1/30/2008

TRAINING

Filed under: — Doug Contreras @ 6:07 am on

Two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a reader named Bob suggesting an essay on training. While training has been on my short list of possible topics for well over six months, it kept sinking to the bottom in favor of ideas that were prompted by more current events in my business life.

As I thought about Bob’s suggestion, I recalled a number of experiences in my career when training impacted performance. I’d like to pass along three of these instances for you to consider:

  1. Early in my career, I was promoted from a Sales Service Rep to a Plant Manager. To provide an incentive to expedite the transition process and my raise, I was awarded the responsibility for recruiting and training my replacement. Unable to find someone with technical expertise in our line of business, I hired Frank who had some sales service experience in a totally unrelated industry. While waiting for Frank to start, I began a diary and tracked my activities for a week. Falling back on my Army experience, I recalled the MOI (Methods of Instruction) course I took as an officer and wrote a lesson plan during the following week. On Frank’s first day, I gave him an overview of what I planned to present and told him I expected him to be ready to take over in 3 weeks. The process was simple. I gave Frank a chair alongside my desk while I continued to perform the job. At the beginning of each day, I quickly summarized and reviewed what was discussed the prior day. Next I previewed what we would cover for the upcoming day. As I took on each call and executed the appropriate follow-up action, I related what I was doing to the material in my lesson plan. At the end of each day, I spent ten minutes rehashing the day’s activities. After one week we swapped chairs - Frank talked to the customers while I critiqued each call and action he handled. After two weeks and a day, Frank was in the groove and I moved to my new assignment and my raise.

  2. Some years back I was recruited by a highly specialized manufacturing company to manage the day-to-day operations while the owner could focus on increasing sales. In spite of my solid management background, I was at a total loss when it came to the technical aspects of the business. I can remember sitting at the daily production meeting feeling like a foreigner unable to understand the basic terminology and the processes of the operation. Although I repeatedly begged the owner for training, he had neither the time nor the disposition. Instead he placed me on auto-pilot figuring I could learn by osmosis. I guess in way he was right - I did eventually teach myself. However, for nearly six months, I was a part-time manager and dramatically limited in my ability to contribute.

  3. Soon after joining a package printing company as VP of Operations, my new boss gave me his take on each of the key personnel who would be reporting to me. The profile for the Operations Manager, Jorge, was quite negative. Jorge was hired a year before I started and came from a container manufacturing plant in Central America. While he was bilingual, he had only a "textbook" understanding of English. Others in the company were quick to share stories about Jorge’s ineffectiveness as a manager. Fortunately a long time ago, I learned to formulate my opinions based on my own personal observation. As I got to know Jorge and began to question him on some of his management decisions, I found he was "thrown to the wolves" and had no training whatsoever. As I spent time with him, I found him to be bright and eager to learn. In addition to soaking up the management training I provided, he began to take a series of courses in night school. In one year, Jorge clearly became the most valuable person in the operation. Some viewed me as a miracle worker, yet Jorge deserves the credit for his metamorphosis - all he needed was training and a chance.

As I have sometimes done on other essays, I asked my daughter, Julianne, to look at this entry and critique it. As an accomplished high school teacher, I thought her input on this topic would be particularly appropriate. She suggested a change in the order of the examples I cited and helped me clarify some of my thoughts. Also, she thought I should add a closing paragraph to tie these instances together. On this last point I disagreed and decided to allow you to see the value in each example and draw your own conclusions. I hope you did!

Bob - Thanks for lighting the fire under me and making this a current event!

and

Julianne - As always, I value and appreciate your suggestions, advice, help and support!

DOUG CONTRERAS
Visit my profile on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/dougcontreras
I welcome your invite to connect!
doug@performancedatamanagement.com

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1/27/2008

TELEPHONE

Filed under: — Doug Contreras @ 9:14 am on

In kindergarten Miss Schweitzer and Mrs. Mueller would line us up in our tiny chairs across the classroom. Sitting on one end, Miss Schweitzer would whisper a word to the child closest to her asking that it be passed along until it reached Mrs. Mueller on the other end of the row. As many times as we would try it, the word that was finally heard by Mrs. Mueller was never the one initiated by Miss Schweitzer.

Just mention the game "Telephone" to anyone and I’ll bet that person can tell you about similar experiences that go well beyond kindergarten. In spite of this widespread knowledge of how ineffectively people communicate, I’m always surprised when managers and supervisors verbally pass along important information or instructions "down the row."

While there’s a lot to be said for a one-on-one personal approach in business, detailed information or instructions need to be clear, concise and written.


DOUG CONTRERAS
Visit my profile on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/dougcontreras
I welcome your invite to connect!

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1/9/2008

PLAYING FAVORITES

Filed under: — Doug Contreras @ 3:33 am on

Way back when and on more occasions than I care to remember, factory workers would complain to me that their immediate supervisors were playing favorites. Most often this issue surfaced as a result of overtime assignments or during layoffs & recalls. Until I was asked for some advice on this subject from a friend of a friend, I had forgotten how I made this a problem of the past.

As one who has managed companies in both union and non-union environments, I learned that this type of grievance was noticeably absent in union shops. In my opinion, the reason was simple - the contract generally provided a negotiated set of rules that addressed issues like the awarding of overtime or selecting personnel for layoffs and recalls. Even in instances where contracts were lopsided in the favor of the company, employees accepted the rules as long as they were uniformly applied.

So if you have a non-union shop, consider a written procedure that is published for all to understand and follow. Set up your procedure in a way that satisfies your needs and prevents the possibility of subjectivity on the part of your supervisors. Make sure the procedure is well-publicized and uniformly enforced.

For example, equitable distribution of overtime could be accomplished by using a rotating list. Such a procedure might be written up as follows:

Equitable Distribution of Overtime

  1. The VP of Operations and the Director of HR will set minimum measurable performance standards for each job category.
  2. For each job category, HR will prepare a list of workers who meet the minimum standard. Each list will be prepared in descending seniority order.
  3. As overtime is needed, the immediate supervisor will ask each person starting with the most senior and record the date and time.
  4. A decline to work counts as having worked.
  5. The supervisor will rotate down through the list giving each person a chance.
  6. After three passes through the list, the list will be returned to HR and the process will be repeated going back to step #2.

DOUG CONTRERAS
Visit my profile on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/dougcontreras
I welcome your invite to connect!
doug@performancedatamanagement.com

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