As companies ponder the annual Christmas turkey or gift certificate to the “Jelly of the Month Club”, let’s ponder the opportunity to give something that will last beyond the bloat of the holidays. Let me premise by stating there is nothing wrong with food and I am indeed a fan. I also notice the migration to the gyms around the world after our temporary relationship with the foods that seduce us each year. I am a complete sucker for pecan pie by the way. However, there is something that will leave a permanent, positive impact on those who carry the load all year. We have an opportunity to give a lasting gift that will not fade as we remove the holiday decorations and consider our New Year’s resolutions. Consider the gift of knowledge. Knowledge can never be taken and if done properly, can leave a permanent mark on the people we gift it to. Whether it is tools to make our job easier or something to inspire us, the right kind of information can be the greatest gift we provide for our people. It demonstrates that our people are important and they indeed matter. Knowledge, when imparted properly, personifies the corporate strategy and reinforces our human need to belong to something greater than ourselves.
As you consider corporate strategies and market share, think about all the individual contributors that will execute that strategy in the coming year. A safer workplace, better quality, higher sales, or improved customer service are all derivatives of the people on our teams. Many corporations are blinded by strategy and mission to be better competitors in the markets they serve. True success exists in the aggregate. It is the compilation of ten thousand small decisions made each day by the people that execute on behalf of the organization. Let’s not make light of this. It is not your mission and vision that makes you successful. It is Mary at the customer service counter and Dan in the sales meeting as well as Lauren holding the cutting torch on your factory floor that makes success a reality. Sure the stock price is important but it is merely a trailing indicator of something awesome done by a member of the team. The gift of knowledge is a leading indicator for success.
Providing your people with the tools to make the best decision at the point of execution is the true measure of a great organization. I know I know, training is expensive and often not put to good use by recipients. There is a dark side of executive decision making that allows this cynicism to impact budgets in even the best of organizations. Just in case you have not heard this before, let’s reexamine an old favorite of mine. The chief financial officer (CFO) asks the chief executive officer (CEO), “What if we spend all this money training our people and they leave?” The CEO responds, “What if we do not train them and they stay?” Too many organizations are literally dumbing down the workforce they depend on for success. Thousands of times each day, this conversation takes place in the C-Suite and it is remarkable how many decide that training and development is just too expensive. How expensive is ignorance? Oh, we will spend fifty thousand dollars on turkeys, but we choose not to spend on training that could potentially make our corporate goals a reality.
Corporate ignorance is probably the most expensive cost that is not itemized on financial statements of far too many companies. If you are a sports fan consider this analogy. Training and development is practice for grownups. Every day your people are in game mode and every decision has an immediate impact. Training is the practice time they need to vet decisions and actions so they are better prepared to execute in the game. Game success is a direct result of the amount of time spent preparing when the game is not on the line. In practice we can make adjustments, try new things, and make precious mistakes that are the true paths to improvement. The worst time for the field goal kicker to try a new kicking stance is when trailing by two points and one second is remaining in the game.
It is no different in business. People revert to what they know rather than what they think might work when things become critical. This paralysis retards improvement and we are surprised when an employee is injured while performing a routine task or a quality defect occurs repeatedly despite the resolution being obvious in hind sight. It is the same reason a valued customer is treated badly while the company is spending millions of dollars to get the customer in the door.
To make matters worse, corporate ignorance is contagious. Executives and business owners are constantly infecting each other with the disease of mediocrity. They compare themselves with peer organizations and make decisions that support homogenization rather than distinction. I am constantly having the same conversation with CEOs about what makes them unique among competitors. A simple question is what makes your hospital, factory, or engineering firm different when it comes to your people? How do you become the employer of choice rather than necessity?
Knowledge is the greatest gift we can give our people because it endures and it can never be taken away. Great organizations never see training and development as an expense. It is an investment. A smart, well-trained workforce will accomplish more, better, faster, safer, and cheaper. One more time, a smart, well trained workforce will produce more, have better quality, generate faster output, experience fewer injuries, and save money while doing it. Consider the gift of knowledge as we approach the holidays and year end. Whether you need to exhaust a training budget or desire to start off the New Year with renewed engagement and passion, information that will make your people’s daily existence in your organization better and it just might set you apart from the competition. And, if you are lucky, you might just keep more of the best and brightest people on your team.