Brian Willett
Wednesday, 11 April 2018 / Published in Leadership Blog

Many people talk about the characteristics that leaders must have to be considered great leaders.  Words such as vision, character, empathy, charisma, outgoing, sympathetic, fair, ability to communicate, persuasive, etc. are just some the words most people use. I agree that all of these are important.  But there are things that leaders must do that are even more important.

Most of the lists people have created describe what leaders must be.  Meaning they must possess these characteristics and skills to be a great leader.  What I am describing in this article is what leaders must do.  There is a big GAP in what people do and what they say they do.

This list provides leaders a great outline on how to lead in todays workforce and get people to buy in to their vision.  Vision, charisma, persuasive, and all of the other traits are important, but doing these six things are more important.

Time:  Time is the one of our most precious commodities.  No matter who you are and what you do, you don’t have any more than anyone else.  And in this hyper busy and noisy world, it seems like we all have less of it than ever before. So when a leader spends some of their time with the people they lead, it demonstrates and communicates to the person or persons, that they are important enough that the leader is willing to take some of their precious time and spend some of it with them.

I know spending time with the people seems like a simple thing to do.   However, as I work with leaders around the country, I find that most leaders are spending less time with their team. Instead they are going from meeting to meeting, running reports, and putting out fires and not actually spending enough time with the people they lead.

If you want to become a better leader and get engagement from your team, you have to make time for the people on your team.  This must be a priority.

Recognition: Being recognized is probably one of the most inherent qualities that we as humans have.  We love to stand out or be pointed out in a crowd as someone who is doing something different.  I have worked with thousands of individuals in my training sessions and I have yet to find a person that says they don’t like to be recognized.  Great leaders find ways to recognize employees in everyday interactions.

Appreciation: Being a trainer for many years now, one of my favorite sessions in my training classes is something we do called “strength centered comments”. A strength centered comment is where the people in the training recognize each other for the strengths they have observed while they have been in the training together. Most of the training I do is spending a day with a group, many days with a group, or many sessions with a group.  The group has the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the other participants in the training.  At the end of the training, they have to get in to group of three-five and write out strengths they have witnessed in the other participants in their group throughout the training.

The way it sounds is like this “Laura, one of the strengths I have observed and appreciate about you, is your willingness to ask very thought-provoking questions.  This tells me that you are really listening to the other person and really care about what they are saying.  I watched you do this throughout the training in all of the interactions you have been a part of.

Everyone loves this session in my training courses. Leaders have the opportunity to do this every single day.  They can show appreciation for their teams strengths daily, and good leaders do this consistently.

Forgiveness: You and I both have done things that we wanted forgiveness for. It is just a part of life.  If you aren’t doing things that require forgiveness from time to time, then the chances are you aren’t taking any risks, especially in the work environment. Forgiveness is something that we all want when we do something that we shouldn’t have done.  It may not have been maliciously done, but it was done nonetheless.  And we as humans want affirmation that the person impacted by whatever we did, has forgiven us and put it to the past.

In leadership, you want employees taking risks, you want employees pushing the boundaries to ensure success.  You don’t want them to do anything that is unethical, illegal, or unmoral, however, you do want them to be creative and look for new ways to solve problems that impact business.

If a person feels like a leader is resenting them or holding a grudge on a decision they made.  This creates animosity and lack of engagement on the part of the employee. A leader must communicate to this person that it wasn’t a big deal, that is was okay, and it is in the past.  Now I know this seems like an easy thing to do, and it may be a little overstated.  However, I have been the person that needed forgiveness and affirmation from a leader that what I did was in the past and it wasn’t impacting any thing going forward.  We all seek this in our personal lives, so leaders must also give this to people in the business environment.

Attention:  Spending time with someone is very important, but when you spend that time with someone giving them your full attention and being fully present is just as important. They way you show that you are fully attentive and present is by engaging with the individual to show that you are hearing what they want you to hear. Leaders today may be willing to give some time to their team, but they may not be fully attentive.  Great leaders clear off the desk and put their phones down and give their employees all of their attention and not part of it.

Credit:  I don’t care who you are and what you say, my experience tells me that all of us want credit for anything and everything that has a positive outcome.  Whether it is an opinion on a football game, a thought on a project, or we guess on the right directions on a road trip, all of us love to get credit for something.  My guess is some of the mostly used words together in the human language are “I told you”, “That is what I said”, or the passive aggressive way to say this is “Didn’t I say that?”.   All of these statements are examples of all of us wanting to get credit for are efforts and being right.

As a leader, especially a good leader, you should be listening more than talking. Which means most of the good ideas that solve problems in your organization are coming from the people on your team. Most of us have had leaders take credit for our ideas.  You know they did.  This is one of the most demoralizing and infuriating things you can do to someone on your team.  If you are a leader, you have to give public credit to people on your team for their contributions.  I would say that you have to go out of your way to ensure the people on your team know that in the board room and in other meetings, that their leader is giving the proper credit.

Here is your challenge:  Write these six words down on a piece of paper. Next to the words also write down the numbers 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10.  Now circle the number you feel like represents how well you do these six things. 10 being you do it really well. 1 meaning you don’t do it well at all. After you rank yourself in each of these areas. Write down a specific goal you would like to work on accomplishing in this area?

Is it giving more public credit? Is it recognizing people more?  Whatever it is, you have to commit to a goal and then implement ways to accomplish the goal.

To your success and your future.

Brian Willett
Wednesday, 11 April 2018 / Published in Leadership Blog

After doing training and development for ten plus years, my experience tells me that most companies are not doing enough training in the areas where people need the training.  In many cases, they are spending more time on training people in the areas that don’t necessarily give that person or the organization its best return on investment.

I have created a list of the different kinds of training and development a company must provide and who should be providing it, in my opinion.  And at the end of this article I suggest the amount of time that a company should be training in each of the training areas I have described.

In this article, I use the terms inside trainers and outside or external trainers.  Whenever I use the terms outside or external trainers, I mean the same thing.  It means either bring a training company in from the outside of your organization or send your employees to a conference, or some kind of training being provided by an outside or external company.

Soft Skills (foundational skills):  These are commonly called the soft skills.  Communication, interpersonal relationships, managing stress, small talk, listening skills, etc.

These skills are the most important skills of all in my opinion.  I don’t care who you are and what you do.  The chances are, sometime between five years old and who you are today, you have lost knowledge of how to be nice to others.  It isn’t totally your fault, in the hyper crazy world you are just busy.  You have been conditioned to respond to someone before they are finished talking.  You have learned to cut people off in mid sentence. You have lost the ability to disagree agreeably, if you actually ever learned it in the first place.

The foundational/soft skills are the basics of human interaction.  And for whatever reason, today, because of technology, we just don’t communicate face to face enough that when we are asked to do so, we just aren’t very good at it.

Who should provide this training? In my opinion most training departments within a company aren’t equipped to handle this kind of training.  Hiring an outside company is the best way to deliver this training.  The reason I say this, is because the outside company is working with lots of other companies, their material is very specific to this area, but it is very applicable to all organizations.  Because the challenges that come up, in the area of soft skills, are universal to all people.  Someone within company can get certified in a specific training program that delivers these kinds of skills.  But even then, unless they have many years of delivering this kind of training, I would suggest a company still hire an outside company to deliver the training to get the most out of the dollars spent on it.

Skills Training: Includes proficiencies needed to actually perform the job.  This kind of training is very specific to an individual job description or category.  It could be sales, customer service, engineer, project management, leadership, etc.  Skills training is the kind of training that helps someone get better at their job.

Skills training is ongoing and never ends.  Unfortunately, we as humans can learn anything we want, but what we learn and what we actually retain are terribly opposite at times.  To ensure a person gets and keeps the information that they need to be successful on the job.  Repetition is critical.  How often do they need it?  Everyday is what I say. To really learn, retain, and actually apply the skills.  A person must constantly be practicing and learning. Period.

Who should be delivering this kind of training? Obviously some of this training is going to be very specific for certain jobs in the company. I would suggest maybe a person who is doing the job, but also has the ability and the time to train others.  Not everyone can train someone else to do what they do.  The chances are the manager isn’t proficient enough or fresh enough to teach these specific skills either.  By the way, that is okay.

Sometimes this training may land within a human resources department as well. Again, I caution this because unless the person has actually done the job, they may not have the credibility or the depth of knowledge necessary to train the skills required effectively.

Again, depending on the job, hiring an outside company might be best.  Especially once everyone on the team has gone through initial skills training that is provided.  Having an outside person come in that has a different voice, a different perspective, and delivery methods that reinforces what the company has already trained the employee on.  This only enhances the employees skills and helps them buy-in to the philosophies even more.

Leadership Training: I had to create a separate category for leadership training. You could easily put it under skills training or soft skills/foundational skills training.  However, because I believe, and it has been validated over and over.  Leaders drive the effectiveness, the engagement of employees, and the overall success of an organization.  This kind of training should not be taken lightly and should be a significant investment made by all companies and organizations.  Equipping leaders with the skills to problem solve, lead people, have empathy, coaching, delegation, project management, celebration, etc. should be one of the primary focuses of all companies and organizations. All companies rise or fall on the ability of the leaders within that organization.

Who should provide this training? From my experience working inside a company, I have always found that a good external training company is always best when it comes to delivering leadership training.  The reason I say this, is because the chances are you have already heard and learned the leadership practices within your organization.  To get new ideas and ways to approach things, the best way is to bring an outside company in who will have a different perspective and different insights.  This will allow your leadership team to grow and add more tools and skills in the area of leadership to their toolkit. Or you can send leaders to a training program.

Professional training and legal training: This is the kind of training that is very specific to a job classification or specific job task.  For example, it could be accounting.  They must keep up with all of the current tax laws. Lawyers need specific training as laws change.  Human Resources must be kept up to speed on the current employment laws. Leadership must be kept up on the current hiring and firing laws if they are the ones interviewing candidates.

Who should provide this training?  Well, some of this training can be purchased from outside companies that focus on this.  Training such as sexual harassment, discrimination laws, certain health and safety mandatory practices, safe driving, etc.  Since most of this kind of training is driven by laws, codes, mandates, requirements, etc. It is pretty straight forward.  The key is delivering it in a way that isn’t mind numbing to the people who have to attend.

A company may have someone in human resources deliver it.  Or there are many companies out there such as skillsoft and other learning management systems that provide    online courses to deliver this training.  Again, this is more of a check the box kind of training, however, it is important.  So delivering it in a way that makes it memorable is very important.

Team Training: Everybody is part of a team.  If you have more than one employee in your company, than you are working as a team.  The challenges with the teams is that it is comprised of people who have different agendas and sometimes even different priorities. The goal with team training is to get the team working together as a team.  It could be breaking down barriers, improving productivity within the team, or just getting the team to know each other better.

Team training is very important.  The more a team knows each individual and who they are, they are more willing to give people respect and encouragement when things aren’t going well.

Who should provide this training? It depends on how bad the team dynamics are.  If it is very bad, then my suggestion would be to have an outside firm come in and do the training.  The reason for this, is when someone internally does it, the team looks at it as being pushed on them, and unfortunately, no matter how objective the trainer is, the people involved will think that the trainer has a bias in how they interact with the group and the individuals.

If it is just normal team building stuff and the team just needs a boost or the manager just wants to continue to build upon the team engagement.  Then a manager could do it, or someone from human resources.  Again, it must be someone who is skilled in facilitating and getting a group involved. My suggestion is to always go outside of the four walls of the company as well.  There is something about getting outside the four walls that creates a better training environment for the team, especially in these kinds of trainings.

Safety training:  Is a type of training that occurs to ensure employees are protected from injuries caused by work-related accidents. Safety training is especially important for organizations that use chemicals or other types of hazardous materials in their production. Safety training can also include evacuation plans, fire drills, and workplace violence procedures. Safety training can also include the following:

  • Eye safety
  • First aid
  • Food service safety
  • Hearing protection
  • Asbestos
  • Construction safety
  • Hazmat safety

Who should provide this training: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, is the main federal agency charged with enforcement of safety and health regulation in the United States. OSHA provides external training to companies on OSHA standards.  Also, someone in-house could deliver this training as well.  A safety director or someone from human resources. Again the key is to make it fun, and this requires a skilled facilitator to do so.

Technical or Technology training: All jobs have some kind of technical training involved.  It could be something like teaching a server how to input food into the system, to showing a sales person how to use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management system) to prospect for clients.  Most companies (I hesitate to say all) have some kind of computer system that helps them manage they work and their business.  It could be something very universal such as Microsoft products, to something very specific and tailored to their industry.  Whatever the technical training is, a company must invest in it to make sure people know how to manage the business.

Who should provide this training? Most companies are using something very specific that is being provided by another company.  For example: Salesforce which is a CRM for sales people, or WordPress which is a website developer.  Whatever the software is, the chances are the company providing it will have a team that delivers training.  I always suggest using that team as much as possible to deliver the training for your employees.

Now some companies may have little nuances that the company that they are buying from may not be familiar with.  In that case, you may have someone within the department deliver the training or human resources. But for the most part, the company that is providing the software or the system should have some training that you either get when you buy the product as well as ongoing training.

Quality Training:  Refers to equipping the employees with the means and expertise of preventing, detecting, and eliminating non-quality items, usually in an organization that produces a product.  Many companies use the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to help develop what the quality standards are. But equipping the employees within the company to administer these standards is what is most important.

Who should provide this training: Just like technical or technology training this kind of training can be administered from an outside company like ISO.  But most companies usually have someone within their company that oversees quality.  In this case, this person must become skilled at training and delivering quality training to the people who need to know it.  Again, the people who are receiving this training must understand the quality standards and be able to actually point it out when the standards are not being met.  So teaching the people who are managing quality is a job that requires someone who is very technical, but also very creative in their training and delivery methods.

In addition, I want to point out that some companies hire someone from within to oversee the quality.  If that person has never been exposed to any outside training or outside quality metrics, then a goal of their development should be to expose them to outside best practices.  I have seen too many times where a person has been promoted up to oversee quality, and unfortunately with their very limited experience, fail to develop a world-class quality system.

My hope after reading this is that you have a better understanding of the different kinds of training that is important to deliver within your company.  As I stated before, many companies are simply not doing enough training in the areas where the employees need to be trained.  Or they are not getting the right kind of training that really helps an employee develop new skills or enhance their current skills to provide a better return to the company.

A company should be spending no less than 50% of an employees training time in enhancing that employees skills in the job they are required to do.  Another 20% of the allotted training time should be in soft skills development.  And the remaining 30% should include technical training as needed.  Professional training as needed. Safety and Quality as needed.

All of these percentages are based upon what a person job is.  It will vary significantly, depending on your role within the organization.  The key point though is ensuring that the employee is getting the training that will allow them to deliver better results in their position. When a person has the skills to deliver better results in their position, because of the training they are getting, this is how companies grow and so does the employee.

Again, I have learned through my experiences that everyone thinks they can train.  Just because you know something, it doesn’t mean you can train someone on it.  Highly skilled trainers and facilitators know how to engage an audience.  They know the right practices and methods to get participation and make the learning and training experience enjoyable.

When is the last time you had an external company come in and provide training for your organization?  If it has been a while, I would suggest trying it out and seeing what kind of result you get.

I hope you found this information to be useful.  If you did please share it with others.

To your success and your future.

Brian Willett
Wednesday, 11 April 2018 / Published in Leadership Blog

Last week, I was kicking off the second, of at least four twelve week leadership training courses that I will be delivering for a client of mine.   This client has 3,100 or so employees and produces a very needed product.

One of the most senior leaders in the organization who oversees the manufacturing operations of the organization.  Is one of the reasons the training was brought in to the company to begin with.  I allow them to kick off the training for the twelve week training program.   The twenty or so leaders that are participating in the training all report up to this person somehow.  This leader may not have a direct contact with the participants, but they all fall under their responsibilities somewhere down the line.

The reason the training works within this company is because of the commitment of leadership to the training and the follow-up.  This leader tells the participants in the room that day, that they appreciate their commitment to their job and the company.  They then go on to speak for about three or four minutes on the importance of the training and why they are participating in it.  During this message, something they said that most leaders don’t say, or in many cases, are so far removed that they are not in position to say is this.

They said “Over the next twelve weeks of this training course, there will be times when you question whether to complete a job that you are working on, or follow-up with a customer, or need to put out a pending fire that needs your attention, or attend the training.  In all of these cases, I want to remind you that there is no need to think about what you should do.  The answer will always be make sure you are in this training session and are fully present during this training.”

As a trainer this is music to my ears.  And it should be to an employee as well.  The commitment that this company has to increasing the skills of its employees is truly amazing.  Many times as a trainer, I have conducted training where a person, or persons, who are participating in the training, come and go during a session.  I have asked a manager what is going on? Or if they think they should be in here?  And I have had managers tell me many times, that whatever it is the employee is working on can’t wait.

By making this statement, the training and development of this employee is put on hold, because the manager has communicated what is most important.  Which is getting work done, over getting training in.

One of the problems with this philosophy, that a lot of senior leaders and company owners have. Is that they think there will come a day when the work stops and they can focus on training and development.  This is a myth.  We both know the work never stops.  There is always another issue, another upset customer, another employee issue, that will take precedent over training with this kind of philosophy.

The company that I share the story about above is one that knows that there is never a good time for training.  There are always other priorities.  However, they also know that without ongoing development and training that the individual will never deliver the best value that they can for their skills and talents, which in turn doesn’t allow the company to thrive and grow.  If the employees aren’t growing, the chances are the company isn’t going to grow either.

This leader, and the leaders within this company, understand that growth, training, and development of the employees, especially the leadership working directly with the majority of the workforce responsible for manufacturing, producing, and shipping the product.  Is the most important investment that they can make.

To answer the question.  Why do some training programs work and some don’t?  Very simply the commitment from the top leaders of the company.  As I mentioned earlier, one of the leaders in this company gets in front of the group and tells them that nothing they do or are required to do is as important as them attending and participating in this training program for the next twelve weeks.

This kind of statement and commitment not only communicates what is most important, but it also takes the decision-making out of the equation for the employees involved in the training.  Leaders have to help employees make decisions some times.  It is part of leadership.  By telling them in advance what the priorities are and what is most import, it clearly communicates what should be done. When a decision that needs to be made comes up.  This is a gift that most leaders never give their employees.

Instead employees are left to make their own decisions.  And then when they do, they may find out that it was the wrong decision, and then a leader doubles down on it, by reprimanding the employee for making the wrong decision.

Senior leaders and owners of companies need to ask themselves these questions first before investing in training for the workforce:

  • How committed are you to the training?
  • How will you communicate the importance of this training to the people involved?
  • How will you demonstrate that the training is as important as you say it is?
  • What kind of follow-up will you do and require the employees to participate in to make sure the training sticks?
  • What kind of accountability will you conduct to those who don’t take it as seriously as they should?

I am sure there are other questions to ask as well, but these are a good start.

If you want training and development to work and stick, you have to create a learning culture that is clearly communicated from the top.  That is how you get training programs to work, and when you don’t clearly communicate it, the chances are the program wont work.

To your success and your future.

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