Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Training has never been a luxury, just ask a tomato.

Just like with vegetables, homegrown is always better when it comes to talent resources.  

The proverbial bright red tomato 
will not arrive by accident
Too bad most of industry has gotten out of the gardening business.  Follow me here for a minute.  If you want the best garden in the neighborhood, with the biggest, most colorful and healthiest produce, you have to invest time in the process of helping the produce along.  A beautiful, bright red, hearty, sweet tomato doesn’t get that way all by itself.  It takes a master gardener to water, fertilize, ensure proper sunlight, etc. to cultivate a tomato plant that produces the kind of tomatoes a master gardener demands.   I’m assuming you are connecting the dots here.  In many organizations, hiring managers expect every new hire to be a bright red tomato.  They have forgotten the notion of actually having to invest some time and effort to develop individuals to perfection.  You know the concept - you hire an employee that possesses the basics (a seedling), proper degree, right personality for the organization, proven work ethic, appropriate years of experience in the field, and you train and mentor them (water and fertilize) with the specific skills required for your organization’s unique needs.  What a concept!  It’s so fundamental, it seems silly to even point it out as an increasing problem affecting the success of many organizations today.  But it is just that.   A significant problem.

With the economic downturn in 2008 – 2010, most organizations were forced to reduce costs, and hence, “luxuries” such as training departments were either significantly reduced, or done away with altogether.  Every organization tightened their belts, making headcount reductions across departments, and the individuals who were left were required to perform the roles of what previously required two or more individuals.  Employees learned by doing, because they had to.  Ultimately, for as painful as this time period was, many employees emerged with new skills sets which made them more valuable to their current employer, or more marketable to others.  However, as this downturn exponentially took a 180 degree turn upward in many industries, this trend also left significant talent holes that are adversely impacting many organizations as they have been unable to fill the holes fast enough to prevent the ship from continuing to take on water. 

I see it everyday - hiring managers searching for the A++ candidate to no avail.  One who possesses every single attribute, skill, and years of experience in performing each and every facet of the job description.  If the candidate is missing even one element (maybe they’ve never programmed a specific brand of robot), they are disqualified without consideration.  That’s it.  Case closed.  And, the search continues.  Many times for months, even years.  Many hiring managers will say that they don’t have time to train new employees.  I believe they don’t have time not to.  Time is of the essence.  Realistically, an individual can be hired and trained in the areas they are deficient more quickly than the perfect A++ candidate can be identified, persuaded to make a job change (as they will most likely be employed), agree to relocate (necessary in many cases), commit, actually resign from their current job without being offered and accepting a counter-offer, and be sitting in their seat in their new office ready to work. 

Equally as important as the time factor in the quest for the perfect employee is the cost of this quest to the organization.    My guess is this cost, the cost of waiting for the perfect employee, while workloads pile up, existing employees approach burnout, deadlines are not met, and customers are lost, dwarfs the cost of having someone in the role that may not be 100%, but can contribute to the organization at maybe an 85% level and, imagine this, LEARN the remaining 15% of the job, while on-the-job. 

We’ve all heard the stories and read the statistics of the number of technical workers who, out of necessity, left industry over the last few years for new careers.  We all know the talent pool has shrunk to an all-time low.  However, what I see every day are hiring managers, and workforce planning professionals, who intuitively know this, but who still believe the perfect candidate is out there and they believe they will find them.  Well, I say, at what cost?  It’s almost like they’re on a mission, but a mission that has no predictable end or outcome.  Hiring managers have to begin to ask themselves how long they are willing to look.  How is their organization being negatively impacted every week that ticks by and that perfect candidate has not been identified?  Are they bypassing excellent employees, who have the capacity to contribute and excel in their organizations, by neglecting a fundamental, tried and true methodology used by organizations since the inception of the industrial age – training. 

My call to industry leaders, hiring managers and human resource professionals alike is to bring training back.  Whether on-the-job, classroom oriented, or even virtual, training programs have resulted in the development of some of the most successful and talented individuals in modern business history.  Individuals are not born as experts in any field.  They are trained, mentored, encouraged, tested, and ultimately, challenged to learn and perfect their skills so they can contribute to the growth and success of their organization.  So, hiring managers, don’t shop around endlessly searching for that perfect, bright red tomato.  Grow your own!