If You Buy It, Use All of It

July 1, 2002
A lack of training makes an empty promise of new technology.
If You Buy It, Use All of It

At trade shows, whenever a company introduces a new feature for a product, I usually ask the product manager if operators are making use of all these new features. The answer is no. Always. At best, the managers will tell me, customers use maybe 50 percent of any product’s features and capabilities, whether they are new or not. And this is borne out by several studies that indicate that despite the potential cost savings, new features aren’t readily adopted.

Why would a company pay for all these great new features that are supposed to help cut costs, yet not use them? The studies give the reason as feature complexity. A more likely answer lies in training or, more accurately, the lack of.

This is a clear waste of money, but one that doesn’t show up on the balance sheet, so no one pays much attention. Plus, there are lots of excuses for not training employees. It takes them away from their jobs, for example, even though the total number of hours is not that much. In some cases, upgrading employee skills is a threat to managers, so they resist it. And others worry about having their training investment walk out the door after time and money have been spent.

But with technology continually advancing, can managers afford not to cultivate — in their employees and in themselves — the skills needed to ensure their company maintains high productivity and stays competitive? Can upper management afford to have middle managers undervalue training when they need to implement new projects that will enhance shareholder value?

A good training program ensures managers have a pool of talent to draw from when needed, especially when implementing new projects or technology. It helps a company stay competitive. And the cost doesn’t amount to much more than a week’s pay.

There are several sources you can turn to when researching a training program. Many you can find on the Internet, such as bizmove.com. And don’t forget, vendors offer training programs too.

Here are a few tips, though, to get you started. First, start with a strategy on what you want to accomplish. Developing this strategy begins with considering who your customers are and why they buy from you, examining your strengths and weaknesses as well as those of your competition, and determining what trends are coming that your company may need to accommodate.

Then, you need to do a skills inventory. What can your employees already do? What do they need to learn now? What will they need to know five years from now?

And don’t forget about cross-training. The more employees know about all the jobs of warehousing or distribution, the more flexibility you have in staffing various positions and needs. Plus, should you have to downsize, you’ve given your employees an edge in gaining new employment quickly because they have more skills to offer. That’s a win-win.

To ensure training efforts pay off, be sure to set milestones. These milestones apply to employees as well as the company to ensure you meet the defined goals.

Vendors include new features and capabilities for reasons other than just to raise prices. Primarily these features will save you money, if they are used. Don’t waste an opportunity you’ve already paid for.

-- Leslie Langnau

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