All companies should train employees. Few do. Here's how to fix that.

Hey, managers: Time to think long term

Business meeting
(Image credit: (Thinkstock))

It's one of the oldest jokes in the business world: Two managers are talking about training their employees. The first one asks, "Yeah, but what if we train them, and they just leave?" The second responds, "What if we don't train them, and they stay?"

Indeed, you'd think that training would be a huge priority in the corporate world. And yet, it isn't. Far from it.

Why? After all, if managers know training their employees is good for business, why don't they do it?

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The reason is probably good old fashioned human nature: Most of the time, we do things we know aren't good for us. Training is good for business over the long run, but managers tend to be obsessed with the short run. Blame Wall Street or just blame the vagaries of existence. But by the time you're done with the day-to-day blocking and tackling, it's time to go to sleep to be ready to do it all over again the next day. You're not thinking about next week, next month, next year.

The way to do something that you know you should do but somehow never get around to doing — in this case, training employees — is to find a way to make yourself do it. That's why companies should place training at the center of their culture. It should be Item #1 on the agenda, not Item #14. In the Important/Urgent matrix, the stuff that's in the "Important but not Urgent" quadrant never gets done.

But why is it so important? Oh, let us count the ways.

First, you might actually make your employees better at their job. It sounds almost too obvious to say, but you want your employees to be more skilled and to be better at their jobs. Teaching them skills is a good way to do this. It's tautological, but most companies don't do this.

Secondly, prioritizing training will help to unsuck training. For many companies that engage in training, particularly the big ones, training is little more than an exercise in box-checking. They outsource the actual training to outside companies that rope employees into awful webinars and rickety online training software.

If you make training a significant priority, you have to do it right. Your managers should not only do training, but they should be evaluated on how good they are at it. If you are the CEO, you should absolutely lead by example and train your employees.

Third, training helps establish a consistent culture. Many people at many companies already have specific processes, habits, a certain unique way of doing things — in short, a culture. If everyone is on the same page on that culture, your organization will work better.

And maybe you want your company's culture to be more than just a certain way of doing things. Maybe you want it to be about certain values, a certain way of doing business. Trust me, if you try to enforce that by emailing people a PowerPoint deck, they'll never read it. It starts by actually training people on it. (And then actually enforcing the culture's values, but that's a whole other discussion.)

Fourth, training is great for recruiting. Once your company becomes known as a place that has training as a large part of its culture, talented people will want to work with you, because they know they will grow with you.

Fifth, training is great for retention. Maybe the only thing harder than hiring great employees is holding on to great employees. Great employees usually enjoy the psychic benefits of their jobs as much, if not more than, the paycheck. If your culture is focused on training, great employees will want to stick with your company.

Again, almost every manager agrees that training is important. And yet, almost no one does it. Time to put the money where your mouth is.

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