I used to work for a company that developed and sold enterprise computer systems for smaller businesses. These systems are powerful. They include full inventory management, sales applications and importantly, a full accounting package. The systems were sold into businesses that were mostly run by enthusiasts — powersports dealerships.
The biggest problem with the systems, though, was that few people in the dealership knew enough about them to leverage what they could do. A mere 1 out of 10 dealerships used all the available functionality. Often the dealers would complain about how complicated the system was.
It was a complicated system, it's true. But it was also a powerful system.
For those who took the time to learn the system, the results were dramatic. I remember testimonials from dealers who said that the system had "saved them from bankruptcy" or "made them profitable" or "allowed them to expand."
For any company looking at an IT investment, I have 3 simple pieces of advice for managers on how to maximize the ROI on that investment — through training:
- Put a line item in your department budget for training – and make sure it is large enough to adequately train your employees. This sounds obvious, but I'm amazed at how many companies fall down on this simple step.
There's no sense in making the IT investment at all if you are not going to equip employees to use it. Many businesses under-budget for training. Or — something I admit to being guilty of — they budget a nebulous lump sum, and then spend training dollars on other things that may be nice, but are not as crucial as a mission-critical system used everyday.
And whatever you do, budget enough for ongoing refreshers and advanced training over time. Training is not a one-shot deal at implementation time. It's a long term investment in your employees, your department and your company.
- Inspect what you expect — you've probably heard this adage before. When employees come back from training, spend a little time with them over coffee or a Coke asking what they learned.
No, I'm not talking about giving employees a pop quiz or grading them. Just informally ask them if they thought the training was worthwhile, what they learned that they can use on the job, and so on. Simply have a conversation, letting the employees tell you what they think. Listen. You'd be surprised at how showing a little interest will pay off. It's motivating. They now know you think the training was important. And they will hunt for ways to display their knowledge every day, to become heroes in your eyes.
- Don't forget about yourself – as a manager or even as the business owner, make sure you understand important IT systems.
Managers are busy and always have something more pressing than attending training (I know I usually did!). The temptation to blow it off is huge. The company I worked for always tried to get the owner and/or managers of its customers to attend training, not just the front line employees. In fact, statistics showed that the businesses where management had taken training, had the most successful implementations, and had the fastest roll-outs of the systems — by a factor of 50%.
By taking the training yourself, it shows your organization that you think learning the system is important. Second, it equips you to understand the power of the system — and its weaknesses — so that you can help your employees with it. Third, it positions you to converse intelligently with your staff about the system, using a common set of terminology.
It's all about execution — and training helps you execute. Justifying a purchase, choosing a vendor, signing the contract for the system, installing the hardware and software — they are important, it's true. But trust me, that's the simple part.
The challenging part is using an IT system every day and getting value out of it.