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Michael Kerr

February 9, 2015 by Speakers' Spotlight

Fifteen Reasons You Need to Invest in Employee Training

Why choose between humour and content when you can have both? Mike Kerr is one of North America’s leading authorities on fostering innovative and inspiring workplace cultures. His presentations—known for introducing practical ideas that audiences can put to work immediately—are delivered in a truly unforgettable and hilarious fashion for maximum impact. Below, Mike writes on why employee training is worth the investment:

As overheard somewhere in a company parking lot…

CFO: “What happens when we invest in training our staff and our staff leave?”

CEO: “What happens when we do not invest in training and everyone stays?”

This old saw has been around for a while, and it should probably stick around for a while. In fact, I’d stick it on every manager’s door.

It’s completely mystifying how some leaders and companies still don’t value employee training or treat it as a priority. Stories of new hire orientations lasting half an hour (half an hour!) are still all too commonplace. As are tales of companies who never get around to training because they’re too busy focussing on the day-to-day issues to look beyond the horizon. And then there are the companies that cut back on training programs the moment the economy hits a speed bump – the exact time they could benefit the most from relevant training.

Investing in employee training isn’t just an investment in your employees, it’s an investment in your future success. Here are fifteen reasons you absolutely need to commit to employee training and make it a top priority in your workplace.

1. Your employees are your #1 resource. I know they are because you told them they were in your help wanted ads. And it’s right there on your list of values! Great companies invest in employee training because they back those words with action. They fulfill the commitment to their employees by investing in their professional development.

2. Regardless of what business you are in, culture drives success. Strong cultures attract top talent, retain top talent, and turn customers into raving, passionate fans. But great cultures don’t happen by accident! You need to be intentional about building a great culture and one of the many ways to do just that is through offsite retreats, meeting experiences that both drive and reflect the culture you desire, and by bringing in speakers and trainers who can offer a fresh perspective on culture-related topics and issues.

3. Whenever I encounter bad customer service, my first thought is usually, “Poor training.” Which sadly, all too often means no training. Your customer service is your #1 competitive advantage. And in a world full of uncertainties and unprecedented levels of change, it’s the only thing you have 100% control over. Committing to customer service excellence requires an investment in training for excellence.

4. Intensive training programs foster camaraderie and help break down silos. One of the reasons (beyond the first three already listed) the on-line shoe company Zappos invests in a four-week intensive boot camp for all new hires is to help foster the sense that everyone is on the same team. Zappos employees who end up working in different parts of the company forge long-lasting bonds with one another during the boot camp, which strengthens its world-famous culture and helps destroy costly workplace silos.

5. A sense of progress helps employees feel engaged and motivated in their work. In survey after survey, employees stress how important it is for them to feel challenged and have a sense of growth in their career. When people aren’t making progress in their work it begins to feel like the movie Groundhog Day. But when employees develop new skills and learn through training opportunities it helps them shift from a “it’s-only-a-job” mindset to a much more fulfilling “career” mindset.

6. We’re in a knowledge-based economy where smart companies are in fact paying their employees to think. Smart companies invest in making their employees smarter. It’s simply the smart thing to do if you want to remain competitive in an increasingly smarter world.

7. Exposing employees to new ideas helps spark creative thinking and innovation. Daniel Burnham and John Root, the architects who created the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, understood the importance of creating an interesting work environment to spark creative thinking. They installed a gym in their office, played piano for employees and even offered employees fencing lessons.

What do fencing lessons have to do with designing a world’s fair? More than you might think. Many organizations are realizing the benefits of offering a variety of atypical training programs and classes as a way to spark creative thinking. Pixar Studios has its very own Pixar University, where employees can take up to four hours of classes each week, not just in filmmaking, but in other arts, health-related issues, or any topic of interest to their employees. The courses help boost engagement, facilitate relationship building across different departments and, Pixar believes, nurture creativity throughout the company.

Employees at the U.K. firm ?What If! (yes, that’s their name) regularly participate in activities such as exotic dance lessons, tree planting, and trapeze lessons to stimulate creative connections.

So as much as it might help to hire professional speakers to talk about the value creativity and innovation bring to the workplace (and they surely can), don’t discount the value of bringing in a chef over lunch to teach employees how to make a soufflé that never flops. Or a professional juggler, magician, chess master, mechanic, or, yes, even a fencing trainer.

8. Many companies use training opportunities as a way to recognize, appreciate, and reward employees. The #1 thing employees say they want more of is to feel appreciated, so why not add training opportunities to the recognition mix? It’s a perk for the employees and chance to grow your intellectual capital all at once. And studies show that rewards based on experiences rather than on material objects (including cash bonuses) are far more effective at boosting long term happiness levels.

9. Training opportunities offer an unexpected break to the normal workplace routine. Variety isn’t just the spice of life when it comes to enhancing creativity, it’s also an effective stress reducer and a way to give employees a much-desired change of pace. Research shows that anticipating future novel events and reminiscing about past experiences is one of the most effective ways to boost happiness levels, and offering training programs and conference opportunities that employees can look forward to is a great way to up the happiness quotient on any team.

10. Research from Gallup shows that there’s only a one in twelve chance of an employee being fully engaged in work if they have no close friends at work. On the other hand, having at least three friends at work increases engagement and life satisfaction by a whopping 96%. Numerous other studies also demonstrate the importance of employees having friends at work.

Of course there are dozens of factors at play when it comes to turning workplace acquaintances into friends, and of course it isn’t going to always happen, but one effective way to strengthen relationship bonds between employees is through group training programs that offer the opportunity for employees to discover similarities with one another, bond over shared experiences, and get to know one another outside a traditional workplace setting.

11. Another key factor in employee motivation is a strong sense of pride. Intrinsic motivators, like pride, are far more effective and longer-lasting than external rewards such as cash bonuses. One way to increase an employee’s sense of pride is by helping them gain confidence in their abilities and helping them learn new skills through educational opportunities.

12. As with great workplace cultures, inspiring leadership doesn’t just happen. Plunking employees into leadership positions without any leadership training is a sure fire recipe for disaster, not only for the employee, but for the entire team and the entire organization. No matter how competent a person was in their previous job, or even how competent a manager they are, leadership requires a completely different skill set. Great leadership doesn’t just happen, which is why great organizations invest heavily in leadership development.

13. Adult learning research shows that one of the most effective ways to really master a subject deeply is to encourage the student to become the teacher. When employees are given the opportunity to facilitate a training session, it accelerates their own professional development and also offers them a chance to hone their leadership skills.

14. External speakers and trainers bring an outsider’s perspective and offer new insights and ideas that are necessary if you want to remain competitive, adapt to an always-changing business environment, and prevent your company from becoming complacent or suffering from groupthink. History is littered with stories that demonstrate – usually only with hindsight – how dangerous groupthink and complacency can be. If you are not continually challenging yourself with outside perspectives, even those you don’t always agree with, it’s just a matter of time before you could end up atop the junk heap of failed businesses.

15. It’s fun! Conferences, meetings and training opportunities can and should be fun! (If they aren’t, you’re doing something wrong.) Given the enormous benefits of injecting more fun and humor into any workplace setting, upping the educational opportunities is one more way to bring some positive energy into your workplace mix.

Given all the benefits of training now consider this: What are the potential costs of not training your employees properly? How much might it cost you in terms of increased stress and conflict, lousy customer service, increased employee turnover, and higher absenteeism rates? What are the hidden costs associated with unrealized ideas and a less-than-amazing workplace culture? And what if our imaginary CEO is right: What if you don’t invest in training and your employees stay?

To attract and retain top talent, build a world class organization, and get the results you deserve you need to invest in your future success by investing in training today. (And while you’re at it, fire our imaginary CFO and invest in one who understands the true value of investing in employees.)

Mike Kerr/February, 2015