Anyone who thinks Butler Gas Products has made employee training cheap, easy or painless can think again.
""There's no magic formula,"" says Jack Butler, the company's president. ""You've got to force yourself into doing the training.""
One way to make sure training is an integral part of the company, Butler says, is to institutionalize it. Four times a year, all employees meet at the McKees Rocks headquarters to attend ""Butler Gas University,"" a session of training and reinforcement of company values. Before the one-day session, employees are polled to determine what topics they would like to cover.
Whatever the topics, says Barb Glessner, vice president and sales coordinator, the intent is always to relate the information back to the company's mission and vision.
The company's owners offer no panacea for employee education, but do follow some fundamental principles to make the process as efficient and cost-effective as possible.
- Designate someone to be responsible for training. Glessner coordinates all training at Butler Gas Products and conducts some of the sessions.
- Use the ""piggy-back"" method. Training sessions often are incorporated into other regular meetings at Butler Gas Products. The twice-monthly sales meetings often include a brief presentation by someone from another department who disseminates information to the sales force. The monthly safety meeting is another venue often used for training and to give information about sales and financials.
- Use internal resources when possible. Glessner brings in outside consultants if no one in the company has a given expertise, but often the skill resides in one of the company's employees. If your employees want to learn more about some other function in the company, let another employee conduct a training session.
Nell Hartley, head of management at Robert Morris College, says small businesses too often buy off-the-shelf training that is a poor fit for their companies. ""Nine times out of 10, you're wasting your money,"" she says. Canned programs can be of value, she adds, if the company is willing to develop a curriculum around it and not rely solely on the information in the course.
The potential downside when using insiders, Hartley points out, is that while an employee may be an expert in her particular area, she may not have the skill to teach it to others.
- Leverage employee training. Butler Gas Products sends employees to seminars and training sessions off-site, including at colleges and universities, then recruits them to train the rest of their department or, in some cases, all employees. Sales representatives may attend a sales seminar, then pass that knowledge on to the rest of the sales staff during a special session or a sales meeting.
- Tap into your vendors. Butler Gas Products frequently enlists its vendors to make presentations. Your suppliers, often much larger concerns than your company, can be a wealth of information and instruction. They know more about their products and how they are used than anyone, and will often be eager for the opportunity to tell their story to your employees.
- Take advantage of technology. Programs presented by vendors and suppliers at Butler Gas Products often are taped for use later. A program on safety can be recorded and used later as a refresher course or for new employee orientation.
- Make it meaningful. All of Butler Gas Products' training is related back to the company's mission of superior customer service and being the low-cost provider. Employees have significant say in what kind of training they receive.
- Evaluate the results. Butler Gas Products uses some simple tests to determine how much employees have retained from a session. While it's often hard to quantify what value a training experience has had, Hartley says attitudinal surveys and questionnaires can give a fairly accurate indication of how well the programs were received. If employees enjoy a training session, she says, they will probably derive some value from it.