work doesn’t require licenses or certifications. And only a few of them may possess the initiative to go after training that could advance their careers. They may be loyal and productive, but typically only about 10 percent of them will give much thought to T&D. It’s tempting for an employer to accept limited access to training as the norm. After all, the up-front cost can seem high, and training takes people away from their day-to-day tasks. In an office with a staff of 12 or 15, the payback may not be obvious.

But consider how those two factors—low employee motivation, and management reluctance—can combine to hold a company back. Think of the employees who could be working more effectively, and getting more satisfaction from their jobs, but instead remain untapped resources.

Cultural Integration

To get beyond low employee motivation and management skepticism, a company needs to make a deep-seated cultural shift. That’s a big step, but research confirms that companies committed to training and career development do outperform their competitors. That’s why training should become integral to your corporate culture.

In a surprising number of companies, employees do most of their learning by observation, experience, and trial and error. Formal training moments are like isolated milestones on a career-long journey. But when training is integrated, it’s more like a set of rails, keeping the employee on track to personal advancement and adding greater value for the company.

In a training-centered company, employees take pride in their T&D accomplishments, and management makes sure they get official recognition. At a minimum, in-house newsletters and social media may announce graduations and certifications. Some companies stage quarterly company-wide recognition ceremonies during which management team members personally congratulate employees and present them with framed certificates.

On a more ambitious level, establishing a company leadership center (often dubbed a “corporate university”) can add stature to T&D activities, through a curriculum geared toward certification as well as personal development. Some companies even qualify as industry-recognized training centers, authorized to issue credentials such as the AICPCU Certificate in General Insurance.

T&D managers need not develop training materials from scratch; a little online research will uncover a wealth of off-the-shelf or easily customized resources like “The Power of 10%,” by Eric Harvey and Michelle Sedas; “212°, the Extra Degree,” by Sam Parker; and “Eat that Frog – 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time,” by Brian Tracy.

An interesting side effect of the learning-centered culture is that it can clarify the performance review process. During annual performance reviews, when objective measurement is sometimes problematic, managers can rely on training achievements as indicators of progress. An individual’s training plan for the upcoming year can lend definition and structure to general career goals.

How to Get Started

Like any element of a healthy corporate culture, training requires visible endorsement—and active participation—from top management. But, as a business owner, don’t try to do it all at once, and don’t try to do it all yourself

To begin, identify just one area of your organization where better skills could have the most impact. A client-facing department is often a good candidate.

With that opportunity in mind, you need a champion. A member of your team who is naturally eager to share knowledge with others will probably make a good training coordinator. In most cases, your best candidate will not be a manger, because T&D will consume about 50 percent of his or her time. A larger company may consider hiring a training coordinator to ensure that T&D remain a focus. Spend time with your new trainer, mapping out a small pilot project. For instance, you may want to start with customer satisfaction, and then narrow your scope to one manageable, teachable subject. The training should resonates with your organization’s mission and values. Employees will want to understand the impact of the training in terms of your organizations big picture goals. By providing a clear, benefit-oriented framework you will ensure buy-in from the start.

Acquire training materials and develop an approach that fits your subject matter is the next step. You might adopt a classroom approach that features some elements of fun. Certification-oriented training may dictate a combination of structured activities in the classroom and online study/ testing. In any case, make it easy for your trainees to manage the balance of work time and study time.

Once the training established, monitor the progress, measure results, and use the data you collect to set a benchmark for your next wave of training. Your pilot project is likely to show you that small investments in time and resources can kick off an enduring culture shift that makes your team, happier, increases productive while your company gains a competitive edge.

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For more information contact Carol Barton – Ms. Barton is the vice president of marketing and business development for WaterStreet Company, a solutions provider for the property and casualty insurance sector. WaterStreet provides end-to-end systems and services delivered by insurance and technical professionals.