Marks on Training
By Frederick Marks
It’s tempting to put off staff training indefinitely, waiting until there is more time or more money. Most budget directors are parsimonious (which is a nicer word than frugal, which is a much nicer word than cheap) with training money. But for you to succeed, you and your staff’s skill sets must be complete and up-to-date. When you do take on a training effort, you’ll want to be sure you’re spending your money wisely. It’s therefore best to create an overall training strategy. Analyze your needs, identify the gaps in your knowledge, and then work to fill them. Address what needs are critical and what needs would “be nice to have”.
Training is not just for new employees. Continue to upgrade the skills of current employees. Training will help existing staff adjust to changes in their job requirements. Such training is best offered by a supervisor. It makes sense that employees respond better to in-house trainers because they’re familiar with the person and the workplace.
Periodic in-house training, done in a group setting, can teach communication, customer service, and team building, as well as technical and safety skills. Doing this while employees are on the job reinforces learning.
Think long term. Changes may not occur overnight, so it’s important to be patient. Training is a long-term investment, and often the benefits are not immediately obvious. However, your efforts in developing your people will help you in many ways. Staff will be more knowledgeable, they’ll be more likely to stick around, and your commitment to training will help you earn a reputation as a forward thinking manager.
Ask yourself what resources you have in-house. Seasoned employees may be perfect to take on coaching or mentoring roles. Inexpensive to provide, these are among the most effective types of training. Formal seminars, conferences, private trainers, and videos are all good methods for learning. These tools are more expensive, but are professionally developed and often yield good results.
Consider cross pollinating within your organization, chapter, or professional organizations other than Purchasing, such as trade groups, potential bidders, upholstery stuffers, or service providers. Find out how others train their staff and see if these methods have value to you. Invite experts from local, regional, and national sources. There are experts who are delighted to share information and expertise. A professional is one who gives back to their profession. Make it attractive for them to provide information to you. Give them a forum, invite others from your organization to attend; offer them a good meal (HINT: Do not take them to that place outside of town near the interstate that advertises the best meat loaf recipe).
Learn sales techniques from experts. They are the other side of the equation (unless it’s quadratic). Find out what they are taught to do to make a sale. Ask how they evaluate potential customers. My first move would be to invite small and medium sized contracting firms to discuss their business operations and pricing methods in a neutral setting. Devise a two-way question and answer period. Lean how they price bids, what problems they encounter in dealing with public bodies, and what challenges they face in their particular trade.
Start your own Brown Bag University! Let’s train ourselves! Buyers training buyers is a win-win situation. We’ve made the mistakes, we’ve been there, and we really want you to succeed. In every organization there are experts. Find them and have them share their expertise.
Take time during your lunch breaks in a casual setting and have other members of your organization present topics of interest. Learn how and why different departments operate and what they are looking for from you. Contact other public bodies in your area to see what expertise they can share with you. Check out local colleges and universities to see what they offer. Assign topics to members of your staff and have them present them. Create study groups. Members of study groups tend to continue knowledge sharing and networking.
Most of us have had to many answer questions during our purchasing careers. Here is one of my all time favorites :
“Why can’t I have Bidder “A” evaluate the product of Bidder “B”? They have the test equipment and won’t charge us anything”?
Think “credibility”! I’d never accuse Bidder “A” of any wrongdoing or having anything but the highest principals in mind to assure me of a fair and unbiased evaluation. However, there are skeptics in my organization who might question my decision to allow this evaluation to take place.
The better solution is to find the money to have the evaluation done by an independent testing laboratory whose only purpose is to verify that a product meets a specification. There are many test labs throughout the country and some specialize in a particular type of testing, be it construction, destructive, or product based. Test laboratory services can be bid like any other service. Once you have selected a laboratory to perform your testing, work with them in developing a generic specification, including verifiable and reproducible test results.
Have a question? For inclusion in my new “Q A” section send questions via e-mail to [email protected]
About the Author
Frederick Marks, CPPO, VCO (Virginia Contracting Officer), is a retired purchasing officer who held positions as a Supervising Buyer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, as well as Director of Materiel Management for Northern Virginia Community College. Contact Marks via e-mail [email protected]