More training is RARELY the solution

It is often said that training is the key to running a successful business. Let's take franchising as an example:

On the surface it seems logical: franchisor knows how to do X and the franchisee does not know how to do X and what they buy is the ‘know-how’. And know-how is transferred through training. Right?

At least you think this way if you are a training company. If you are a marketing company you will say it is marketing and if you are a technology company you will claim the key to success is a new system.

It is the old: ‘if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail’ principle at play. So as someone who does training for a living, let me be perfectly clear about this: training is not the solution to anything.

More training is the ‘go to’ strategy for every intractable problem and even our Governments fall back on training whenever they encounter a social issue. Domestic violence? Solve with more training. Speeding drivers? More driver education. And in business, if the customer service is poor, roll out some customer service training.

Every time the going gets tough, the tough go training. What a phenomenal waste of money.

Let us consider resolving the speeding issue in society. Do you honestly believe that more driver education will fix that?

The answer is that it will help fix the problem. There are other issues to be addressed too, so let’s name a few:

  •   Authorities have to understand that motoring technology has improved and what once was a safe speeding limit is now just ridiculously slow and must be changed.
  • The quality of road surfaces and the infrastructure like lights, barriers and signage may need to be changed or adapted.
  • The incentive/punishments for driver errors (in speeding) play a role in bringing speeding down.
  • Opportunities to drive fast can be created in appropriate places that are not public roads.

I could go on but it should be clear that there is a whole eco-system of inter-connected things that must be considered if you want to address the problem of speeding.

In a past life I was a Shopping Centre Manager – and the first thing I did when I moved into a centre was to fix the Administration system. Some may consider that weird since it would surely be a higher priority to get more customers to the centre?

I did this because (a) I had to talk to many retailers and be credible, and (b) a very important metric was rental arrears (as you can imagine) and if the Administration system is dysfunctional, the monthly statement/invoice is incorrect. This gives the retailer the opportunity – indeed, the right – to query the invoice and whilst we are trawling through the rent roll, they withhold payment. And if I as a Centre Manager can not even get the rent roll right, they can rightly question how I could talk credibly about what they should be doing in their business?

However, having a solid Admin system is not the answer either. It merely illustrates the point that there are many moving parts to having an entire organisation tuned to perform well.

The same goes for the quality and viability of your franchise system.

This is even more difficult to achieve in a franchising system where relationships are influenced by competing objectives and/or constrained by legal frameworks of what can and can’t be done; not to mention the history and baggage that comes with any relationship.

Just because it is complex, does not mean that it cannot be done. The following diagram is also known as the 7-S Framework or the McKinsey Framework. It was developed in the early 80s by someone who many readers will know – Tom Peters (and Bob Waterman).

The model was used at the time to summarise their findings for the best selling book ‘In Search of Excellence’ – I have used it very effectively to think in an organised manner about all the key elements that must be in place for ANY organisation (including the not-so-excellent ones) to function.

I am happy to give away the ‘secret sauce’ of our approach to solving problems because if there is anything that I have learned in the last 30 years, it is that knowing what to do and actually doing are worlds apart.

This is not the place to get all academic on the reader, but suffice to say that the underlying research is reasonably robust and that having used it for over two decades, it goes down as a classic that cannot be improved upon. Much like the 4Ps of Marketing introduced by Kotler in the 60s, some ideas simply stand the test of time and this is one of them.

Readers can think about ANY challenge they currently face, and I guarantee that the solution (and the problem) will be a combination of one (or more) of those 7 S’s.

Just because an idea is new, does not mean it is important and just because the idea has been around for awhile, does not mean that it does not work any more.

Of course the simplicity of the framework belies the challenges of synchronising all those moving parts. And each of those elements represent an ever-changing domain.

One area I am very familiar with, is cloud-based platforms. This technology (system) can be used for something as simple as taking the Operations Manual online at low cost or to something more challenging like creating collaborative communities of practice.

Let us consider those examples briefly.

Example 1: Having a ‘living’ operations manual in the cloud has several benefits. It is relatively easy, is dynamic, track-able, and instantaneous - and at a few dollars per month per person it is more cost-effective than sending one letter/brochure a month. Yet few people are doing it, which begs the question why everyone is not doing it.

The answer is that it is because most Franchisors are smart enough to know (intuitively) that it is NOT simply about uploading a few PDFs onto some online directory or even just on Google Drive. If you do it right, you will think about who needs to use it, how they use it and how best to disaggregate the information and how it will be monitored. Then it becomes clear that all the moving parts must be in good working order to tackle a project like this.

Example 2: Having an active, collaborative franchisee community-of-practice is (in my humble opinion) the holy grail of franchisor-franchisee relationships. This is a state where the franchisees truly own the objectives, are committed to the culture and have created an environment where they freely share the wins and solve the problems collaboratively.

We can roll out the platform/technology easily, make it look pretty according to your brand but the initiative is doomed to failure. This is not a sales pitch: I am telling you NOT to do it. Unless you have all the other elements in play and properly aligned, the take-up will be at best limited and soon you have a white elephant on your hands that requires someone to allocate time and resources to ‘creating content’, when what you really need is a form of social learning that is driven from the bottom up to happen.

In order to make it work your culture must be robust, your internal communications must be honest and transparent, your people must have certain skills and your policies must be fair and so forth. Not to mention that your business model and strategy must be solid.

I could go on, but you get the idea – I am simply referencing the 7-S framework.

All of these things are doable. The benefits are amazing – from clear financial ROIs to substantial ROR (return on relationships) – but they can and should only be tackled by taking a holistic perspective of the whole franchise system.

The answer is not to roll out more training. Especially not training that has some sort of a buzzword associated with it. (Total Quality Management anyone?)

As part of the whole management mix, training has a role to play, and the right training at the right time is vital to success. But it must be part of the big picture of the total business. That is why training must be part of that big picture, driven by the founder/CEO, for delegating to an over-worked employee will turn training into a series of time-wasting events that have zero impact.