Big Gain? Plan Then Train

Organizations that routinely train their employees have higher morale and lower turnover -- but not necessarily better business results.
By By Douglass C. Campbell | December 31, 1999
Organizations that routinely train their employees have higher morale and lower turnover-but not necessarily better business results. Unless training is implemented as a supporting part of an overall business improvement process, it often scores low on a bang-for-the-buck meter. Or, to put it more bluntly, training is a waste of time if it is not focused on what the company wants its employees to know, to be able to do, or to believe.

Because employees are the key resource with which companies can achieve better business results, training is more than just a morale booster. It is a way to prepare employees to succeed at their jobs. And for a training strategy to translate positively to your bottom line, you must first define what successful employees do, and in turn define what, in your view, a successful business should accomplish.

Builders thinking about how to improve their training program should then step back and consider the steps involved in an overall business improvement plan-understanding the role employee training plays in that process.

There are seven steps in a properly implemented business improvement process:

  1. Prepare a business plan.
  2. Benchmark current performance in the areas related to your business plans.
  3. Analyze each objective in terms of business process.
  4. Prepare employees to carry out the plan.
  5. Implement the plan, including training for required knowledge, skills and attitudes.
  6. Stay focused on the plan.
  7. Measure and manage against the benchmarks.

From there, training can take any number of formats. Generally, it can be any event, strategy or assignment designed to improve an employee’s personal or business performance. What follows illustrates the business improvement system in order to highlight the preparation of a training strategy. Finally, it will illustrate how to verify the business improvement resulting from the training.

The Business System Illustrated

Although this model applies to any organization, the focus will be on the construction department of a building company. In order to view training in the proper context, we’ll follow the process using a hypothetical, but realistic example from a builder’s business plan. Prepare Plan: Assume that a builder’s business plan includes the following objectives that directly relate to a construction department:

  • Deliver units within a one-week window from the date predicted at the start of framing.
  • Reduce the number of days to build houses by 10%.
  • Reduce house costs by 1% without sacrificing quality (or the perception of quality).
Generate Current Benchmarks:
  • For the past 12 months, what was the average number of days late (ready for closing) past the date predicted at start frame? (i.e. 17 days late)
  • For the past 12 months, what was the average number of days required to complete (deliver) units? (i.e. 98 days)
  • What is the base construction cost (without options) for each plan offered in this market? (i.e. $72,550, $76,250 etc.)
Current Process:
  • Outline all departments and people who have an influence upon the timing of building houses.
  • Establish if any people, other than superintendents and vendors, can affect the time that it takes to build houses.

Based upon this analysis, you can begin to decide how to get all employees responsible for production on the "same page." This review usually shows that there are more involved in a successful production system than construction superintendents. Accounting, purchasing and sales can all affect production. In order to meet the production goals it may be necessary to "tweak" business processes. Superintendent Training cannot have much impact if the cause of late deliveries is the system abuse by people in other departments.

Preparing employees to carry out the plan: Determine what your employees must know, be able to do, and even feel to carry out the plan. For example, the employees should know:

  • How houses are built and the sequence of activities to build them.
  • That it is necessary to communicate your production goals to those responsible for meeting them.
  • The deal is a two-way street. Vendors must meet the schedule. The builder must ensure that the house is ready.
  • Continual change to a house adds time to the schedule.
  • Vendors won’t lose money to meet your schedules.
The employees should be able to:
  • Prepare schedules
  • Manage production
  • Make the trades believers in the schedules
  • Meet the commitments made to the vendors within the contract, and insist that they meet theirs.
The employees should believe:
  • Delivering units on time is their responsibility. Having someone else to blame does not relinquish his or her responsibility.
  • If you can complete an activity today, do so. It will rain tomorrow.
  • Vendors are in a partnership with the builder. They can assist in realizing the builder’s goals or they can prevent them from being reached.
Implement the plan:
  • Determine which knowledge, skills and attitudes are lacking in your associates and then develop a training program to provide them. This may mean developing mentoring relationships, assigning individual tasks to complete or conducting classes. The point is you know where to focus your efforts.
Stay Focused:
  • "Walk the Talk." This step is separated from number seven for one reason-inexperienced managers are impatient when they don’t see instant results. They try to defy Stephen Covey’s "Law of the Farm"-If after two days of planting seeds the corn is not knee high, they plant something else in the same place. Senior managers must demonstrate their commitment to the goals by continually checking for gradual improvement in the processes. An example might include visiting job sites weekly and comparing the written schedule with the work in units under construction. This shows that managers are serious about their goals. Goals are not simply more "flavor of the month" platitudes that are forgotten 10 minutes after the annual meeting.
Measure and Manage:
  • Take a compass reading. Continually check your progress to determine if you are still on course. Find ways to keep your people engaged in the process. If they succeed, you succeed. The process outline is simply a way of doing business. From a training point of view, the needs of the business are identified. Instead of "trial and error" training where we send employees to classes in the hope that they will become more productive, a training strategy can be designed and the verification of the business results determined.

The Training Strategy

To determine the strategy, consider the best way to enable employees to know, do and believe those items outlined in point number four. What’s the best way to prepare them for success? Classroom training is effective for some things. Assigning an individual to a mentor to develop specific skills over a period of time is effective. Assigning individuals the responsibility to learn a skill on their own is another. As a human resources or construction manager, a strategy might include all of these methods. It depends upon the resources available and the specific skills required. All training might be handled internally or purchased from the outside. In all cases, managers and mentors are responsible for the development of their people.

There are two important reasons to verify improved employee behavior and business results. The first is to remind the trainee that the process does not end at the end of training. They must apply what they have learned. The process does not end until they can do what they were trained to do.

The second reason is to determine if the business plan has been met. In the case of the earlier examples:

  • Can you deliver units within a one-week window from the date predicted at the start of framing?
  • Did you reduce the number of days to build houses by 10 percent?
  • Were house costs reduced by 1% without sacrificing quality or the perception of quality? You be the judge. Let’s assume that within 10 months construction started to deliver units consistently on time. They reduced the average cycle time from 98 to 88 days. Finally, average house costs were reduced by $750. Was the training effort of value?

Training is simply a tool to prepare employees to be more effective professionally and to provide greater value to the organization. It is easily justified when it compliments the builder’s business goals. In addition, employees are highly motivated in a training organization when they see their abilities grow along with those of the builder.

Also See:

New Employee-Development Programs at K. Hovanian

Building Home Building Careers

"Career Path" Requirements for Construction Superintendents


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