16 October 2007
Sharpening The Machete
Two men entered the jungle at different places to cut a path to the other side of the island. Both had machetes to make it easier to walk through the jungle growth and tree limbs, and both were intent on being the first one to reach the other side of the island.
The first man did not make time to stop, so he swung his machete without ceasing all day long and into the night. The second man would stop occasionally for a few minutes before he continued on his journey.
A full moon was already in the night sky when the first man hacked his way out of the jungle. Exhausted and to his surprise, he was greeted by the second man, who was sitting by a fire on the beach and finishing his dinner.
How did this happen? While the first man worked harder, the second man worked smarter by taking time to stop occasionally to sharpen his machete. When he continued his journey, he was able to cover twice as much ground as the first man before he stopped to sharpen his machete again.
Sharpening the machete is a metaphor for keeping your employees' skills sharp, and this can be accomplished through regular training sessions. However, most companies use what can be called “tribal training.” This is a rudimentary training technique used anciently by tribes that lacked a formal written language; and it can still be witnessed in the fluorescent-lit caverns of modern offices where people pass on information from person to person through word of mouth. This is loosely called OJT or “on-the-job training” and it typically does not involve a formal methodology, instructors, or any classroom-style training.
Improving the skills and professionalism of every person in your organization is the responsibility of every manager, and it should be an ongoing process. Training is not a luxury, but a necessity, and the first training should occur as soon as the person is hired-typically through an orientation process.
I recently asked my college students how many had formal orientation training when they were hired, and only two out of 20 raised their hands. Most companies give a symbolic machete to their new hires and tell them to just start hacking away at the jungle in front of them. If one compares the hiring process between an employer and an applicant to a courtship where both are trying to impress each other, then the orientation training would be the honeymoon where the employer and employee get to know each other better. Both have made a commitment to one another; however, the employer decided to save time and money by sadly eliminating the honeymoon period when most people start their job. Is it any wonder, then, that one study estimates about 50 percent of employees “divorce” their employer by changing jobs within the first seven months?
To keep your employees longer, help them “sharpen their machetes” through training. The best type of training is where individuals are actively involved in the learning process. The lecture-based format is okay if you are going to give a data dump, but not for training that requires input or active interaction. Some better methods of training involve asking the group questions because it gets individuals to think and participate. A group discussion around a given topic involves more interaction and keeps everyone engaged.
Demonstration training involves the participants demonstrating a particular skill after being trained. This requires individuals to pay attention because they will need to show what they have learned with their peers watching. It also allows the instructor to gauge what people are learning. Role playing is another effective way to train because it puts people in situations they will experience in real life, but in a safe environment that can be analyzed for improvement. If someone has a negative experience at work with a customer, it can be used to role play various scenarios to determine better responses in the future.
Technology is playing more of a role in training with PowerPoint presentations, teleconferencing, webinars, and other online training programs. It doesn't matter much whether you use low-tech or high-tech training; the important thing is that you have consistent training with all of your staff.
Consistent training will help set and raise standards of performance, and improve your employees' understanding of your organization's objectives. Quality training can save and make your organization money by reducing employee turnover, improving customer service, and increase sales effectiveness. It will also boost confidence in your staff and reduce stress because it provides a clear path for employees to improve their performance. In the business jungle, the company that makes the most headway is the one that takes time to sharpen their machete.