Not long ago, my CEO, Jim Haudan, shared some thoughts on the downfalls of competency training with me. Don’t worry, he wasn’t panning the entire philosophy of competency training, but instead commented that he didn’t think stand-alone competency trainings – ones that didn’t align with an organization’s culture – made for a very effective learning and development tactic.
Jim’s comment got me wondering if other learning and development experts shared the same point of view. After visiting a few academic and business article databases, and reviewing the results of a Google search, I confirmed that most of the training and development industry does find merit in competency training. But since Jim is well experienced in organizational development, his comment continued to ring in my ears. Jim doesn’t doubt or dismiss competency training. In fact, he supports it. His view is that skill building alone is just not enough to make a great employee. When competency training is practiced alone, it may produce short-term success, but will ultimately fail. Without a corporate culture that prioritizes this type of training, without a culture that has a customer strategy baked into it, any one-off or singular training efforts will likely amount to nothing but a waste of time and money.
That’s right. Organizations can’t simply create and deploy a learning and development program. There’s more to the story. And I’m not just talking about encouraging the development of your people’s soft skills either. I’m talking about investing in an organization’s culture. Yes, we have to intentionally put energy and budget towards creating environments in which people can flourish … where people are empowered and motivated to bring their best selves to work … where they aren’t afraid to use their own moral compass to make real-time decisions. Competency training is only the beginning!
Creating the right environment for your business isn’t a simple step-by-step process. It varies completely from organization to organization. It could be a new focus on manager development. Perhaps it’s educating your people on your big picture strategy and the role they play to help the business achieve success versus instructing them on the best way to do a specific task. The goal is to create a place where people are empowered to leverage their innate skills – and this has nothing to do with the explicit knowledge they possess.
Let’s take customer service training for example. Most customer service training includes specific instructions; such as make eye contact, speak with a smile, offer empathy and so on. Yes, these are essential behaviors that your frontline needs to embrace. But I would challenge the notion that your frontline isn’t performing these actions due to a lack of training. Most people intuitively now they need to be friendly, smile and make eye contact. The reason they’re not? They’re making a conscious decision not do to so – and this decision is driven by the mindset shaped by their environment.
Yes, you heard me right. If someone on the frontline is a big grouch, it’s not because you need to hone his or her people skills. You need to change their environment instead! The most successful organizations realize they must equally invest in the environment and building competency skills to create a place where people are motivated to do their best – where people choose to give discretionary effort. With the right environment, these behaviors will become the norm, not the exception. When your frontline people are put in the right environment, they want to go above and beyond. And that’s when the magic happens.
But wait – there’s more! Your people need knowledge of the right skills, the right environment and an example to follow. You can’t offer up information and hope it sticks. You must show your people what good looks like. You have many options on how to do this as well. You might simulate a scenario where the skill can be practiced, have your people shadow a seasoned team member or hold peer-led discussions where people can honestly and openly work together to determine how to overcome obstacles without fear of being judged by leadership.
One of the biggest points of pain that leaders talk about is the need to have their people make better decisions and prioritize what they’re supposed to do. Well, the answer is pretty simple – show them! We can’t simply tell people to “Just do what’s right” or “Follow protocol.” These ambiguous statements don’t make for good leadership. Great leaders need to provide guidance on how to make a good decision, show what a good decision looks like, and create the environment where success is not just attainable, but is the norm.
Regardless of the tactics you choose, it’s critical for people to see an example – something to learn from and strive towards. If you show them what success looks like … if you give them the knowledge they need to do their jobs … and if you create an environment in which they are encouraged, motivated and supported to put the skills into practice, well then, your competency training might be successful after all!
Training, culture and customers. They’re each essential to the success of your business, If your learning and development strategy isn’t directly connected to your customer strategy and if your customer strategy isn’t baked into your culture, then you’re going to have trouble when it comes to attracting customers. And keeping them. And that doesn’t bode well for your bottom line!
So, if you set the goal of securing “customers for life,” you need to commit the time, energy and funds to make it a reality. And no, a training course on what your customers want or how to best to sell your product or service to them isn’t where you should put your money first.
The key to creating customers for life is to think about it from a holistic perspective. Your customer experience strategy needs to cross into all facets of your business. It needs to be embraced by every employee on the payroll. From the corner offices to your call centers, from the R&D facilities and warehouses to the frontline. Everywhere. Once that is a reality, then fold learning and development into the mix – reinforcing behaviors already embedded and supported by your corporate culture.