A major opportunity to invest in our people and our businesses

A major opportunity to invest in our people and our businesses Main Photo

23 Apr 2020

Blog, small business, Workforce Development, Workforce, Wages, Small Business, Jobs, Entrepreneurship, Development

Most of us involved in business leadership agree that our people are our greatest asset. We also recognize that investing in our people with meaningful professional development often gets lost in the busy-busy-busy nature of daily operations. We spend so much time working IN our businesses that we fail to work ON them often enough to build on what we are doing right and to correct what we are doing wrong.


As we practice social distancing and face broad economic restrictions on business activities due to COVID-19, we have a opportunity to invest in our people and our businesses. In particular, for businesses forced to curtail or stop operations that can retain or re-hire staff via the SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), business leaders can take this opportunity to ensure that as we begin to ease these restrictions and restart the economy that our businesses are better positioned to grow and prosper.


Why re-hire employees with PPP funding when “you don’t need them yet?” So you can invest in them and in your business!


Many Corridor businesses have a choice to make – (1) do I keep my former employees on furlough drawing unemployment, or (2) do I hire them back using the SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)? Many furloughed employees have voiced that they would prefer to stay on unemployment because they actually make MORE money on unemployment than if we were to hire them back. As business owners, we are tempted to leave them on unemployment because we can’t re-open yet so what would they all do? We can only do so much cleaning and painting…


With PPP, we have a unique opportunity to make unprecedented investments in training and innovation that will improve our employees and our companies. While PPP funds cannot be spent on the training, the most expensive part of the training – the wages and salaries of participants – is covered by PPP for up to 8 weeks.


Invest in and improve our people

  • Customer Service Training
  • Sales Training
  • Safety Training
  • Writing skill development
  • Speaking skill development
  • Team building
  • Leadership development
  • Agile development practices


Invest in and improve our businesses

  • Identify new products to sell
  • Identify new services to sell
  • Identify new channels to market
  • Create better ways to explain how we stand out from our competitiors
  • Update operations & employment manuals
  • Design and implement website improvements – scheduling services, selling products, accepting payments


How? Our path forward can be simple or elaborate. We can:

  • Form a book club – pick a book / audiobook for our employees to read / listen to, and then we can facilitate a discussion on what was learned
  • Utilize online training to develop individuals and teams
  • Form task-driven small groups to target innovation; challenge each team with a specific task or set of tasks, provide them resources (money, access to experts and video-conferencing communication tools like Zoom) and have them build out a path forward to accomplish the task(s)


As we consider investing in training and innovation for our businesses, we should consider seven key steps to both build out and update an effective training and development program.


1. Benchmark against the competition

Before deploying a new initiative, as company leaders we should consider what the competition is doing and whether we’re doing more or less. This certainly holds true for training and development; that’s why it helps to network with professional colleagues and through organizations like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and our trade associations to find out what others are doing.

  • Review social media sites to see what customers are saying about us and our competition to reveal information about customer satisfaction and preferences that may also justify investing in new training and development.
  • Fill out the online surveys we regularly receive from vendors to get the report at the end of the process.
  • Ask other companies what they are doing, what they would or would not do again, and what they would do differently if given the chance. If most of the companies we contact are outside our market, they may be willing to share that information with us.
  • Make important connections through benchmarking research to our benefit and the beneift of the companies we exchange information with.


2. Survey our employees

The best source of information about organizational performance and needs are our current employees. They know a lot about what’s going on and what, if anything, should be changed. They’ll appreciate our interest and provide valuable feedback about what could be better or eliminated. Talk to employees and find out what current employees want and need:

  • They want to know what is expected of them, why it is needed and how to do it.
  • They want to be trained by someone who knows what they are talking about. We should select supervisors or outstanding employees and then train them to be trainers so that they know what and how to train, and how to make the training interesting, relevant and fun.


3. Align training with management’s operating goals

Management always has operating goals: better performance, productivity, quality or customer satisfaction, to name a few. Once you know the goals, you can design targeted programs. Additionally, we need to look for others in our company who have needs that can be satisfied by training: Legal usually supports compliance training, marketing and sales might support training that promotes quality and consistency, and most departments will support supervisory skills training that promotes employee satisfaction.

Design onboarding procedures and new-hire training that ensures employees will be knowledgeable, and focused on standards and customer satisfaction.

Partner with regulatory agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (health and safety), the Department of Labor (wage and hour compliance) and the Department of Justice (harassment and discrimination training) for compliance training.

Get help designing your materials. Consider contracting with teachers from our local public schools and community colleges. They are trained in instructional design and can work with our subject matter experts to create useful and professional instructional materials.

Get supervisors training on how to improve their communication and coaching skills and on how best to train a multigenerational workforce.

When it comes to customer service training, visit https://onlinecustomerservicetraining.com/ - a brand new resource provided by Heartland Team Solutions in Estherville that is offering outstanding yet affordable online training right now. The Iowa Lakes Corridor utilizes this training for all of its Prepare to Launch workshop participants.


4. Run it like a business

Every new business starts with a strategic plan. We need to make sure we draft a plan for our training effort that includes all the classic elements:

  • Clearly state our purpose and proposed deliverables. Show that we understand the depth and breadth of what we’re proposing.
  • Construct a realistic budget. Include all expenses, and be conservative (better to underpromise and overdeliver).
  • Include an analysis of the benefits to our organization so that everyone can better understand the return on investment.
  • Know the numbers. Work closely with our financial team to include the appropriate information and how best to display it.
  • Market our program as if it were for customers. Leverage our public relations, graphics and marketing resources to brand and promote our program, and design surveys to get feedback from participants.
  • Conduct pilot classes to make sure our plan works. Trial runs help identify shortcomings and allow us to refine and make the program as good as everyone expects and needs it to be.


5. Weave it into our company’s culture

Companies want happy employees, so consider a “lifelong training” philosophy that focuses on employee satisfaction.

When making promotion decisions, give preference to employees who completed training and performed well. A promotion should be one of the rewards for their efforts. And it answers the employee’s question, “What’s in it for me?”

Celebrate achievements and successes. Let everyone in our organizations know when someone completed training and what that means to their growth opportunities. Advertise our programs and participants in internal communications, display their pictures and stories, and talk about it at every employee gathering – in person and online via Zoom.

Increase employee engagement by planning more opportunities for them to get involved. They could be trainers or subject matter experts or could assist in evaluating their new colleagues and helping to reinforce their training.


6. Keep innovating

Again, we should consider contracting with public schoolteachers to help us to develop our instructional manuals and materials. I utilized Liz Kluver, formerly with Spencer High School, to help me refine my Prepare to Launch curriculum; our workshop participants clearly recognized the quality and effectiveness of these materials. Teachers are the professionals who teach our children, and they’re trained to do this. They love to work during their vacations, and every city has them. They are a great source of talent to design our instructional materials initially and then update them periodically.

And as we all get more comfortable with technology, there’s a growing need to adopt the latest ideas.

Today there are apps, games, and easy-to-use video and editing tools that can be streamed to mobile devices. We must continue to research the latest trends online, network with other organizations and training professionals, and revise our programs to take advantage of the latest best practices.

Case in point: Consider using GoPro and other handheld-type cameras to record messages, then publish them via YouTube. These videos are easily accessed via the Internet on both desktop and mobile devices. Local company F8 Creative currently has an offer to help provide greater access to effective and high-quality video messaging.


7. Measure results

Successful companies measure outcomes to make sure they continue to get the biggest bang for their buck. The best measures are the simplest ones; we have the opportunity to incorporate them into our programs so everyone knows what’s expected.

We can call these “corresponding behaviors”—behaviors we’ll look for and measure on the job to determine if employees actually learned how to perform appropriately. This way, there will be no surprises for employees.

We can train managers who had been the trainers to evaluate employees’ performance several times during their introductory period, and to provide constructive feedback and coaching to let employees know how they were doing in real time; again, maximum feedback and no surprises.

We can learn a lot while developing and updating the training and development programs. Training is the best way to keep our promises of quality and excellence to our employees and customers.


Bottom line

Businesses that have suffered from being curtailed or shut down due to social distancing required by COVID-19 have an opportunity to invest in 8 weeks of innovation; this innovation could take the form of small teams studying and innovating challenging tasks together (via on-line communication tools like Zoom) and it could take the form of professional development training accomplished online individually and / or in small groups.


When will business leaders again be presented with such an opportunity to pay employees to learn and to innovate for such a focused and significant period of time?