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.

You Never Know Til You Try

For some time now, my team has been writing and recording training videos for internal and external use. While I had written a few scripts — because I’m usually very busy with support — producing videos was a secondary task rather than a major priority.

Recently, my supervisor took a vacation. This forced me out of my comfort zone in a number of ways — mainly, I had to quickly become competent at video production. I wrote the scripts for two internal training videos that were needed immediately, and for the first time, I had to sit down and record them myself. Through trial and error, I quickly learned what worked and what didn’t. Although I went back to the drawing board a few times, I eventually discovered an efficient way to finish the videos.

Recording each video took less than two attempts. When I sent them to my supervisor, her reaction was overwhelmingly positive. She continues to tell me how excited she is about the job I did.

I definitely wasn’t expecting this kind of response; it just goes to show that you never know what you’re good at til you try.

Reaching a Tipping Point

By Craig Messenger

Every successful company has a tipping point — a situation when a series of incremental changes reaches a level that triggers explosive growth. The key to creating an environment that nurtures these substantial changes — whether in your personal or professional life — is to take a hard assessment of your current position and find ways to leverage it. Obviously, this is much easier said than done. But being willing to take a series of small steps can lead to outsized results.

Zarca Interactive held an important summit last week for this very purpose. While we feel on the brink of a tipping point, the steps we take now will determine whether we actually reach it. Throughout the many sessions, the wide-ranging discussions enabled different departments to understand their common purpose, while also giving everyone insight into each department’s daily processes. We were left with a deeper appreciation for our roles and an understanding that every decision matters.

These sessions proved beneficial, but it was the larger message of the week that resonated more: namely, learning and adapting after making small mistakes is essential. While it’s okay to make new mistakes, as they provide new opportunities for learning, making the same errors repeatedly is unacceptable — it demonstrates stagnation rather than progress.

Though it may seem like I’m preaching, I feel there’s important truth in this message. Recognizing opportunities (which are often disguised as difficulties) for growth, and taking advantage of them, is integral to this company’s culture and the key to being successful with any company.

Training Day

My first three weeks at Zarca Interactive have been a whirlwind. While the amount I’ve learned in such a short time has been staggering, I know there’s much more to come. I’m being trained as a Client Services Representative, capable of assisting clients and colleagues with any issues they encounter while using our system. As such, it’s extremely important that I know the system backward and forward.

Learning the intricacies of the Engage survey platform has been a difficult and fulfilling challenge. Because every client has unique needs, our system is extremely flexible, containing a variety of special features. Since each feature has its own unique purpose — whether it’s commonly used or not — there’s a lot for me to learn.

Thankfully, I’m not alone. Strong team cohesion has made my training much easier than expected. I’m surrounded by brilliant coworkers, ready and willing to answer my many questions. It won’t be long now until I assume the full responsibilities of a Client Services Representative, and then I’ll be the one providing answers for our many valued clients.

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.”

Engage and Innovate

I love talking about our office projects and events, especially when I discuss how we use our survey platform, Engage, to plan nearly everything. As a member of the Happiness Committee and Product Committee, I see firsthand how useful Engage is — it allows you to keep everybody informed and organized.

Recently, the Happiness Committee, or “HapCom,” planned an internal Chili Cook-Off. So I created a survey that served as a registration page for people who wanted to make chili and those who would bring side items. During the event, I distributed a survey asking my colleagues to rank their favorite chili recipes. And, when voting was done, I ran a quick Bar Graph report that let me almost instantly determine the contest winners.

As a member of the Product Committee, or “ProdCom” as I like to call it, I’m the point of contact for all feature requests and system issues for clients and employees. To streamline the process of recording and sending these requests to our engineering team, I created a form that everyone can use. By enabling Rules & Alerts, I receive a copy of every submitted ticket, which I then send to the engineers. I use the collected data to trace ticket origins and filter responses based on request types. This becomes incredibly useful when we’re choosing features for the next release.

While these are definitely innovative uses of our survey platform, by far the most “important” way we use surveys internally is to stock our snack closet. Every two months, our administrative assistant sends a multiple text box question to the entire office asking for our snack requests. She then runs a verbatim report and uses the responses as the shopping list.

Honestly, I love having Engage as an internal resource — we’re always finding inventive ways to use the platform. I encourage you to also “engage” and innovate.

Quantifying Happiness

Fortune recently named Google the best company to work for — yet again. Not only have they revolutionized our on- and offline lives, but Google now hopes to transform the way we work. Their data-driven culture has seemingly found a way to quantify employee happiness.

But what have they really learned?

It doesn’t take much data crunching to realize that providing gourmet meals, onsite dry-cleaning and exorbitant bonuses will increase happiness and productivity. Ditto for generous leave time and flexible schedules. Now Google wants to use their data to answer fundamental questions about worker productivity such as, “Are leaders born or made? Are teams better than individuals at getting things done? Can individuals sustain high performance over their lifetimes?”

These are fascinating questions. And I have no doubt the geniuses at Google have the wherewithal to answer them one day. But I don’t need copious amounts of data to know what makes a healthy workplace environment. As one of millions of people who spend the majority of their days, nay, lifetimes, at work, it boils down to a few simple things: trust, feedback, respect.

My company may not be as big as Google (yet), but the leadership is committed to creating a work environment where those values are stressed. It’s amazing how far something as simple as mutual respect will get you. Or trusting your employees and providing them with constructive feedback.

So while I admire Google’s efforts to quantify workplace happiness, I know that it’s still the small things that matter to most people.

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.