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Building bridges with your staff

Crescent Motors

Any keen businessman is keen to cut to the chase. So, let’s make this no exception.

We all know that training and motivating staff requires careful thought and planning. This occurs on two important fronts:  to meet and match the expectations of the business owner on the one hand and the staff on the other. Both carry important weight in many business decisions that are made.

In my experience, developing your business strategy will contain a section devoted to staff training. I can already hear a chorus proclaiming, ‘So it should’. They are, of course, dead right. But for some businesses, the training of their staff can look like it’s a bit of a bolt-on. 

If that’s what it appears to be from the outside, I really often wonder if it’s worse from inside that business. I believe that for many small businesses getting the balance right in their training and the development of their staff is a conundrum.

They are looking for continuous improvement in the ability and skills of their staff; whilst pursuing the growth of their business. Maybe, these two requirements do not necessarily go hand in hand? As one owner of a leading Midlands business, said to me, ‘In fact they are actually good bedfellows and a great deal can be achieved by careful management‘.

I took this to include the combination of what I will call for this blog, using commercial, proprietary training packages from specialists in your business sector or industry, (in our case automotive); and other key providers who might be your local college for NVQ training, BTEC courses and similar packages; and, finally, other training establishments offering a range of courses and ‘staff experiences’.

We all know that there are a myriad of training courses available from reputable providers. It is certainly worth doing some initial research to find out which are the best and have the highest reputation. Like your business strategy, your staff training equally requires planning. Right down to the important detail of which members of your team should attend a particular course.

Our expectation at Crescent Motors is that the newly trained team member will be sufficiently well-versed in their new skills, when they return from their course, that they will be in a position to impart the essence of their new found skills to others in the business.

It is a pre-requisite that their newly found expertise can be presented to their fellow co-workers. This confirms to me and my senior team that they have grasped a full understanding of the training. My advice is that business owners should follow this approach as part of their continuous improvement programme within their staff training activity.

This neatly connects with introducing staff training that falls under the category of team building. My earlier experiences in this area were courses led by Ray Mears and other outdoor experts that introduced desk-bound staff to the wider outdoors. Initially, I know that many companies were quick off-the-mark to scoff at this innovative approach.

Some actually harked back to those exercises of building a bridge out of oil drums, planks and some rope. They were neatly forgetting that the real challenge was not to fall in the water. Nor did they remember that metaphors that can be developed from this particular type of training and applied to their business.

What they missed and forgot about was that these special courses introduced staff to new techniques in challenging environments. And that those experiences can be applied in their work situations. These courses took staff out of their comfort zones. They are what one customer called ‘character-building’.

Before you comment, I agree that some ‘adventures’ were probably too challenging. Risk assessments have now made courses safe; whilst still exposing the participants to some demanding situations.  

From my perspective, they are excellent teambuilding exercises. Incidentally, they are eye-opening for staff, who personally find that they get a great buzz from taking part. Likewise, business owners also discover that the quietly spoken member of staff may not be the shrinking violet that they took them to be. Similarly, the loud all singing and dancing staff comedian, can be brought back down to earth (no pun intended). It is for all those reasons that I recommend these courses as a supplement to the technical training of staff.

In response to any sceptics, I am reminded of a quote – ‘Nothing is a waste of time, if you use the experience wisely’. *

A straw poll amongst our competitors, companies in our supply chain, and those larger SMEs to which we aspire confirmed one key point. In the majority of cases, those businesses which took on board the development of their staff through a combination of technical and other skills training were in general likely to be more successful. Equally importantly, their staff had enhanced job satisfaction; and, they were more likely to make important contributions to the continued success of their company.

It appears from my observations of these businesses that they were able to translate and adapt the new skills and experience gained by their staff into their operations. You might say that that is a simple conclusion.

But, I would like to ask if you have been on a course with great intentions of applying your new found understanding and skills; and, then, not actually achieved your goals? I believe that it is more common-place than you think. So, I consider that those businesses that effectively adapt these newly acquired skills to ‘how we do things around here’ gain a head start. By making consistent, small marginal changes they achieve significant gains.

And, most importantly your staff engagement programme should be the focus and at the core of what you are about. Continuous improvement is being the difference that makes the difference.

An outdoor metaphor works well here. Mountaineers climb the highest peaks in carefully planned stages with detail right down to individual pitches. This philosophy is applied in my business – small incremental improvements that add up to a sum total of major gains. With hindsight, your individual improvements become massive achievements which will set the tongues of your competitors wagging, probably on Social Media. That alone shows that the business and brand is increasingly successful.

To effectively adapt and develop new found skills into the business requires some planning. I recommend that workshops are held with staff. Then, the new concepts and ideas can be constructively shared within the overarching context of the business, its strategy and its plans.

There needs to be a close fit with the business rather than the adoption of ideas that run at a tangent to the planned direction of the organisation. This is not to stultify, nor limit, the discussions. Some ad hoc, off-the-wall proposals and suggestions are worthy of consideration; but they should be handled carefully by the chair or facilitator of the workshop.   

You will probably discover that in order to achieve your goals, the development of your staff engagement, and the embedding of those skills in the business that an outside third party will be advantageous. A team like The Success Factory, based in Chester, could be your starting point.

In our experience, your staff training and engagement will provide the business with a quantum leap forward; and an important return on investment.

Many businesses find that once they start their staff engagement activity, their key metrics start to improve, like safety, as well as productivity. Others have suggested that improvements can be made under four key headings – quality, throughput, budgets and safety. This might be a good starting point for your business. The critical key to the success is aligning and engagement of your workforce.   

When are you taking your staff on an away day, setting new challenges and taking them out of their comfort zones?

Let me and fellow Chamber members know how you get on.

* Quote from Auguste Rodin.

Today’s blog is written by Steve Tallett, Managing Director of Crescent Motoring Services, whose garages are the current National Independent Garage of the Year; a title his team has held since 2014. Crescent Motoring is also the first back-to-back winners of the Excellence in Customer Service Awards from the Birmingham Chamber Group. Winning these prestigious awards in 2013; and then again in 2014.