Should You Train Your Employees?

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams (The Education of Henry Adams, 1907)

According to a study of 1,600 businesses, companies that train their employees “are able to promote internal candidates almost a third of the time, compared to only a fifth of the time for companies that spend less than half as much.”

Is that good? And is it scientific? Could it be that companies that are employee-oriented enough to spend more on training are also more likely to promote them over outside candidates?

I believe in training, but most of what I’ve seen of it is bad.

A good training program does at least three things:

1. It teaches skills that dovetail with your business’s needs.

2. It motivates and inspires as it teaches.

3. It challenges employees to put their new skills to work immediately.

There’s only one way to ensure that the training programs you pay for meet these three standards: You have to check them out for yourself (or have someone you trust do so).

Training must be selectively given. Keep in mind that even good training works differently with different kinds of employees.

In my experience, training programs work best with superstar employees. (The irony: If they don’t get it from you, they’ll seek it out and get it on their own — and they will probably pay for it too! In other words, the most effective training you can provide will be mostly unnecessary for the people who will benefit from it — and benefit your company from it — the most.)

On the other hand, training your bad employees is useless. Their goal is to do as little work as possible. At the office, this means they spend a lot of their time reading magazines, playing computer games, and daydreaming. Send them to a seminar and you’ll be lucky if they show up at all.

There is a naïve impulse to try to “save” a poor or rebellious person by providing him with more benefits. (The same impulse that makes you think you can appease your enemies by kowtowing to them.) One corporate version of this tendency would be to send out weak employees for training — as you might send out a dirty shirt for laundering. Guess what? The stain that bad employees bear is almost always permanent.

In a nutshell, my recommendation is to:

* Give all your best people almost unlimited access to training.

* Deny it (however you can) to the laggards.

* Provide it selectively to the group in the middle.

You might be able to accomplish the third part of my recommendation by making any seminars you provide desirable and exclusive. When you announce a program, advertise its benefits. Tell your employees how they will personally benefit from attending. Tell them, too, how the business will profit.

Consider limiting the number of attendees. Also a possibility: some sort of application process. Finally, let it be known that all employees who take training are expected to indicate afterward what they thought of the training, what they got from it, and — most importantly — how they will put what they learned to good use.

Include training in your budget. And plan training into your work schedules and business strategies. Every business is different, but every growing business should be able to spend some number of dollars on training for every type of employee that it can benefit.

Spend a few minutes today thinking about how much and what kind of training your business needs.