Monday, October 26, 2009

Learning vs. Training

The most important object in Boy Scout training is to educate, not instruct.
~Sir Robert Baden-Powell

One thing that every business needs to work on is upgrading the skills of their staff. This is critical for several reasons. New technologies are constantly emerging, people are promoted or are given new responsibilities, and existing skills need to be reinforced and tweaked.

Most businesses these days talk about training, and many have entire departments dedicated to training their workers. However, I think the emphasis on training is misplaced. Rather, the focus should be on learning, and many larger companies are now changing their training departments to learning departments. While this might just seem like a subtle change in wording, I can tell you that it is much bigger.

With most training programs, the emphasis is on the trainer who disseminates information to participants. It is the trainer’s responsibility to get the material across. Training is simply an event that occurs when staff members attend a training session. Learning, on the other hand, is an internal event. It transfers the responsibility to the participant. It is now up to them to understand and master the material. Between training and learning, the focus shifts from teacher to student.

I am currently giving a seminar to a large financial institution on how to be a great manager. I have told all of the participants that I am not there to train them; but rather, that I am there to facilitate the learning process. The outcome of the seminar rests on them learning the necessary material. It is their responsibility to master the material, and not mine to train them. This is a big shift in orientation, but it is one that is vital in business.

This new philosophy requires that each participant comes into the learning environment with a clear understanding that the responsibility for mastering the material is his or hers and not the instructor’s. In addition, the manager plays a key role in ensuring that the learning is transferred into the employee’s work environment. The manager is responsible for providing the encouragement, tools and support that will enable the employee to successfully apply the new skills and knowledge to his or her day-to-day activities.

Some people might say that the distinction between learning and training is minor, but in my mind it is quite large. It changes the entire way we approach new material. With learning, you begin at a higher motivation point, allowing the students to become active participants in the learning process as opposed to having an instructor force-feed them the material.

Now go out and make sure that your organization is focusing more on learning than training. It is an important shift in emphasis, and it is one that will better serve your organization.

You can do this!

Monday, October 19, 2009

First day of work for a new employee

When we visualize something, we establish a relationship to the thing itself, not to some mere subjective representation of it inside us.
~Medard Boss

Hiring a new employee takes so much work and effort. You have to spend time recruiting and evaluating each candidate and then selecting the right applicant for the job.

It is so important to realize that when a new worker starts, their first day at work is critical. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

So many entrepreneurs use a new employee’s first day of work to take care of all of the paperwork that is so necessary to the hiring policy. However, this is not the ideal way to start a new employee. Of course the paperwork must be done, but it is probably best to move this task to the second day of work and use the first day to generate the best initial impression that you can.

Here are some things to consider when preparing for that critical first day. Before the new employee reports for his or her first day, there are a couple of things that should be done. First, I think it is so important that the manager who will be supervising the new employee sends a nice handwritten card. Additionally, a day or two before the new employee starts, send an announcement to your entire staff via email or intranet notifying them that this individual will be joining the team. These are both great ways to make the new employee feel welcome even before they set foot on the premises.

It is so important to make a new employee’s first day of work a positive experience. One very simple thing that you can do is welcome the new employee at the door and give them a tour of the facility. Some employers actually lay out a red carpet for new employees. The point here is to ensure that each new employee feels welcome as soon as they hit the front door of your business.

I have seen so many employees arrive for their first day of work to find that they are without a permanent office or that their computers are not yet hooked up. It is vital that the work area and technology be set up and ready to go by the time the new employee starts. Some employers even prepare a gift bag containing a personalized item like a monogrammed coffee cup and some company apparel and leave it on the new employee’s desk.

An employee’s first day should also include a meeting with the CEO and top staff. At this meeting the employee should be made to feel welcome and be given a sense of the company’s purpose and mission.

Now go out and make sure that you have a plan in place to create the best possible first impression for each new employee.

You can do this!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Importance of signs in your business!

A lot of people I know - it drives them crazy when they're watching, to see the people with their signs and waving, but there's something that's very inclusive about it.

~Katie Couric

When you think of advertising, you must remember that signage matters. It is part of the advertising of your business, and it makes a big difference. Signage is another arrow in your quiver that will draw customers into your business.
We were helping a fitness facility/spa increase business on its spa side. The business offered all kinds of physical fitness and beauty treatments such as facials, nails, hair and massage. More than 200 people came in each day for physical training, but the spa was barely breaking even.

Despite the fact that customers had to walk right by the spa in order to get to the fitness facility, not a single one seemed to notice. The signs for the spa services were originally hung parallel with the walkway, and we encouraged the entrepreneur to hang them perpendicular to the walkway instead. This way, potential customers would not have to turn their heads to see the offerings. Now, within a month of adjusting the signage, the spa is making a nice profit, and the owner is pleased with both the increased profits and the improved morale among spa employees.

In this case, just changing the angle of the signs should improve profits by more than $100,000 each year. Physically, this was an easy fix, but it was a difficult change to make because the owners just did not see the problem. They never looked at how the signage appeared to their customers.
An artist was lamenting to me that while his art sales were doing great, his art classes were not. His studio was located in the middle of a round-about in a major city, so there was no shortage of traffic. A tremendous number of cars passed his studio every day, but as you might have guessed, he had absolutely no signage advertising his art classes on his building. Once he put signs out, enrollment in his classes shot straight up.
Now obviously, if your business is not in a location that is visible to your customers, investing in signage makes no sense. However, if you have invested in a great location, you must take advantage of this opportunity to promote your business, subject to the legal limits of the governmental jurisdiction.
Even if you do not have a location that is conducive to outside advertising, signage must be used on the inside to effectively promote your products or services. Just having product on display is not good enough. You need signs to explain in greater detail what the products do or where they are located.
Signage is one of the cheapest forms of advertising, yet it is one of the most effective. The best way to test the effectiveness of your signage is to ask people – not friends or relatives – for feedback on what they think in terms of your signage. Just listen to what they say. Their comments can be so valuable.

Now go out and ensure that you have the best signage that you can both inside and outside your business.

You can do this.

Monday, October 5, 2009


A business without adequate backups is like the Titanic and its inadequate life rafts happily cruising towards a sad fate.

~T.E Ronneberg
Technology can be so great, and I really do love my tech toys. However, without the proper backup measures, they quickly turn from friend to foe.

I have a new phone, which I love except for last week. I decided (with some help from a computer salesman) that I needed to install new software on my phone that would enable me to wirelessly synchronize the phone with my computers (a Mac and a PC). I thought this was a great idea to ensure that none of my data gets lost before I return to my office.

Last week, while on a trip to South Florida, I installed this new software only to have all of my data (contacts and calendars) disappear into the clouds. This was not good, especially since I was in South Florida doing work. Without the data from my phone, I had no idea where or when my appointments were.

After many calls to the software company and one very strong chastisement from them to me for not having a backup with me (my computer, of course, was back in Tallahassee), there was not really much they could do.

I was able to limp through the week in Fort Lauderdale using only a few four letter words to vent my total frustration. I was, however, petrified to go back to Tallahassee and try to resync my phone for fear that the data in my office might disappear as well.

Before trying to resynchronize my files, I made two CDs with the data in case I lost it again. This time, the backup and data recovery worked out okay, but the whole ordeal made me realize just how important backing up your data is, particularly for business owners.

Whether due to circumstances that are not your fault or cases like mine (I think that I messed up the installation of the software), you will eventually need your backup disc. Even if you do everything right.

It is critical that you back up your files daily and store your data off premises. If you live in Miami, keeping a backup in Fort Lauderdale is not going to do it as a large hurricane in Miami is going to affect Fort Lauderdale as well. There are many companies out there that offer services to electronically back up your data every day, and they are typically located a long distance away.

Not only must you make backups, but you should also know how to restore your system from these backups. I was helping a business, and I was concerned about their backup procedure. I asked the owner to restore the data from the backup to the primary computer system. He was hesitant to do so as he had never done it before, so I got him to make another backup, just in case. He then tried to restore the data from the first backup, and he had a number of problems.
When we got through this ordeal, he thanked me as he would never have tried to restore the data if I had not made him. Now he feels so much more empowered as he not only backs everything up, but he also knows how to restore it.
Like most things, it is frequently useful to get professional help in setting up your backup scenarios and recovery testing. This is money well spent.

Now go out and make sure that you back up your files daily and store your data a safe distance from your office. Additionally, be certain that you can easily restore your system from your backup data.

You can do this.