Developing employees Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2009

Jack Thompson is making sure the economy doesn’t sour his work environment.

“You have to live in a positive environment or try as much as you can,” says Thompson, whose company, TAMCO, saw its strongest month of 2008 in December and posted revenue of $50 million for the year. “Spend time cross-training right now, making sure people know what other people do and have appreciation for what other people do — how all the puzzle pieces come together.”

The idea lends itself to preparing your company for future adjustments, making your employees more valuable in the marketplace or within your own company.

Thompson, founder, chairman and CEO of the financial services and marketing company, says the training helps show appreciation for employees and weeds out the career-oriented staff members from those who are there simply for a paycheck.

To pull off a training program, you have to design a plan, involve every employee and monitor your staff’s progress.

Smart Business spoke with Thompson about how to train your employees.

Create a plan. If I was a CEO at another company, I would first design it to try to decide what people you wanted to know [how to] do somebody else’s job. I would schedule this just as important as talking to a customer or doing anything else.

It has to be formal, it has to be designed, and it has to be managed.

Decide which employees should go through training. Hypothetically, if a person’s job … slowed down, we take advantage of that time to go sit in another cubicle with somebody else to learn what they’re doing. So that we try to, at the end of the day, all staff members, even board members to that extent, we spend enough time together that we all know what the other person is doing and probably can perform that functional job if you had to.

It helps a lot with growth. When you start to try to grow and you’re building from a platform of cross-trained people, you can do a whole lot more with cross-trained people to take on the first stages of growth than have to go on and take on additional overhead.

Every employee should take part in some form or fashion.

Even if it’s a salesperson learning how to process a transaction. In our business, you have outside sales or inside sales; once they get an application, they turn it over to the customer service department and then they basically operate. Well, it’s important for me, for a salesman, to go sit with one of those people and have empathy for what their job is.

Part of our training process when you first come to work is you’re going to sit — even if you’re a salesman — you’re going to go sit in a cubicle probably for a week with a processor, so that you understand if you don’t get certain pieces of paper or if you don’t ask these questions, you make their job harder.

… (The training can be) a regular staff employee training another person, it could be a manager training another manager, it could be a manager training another person. From time to time, I suggest that all my upper management goes out and sits with their people even if it’s just for an hour or two hours. But they sit out there in the real world and find out what their people are saying, how they’re dealing with their customers, how they’re answering questions. It’s amazing what comes out of good listening skills.

Hand out duties and follow up. I could go to a manager that runs, hypothetically, our customer service department and I will give her a goal and say, ‘At the end of the month, I want these two people to know these two people’s jobs.’

I have to go back at the end of the month and ask if that was accomplished. I set myself up to where I give my people a lot of room to make their own decisions and their own scheduling, but at the end of the day, I am going to expect what I expect about giving her a month to do it.

If I go back at the end of the month, and she says she didn’t get it done, (then it is up to) me to make a judgment on that management person, not to make the judgment on the people.

Make sure the training is done properly. It has to be brought to a cycle that basically is no different than managing raise reviews or whatever cycle of management you’re doing, but it has to be something that you think is important enough that you literally schedule it.

When I say manage it, you have to make sure it’s done, and it’s done properly, and maybe even to the point where you interview the two people. You find out the person that was teaching and you ask them a few questions. You find out from the person that was learning, ask them a few questions and see if they really got it. Or what the other person thought of the other person. What’s their opinion of their ability to absorb the information? Were they really interested in learning or were they just sitting their twiddling their thumbs? That tells me a lot about people.

It gives me a way to spread out who’s here just taking a paycheck and who is here really to further their knowledge base and their understanding of the industry.

How to reach: TAMCO, (813) 472-1600 or www.tamcocorp.com