The training your people REALLY need

Apr 21, 2008

We all seem to spend a lot of money on training. That’s a loosely applied term. Many things fall into the “training pot” in a typical A/E/P or environmental firm. My anecdotal understanding is that about half of what we spend goes for IT training. And then about half of the remaining half goes for PM training. And the rest goes for all kinds of other training. This breakdown seems about right. Most of this money is probably well-spent. But there still seems to be much that we aren’t doing to give people the skills that they really need to be successful. Here are some areas that I have found employees in architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental firms need a lot of help with: Basic business software. We train people on Revit or AutoCAD or Deltek Vision, but what about Microsoft Word, Outlook, Excel, and PowerPoint? Most of us have to use these programs all day long and yet know very little about how they work and what they can do. The latest version of Office, for example, I find very difficult. It took me 10 minutes and the help of my officemate to find spell check. Where’s the training for this stuff? Writing skills. How to organize a report that the reader will say “wow” over. How to write a business letter under various scenarios. How to write a proposal that gets the sale. How to write an e-mail and who to copy on it. These are all typical activities for professionals and support staff in our business and they require some training and guidance. Money spent here will pay big dividends for the company down the road. Public speaking skills. Everyone needs to know how to speak. Look up at the people you are talking to. Don’t say “like” every five seconds. Don’t stick your hands in your pockets. Don’t say “um” every 10 seconds. Get your point across succinctly. There are so many meetings and presentations where our people need to speak. They represent the Ü entire firm every time they talk and yet many are deficient in this skill set. How to eat. We used to have a guy who worked for us— who went to good schools and grew up in an affluent household— who didn’t know how to hold a spoon. I guess his parents never taught him. Watching him eat was disturbing. If a client ever saw that, it would not reflect very well on any of us. I had dinner recently with a Ph.D. engineer who smacked his lips like a 4-year-old.... embarrassing. Our people eat many meals with clients. They need to know what order to order in, how to put their napkins on their laps and not leave them on the table (people who wipe their hands on napkins on the table drive me nuts), how to take butter from the butter plate (you take a whole pat, not a piece), etc. When do we teach our people how to eat? How to dress. Some of our people don’t get it. They wear suits when it’s not appropriate to do so and then show up at meetings with CEOs of client companies without a jacket on. Or, they have to dress in such a way that they show off their newest tattoo. Or, their shoes are so scuffed up and worn out they look like they got ‘em at a flea market. Or, their tie is six inches too short. These folks need a little help. Their moms or dads didn’t show them the way. If you can, it will help them and the company. How to act. This is a little tougher. But when do people get told that they should be returning phone calls and e-mails quickly? When do they learn that they shouldn’t constantly talk about themselves? When do they learn that a little free work may be appropriate for a client paying hundreds of thousands of dollars each year? When do they learn that they have to treat everyone with respect, even those much lower in the pecking order than themselves? When do they learn that some things could be perceived as sexual harassment that they wouldn’t consider such? When do they learn how to handle questions from a client about a competitor? Knowing how to act in all situations is key to success in this business and life! The business of our business. When do our employees learn the basic mechanics of accounting, billing, and collection? When do they learn how a design or environmental company makes a profit? Who teaches them about stock ownership? All of these things must be taught by the company if the employees are going to be entrusted with its safe operation. If you agree that all of these seven points above are typical deficiencies in training, perhaps you should see how much time and money is being spent on them now. Reallocate some funds if you cannot simply spend more. An additional 1% or 2% of labor would go a long way. Originally published 4/21/2008

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