Education and Development
No train, no gain

When it comes to employee training it’s often a case of too many choices; so little budget. And relevance is key. Kevin Kevany has been scanning the training marketplace.

It is something every owner manager knows s/he has to do for the current and, more especially, the future growth and success of the business. But any training budget is so often the first to be cut when it is ‘batten-down the hatches’ time or another more tantalising option hoves to.
Additional hurdles to confront include the bewildering array of trainers and training companies offering an ever-expanding range of delivery platforms – increasingly technology-based.
When the choices are confusing, nothing happens; the muddling through resumes. But it will doom the company to failure as it drifts into being uncompetitiveness. That’s what the experts say.
So who do you turn to, to get the right training solution for your particular company – or the one you are thinking of starting?
In New Zealand you can opt for the proverbial one-man-band; a small-medium company; a large one; the franchise of a global corporate; business associations and chambers of commerce; the local university; and a lower-profile online site, formerly attached to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, that is both world-class in its online offerings and free.
The Marketing Company’s Ambrose Blowfield is one of the country’s leading speakers and trainers in marketing, sales and business networking, having both academic and experience-based knowledge from working at several leading international companies in six countries across three continents, including global consumer goods giant Proctor & Gamble. He is also a member of Mentors New Zealand.
“Although we are talking SMEs in New Zealand – and size is irrelevant in this aspect – what struck me early on was the fact that Proctor and Gamble strategize and work to double the size of their company turnover every ten years. But nowhere in there do they include an HR plan to double the number of staff,” he says.
“They are a leading Fortune 500 company, consistently ranking very highly as a company for securing the best people, training and developing them and, most importantly, retaining them. So they are clearly training their people to deal with the increased interaction and communication of an expanding organisation and to deal positively with the pressure and challenges that presents. Productivity and efficiency flow from that skills training.”
Blowfield believes there are three main roles successful SMEs undertake.
“The primary one is the daily tasks that we do to keep our customers satisfied. People are generally happy and competent with those tasks.
“The second is the invoicing and administration that has to be done. That’s often done begrudgingly.
“The third role – particularly for the owner manager – is to build and develop the business for true growth and evolution to adapt to changing market conditions and opportunities.
“Training and planning fall into this third group of tasks. Too often that role is sadly disregarded and ignored, for a wide range of reasons,” says Blowfield.
He is highly critical of ‘filmed lectures’ simply being screened as ‘online learning’.
“True online learning,” he says, “should be written from scratch. While tailored training is more expensive it is unquestionably more effective. Output and implementation will more likely happen if you are ‘encouraged’ to do that face-to-face, and given the means to take action.”
The Marketing Company’s 12-week ‘blended learning’ sales course is a mixture of face-to-face time, “short, sharp, five to ten minute video clips”, online testing to ensure learning, and personal coaching to ensure accountability and implementation.
Use real experiences
GeeWiz Group’s Richard Gee has built himself an excellent reputation over many years in the local training market. He has presented training seminars in sales, marketing, and management since 1983 and regularly presents seminars for the Chambers of Commerce in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, as well as organising presentations for the SMEI Auckland sales motivation breakfasts.
“Good training,” says Gee, “uses real experiences based on relevant New Zealand conditions and encourages participation and accountability.
“In business there are two things owner managers should focus on: people and tasks. Investing in staff training always delivers better service, better culture, better sales, and better results because of the confidence factor established by training.
“Through their interaction with customers, your trained people demonstrate the vision and drive of your business and, in turn, the company’s commitment to them. As a result, good well-trained people always get better results.”
Gee’s training philosophy is that “interactivity and people doing business with people works best.”
“When seminars, workshops, coaching sessions and conferences gather people together, the ‘learning’ inevitably works faster because of the reality and experiences which are shared during the course of the interaction.”
He believes ‘online’ is a tool similar to an illustrated book.
“It’s ideal for internal induction programmes but does not deliver satisfactory results when it comes to external skills like sales-training where lots of interaction is needed to help the learning process. Likewise with marketing and leadership training where the interaction discussion helps the strategies get created and tested for commonsense.”
Gee points to the origins of online training as being ‘cost-saving driven’.
“The impact of online has not affected the attendance at seminars, workshops or conferences in most business sectors. What it has done is to make the HR function easier and less costly in larger companies for repetitive training use. But it still has long way to go for achieving proven effectiveness.
“You can ask a person to read a book, watch a learning video session, but how do you ensure the learning has taken place and will be implemented? You cannot,” Gee suggests.

Never stop learning
The 40-year-old David Forman training organisation has a ‘never stop’ mantra that says we should never stop learning, growing, evolving, challenging and striving. Co-owner Stuart Sinclair is adamant that training which doesn’t result in improved behaviours in the workplace is a waste of time and money.
“We employ a range of methods to ensure maximum transfer of the knowledge and skills into new and more effective behaviours. The key to long-term, sustainable behaviour change, as a process is created in partnership with our clients. We offer a solution to clients which draws heavily on the concept of ten percent formal training; 20 percent coaching support and reinforcement; 70 percent on-the-job implementation.
“Since we work across a wide range of organisations and industries, our training is suitable for many different work situations and job roles.”
David Forman offers programmes in two delivery formats: general ‘public’ programmes with participants from different organisations and industry sectors, and highly customised in-house solutions, specifically created to meet the needs of a client.
To illustrate their training philosophy and practice further Sinclair points to customer service.
“Most companies focus their customer experience training on front-line, customer-facing staff. But those behind-the-scenes can have just as big a role to play. So you need to consider the number of different touch-points a customer can have with your organisation.
“One of our clients has long recognised the importance of this approach. They invest in training their salespeople and customer service staff to ensure they understand and apply the skills needed to create great customer experiences. But they invest just as much to ensure their delivery staff, who see the customers four times more than sales staff, to ensure they add to the great experience they provide their customers.
“They’re smart enough to realise that these drivers have the chance to undo all the good work done with a badly parked truck, a dirty uniform or a grumpy greeting. And guess what? Their business is flourishing. I’m certain this understanding of and commitment to creating great customer experiences by all who interact with customers plays a major part in that.”
He is also strong on the fact that “everyone who answers the phone has a part to play in this.”
One of the company’s specialities is sales training for SMEs. The pithy comment from Sinclair says it all when it comes to their long-haul approach: “Just as one golf lesson isn’t going to turn you into Tiger Woods, there is no silver bullet with sales training either.
“Research shows strongly, on average, only ten percent of any behavioural change comes from what’s delivered in the training room. What contributes far more is the learning, coaching and application of the skills that happens outside the workshop and that, quite frankly, is going to take time. 
“If someone has some habitual ‘behaviours’ from years of working in a certain way, then just one workshop with one of our facilitators isn’t going to create consistent and sustained behaviour change, no matter how much I’d like to think it will. 
“What we can and absolutely do succeed in doing is challenging the existing mindsets and behaviours and planting the seed for change; providing participants with all the knowledge, tools, support and opportunities to practice to develop the competence, and just as importantly, the confidence to start applying the new skills. That way, they can then become embedded behaviours, leading to better performance and better results.”
And, importantly for owner managers, Sinclair, who strongly believes when it comes to sales staff you ‘hire on attitude not skills’, has this admonition: “You are the best salesperson your business has – or you’d better be.”

Developing people matters
Should you be looking to add a touch of the benefits of a wander through the Halls of Academe to your skills training, you should engage Ivan Moss, director of Executive Education, at The University of Auckland Business School as your guide.
“Recently I saw a great cartoon,” says Moss. “The accountant says: ‘But what if we invest in our people and they leave?’ To which the boss replies: ‘But what if we don’t, and they stay?’
“Investing in your people can pay off instantly, the day they return to work, and can pay off for a long time. And if they leave? Let’s be honest – your top performers are more likely to leave if you don’t invest in them and their development.”
“Research consistently shows that the most important driver of any organisation’s performance and productivity is the capability of its people,” adds Moss. “Our own experience confirms that every day. Good organisations are made up of good people. Good people are those who are skilled and motivated to do their jobs well.”
So how should you invest in your people? Where should you invest your dollars and your employees’ precious time?
Moss again: “We have learnt from working with some 50,000 people, over the past 16 years and developing in-house and customised programmes for leading companies, that there are several key elements to maximising an organisation’s ‘Return on Learning’.”
With online learning and blended learning growing fast, Moss reckons the choices are growing fast. The fundamentals of how best to develop your people remain constant, however.
He cites four training investment ‘musts’:
• Relevance – in what matters most.
• Format – delivered in the right way.
• Context – relating the learning to your world, your challenges.  
• Expertise – should not be limited by experience.

“When it comes to relevance it’s important to ‘engage the individual’, says Moss. “No-one knows more about their development needs and job challenges than the employee. Engaging individuals in defining their development needs and selecting their training matters, and increases their appetite for learning. Likewise with the team.
“They know where their collective strengths, weaknesses and development needs lie, and will prescribe their own medicine pretty accurately, even if sometimes a little reluctantly.
“Format says people learn in different ways. Personally, I love to read and then discuss. Others love to watch and see. Everyone is different. Different things are also best learnt in different ways.
“Other times, discussion and debate are essential. To solve problems and make sense of new information, we often need to talk to other people to help us think and make sense of things.”
Moss believes relevance is essential to any training investment delivering the maximum return.
“Learning, training and development only counts when it gets used: when we do something differently afterwards. To do that, you need to have, and make, opportunities to think about ‘what am I going to do differently back at work?’
“We support our participants to do this with our ‘Return on Learning’ process which helps, reminds and encourages participants to identify actions to take back to work. Bosses play a key role in this too. Asking: ‘What did you learn?’ and ‘what should we learn from what you learnt?’ are great questions to use.”
Naturally, Moss believes that learning from trainers and facilitators with relevant experience matters a good deal in helping to relate ideas and techniques to your world and your challenges.
“Toyota test their cars using tests designed by teams of highly qualified engineers, not by teams of highly experienced car mechanics. There’s a reason why.”

Hidden gem
Of course, to access training material for owner managers and employees alike you can always engage the services of an organisation which last year was used more than a million times (that’s right!) by local businesses and their advisors – at no cost. is a hidden gem, a website now under the auspices of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and profiled in more detail later in this issue of NZBusiness.   
Today has a mobile business toolbox app; social media channels; e-newsletters and an 0800 support line. Best of all it covers the whole gamut from when you start to think about launching a business, through all the challenges of setting it up, running it and finally selling it off.
And it is in language understandable to the layperson.
Adrian Nacey, responsible for promoting the site, agrees the simple language and format, along with the wide range of material accounts for its almost ‘silent success’.
“Compliance issues at the start of a business can discourage entrepreneurs at the formative stage. We research constantly to find out additional areas that SMEs need support in and then go to the right source,” he says. “We are launching a tool to help businesses understand exactly what their compliance obligations are and then take them directly to any of some 20 government agencies, which are currently captured on the site.”
In recent times everything from interactive tools for ‘business health checks’; Facebook contact; quizzes; competitions and the like have been added to meet researched demand.
Last year they refreshed all content and information architecture and towards year-end added ONECheck, which allows you to search company name, domain name, and trademark simultaneously.
The service is now also ‘fully mobile-friendly’.
“In terms of other lessons learned in managing the site, the big one is this,” says Nacey. “Listen and invest in your customers. Not just once, but wherever and whenever you can. Without this, you can’t be sure you’re on the right track, and the risks of creating something that doesn’t meet a need or worse, isn’t used, are high.”
It also neatly sums up what is the ultimate purpose of training.

Kevin Kevany is an Auckland-based freelance writer.

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