If You Want to Keep Your People, Train Your People

The number one reason people leave a job is the lack of training and career development.

By Carole Mahoney

This past Memorial Day weekend, I had family and friends staying with us. When I shared that I was writing this column and it was all about adult learning and training, my husband’s cousin Dennis chimed in: “Why do I need to learn as an adult?”

But really. What for? What drives us to learn? And what does this have to do with how we grow our businesses, train our teams, or advance our careers?

Well, to grow your business, you need to have skilled people who treat your customers the way you would as a business owner. You probably knew that though, right? Did you know that the number one reason people leave a job is the lack of training and career development? And did you also know that it costs three to four times someone’s salary to replace them?

Learning isn’t just for kids in school and the way we learn as adults is not the same as the way kids do.

As adults, we’ve heard it all. There really isn’t much that is new under the sun. Sure, we know the information, but as Dennis pointed out, “Why do I need to learn this?” is actually the question that drives adult learning.

As an adult, learning isn’t just about gathering information, it’s about how to use the information to make decisions and perform tasks.

This was an idea developed by Malcolm Knowles, who made popular the term “andragogy” (don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it either), or Adult Learning Theory as many refer to it.

The biggest difference between how we learn as kids and how we learn as adults is that as adults, the process for how we learn is more important than the content.

For example, my husband and I have taken on a few remodeling projects at home during the pandemic. And let me tell you, there is a reason we have a rule that anything said during construction projects are not to be held against one another after 12 hours. Probably a key reason we are still married.

The latest project is remodeling the bathroom closest to my office. He gutted the whole room, re-wired it, drywalled, and then I painted everything and tiled the floor.

When we would get stuck, we watched YouTube how-to videos, made a trip to the hardware store, and tackled the next obstacle.

But, more than a few times, we couldn’t figure something out through YouTube or based on something we have done before, so we had to call in an expert help to show us how.

Which is why our cousins Dennis and Cindy were here helping my hubby to solder heating pipes, replace the washing machine hookups, and move the plumbing traps for the new vanity and sink to fit.

Now, I don’t know what any of that means, and I don’t feel the need to, because I am not the one doing it. But I am really good at holding pipes and lights so they can.

So how does this apply to how you learn, or how you train your teams? There are six parts to the Adult Learning Theory. Here is how you can apply three of them to your own learning, or the program for your teams.

Three Ways to Optimize Your Training Programs

First, you have to answer Dennis’ question, “Why do you need to know this stuff?” You must identify why what you are learning—or what you are asking your team member to learn—is important.

How does it get to your goals, or help you accomplish something right now? For hubby and me, we need to get the new bathroom done because we can finally have people over and they need a place to go! Until the new pipes get moved, we can’t move forward to the next stage of the process to getting this done.

As a business owner or seller, ask yourself: How can you apply what you are learning right now to getting your next customer or client?

As a sales manager, leader, or trainer, how does what you are asking your team to learn relate to their day-to-day job? How is that important to the overall company direction, the next stage of growth, and their own personal goals?

Learning something new is tough and stressful at times. You may need that reminder to stick through the mistakes that are sure to be made. I can’t even tell you how many times we have gotten the wrong tool, part, or messed up something we had to do over in the bathroom.

No, really. Don’t ask me.

But we couldn’t just give up. And neither can you.

Second, the next important aspect to learning as an adult is to focus on the problem, not the content. This is one of my biggest pet peeves with so many sales onboarding programs.

They start with the content on the product and the sales process, and not on the problem that sellers need to be addressing and solving with buyers. Focusing on product and process content first isn’t what sellers need to be able to have conversations about with buyers.

What happens is like the argument I got into with hubby when he kept telling me, “I’m not a plumber, you know—I don’t know how to do this!”

Ever heard something like that from one of your team members when you ask why more sales are not closing?

Now, one thing you need to know is that my husband loves to brew beer. And he has watched more hours of YouTube videos on how to cut copper and solder pipes to create his “rig,” which he has taken apart and rebuilt at least three times. In my mind, how is that any different from the pipes and soldering in plumbing? It’s the same content and concept! You know what you need to do, just do it!

Turns out, there is a big difference.

While the content seemed to relate and be transferable to me (the person who was not doing the job), it wasn’t to my hubby (who had to do the job).

That is why your training programs should not be focused on content alone, but rather on its practical uses to solve a specific problem. What do they need to know to fix it? Because that, and only that, is what is important to them.

To tie the content to the problem at hand, a regular cadence of practice and coaching is key. My husband’s cousin came this weekend to walk him through each of the steps, doing it with him, having him do it, so now he can take the new knowledge and transfer it to practice application with the immediate task at hand.

If you have never coached your team, or been coached yourself, then start with these simple questions:

  • How am I going to apply this? Where? With whom?
  • How will I practice it and what feedback do I need to seek to improve?

And lo and behold, while his cousins were here, I didn’t have to remind hubby of our deadline to get this done. He got up ready to learn and do it because he wanted to get this bathroom done too!

And that is a third aspect to adult learning: We have to be ready to learn. And when you tie what you are learning to something that solves an immediate problem, we are more motivated to learn and apply it.

Now there are six different aspects to the Adult Learning Theory, and there are several other learning models and styles we use as adults. But with these three simple concepts you can optimize your training programs to keep your best employees longer and grow your sales.

Mahoney Offers Tips on YouTube for Sales Leaders and Sellers
Unbound Sales Growth columnist Carole Mahoney provides tips for sales leaders and sellers on YouTube. Past topics have included how to get over fears and have better conversations, how to become a top salesperson, and cognitive behavioral tips to sell on value. To watch these videos and future ones, visit Mahoney’s Linktree webpage and click “YouTube” in the drop-down menu.

Have a Sales or Marketing Question for Mahoney? Let Us Know!
Is there a sales or marketing issue that you have wondered about for a long time? Do you wish you or your team had a technique for better closing sales or promoting your business and its products and services? Unbound Sales Growth columnist Carole Mahoney can help. Email WWJ Editor Thad Plumley at tplumley@ngwa.org and he will arrange for Mahoney to answer your question in a video at www.WaterWellJournal.com.

Carole Mahoney, as the founder of Unbound Growth, has coached Harvard Business School Entrepreneurial MBA students on sales and been featured as a top sales coach by Ambition and Sales Hacker. You can contact her directly at www.unboundgrowth.com.