Grow Your Own – Developing Talent and Upskilling Organizations
At The Herbfarm, a fine dining restaurant located outside of Seattle, the menu includes dishes made with rare Makah Ozette potatoes, exotic herbs and Pellegrini beans, which owner Ron Zimmerman refers to as “among the finest beans on earth.” But you’d need more than the talented staff from The Herbfarm to recreate its menu. The Herbfarm operates its own farm and grows the veggies themselves. In the face of the ongoing supply shortage, The Herbfarm’s acreage gives them a leg up on their competition.
In the face of the Great Resignation, some companies have been approaching recruitment in the same way — instead of hoping to find outside candidates for their skilled positions, they are creating them from within. In the scramble to recruit, retain and rethink our relationships with our employees, in-house training and skills development are the biggest separators between the haves and have nots.
The Lure of Learning
The old canard that if you’re not growing you’re falling behind has never been more apt. Companies that provide chances to learn and grow aren’t experiencing the Great Resignation the same way as others. In an interview with Yahoo Finance, Sam’s Club CEO Kathryn McClay credited a focus on employee growth and development as the reason their 600 stores were fully staffed headed into the 2021 holiday season — a period when other retailers were feeling the squeeze of the labor shortage the most.
Human Resources professional association SHRM has recently made a very compelling case that a good training program should be considered a perk to entice potential employees. And it makes sense — opportunities for advancement have even overtaken a sense of purpose as the most important thing millennials look for in a job, and curricula like Sam’s Club’s Manager in Training Program show a company that is offering a concrete path to advancement while the rest of the world of work feels stuck in a holding pattern.
Tailoring Your Training
Successful training programs don’t emerge from the C-Suite fully formed — it takes time and effort to identify the most promising skill areas to improve. These audits don’t tend to yield simple results. Most organizations find a combination of training programs at all levels of the hierarchy yield the greatest impact.
We recently spoke with Los Angeles chain restaurant manager Ellie Baker about her experiences with training and managing. She found herself constantly being torn from more important work to help servers with the same handful of issues on the point-of-sale software. To solve this problem she created POS “drills” for her employees, making new workers “go through problem situations at the register before [putting] them on the floor.” The drills were so successful that the corporate office made them part of the Front of House onboarding at all of their locations — only to find that the managers needed training on implementing them. Baker helped with this too. “I always ask people how they learn best,” she said. “Some people need written directions, some need to see it done. I need to just do it myself. But if you don’t try to meet the employee halfway, the training won’t stick.”
Collect input from employees to evaluate the skills they would most like developed. Training isn’t only about advancement. Sometimes an employee is considering leaving the company when he or she really just needs to move departments. Equally important, training and development goes both ways. Solicit input from workers on what their managers need to improve. As the SHRM article above points out, manager retraining programs are as huge of a boost to productivity and employee happiness as entry level training. And as a bonus, take advantage of the opportunity to reinforce a corporate culture of continual growth and improvement throughout the organization.
The most acute problem most employers face right is at the birds-eye level: finding labor. Some companies have begun taking radically disruptive action to find and enlist talent. As more young people are trying to avoid student debt by finding alternatives to college, companies like IBM are filling the gap.
IBM’s 2-year skills academy trains their recruits for entry-level white-collar jobs, and IBM has so much faith in the program that the company no longer requires college degrees for many of their entry-level positions. Rather than taking on debt-laden graduates, IBM appears to prefer investing in building their employees from the ground up. Candidates come out of the program familiar with the corporate culture, feeling loyalty and gratitude rather than entitlement and wanderlust.
Programs like IBM’s also allow companies to circumvent traditional talent pipelines, and the benefits go way beyond productivity. AON’s training program at it’s Chicago headquarters has given the company a much-needed boost in diversity. “As a business community, we need to do a better job of diversifying our workforce, full stop,” their CCO told Heching report. “If you don’t address it at the entry level, you’re abdicating your responsibility to actually make a change.”
Teach Yourself New Tricks
The national labor realignment that is the Great Resignation isn’t a unified voice saying, “I quit.” It’s really the result of a critical mass of personal priority realignments — workers who don’t see a path forward are using the pandemic as an opportunity to consider the trajectory of their careers and personal development. As savings accounts, unemployment benefits (and parents’ patience) all begin to run dry, workers will be most receptive to jobs that account for and actively encourage employee development. Under current circumstances many find applying for a paid management training course or new-collar skills development program far more attractive than either taking on more student debt, or going back to a dead end job.
Companies have to be willing to internally audit their own skills deficiencies and begin to create systematic ways to address them. It may feel like a tough new trick to teach an old dog, but it starts with listening. It can start with a few herb plants on a restaurant rooftop or a checklist for a cashier but essentially, it starts.