I recently came across an organization that was doing it all wrong. Yes, they "trained" their employees, but their efforts were haphazard, not strategically aligned and random at best. (Luckily, they were not a HARDI member organization!) Why, this organization asked, are we not seeing all of the benefits that we were promised when we developed our training program?

As it turns out, labeling something as "training" isn't enough to ensure a return on that investment.

I hope you do not misunderstand me. I am a firm believer in the power of training and development. It is a matter of fact that spending time, effort and money on the right training strategy will result in significant returns that far outweigh the cost of your initial investment.

For those of you that still need convincing of the value of a proper training strategy, let's start at the beginning. So what exactly can you expect when you train your employees properly? First, and probably most obvious, you will see an increase in knowledge, skill and ability of your employees. You will often see an increase in quality and a decrease in the costs associated with that employee (error reduction, safety violations, etc.).

Now, you have employees working for you with more skills and better abilities. You have demonstrated to them their "worth" by spending the time and effort to train them. This effect will produce a second tier of benefits to your organization. Employees will begin to feel increased loyalty toward your organization. You'll see reduced tardiness and absences. Turnover will decline. Morale and satisfaction with work will increase.

These benefits will result in another round of cost reductions and quality improvements, which will ultimately lead to improved performance reviews and less discipline creating an evolutionary cycle of benefits from proper training.

And now for the kicker: revenue growth. In 2011, there is finally enough statistical evidence to prove what we have long suspected: organizations that invest more in training days and dollars per employee may produce greater revenue per employee than those that invest less in this important human capital process. While we cannot statistically say with certainty this revenue growth will happen without fail, the statistics are compelling enough to warrant a conversation about whether, during this slowing economy, cost cutting within learning and development might possibly hurt the bottom line more than help it.

If you are convinced that spending time, money and effort training your employees is "worth it," then you should pay attention to the second piece of the equation — conducting your training efforts in a way that makes sure they pay off. I'll refer you back to my initial example of a company that was training, but not training correctly, therefore not realizing all of the benefits to the organization.

Developing an appropriate training strategy is nothing to take lightly, so I won't attempt to help you build yours in this format. I do, however, want to provide a few brief pieces of advice for the how-to's of developing the right training strategy.

First, you must ingrain training and development into the culture of your organization. Are you recruiting, selecting and rewarding employees who have the drive to grow and develop? Are you yourself participating in these activities? Do you mention training in your handbook, on your website, in your company's mission and vision statements? Your organization's training efforts should be a vital component of the employment equation, not a nice add-on.

Secondly, you must set the stage for learning to take place by setting expectations and learning objectives with your employees. Before you conduct training, tell employees how they will be expected to use the training on their jobs. Identifying specific issues, problems, projects or areas where the training can and will be expected to be applied makes participants aware of the importance of the training and improves their learning experience.

The principles of adult learning should set the example for how to conduct your training. Notable ideas include the use of coaching and repetition, the ability to apply what they've learned in real-world scenarios, providing an environment free from judgment and an opportunity to steer the direction of the learning.

Finally, you should consider what happens after your training class. Obviously, you have wasted training dollars if the employee returns from a class to a work environment that has barriers to using and applying the knowledge gained. Organizations should send employees to training with a plan of how they will apply what they have learned upon returning to the workplace. Supervisors should work with their employees post-training to ensure that they utilize their new knowledge and skills. To the extent possible, the utilization of this new knowledge and skill should become an institutional requirement by incorporating it into performance reviews, new projects, promotional opportunities and development plans.

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A development plan is a proposal — unique to each employee — outlining the knowledge, skills and abilities an employee should be working to gain, a step-by-step plan for how to obtain the skills, a projected timeline and budget for developmental activities and a metric to serve as proof of when the level of learning is complete.

All employees, regardless of job title or level in the organization, need to have a development plan. This includes everyone from your warehouse drivers to your top level executives. Obviously, the content of the development plan will change, but the focus on learning and growth should be consistent. (One strategy I sometimes recommend is to have top company executives make their developmental plan public, to encourage a learning culture.) After all, how do you expect your employees to buy into your training efforts when you have not participated yourself?

Many of the solutions we have developed at HARDI focus on the business owner and the top levels of leadership. One of HARDI's strategic priorities is our advocacy efforts. With all that is going on in Washington (change in party, new regulations, energy-efficiency initiatives), our government relations efforts on our members' behalf are continual and evolutionary. Through our advocacy efforts, HARDI prides itself on having an expert in the field with a constant presence in Washington. This expertise, coupled with the level of respect he has earned among the staff in Congress, enables him to obtain the information necessary to educate our members on legislative and regulatory issues affecting HVACR distributor members, their customer base or the products they supply. In addition, we take pride in our efforts to educate legislative and regulatory bodies about issues specific to HVACR wholesale distribution, including the impact prospective legislation or regulation may have on our distributor members.

For more information on our advocacy efforts and how they influence your business, read the article written by Jon Melchi, HARDI's manager of government affairs, on page 26.

A second set of educational tools focuses on understanding the critical role of benchmarking. It's an interesting time for our economy, and with our current slow down, the ability to understand, predict and make decisions in these uncertain times is crucial. To provide resources for our members in line with this strategic priority, HARDI partnered with the Institute for Trend Research to develop tools designed to aid our members with their planning and forecasting efforts. As the exclusive association representing wholesale distribution in HVACR, we strive to keep our members informed about critical and timely financial data and market information. Part of our commitment to deliver this valuable resource is ensuring the availability of any necessary instruction for reading, interpreting and applying the information provided in various reports. Among our exclusive benchmarking tools, we provide profitability and compensation reports, monthly sales reports, regional economic forecasting and monthly unitary sales reports as well as a host of other tools designed specifically with our members' needs in mind to provide them with a competitive edge.

HARDI directs many of its educational efforts to help our members strengthen their workforce. As an educational provider with expertise in the HVACR industry, we group many of our course offerings into job categories that are in line with our member's operational needs. Curriculums designed for warehouse associates, drivers, inside sales and counter personnel are among many we currently offer. This targeted curriculum takes the guess work out of developing training plans for employees.

For more information on how our technical training materials have helped one customer realize a competitive advantage, refer to the article on page 28. If our popular job-based Counter Certification Program better fits your needs, I encourage you to read the article on page 30 written by Richard Wirtz, HARDI's technical advisor.

Whether you are looking for technical, job-based training, or more general skills, such as customer service and communication, HARDI's Distribution Learning Network (DLN) offers both with the added advantage of being easy to use and lower in cost. The DLN is an online learning management system that tracks your employee's training courses. It also is a library of training courses, with hundreds of options. Since the classes are online, you can order and take training classes right where you work; all you need is an Internet connection. Even learners without much computer expertise can take DLN classes without frustration. The online quizzes and reporting capabilities will help you (as the manager) feel rest assured that your employees did learn something. This makes those financial returns on your training investment easier to realize.

If you think the DLN might be a learning tool that would work for you, mention this article and we'll give you $100 off the initial set-up fee.

Even if it's not a pre-packaged solution, HARDI is happy to consult with you for a more customized approach. We employ a team of technical experts, as well as educational experts, and are happy to work with our members on an individual basis. Whether it's an employee performance problem or a business process that nobody can quite grasp, as a HARDI member you always have this team of experts available for a consultative session to work with you to identify and tailor a program to meet your specific needs.

One piece of feedback we hear all the time is the educational value that occurs when a group of peers get together for a common purpose at our regional and national events. Attending a regional or national HARDI conference presents unparalleled opportunities. You may meet people with similar interests and experiences, which may help you expand your network and circle of influence. Learning from our many talented presenters will open your mind to new possibilities, or challenge you to consider new ideas and theories.

The HARDI regional meetings are just around the corner and promise to provide valuable information that aligns with our strategic focus areas. HARDI is hosting the Congressional Fly-In May 18-19. This is THE once-a-year opportunity to meet with congressional delegates and share with them the issues facing our industry that they, as elected officials, need to address in Washington on behalf of the HVACR community. Check HARDI's website for a full listing of conferences and dates. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention our biggest professional development opportunity: the HARDI Annual Conference, Oct. 23-26 in Maui, Hawaii.

In closing, I want to stress the importance of developing and implementing the right training strategy for your organization. The right training strategy can be pretty complex. However, HARDI's educational solutions can make that work much easier, and therefore make the returns much quicker to realize. And that is MY bottom line.


Emily Saving is HARDI's education services manager. Contact her at 614/345-4328 or esaving@HARDInet.org.