Why NOT to Train People

“I want you to train our store managers.” The kind of request any consultant wants to hear, right?

Well, no! We’d been around this loop too many times. Take a brief . . . design a great training . . . deliver it to rave reviews . . . and 6 months later confront the fact that nothing much had changed. So I said, “I don’t think you should train these people.”

And I asked a question. “What do you really want to achieve by providing this training?”  And I listened, probed more, and listened again.

The answer eventually was clear; increased sales in the nationwide chain of high street stores. A reasonable enough goal for the Sales Director.

“What if” I said “we could get the sales increase you want but by a different route?” You see I knew by this point, 3 years into our relationship with the company that extricating managers form the shop floor for training, then returning them into the environment expecting big results was a no-win game. The prevailing culture of the company, the incessant demands of the regional directors and the tyranny of reporting numbers daily provided sufficient inertia to cancel out any amount of insight, new skill and inspiration the store managers might gain in a training course.

Our relationship as trusted advisors allowed me to pitch another possibility, tailored development support for the store managers with a target of transformation in their stores. In other worlds, we would design a bespoke package of training, coaching and other support for these managers and walk with them over a period of a year as they transformed first their own leadership, then the management approach of the store, the engagement of the team and then, we knew, the inevitable lift in sales.

To the great credit of the Sales Director, he said yes. We started a yearlong program with 4 of the managers, from Bradford, Bury, Blackpool and Barnsley. They christened it the Customer Service Heroes program. We coached and trained, supported them coaching and training their own reports, we helped them hold store-wide team meetings, brainstorns, planning events, re-launches; all manner of activities to reach, touch and inspire the team members to want to be more involved, to want to contribute their ideas, to want the success of the store, to be customer service heroes.

It worked. The teams were transformed, their results were remarkable. The 4 B’s showed double digit sales gains versus the other stores in the chain. The whole investment in our services, expertise and time had a 9-month payback. We began to plan to roll out our methodology to the other 190 stores.

The sweetest end to this true story would be to tell you about the nationwide success of the roll out, how Customer Service Heroes transformed their competitiveness on the high streets of Britain. Sadly, with weeks of our pilot ending the company was bought by a hedge fund intent on stripping assets. The training budget was eliminated, jobs were lost and the promise of this heroic level of engagement and service was left unfulfilled. 

Unless of course you would like to adapt this idea to your organization . . .