Let’s face it, ours is a very dynamic industry. Vehicles are constantly becoming more technical and customers ever more demanding. For this reason, individuals working in the tire and service industry must continue to hone their skills to meet the changing needs of customers and their vehicles.
Your people are your most valuable asset and they need ongoing nurturing and development. That being said, I have a very critical question to ask you: Does your business have an effective plan to provide continuing development for your people and yourself? Failure to do so may have catastrophic consequences to your business.
So, what does an effective Talent Development Plan look like? Essentially, to be effective the plan must address the business’ basic operational and growth requirement as it relates to your people while providing for their individual developmental needs.
Some dealers think that improving the skills of their people will make them more marketable and increase the odds that competitors will steal them away. Still others see personnel development as too expensive and an unnecessary cost. Well, let me just say that yes, investing in the development of your people will make them more marketable and it is expensive. But what is the alternative? More importantly, what is the ultimate cost if you don’t?
Now that we have established the rationale for an effective Talent Development Plan, let’s discuss where to begin the process. The best place to start is at the beginning with a quality new employee orientation program. I am very passionate about this subject and believe that many organizations do not provide an effective new employee orientation or any kind of orientation.
Often businesses make the mistake of using a new employee orientation program as a checklist to cover every subject related to the industry, business and position. While I do agree that covering critical areas is important, the process for doing so must also be effective.
Understanding how humans learn and process information is important when creating every section of a Talent Development Plan, but when it comes to an orientation program it is critical. No one can be expected to learn all that is required of a new employee in a few hours, or even a couple of days.
Set the Structure
An effective new employee orientation program should be structured in phases that allow the employee to learn, process, practice and retain the critical information being imparted. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a “one and done” process. Most people do not even begin to internalize a topic until seeing or hearing it at least seven times.
Depending on the job and individual’s learning style it may take a couple of weeks or months to digest and retain the information required for various store positions. For this reason alone, you should create an orientation program with redundancy in mind, reinforcing key principles as the opportunity presents itself.
Obviously the organization’s policies and procedures must be presented during the orientation, but they will also need to be reinforced during the first several weeks. And it’s worth mentioning at this point that even veteran employees need to revisit the basics periodically, along with certain safety and regulatory topics.
Now before discussing ongoing development for your sales staff and technicians, let’s focus on the use of effective instructional delivery techniques. Often, very heated conversations occur regarding the employment of e-learning or Web-based training versus live instructor-led methods. Let me first state that just because a program is instructor-led does not make it more effective than other teaching methods. In fact, it is the combination of the individual’s learning style and the topics being addressed that determines the most effective learning modality.
But, let’s face it: customizing the instructional design for a specific individual is not realistic. For that reason I recommend utilizing a balance of delivery methods to make your education program more effective.
For imparting general knowledge or basic principles requiring little or no explanation it is appropriate to utilize reading, self-study guides, e-learning and other Web-based training methods.
When developing specific skills (after acquiring the basic knowledge and concepts of the subject) utilize live instructors with hands-on opportunities to practice and reinforce the skills being developed. And finally, no matter what mode is employed, having a mentoring program always improves the effectiveness of any instructional design.
On-going talent development actually begins with setting the expectations of your business and that of the new hire during the new employee orientation program. What happens immediately afterward to continue development determines their success and the success and that of your company.
For sales employees it might mean in-depth product knowledge, telephone skills and selling techniques that relate directly to the products your business offers. Most tire suppliers provide training opportunities in these areas, and those opportunities should be taken full advantage of by all sales employees. Other partners like NAPA, Carquest, Federal-Mogul, Hunter, etc., provide some very good advanced training programs to help develop tire and service professionals.
And don’t forget to include your business’ leaders in the on-going developmental process. For them you may want to consider Tire Leadership 21 offered through Northwood University. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because an individual has been around for a while that they do not need continuing education. Based on my experience, often times it is the most veteran employee that needs the most training.
Don’t Forget Techs
Given the nature of our business, on-going technician development is critical. As discussed in my April article on finding and keeping quality people, every dealer must analyze their business to determine the correct technical skills necessary for meeting customer expectations – and then find the best internal or external resource to impact that knowledge on their technicians.
Finding that resource is a key decision given the many issues plaguing our industry. Simply keeping up with the ever changing and always advancing technology in the automotive industry, on-going development of technician skills is a must.
As an example, consider the federal government’s mandate of TPMS or some OEM-specific fluid requirements that have come up during the past few years. How did you work to keep your service and tire techs updated on those changes?
Now consider the technical advancements introduced in steering and suspension systems, fuel systems, and many others – not to mention hybrids, full electrics, and clean diesels. Dealers that do not have a formal program for keeping technicians updated and trained on these advancements will find it more difficult to retain quality people and, eventually, their customers.
Depending on a technician’s current skill level, it is reasonable to expect that between 40 and 80 hours of continued development be provided per year. This same level of continuing education is not uncommon in other industries. The method for delivering such education would depend on the individual’s level of knowledge or skill development necessary.
In some cases e-learning or self-study would be sufficient; in other cases more formal classroom and hands-on methods would be recommended. Regardless, the process should begin with a technical skill assessment. From there a customized development plan should be development that meets the needs of that individual. In most cases, once the learning needs are identified it is just a matter of tapping into existing programs offered by several quality providers.
A Continuing Process
Effective talent development cannot be thought of as a “one and done” process. To be successful in any endeavor, individuals must be provided the opportunity to understand, internalize, learn and develop skills necessary. Think about how a child masters walking, riding a bike, skating or any other skill. An effective talent development program must be well designed and include opportunities for learning objectives to be reinforced until mastered.
Here is a little experiment that may emphasize my point. First a question, how much water will the head of a Jefferson nickel hold? More than you may think if done “effectively.” First place a Jefferson nickel on a flat surface. Taking a glass of water and an eyedropper, very slowly place a drop of water on Jefferson’s head. Then another and another until the water begins to bubble up.
The viscosity of the water represents an effective development program that allows for a greater volume to be deposited and retained. Slowly continue placing one drop of water at a time (keeping count of each drop) until the water runs off the nickel.
Now, pour an entire glass of water directly on Jefferson’s head. How much water is retained utilizing this process?
Darrell Rowe is principal at Rowe & Associates Consulting, which provides business consulting services to tire dealers and automotive repair businesses. He can be reached at [email protected].