In Defense of Training

After being immersed in enhancing our company’s training program over the past few months, it occurred to me that there might be some disagreement among employees about the value of training and its applications. I’ve also seen this with clients who sometimes miss the importance of completing a comprehensive training program. While this can stem from a management philosophy that believes long-term productivity and efficiency is less important than the short-term completion of tasks, building a sustainable business, especially one that employs complex technology, requires personnel to have a certain level of proficiency with the software.

As I understand it, training serves two primary purposes:

Building Better Employees

At Zarca Interactive, our technical training program is strong, and it produces employees who are capable of addressing platform issues and who are comfortable teaching others to use the platform in a way that best suits their needs. Through on-site or virtual training, we try to instill the same level of competency with our heavy-use clients, as this reduces the number of individuals who must frequently rely on others to perform basic system tasks. Training also increases your company’s capacity by ensuring that employees have comprehensive skillsets, enabling them to switch tasks when necessary.

Improving Performance and Retention Rates

A competently trained employee is a confident, more satisfied employee. Thoroughly preparing new workers for their responsibilities creates a sense of reciprocal investment, which deepens loyalty between employee and employer. A supportive workplace, where people feel appreciated, is integral to a team’s accomplishments.

Although it may mean holding off on assigning work to a new hire, in the end, a skilled employee can increase your company’s productivity by providing valuable insights into processes or positing creative solutions to lingering challenges.

In short, don’t skimp on training!

The Unteachables

By:  Joanna Zimmerman

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce recently released a report titled “Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020,” which discusses job growth by industry and occupation, while providing projections for both areas. Curious about the most sought after skills in high-growth, high-wage and high-demand occupations, the report piqued my interest.

According to the report, the top two skills are active listening and speaking, respectively. This is both shocking and not too surprising. Most of us have been honing these skills since our earliest social interactions — skills for which we rarely receive formal training. And these “unteachable” abilities are the most valued in high-growth and high-wage industries.

Much — if not all — of my job as a trainer and Client Services Representative is hearing problems and providing solutions. Whether this solution is spoken or written, having the facility to convey information in an easily understandable manner is essential to my role.

But, when all the talking is done, what am I hearing?

For people who must do much of the talking, it’s easy to forget to provide your audience with an opportunity to respond and react to the information being provided. I must remind myself to ask my trainees what they feel is or isn’t working so that I can become a better trainer.

Hearing this type of feedback doesn’t mean you agree with every suggestion. But simply providing your colleagues with this opportunity will make you more sought after and more valued in your professional relationships.

Attempt the Impossible

Joanna Zimmerman

The first time someone sent me this article, I kindly accepted their suggestion and went on with my business. Though I like to remain informed about matters affecting my hometown, I was busy on this particular day and didn’t have time to read it. But, after receiving the article two more times, ignoring it proved much more difficult.

Titled “How A Young Community Of Entrepreneurs Is Rebuilding Detroit” the article, featured in Fast Company, describes how people of various ages and backgrounds are working to restore my hometown to its former glory. While the magnitude and approach of their methods differ vastly, they all seem to share an entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to scoff at the impossible, while embracing the unknown.

After spending my entire childhood in this fading city, I know just how difficult rebuilding will be. But, because the article reminds us “Where everything’s broken, anything’s possible,” the thought of tackling this seemingly insurmountable quagmire of despondency leaves me not just inspired by these men and women but invested in the outcome of their efforts.

As all good writing does, this piece forced me to think about my own challenges, especially in the workplace. What is my version of the impossible and the unknown? What areas of my work am I not improving because I haven’t thought critically and creatively? If we’re lucky, many of us work in companies where “everything isn’t broken” — places where paths have been blazed and guidance is available.

Even in these settings, however, attempting to implement new processes can seem daunting. But I encourage everyone, as I encourage myself, to engage your managers, those you manage and your peers. You’re surrounded by invaluable resources, and it’s your duty to make the most of them, especially because you never know what may inspire your next great idea.

Detroit’s gradual rehabilitation is poignant because people are looking underneath the city’s neglect to rediscover its beauty. Attempting the impossible requires you to embrace the opportunities and challenges around you and occasionally approach situations in unconventional ways. This is not only a model for fixing what’s broken, it’s also a model for creating something new and better.

Growing Pains

Zarca Interactive is growing! But, while new people and rapid growth are great for our company, the process also makes demands on current employees. A growing company challenges you to adopt new roles, test your flexibility and push professional limits. But — as with any new opportunity — there’s the potential for great reward.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re experiencing structural changes in your office:

Be flexible.
While your work environment may undergo a great deal of change in a short amount of time, flexibility allows you to accommodate newcomers and make them feel welcome.

Be accessible.
Your experience is a valuable asset. Allowing team members to shadow you permits the smooth transfer of knowledge, while giving you the ability to fine-tune your work and revisit skills learned in your earlier stages of training.

Meet your new neighbors!
Like most Americans who probably spend more time in their office spaces than in their homes, your workspace environment can become extremely important to you. As a result, forging strong working relationships with your office neighbors can add a positive element to each work day.

As an added perk of my recent office reconfiguration, I’ve had the opportunity to interact daily with a new set of co-workers. The proximity to colleagues outside of my immediate team provides me with a greater latitudinal understanding of company roles. I’m able to participate in a wider range of conversations, hear problems that arise and solutions that are offered, and increase collaborative efficiency.

Expand your network.
In addition to solidifying relationships within your current office network, bringing others onboard extends that network and gives you the ability to make connections and gain experience from new acquaintances. Our office is located in Herndon, Va. — a long way from where I grew up in Michigan. Imagine my delight when a new employee from my same neighborhood joined the Research Team! Being open to new people can have a positive impact on your daily interactions.

Because many of us have a tendency to become comfortable with the status quo, adapting to rapid change can be hard. Just remember, in the midst of those growing pains, “The best is ready to begin.”

On the Fly

Being a member of the Client Services Team has definitely taught me that no two days are the same. On any given day, I could be conducting trainings or working independently to launch a client’s initiative. Between ongoing projects and (sometimes) shifting deadlines, I also field calls and emails for the Support Line.

To be perfectly candid, this can be potentially disastrous for someone unable to make adjustments on the fly. While I enjoy checking items off my to-do list as much as the next person, I often have to ignore it altogether to have a productive day.

And while this can be true for any role, I’d say it’s doubly true for Support personnel — we support co-workers in the office and remotely, along with the entire Zarca user population and survey participants. As such, there have been many mornings I arrive at work confident about what I’ll get done that day. But, inevitably, by 10:00 a.m., I receive an email from a client asking me to craft a new initiative or a colleague requests my help editing a questionnaire due by the end of the day.

Adjusting your schedule on the fly can be difficult. But flexibility is one of the most valuable attributes you can possess as a teammate. This doesn’t mean you necessarily drop everything when you’re asked for help, but it does allow you to manage expectations so that you’re able to assist your fellow teammates when necessary.

Being flexible — and practicing good time management — means you can have a candid conversation with a colleague about competing deadlines, and then adjust your day accordingly so that you can assist colleagues and clients while still paying attention to your own work. Because true workplace value is measured by your contributions across the entire company, not just within your own department.

Proper Planning Can Prevent Potential Problems

Posted by: Joanna Zimmerman

Everyone knows the age-old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Uplifting as this sounds, with the speed at which things move today, I’m willing to bet that most professionals want to accomplish tasks on the first try, and most employers have a low tolerance for the whole “not succeeding” thing.

What if we had the insight to prevent errors, thereby eliminating the need to perform a task again?

The truth is, with a little forethought and planning, we can control certain aspects of our work. For instance, a successful questionnaire must be well planned and designed. Creating your questionnaire with your end goal in sight allows you to focus on what you want to get out of your reporting, which helps you formulate and format the questions.

Jumping feet first into the design process without proper planning can leave you in a difficult position.

I worked with a client recently who was hoping to do a giveaway based on answers to a yes or no question, but only as it applied to a particular region. Because there was no question in the survey that asked respondents to provide their geographical information, the user called to ask for assistance in identifying which of those respondents fit the criteria for the giveaway.

Well, this task would have been easy enough if we could have created a filter based on the geographic question. As it stood, there was little to do but examine each respondent individually and match them to information that was “living” outside of the system.

Had the administrator discussed with their team all the ways they could use the data, they would have quickly realized the necessity of allowing respondents to enter this information. Instead, this oversight decreased efficiency by creating extra work.

Proper preparation and being unafraid to ask questions can save you a lot of time and headaches. With a little planning, we can happily retire the phrase “try, try again” — and concentrate on being successful the first time.