What Does Honest Abe Lincoln Have To Do With Company Growth?
Is formal training important? After all we can all learn from
other employees or from outside consultants we bring in can’t we?
Well, in my previous life as a consultant IT project director I
noticed people would often be too busy doing their own job
to learn the skills of an outside consultant too.
That’s despite massive efforts made to train people.
But unless skills are used regularly after training they fade
Learning from others in your own organisation can also be
Learning by “sitting next to Nellie” as it’s known can work. But
it means that any weak custom and practise procedures are copied.
These weak procedures may actually be the direct opposite
of the company strategy.
Also if you’re learning from someone because they’re just about
to leave the company. For whatever reason.You don’t get their
total focus on teaching you their job.
So ways of doing things can become less and less effective as
time goes on.
That means that service to your customers becomes worse. Simply
because the people serving them don’t know the best way of
Research shows that over 60% of customers leave a business
because of poor, ineffective or indifferent service.
The Story Of Two Wood Cutters
Let’s look at the story of two woodcutters
Once there were twin brothers. They were tall, strapping lads who
had both become lumberjacks at the same time. One year they took
part in a logging competition together. Each was strong and beat
everyone they came up against. Until they reached the final where
they met each other.
They seemed evenly matched. The crowd looked and urged them on as
they both started cutting timber at a strong rate of knots. After
an hour one of the brothers stopped for a few minutes. Let’s call
him the “idle chopper”. He soon resumed work but every hour he
Eventually the competition finished and it was immediately
obvious that the idle chopper had cut down significantly more
wood than his brother.
His brother shook his hand to congratulate him and asked, “how on
earth did you cut twice as much wood as me despite stopping so
The idle chopper smiled and said “I wasn’t really resting I was
sharpening my axe so my cuts went deeper faster than yours with
your blunt axe.”
The “idle chopper” was really the “smart chopper” because he’d
taken to heart what President Abraham Lincoln had said.
Abraham Lincoln said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I
will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
People can look at training as a complete waste of a company’s
time. Because it’s preventing their staff from getting the job
But look at the woodcutters the one who kept stopping to sharpen
his axe won.
The same is true of any company that gives their staff training.
It may stop the busy, busy time for a short while but it means
that staff become more productive and therefore achieve more.
Continuous Training Is Vital To A Company’s Growth
Getting yourself and your staff trained is essential if you want
to continue to grow and develop,
If you don’t you’ll be like 90% of businesses over a 10 year time
frame and be out of business.
It’s really that stark a choice.
There are a number of effective training strategies that I would
recommend you to use.
Two of the most powerful are as follows:
a) A Weekly Company Workshop
b) Formal Courses – with a twist
Let me explain exactly how they work so that you can go and apply
them in your business immediately.
How A Weekly Company Workshop Works (Step By Step)
1) Set-up an hour per week where all employees gather together.
The first workshop is the Set-up and Introduction Workshop.
2) In this workshop you all brainstorm the issues and problems
that you and your customers have with the company.
Someone is designated to takes action notes. That is notes that
simply list the actions to be taken with the person responsible
and the date to be completed (always before the next meeting).
3) You then prioritise and agree the issues amongst everyone
Hint: Give particular weight to customer issues as they are quite
likely to resolve one or more internal issues too.
4) Provide a full list of prioritised issues to all attendees.
The attendees should be everyone who works for the company,
unless they’re sick.
The Second and subsequent workshops are Issue Eaters
5) Take the first issue from the list that was issued the day of
the last meeting – it’s that important.
6) Brainstorm possible solutions to the issue.
For example the customers are returning a product to you in large
numbers but you can’t see why. The issue is “You don’t know why
the product is being returned”.
Several possible solutions occur:
a) Ring customers and ask them why they’re returning them. Also
ring customer’s who’ve kept them and ask them why too.
b) Send every customer a questionnaire asking several questions,
including one on returns and also specifically for the product in
c) Ask the sales force to go and see each customer and ask for
their most honest feedback.
d) The managing director to ring the companies concerned to see
what the problem is.
Collate the answers and provide the information and analysis to
the group the following week.
7) If the solution calls for a better procedure or company
process to be implemented designate someone to write it and for
it to be issued before the next meeting for review and agreement.
8) Only address one issue per session – even if you finish it in
10 minutes. But you must focus completely on that issue.
9) Review the solution and check that it is working. Then sign it
off and add to the list of completed issues.
Remember This Valuable Spin-off From The Exercise
Guess what you’re building with the documentation?
It’s a company file that allows new staff to get up to speed on
how your company has got to where it is now and what the current
procedures and processes are.
Not just that. It means that at a stroke you’ve pooled the
brainpower of several people to produce new and better ways of
working that help customers and your staff.
You tell me. Do you think your customers are going to become even
happier with an organisation that addresses and resolved issues?
Now you may be thinking I’m only a one person or two person
This method applies equally well to you too.
The great thing about it is that as long as you document you’ll
have processes in place when you get more staff.
Squeeze The Most From A Formal Course
Look at formal courses, but with a twist:
1) Have a formal training strategy for each person. It doesn’t
matter whether you’re a one person or 3,000 person company. You
need a strategy because otherwise you’ll get asked for training
that doesn’t fit with your company goals.
2) Plan what courses staff (and you) should attend during the
3) Attend the course – there should be no excuse for non-
4) Now here’s the twist before your staff go on the course tell
them that you’re going to ask them to do a short presentation on
the course at the next weekly meeting to all the staff. The
presentation is a short summary of the course content, and the 6
to 10 things that the person has learnt and will apply in their
job. Followed by 10 minutes of questions.
The reasons for this are:
a) Other people now benefit from hearing what the course was all
b) The attendee will pay much more attention to the course and
learn more from it
c) You’re training staff to feel comfortable giving presentations
in a relaxed environment.
d) Other staff may learn things they can apply in their job.
5) Make sure that they do the presentation. If not you get none
of the benefits outlined previously. Make sure everyone does the
presentation, even someone who is quaking in dread. Help them get
over it by letting them stay seated, or just present over 2-3
weeks. But make sure they do present – it must be a condition of
6) Been on a course yourself? Right. You do the same as your
staff. They’re learning about what you do.
What Are The Golden Rules Of Training?
Finally and most importantly there is a set of Golden Training
Rules I always use which is
a) Training must be applied when you return from the course
b) You and your staff must support attempts to use the training.
It may not work very well initially as people start to apply it.
c) Re-train at intervals because skills can only be improved by
repetition. Look at karate, golf, football and other sports you
have to keep practising to get better. It’s the same with work
For example people learn everything on a time management course
but maybe only apply 10% of what they learnt and forget the rest.
When they go again they learn pretty much the same thing but then
apply another 10% of what they learn and forget the rest.
So over time they apply more and more of what they’re taught
until eventually they’re using all the time management techniques
and are experts. Get them to teach new staff!
d) Once you’ve got trained up experts use them to train your own
Does training staff stop the company making money? Ultimately the
answer is it makes you even more money than you did before they
Remember the two axmen?
You want to be the smarter chopper.