Heading in the Right Direction
Every year, without fail, some five-year-old at a springtime T-ball practice hits the ball and starts to run―right to third base. Parents and coaches immediately begin yelling and gesturing to get him to turn around and head in the opposite direction before he runs headlong into the player racing from third base toward home plate with equal determination.
It’s fun to watch a five-year-old who wants to do the right thing but still doesn’t understand what’s required of him. It’s not quite as much fun watching someone on your business team do the same thing.
Workers who have a general grasp of what they’re supposed to do, but not a clear understanding of exactly how they are supposed to do it, can cause confusion and chaos on the job. Sometimes it’s a case of the wrong person in the wrong job, or the wrong person trying to perform the wrong task; sometimes the problem is just a lack of training.
With the continuing changes in our industry and the blinding speed of technology evolution, companies may hire someone perfectly qualified for a job only to find within a few years that the job has disappeared or its requirements have changed drastically and the employee has failed to keep pace.
Consider a graphic designer who is highly proficient in Quark, but has never learned InDesign or Dreamweaver, and now can no longer meet customers’ new requirements. The graphic designer may be a great employee, smart and dependable, but unable or unwilling to learn new programs, so company leaders may try to find another spot in the organization for him, perhaps in sales, rather than let him go. Unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent that he has absolutely no desire to sell and no selling ability. Predictably, this management attempt to keep the person ends badly, and, all too often, not without some damage to the organization and/or the parties involved.
One way to head off this problem is by making training mandatory. Unfortunately, managers may be unaware of the training necessary to keep an employee current until the gap between actual proficiency and needed skills is so great that it cannot be overcome. Ideally, the employee himself would request training, but some employees are unwilling to learn or believe that the company would not invest in training so they do not ask for it. And, unfortunately, some companies make training a very low priority when budgeting.
Unless you want to undergo employee turnover every few years in order to keep pace with changes in required skills, encourage employees to keep up-to-date on the new requirements of their job and offer them the training they need―and don’t make taking it optional. Consider the cost of training not as an expense, but as an investment that will yield a very worthwhile return.
Let employees know that keeping their skills current is not just important, but essential to the success of both the company and their career. Include a discussion of skills and required training as part of employees’ performance reviews, at least annually if not more often. This discussion should begin by looking at each employee’s job description and determining how well he is able to fulfill its current requirements. And that means, of course, that job descriptions should be updated regularly to reflect the changing needs of the position.
After all, you wouldn’t settle for software introduced a decade or more ago, so why should you ask your customers to rely on skills your employees mastered before the turn of the 21st century?