How much do you emphasize training? In January, I promoted continuing education for your employees, but don't throw your time and money behind just any training method. Think about your goal, then invest in the best way to get there. I strongly believe that face-to-face, classroom-style training will serve you best.

Don't get me wrong, I don't hate Webinars or disagree with those who use them. A Web-based program can be–and often is–an economical method to deliver a quick message to a large number of people. But I don't believe they're effective for educational programs that aim to bring about long-lasting professional and behavioral changes.

I value executives who place the emphasis on continuing employee development, whether it is through seminars, in-house training by qualified fellow employees, attendance at lumber association programs, or other sponsored events. As I wrote last month, "The right employee is your greatest asset, and that right employee is one that is well-trained." Webinars can help, but by themselves, they aren't enough.

For example, my largest client approached me about developing a series of educational programs for a group of employees who promote and sell installation services. The client wanted something hard-hitting and long-lasting, something that had built-in reinforcement methods, along with a way for management to become involved in the process.

I proposed we start with a series of Webinars to promote the programs. Then, two weeks before the classes began, all attendees would receive a preparation booklet that outlines what would be taught. Call this mission pre-planning, if you will.

On the day of the class, the salespeople and their managers would attend the program, everyone hearing the same message at the same time. This program would focus on the importance of customer service, professional sales presentations, qualifying the customer (gaining a thorough understanding of the customer's needs), and closing the presentation. All sections promoted working in a consultative style that stressed service and putting the customer's needs first.

The second day would be broken into two tracks: one for managers, the other for salespeople. I would work with the managers and explain the importance of directing the sales process, what to track, how to track it, and why these issues are important. We'd also discuss corrective measures and their implementation.

For the track for salespeople, a friend of mine would facilitate it using situational role-play. Each attendee would have to participate in scenarios that typify customer encounters at each phase of an installed sales transaction, from initial approach to post-sale follow-up.

After all this, we designed a post-program assessment that all attendees would be expected to complete. This would tell us what they had learned and, hopefully, what they had retained from the training.

The point of this story is that this organization realized if it wanted to bring about solid change in the behavior and professionalism of its sales force, a structured educational approach was the only answer. Occasionally exposing them to a 45-minute Webinar wouldn't get it these results–and it won't bring about a lasting change for you, either.

Commitment to excellence through education and training and to improving your employees' performance will bring about the change you need–and that change is coming fast. Decide first where you're at, then how to get your employees there, too. You next decision after that is to choose the best way to make this change stick: a one-shot Webinar or a complete, in-person training series.

Mike Butts is president of LBM Solutions, a DeWitt, Mich.?based LBM supply consulting and training firm. 517.267.8757.
E-mail: [email protected]