Note from Mack: Today’s post is actually the issue of Backstage Pass that I sent to subscribers last Friday. I wanted to give everyone a taste of what they are missing by not subscribing to the Backstage Pass newsletter. If you want to subscribe, click the image at the bottom of this post. Each new issue goes out Friday morning.
Today I wanted to talk about a topic that I am extremely passionate about; Giving employees the skills they need to succeed. Next week we will talk a bit about how you can do this with your customers, but this week I wanted to focus on improving the workplace skills of your employees.
Think about the last time you received an employee evaluation. You probably receive an evaluation from your boss once a year, maybe twice. And if your company is like most, your boss will tell you the areas where you are doing well, and the areas where you need some improvement. There will likely be some talk about how you have the potential to reach this level, if your skills improve.
Notice there’s one crucial aspect missing: The company doesn’t have a plan to teach you those skills that you will need to take your career to the next level. Maybe if you’re lucky, your company will give you a small ‘self-improvement’ allowance, where you are budgeted some money that you can spend on attending a conference, or purchasing training materials like a webinar. But the reality is, you’re on your own if you want to improve your skills and grow as an employee in your field.
I think we can do a lot better. I want to talk about how today.
Follow the Nick Saban Model
Nick Saban is viewed by most as the best college football coach of modern times. His Alabama teams have won 6 National Championships in the last 11 years, and are the current title-holders. What’s remarkable about this accomplishment is that Saban has won all these titles despite frequent turnover among his coaching staff, and often losing players early to the NFL draft.
Consider running back Najee Harris. When the 5-star recruit came to Tuscaloosa in 2017, he was at the bottom of the depth chart. In his 4 seasons at Alabama, he had 3 different running backs coaches. Normally, that’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to player development. Yet when his career at Alabama concluded in January, Najee was the starting running back, he had won the Doak Walker Award given to the best running back in the nation, and he finished 5th in the Heisman Trophy voting, the award that goes to college football’s best overall player. Oh, and he won 2 SEC titles and 2 National Championships, in 4 seasons at Alabama.
How is Alabama football able to flourish in an environment of constant player and coaching turnover? Could your business sustain and grow if your employees and managers were leaving every few months?
What makes Alabama football different?
The secret to Alabama’s success is player and coaching development. Alabama only signs recruits that it has evaluated as being potential starters. These recruits will typically start at the bottom of the depth chart, as Najee Harris did. But Alabama’s coaches sign recruits that it believes can be taught the skills they will need to become starters. Then Alabama’s coaching and support staff gives those players every opportunity to succeed. They are given state of the art medical support, nutritional support, weight training and coaching. The facilities are world-class, and on par with anything you will find in the National Football League.
As for the coaches, Saban hires position coaches with the idea being that they can be molded and promoted one day to being coordinators. For instance, if Saban hires a defensive backs coach, he hires that coach with the thinking being that eventually, this guy will be my defensive coordinator. So after a season or two as defensive backs coach, the current defensive coordinator will leave Alabama for likely a head coaching position at another college. Saban then promotes the defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator. The advantage to this approach is that his new defensive coordinator is already familiar with Alabama’s defensive players, so the transition will be much smoother.
Both the Alabama players and coaches are given all the tools they need to improve their craft. Access to this skill development prolongs their time spent playing and coaching at Alabama. Players who might leave Alabama as juniors to enter the NFL draft, are more likely to stay for their senior season. During their senior season, their skills will continue to improve, and as that happens, their NFL stock will improve, which means a higher draft position and a larger salary. Coaches that join Alabama as a position coach can gain the skills necessary to be promoted to coordinator positions, which eventually opens up even better employment opportunities for them at both the collegiate and professional levels.
But it all starts with having the foundation in place to develop the skills of the players and coaches. This results in increased productivity from both the players and coaches, and it results in both the players and coaches staying in Tuscaloosa longer. The investment made into facilities and resources for the players and coaches more than pays for itself.
How could your business better develop its employees and managers?
One of the frequent ‘perks’ offered to new employees is the ability to pursue work-related education. Maybe you can attend an industry conference once a year, or maybe your employer will give you a ‘book fund’ to buy 5 books during the year which will improve your skills. While this can be helpful, it’s truly not the same as having a system in place that educates employees and gives them the skills to not only increase their performance in their current position, but to also put them in a position to be promoted one day into higher positions within the company.
Let’s go back to your annual employee evaluation for a minute. What if you were being evaluated by your boss, Sarah, who is the current Director of Content. Your current position is Content Marketing Manager. Sarah asks you if you would one day be interested in being the Director of Content. You are thrilled at the prospect, and Sarah tells you that if you want to make that move, you need to work on this list of skills. If you had a training system in place for your employees, Sarah could then focus that training program on the list of skills you need to develop in order to one day be promoted to Director of Content. Sarah, as the current Director of Content, is working on training for her own set of skills, as she one day wants to be your company’s new Chief Content Officer.
Let’s now look at an example of a company that’s used such a training program to increase the skills of its employees:
Dell creates the SMaC U to turn its employees into Social Media Superheroes
In 2010, Dell created the SMaC U or Social Media and Community University program to give its employees the social media training it needed to connect with customers online. Amy Heiss has a wonderful writeup of where the program was in 2015. Here she is talking about why SMaC U was created and some of the impressive results Dell saw:
Finally, a brainstorm hit. Every person already has access to superpowers – we just had to help them unlock those hidden strengths. We could show them how to amplify their voices, how to communicate instantly with millions of customers, and how to build relationships faster than a speeding broadband connection. We could teach them to use social media.
So, the Social Media and Community University (SMaC U) program was born. Now, our business is filled with superheroes. Their powers are strong.
Our sales superheroes have buffed up with a 69 percent year-over-year increase via social media. Our customer service heroes are battling the forces of customer dissatisfaction with a 98 percent first-time resolution rate on over 4,000 cases a week in social media. Our talent acquisition heroes are shining the Dell-signal into the sky, with 36 percent (up from 19 percent) of all external hires coming from employee referrals since adopting social media best practices.
This is such a smart endeavor because it’s accomplishing two key goals at the same time:
1 – It’s giving Dell’s employees vital social media skills that will help them do their current jobs as well as grow in their positions
2 – It’s helping Dell’s employees better connect with customers online. By giving Dell’s employees a better understanding of how to use social media tools, Dell can more effectively connect with its customers via social. This leads to more positive Word of Mouth, faster problem resolution (so that lowers customer service costs), and it improves brand perception.
How can your business launch a training program for your employees?
So if your business wanted to create a training program for your employees, what would that look like?
First, let’s think about what you want a training program to accomplish. Here’s some possible goals:
1 – Reduce employee turnover
2 – Increase promotion among current employees versus hiring new employees to fill open positions
3 – Reduce the amount of time it takes to fill an open position
As you can see, the most important aspect of a potential training program is first identifying the skills that your employees will need training for. You can start by auditing your workforce to see which positions experience the highest turnover rates. Then you can analyze what’s keeping your business from promoting current employees to fill those positions. Once you have your training program in place, the amount of time it takes to fill an open position should decrease as a function of the program existing.
What’s the best way to deliver training for your employees?
There’s two main sources of training for your employees:
1 – Outside subject matter experts
2 – Internal subject matter experts
If you go with outside subject matter experts, you could have these experts come to your company and deliver training in person, or via live or recorded video (And, I do offer training for companies, you can learn more here). I think when you are just launching a training program for your company, it makes more sense to lean on training from outside subject matter experts to create your training material for you. Plus, bringing in outside experts to train your team can be a perk for employees and give them an incentive to want to participate in the training.
As your training program matures, you can shift more of the training from outside subject matter experts, to your internal subject matter experts. This will be a cost-savings that you can realize.
So in general, identify the skills that your employees need, the best way to deliver training on those skills, and in what format. You can continually reassess the progress of your training program and adjust as needed, which will make it even more effective and efficient.