Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Managers, train and promote your employees wisely, it will go back to you!

The issues of training and promotion have always become one of the hot topics, especially in the industry where I work where talents are rare. Training is often treated as ‘on the job’ rather than as a structured activity – with the excuse that understanding market research is not as simple and as client’s problems are various, training becomes more difficult to structure. While promotion is a challenge because in market research, sometimes it is difficult to determine what skills are needed for a certain level, since one role to another sometimes have similar work to do.

That’s why, since day one I started working in this industry, those two issues have always come up in most discussions about human resources. As I moved up the ladder, I have gotten questions around those from my colleagues. I have asked the same question myself and often consulted with either my superiors, or people from HR in the company I worked in. The question around training always revolves around what to give, and how to structure it so that it makes sense to us and the employees and of course at the same time can get them ready for the next level. While the question on promotion is always how can we promote someone according to the skills needed, while at the same time create a differentiation of role between one title to the other.

Amongst the many answers that I have received, one of the best answers was somewhere along the line of: think of your employees as your brand ambassadors. They can either put a bad, or a good name, on you depending on what skills they bring that are supposed to fit that title.

That line of thinking comes from a very simple logic.

However unstructured, training at the end of the day must answer one very simple needs: to enable the person to do the job that he has to do. So, before we even think of training, we must first understand: what is the job. In other words, we have to come up with clear job descriptions. I am sure every person who has read any books on human resources has already known this. But how often have we really adhered to it, or even tried to understand ourselves and make sure that our expectations of that person and the job that he needs to do, fit with the job descriptions?. I am sorry to say that I have seen too many examples where people just don’t do that often enough. Expectations to the person can be too low, or too high, from the actual jobs that he has to do. And hence, training becomes erratic. Or worse, is not done properly.

And this of course affects on how promotion is then done. Without a proper look at job descriptions, promotion can be done haphazardly. Sometimes it is done on reasons that have nothing to do with the jobs, e.g. in order to keep up with the salary increase, to keep up with the years of working, to keep people from leaving, and so many other reasons. While there is nothing wrong with those reasons, but there is a danger in doing so: we forget to look long and hard at what skills have the person equipped with for the next level, does he/she fit enough with the title that requires certain skills to do the job well in that role. And I think we even often forget to ask ourselves if we are the managers: what have I done to equip that person well enough to go up the ladder.

If you notice, that process always comes back to us as managers. Yes, because at the end of the day, it is not just the responsibility of the employee to understand what he has to do, it is also our responsibility as managers to really understand what the job expects the employees to do, and to equip them with skills to do so.

Let’s ponder for a while. Have you ever encountered a situation when you have hired an employee, who has worked in other company, and then wonder after sometime: what has this employee got in the previous company in terms of training?. And sometimes even make you wonder: how on earth did this person get to his previous position in the first place? How is training and promotion done in that company?.

I have faced those situations more than once in the 16 years of my career in market research. And that can mean a good sign – that the employee performed even better than I expected. Or, the other flip of the coin, the employee did not know even the basics of what he/she had to already know given the position. And more often than not, those situations did take me to think of where the employee has come from – what company, and sometimes even, who was his/her boss. Which, if you work in an industry as small as market research, the best bet is, everybody will know who everyone has worked with before, who was the boss.

So is it wrong to say then, that as managers we cannot ignore the fact that we will also be judged based on the people whom we have worked with, and supposed to have been trained by us?. You can say that other people’s judgment in that area does not matter. But, let me tell you. I have often heard stories that a company declines from hiring someone for a managerial position because of the reputation that the person does not train people well. So it does, matter.

Even when you think you do not want to leave the company where you work now, it still matters. Because your employees, ARE your brand ambassadors. If they are good in what they do, as the situations that I have given earlier, people will want to know where they have come from, and who they have worked with. And I did not make it up. There are excellent people in the market research industry, who are known as good managers, whom people would love to work with them, and many companies would love to have those people on board. When you have good brand ambassadors, you will also have no difficulties to get good people. Hiring people will not be so much of a challenge because you have the reputation and people will want to learn from you.

So, just like karma I guess, it does go back to us. How we build our reputation does not only rely on how good we are in getting money into our company. But there is something beyond that. How we are contributing to the development of talents, is also an important part of what we should consider, to have a good name in any industry that we work with.

It may sound idealistic, but in the world that keeps on changing, talent development will become a key issue everywhere. And our ability to prepare employees for the changing world, by giving them the right training and prepare them well for the next level, may one day be one of the key skills that companies will look at when judging a manager. And also will become a factor that employees will consider when they wish to move to a certain company. I know, because I’ve been in those situations.

(R I R I)

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