August 31, 2018

To Train or Not to Train

Do you train your employees? I don’t mean does a lead driver train a new driver or does another senior employee train a junior new hire. I mean, do you invest in professional training for your employees in addition to your in-house training? There have long been several justifications for answering “No” that question.

  • Why would I spend money training people who are going to leave anyway?
  • Training is a waste of money, no one takes it seriously.
  • Training value cannot be measured so I cannot get it approved.
  • That might work in an office environment but not in the concrete industry.
  • And on and on….

The reality is, the above statements and questions and others like them are easily proven false. To look at the values of training, it’s easier to back up and start at the hiring process. For the purposes of this conversation we are going to assume the employee in question is a valuable, productive person. Of course, there are people who fall into the rotten apple category, but the strategy discussed in this article handles that as well.

For example, if every employee in your company is provided with a $100 Christmas “Bonus”, how quickly does it become an expectation by the majority of employees? Yes, there are humble people who always look at bonuses as privileges and with gratification but by in large, the majority eventually fall into the “expectation” camp. How did we start discussing bonuses in an article about training? Primarily because the same “human condition” is at work surrounding training as it is with bonuses. Not sure about that? How many employees “stay” with your company because of the Christmas Bonus? Has it cut down on turnover? Would they stay if you doubled it? What if it were $500 per year? When looked at in that perspective, it’s hard to see the value of Christmas Bonuses right? Before you decide to cancel all Christmas bonuses, however, remember that since they are now an expectation, if you remove them, you are taking something away and that has worse consequences. The reason Christmas Bonuses do not have a large impact on turnover is because of value. They don’t feel valuable. They are monetary gifts and even if valuable in monetary terms, they don’t feel valuable to the employee. They feel like a gift/expectation which is quite different.

But back to training…

Training serves several purposes that impact your company in far reaching ways. First, they show your employees you value them. You might ask, “So me spending money to train them shows value but me giving them money as a bonus does not? They are both attached to money right?”. While you are correct, money is involved in both Christmas Bonuses and training, there is another component of training not present in a bonus. That is trust. You might give out blanket bonuses at the end of the year to all employees. That does not say or mean that you trust each of them equally. That is where training differentiates itself. To professionally train someone, you are telling them that you not only value them, but you trust them. Further, when you foster that trust, it is almost always repaid in the form of reciprocal trust. An employee who feels valued and trusted, is far more likely to want to maintain that trust and seize opportunities to grow that trust by looking out for the company’s best interest.

Other areas are greatly impacted by training, but they all pale in comparison to trust. That said, they are worth noting here because it helps paint a more vivid and accurate picture next. Therefore, some of the other benefits of training would include:

  • Fewer mistakes
  • More confidence
  • Fewer accidents
  • Higher quality work product
  • More professionalism demonstrated to your customers
  • More pride in the job performed
  • More ownership of the work
  • Fewer customer complaints
  • Higher profits
  • Lower maintenance costs

I know you are thinking I just recommended paying for your employees to be professionally train in 10 or more courses. Not at all. Based on the many different companies around the world they we have had the opportunity to work with and observe their operations, we have been fortunate enough to witness some amazing effects with limited training. The list of benefits above can be gained by minimal, but professional or even valuable training. It’s easiest explained in the following example.

Bill (names have been changed because he doesn’t want fan mail) has worked for 3 ready mix companies. His tenure at each was 1 year, 1 year and 17 years respectively. When he began driving, his first job was stressful and he knew he was “paying his dues” to find a better company because he was told every day by every co-worker and his boss how he had to “pay his dues”. After a year, he had enough experience to move onto another ready mix company who was willing to pay him more, promised better conditions than he currently had and provided better equipment. Bill quickly learned it was sink or swim with this new company and while they maintained a more professional image, they did so through threats and punishment.

Bill noted, “I had never taken a load of curb mix in my life. Maybe I should have known better but I didn’t and I as never told to treat that load any different. I added too much water of course and I was instantly sent home when the customer complained and refused the load. I lost money and learned quickly to double check everything anyone told me. In that environment, I was stressed out every day that another mistake was going to send me home when I needed the money.”

After a little more than a year, Bill decided the environment he was working in was just not worth it and started thinking about looking around for another ready mix company. He dreaded the idea because he didn’t want to be viewed as a job hopper. One day, by shear accident, he met a driver from a competitor when they each stopped at a local grocery store on the way home to get a few things and were each wearing their work uniforms. When the other driver approached Bill he was expecting a good back and forth bantering that went with most of these kinds of contacts with competitor drivers but was shocked when the driver asked how long he had been driving and what he thought about changing companies. It turned out, the company that driver worked for was looking for more drivers and this driver took it upon himself to ask Bill.

Bill cautiously said that he might be interested but he has learned enough in two years that he was going to be very picky about the next company he went to work for. The other driver invited him to call his boss and see if it was a fit after the two had talked for more than 10 minutes about Bill, never about the new company.

A few days later a front moved in and the rain offered Bill an opportunity to call the other driver’s boss. After a few minutes on the phone, Bill was invited to come down and interview. Bill did so the next day and was hired on the spot. Bill remembered, “I was so excited and still unsure about this new company. Everything they said was right, but what was it really like? I was sold when I told him that I could not start for at least two weeks because I had to give notice. I had seen my current company tell people if they couldn’t start immediately, they were not needed. He replied that I had passed his first test by insisting on giving notice.”

Bill started his career with the new company not in a truck. Yes, he was hired as a driver, but he started his job as a finisher. His boss explained that if he wanted to be the best driver, he needed to understand the customer. Bill spent two days mostly dragging the mud with a crew from one of the company’s best customers. The next two days he spent riding in the truck with the customer’s foreman between jobsites understanding how delays impact people. The last day of the week he spent doing maintenance on the plant. Greasing and checking everything on a list, as it was explained to him by the maintenance guy.

Week two still involved no ready mix truck, as he was taught to drive the loader (including not pulling sand from the bottom of the pile but up a few feet), drain the plant, understand how to blow off a cement tanker, where the admix tanks were, what each admix was used for and not used for. Bill also spent a day with the lead mechanic and finally two days answering phones and learning to batch concrete in the most basic sense.

As Bill put it, “I felt like I knew how to at least fumble my way through everything in the company just about and my head was literally numb. My brain actually hurt.”

Week three started with bill in the front office. Specifically, he spent one full day with accounts receivable looking at all the mistakes, lost tickets, wrong pricing and customer complaints. It was only then that he was given a truck and allowed to start taking loads. His first loads were to the same customer he originally finished concrete with and rode with the foreman on. “This completed my understanding of the cycle.”, Bill said. “I cannot say, all these years later, how incredibly valuable those two weeks were. In fact, they probably changed my life. I was burned out of ready mix. I was ready to do anything up to and including being a fast food manager. Those two weeks showed me that this company valued me and trusted me enough to pay me for two weeks to do everything but what they hired me to do. I was humbled and grateful and it made me want to try so hard for a company that was willing to try so hard for me.”

Since then, Bill was routinely offered training on admixtures, plant maintenance, concrete, quality control, driver safety, first aid, CPR, leadership, troubleshooting, computers, batching concrete, accounting and management. Why would a driver need to be trained on accounting and management? Because Bill was no longer a driver at that time. He had risen to become an operations superintendent over 3 plants.

So, back to those bad apples we talked about in the beginning. The fact is, when you have multiple employees like Bill in your company because of how you treat them, they tend to regulate the bad apples that come along from time to time. When 9 out of 10 drivers at a plant are willing to jump in and do anything and stay late, show up early, help out, jump on a loader or anything asked, the 1 driver who refuses to do so, sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s rarely the manager who has to discipline that driver because the other 9 drivers make it very clear he is not living up to the expectations they put on him much less the company. This the environment you want and this is the environment you can have.

Will you hire nothing but Bill’s for the rest of your hiring days? Absolutely not! That said, contrast Bill and the driver who is trained on nothing, given a Christmas bonus and told to “toe the line.” Maybe that is where you are today with your staff. If so, it’s never to late to begin molding the Bills who already work for you that you never before realized.

We would love to hear abour your experiences and of course let us know if we can help your company.

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