Business 101 Featured

7:00pm EDT February 24, 2008

Zinner & Co. LLP had been facing a staffing crunch for several years, and Robin Baum knew it was time to do something about it.

“One of our senior managers came to us and said we needed to implement a formal training course to bring employees up as quickly as we could,” says Baum, managing partner at the accounting, tax and wealth management consulting firm.

Changes in the accounting field, such as new education requirements and the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, were making it increasingly difficult to recruit employees. So the company created “Zinner University” to grow its own employees up through the ranks.

“A training program makes people feel like they are valuable members of the company,” Baum says.

To develop the training program, Baum solicited feedback from managers as to what to include and gathered information from exit interviews with former employees and feedback from recent hires.

“They can look back and say, ‘If you had spent more time with me on this process, I would have been able to be more effective,’” Baum says.

That information was then used to create a program that covered areas including learning the Zinner culture and acquiring technical skills and expertise in various areas, then putting academic knowledge into practice.

“If you do a concentrated amount of training and do not follow up with the ability to apply what you learned, someone retains only what they can apply and continue to use,” Baum says. “We were originally going to spend two weeks and teach them everything but found that they only retained what they put to use within the month after training. We’ve broken it into more manageable segments so that prior to getting client assignments, we make sure that element of training is complete. You have a better retention rate by doing so.”

And throughout the process, Baum keeps everyone involved.

“We do a monthly staff meeting and talk about the program,” Baum says. “A lot of times, if people feel they’re not being included in something they should be, it can cause a breakdown in communication.”

The results of Zinner University have benefited the company in more ways than one. In addition to training employees capable of moving up the ladder, it turns trainees into trainers who can move the program forward.

“It eases the burden that one person isn’t accountable for training within that area,” Baum says. “It also gives people a level of participation and recognition that they are somebody other people go to for information. It’s engaging for not only those who are training but the participants because in a short period of time, they can become the trainer.”

Baum says for a training program to succeed, you have to be committed to investing the time, effort and resources it takes to make it an ongoing venture.

“Recognize that a training program is not close-ended, it is something that should continue and be part of the culture,” she says. “Getting people engaged and enthused is the key to making a program part of your culture. Enthusiasm is contagious, and the more people that you have invested in the program, the greater the success factor

A leader’s role in corporate training

When you establish a corporate training program, it’s important that you support it, says Don Zinner, a partner at Zinner & Co. LLP.

“We support the people in charge, make sure they are doing what they set out to do and follow up on that,” Zinner says. “We set the tone for the program. If we don’t set the tone or support it, it’s doomed for failure.”

Support a training program by getting involved, communicating and getting feedback from those involved to see what the positives and negatives are.

“It’s one-on-one conversations with people going through the program and making sure we are getting the commitment from them, and then the people who are doing the teaching,” Zinner says. “Make sure the program is ingrained into the company culture and find out if there are any problems with it.”

Zinner says it’s important to keep tabs on the goals of the training program, so that you are reaching these within a certain time frame and that you are staying on track.

“Getting feedback is important — from the supervisors and employees,” he says. “Make sure there is continued communication and commitment to the goals.”

HOW TO REACH: Zinner & Co. LLP, (216) 831-0733 or www.zinnerco.com