11/1/1999 | 5 MINUTE READ

Got Skill? The Cultivation Game (PART 3 OF 3)

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Part three of a three-part series by Colleen DeJong.


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Here's a surprise. The skill and education levels of your employees have more to do with how well you communicate your company's goals and philosophies than how many training days you schedule. Do they know how they fit into the grander scheme of things? Do they know how their own particular talents and personalities contribute to corporate culture? Perhaps you need to tell them. 

Training isn't merely a matter of teaching. It's also a matter of cultivation. Of giving people a sense of what the organization they're working for is all about. And where they fit in to the company's overall goals and schemes. And ensuring that they're going to like where they're working and what they're doing. This may sound like a bunch of "hippie feel-good" talk, but according to a lot of experts, maintaining a healthy, cohesive corporate culture is more important in retaining skilled employees than having a great training program.

Jack Moore, a regional director for the consulting firm Pittiglio Rabin Todd & McGrath (PRTM; Waltham, MA), finds that taking a look at a company's growth, profitability, market share, innovation, and turnover rates provide a better indicator of how well developed a company's staff is than any skill testing. In fact, says Moore, the estimated loss of performance advantage for those companies not cultivating its work force is as much as 30% to 40%.

Fast Fact:
Around $300 billion is lost annually as a result of inadequate employee education and training.
—U.S. Commerce Department

But what does cultivation mean in this context, exactly? Well, it means going beyond teaching an employee how to function in his/her particular position. It means imparting upon the staff the greater purpose of the company. This may be no more complicated than "We are here to make the best widgets on Earth," or as complex as "We are here to create peace on Earth and good will toward men—through our widgets." Whatever the company's principal goal, every employee should know what it is, and how they fit into achieving that goal. After years of consulting various companies on this very topic, Moore offers the following insights:

Fast Fact:
The top 5% of American companies conducts a whopping 90% of all U.S. workplace education. Of that 90%, 80% of the programs are only for managers. 
—American Society of Training and Development
  • Hold people accountable for their own development. You can't force people to further themselves any more easily than you can get a 5 year-old to eat brussel sprouts. But you can drive home the fact that they are accountable for their own careers, so if they don't want to stay where they are forever, they'd better get learning.
  • Make development strategic. As you forecast business strategy and the changes that will ensue, factor in what new skills or knowledge the workforce will need to go with the flow. Otherwise, your business plan will be going in one direction, while your employees go in another.
  • Have a Plan. Basically, this means strategize your development plans as you strategize your business plan. But here's the tricky part. The development plan should be a marriage of the company's goals and the individual employee's. Department heads should sit down with individuals and assess the future. After all, states Moore, even "where the jobs are essentially the same, the people are not."
  • Take risks. Interestingly, a good development strategy should include purposely putting people in harm's way. No, this doesn't mean everyone should go play in traffic, but by exposing your people to a very carefully constructed (and overcomeable) calculated risk, both you and your people learn what their limits are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how to pull together in the face of adversity.
  • Get serious about performance reviews. By scheduling regular performance reviews, everyone gets to take stock of how they're doing. And consider embracing the 360° review method—where employees review management and vice versa. It's a good chance for the whole organization to pat itself on the back and/or address behaviors and policies that need to change.

The most important thing to remember, concludes Moore, is that the payoff of developing your workforce may not be statistically quantifiable, but the results are invaluable.


Let The People Speak


The Japanese have long held that one of the key components of success is the involvement of every single employee in an organization. And every single employee has something to contribute to improving productivity. They even have a name for it: Kaizen. And in recent years, American companies have embraced the kaizen management style, creating quality circles, kaizen teams, incentive programs for employee-suggested productivity improvements, and the like.

One company that has truly and thoroughly embraced kaizen is Freudenberg NOK (Plymouth, MI). The company's GROWTTH (Get Rid of Waste Through Team Harmony) includes over 12,000 kaizen projects and improvements, including the "Right Start Standard Employee Training Module" developed at the company's Precision Molded Lead Center. The Kaizen team worked with the following four goals in mind:

Develop a standard training module for all hourly employees.
Develop specific training modules for different equipment and processes.
Develop a standard training module for all new salaried employees.
Identify NVA (non-value-added) activities throughout the process; improve where possible.
A five-person group consisting of quality, training and development, human resources, and press operation personnel went through a process of defining and documenting the details of the molding operations to be performed, standardizing the training process for these operations, choosing and training mentors to teach new hires, and setting up an audit schedule (to track both employee learning and program effectiveness).

Speaking with Freudenberg NOK's training manager, Catherine Spevitz, several small, but important details jump out as she explains the results of the kaizen. First of all, the team realized there is a need to teach the trainers how to train. Secondly, the training program is not extra curricular; it's a part of the regular day. This ensures that learning is hands-on, and that the dip in productivity during the training period is smaller. And on the factory floor, each press cell has an easily identified training mentor to make sure the new hires seamlessly integrate into the process at hand. And lastly, Spevitz points out with much emphasis, that what really makes the GROWTTH program so successful is empowerment. "It's much easier for everyone to get behind a company if they are involved in how it operates," she says. "And in this particular case, the enthusiasm was overwhelming. These operators love helping the new hires out and making them a part of the team."

If the Right Start Kaizen works well, it will be adapted to other facilities and processes at Freudenberg NOK.

Planting Seeds
Whether it's through a program like Freudenberg NOK's GROWTTH program or through viewing skill acquisition as an integral part of corporate and personal development, the underlying (and very important) message here is that skill is a cultivated attribute. And cultivation is an on-going, involved process; not a half-hour training session on a new hire's first day. Think about it. Do farmers throw seeds on the ground, tell them to grow, and walk away? Of course not. Neither should you.

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