In the last two columns, you learned how to calculate the return on your investment in human capital and what factors contribute to a successful hiring process. This month, we explore the potential of your training and development program to maximize your return on investment in human capital. Managers spend much of their time and their company’s resources trying to fill gaps in employee knowledge and skills or solve problems that stem from a mismatch of employee values and the culture of the company. Your training and development system might need an overhaul to ensure that you are giving your employees the tools they need to add value to your company. 


The most important step in this process is taking a hard look at your beliefs about the skills and traits each job requires. You have probably screened for employees with a good work ethic and the necessary experience and skill required for the particular jobs you wanted to fill. It might surprise you to find that preferred qualities such as “team player” or “talented” or “multitasker” are overrated.


Field installers may be more valuable if they can work independently, solve problems alone, and avoid distractions, so “team player” isn’t necessarily a key metric for their success on every job. Committee decisions are notoriously problematic; the eccentric person in the corner cubicle often has the most creative ideas, and high achievers are often frustrated when asked to work on teams. 


Talent is a common buzzword in job descriptions, but it doesn’t have a lot to do with success. Geoff Colvin, in his book, “Talent Is Overrated,” concludes that practice and determination are the differentiators. About 10,000 hours of practice are required to become an expert in something. So, you want people you can train and who will practice until they become internal experts.


Is multitasking really what you require, or are you actually looking for someone who is adaptable and handles changing requirements without panicking? Research has shown that true multitasking is not efficient, while focusing on one task improves productivity.


What about the person who declares that he or she is a hard worker? Isn’t it more important to work smarter, not harder? Bill Gates has said that he chooses a lazy person for a hard job because a lazy person will always find an easy way to do it. Haven’t most great advancements resulted from an effort to find an easier or faster way to do things? 


As you develop the employees you already have, re-evaluate the qualities you thought were important, and do your best to predict how to best prepare them to add value to your company five years from now instead of tomorrow. Although craftspeople must have certain basic skills, many of them could be more effective in specialty areas. Ask them what they do best and most enjoy doing, and have them teach others while you implement their best ideas for efficiency and budget for the tools that support their efforts. 


Estimators must know how to do takeoffs and calculate pricing, and they also need negotiating skills to work effectively with vendors. Project managers must understand job costing and how to manage schedules, and they must know how to listen to field personnel to make the best decisions. Everyone should have typing abilities, know how to use your software, and communicate efficiently by email, text and telephone. 


So, your ongoing investment in your human capital will be wasted unless you take off the blinders and re-evaluate every position to include future and current skill and knowledge requirements. Ask each person to write up his or her current job description, and compare it to your own concept. Then ask for a wish list of training needs. You are wasting your money and their time if you have a one-size-fits-all training and professional development schedule without considering individual experience, attitudes and needs. 


As more online options become available, reduce the scope of your face-to-face training. Well-designed self-study tutorials are effective for updating employees on procedures, regulatory requirements and software use. For role playing, question and answer sessions, and brainstorming projects, conferencing tools such as GoToMeeting and Blackboard create virtual classrooms and considerably reduce your investment in travel time, meeting space and even refreshments.


Rethink employee training and development; it is a process of strategic planning and quality improvement. No investment in facilities, equipment, tools or information technology will pay a greater return. As the education field recognizes the need to emphasize individualized instruction to improve academic achievement, so must employers. Investing in training and development that builds on individual strengths and fills identified gaps in knowledge and skill is the best way to maximize the return on the human capital you have so carefully chosen and hope to retain.