Consider 'inside consultants' to solve problems, value workers

Your company can have the most sophisticated equipment, the sleekest facilities, the best location and in-demand products, but none of it works without the human touch.

Your workforce is your most valuable asset. The knowledge and skills they bring to work with them every day represent the fuel that drives the engine of business. Want to keep the motor running? Leverage that knowledge so that everyone in the company can benefit from their co-workers' experience.

As a manager, you need to encourage an atmosphere where employees are secure enough in their jobs that they are comfortable sharing their expertise and mentoring their co-workers. Most folks can identify with the fear that they are training their next boss rather than helping them develop their skills.

Knowledge is personal. Employees who are trained on the company's dime will retain that knowledge even if they leave your organization. Wouldn't it be so much better for everyone if they felt as if they had contributed to the company's success by helping their co-workers kick it up a notch?

Try these strategies to get the information flowing:

•Offer employee workshops. The manager can lead the first session, just to make sure everyone is on the same page. Explain the purpose, and ask for suggestions. Make sure employees understand that the goal is to help them work more effectively, not to highlight their deficiencies. Also, include a discussion on what the company is trying to do, how it's doing, where it's headed and what it stands for. Don't assume all the employees already know the answers -- or that they have the correct information unless you gave it to them yourself. It's an important first step.

•Plan accordingly. Workshops can be scheduled at a regular time or as needed. If you can afford to provide lunch, try a noontime group. Food is a great icebreaker. Keep the meetings to a reasonable length. Make sure to include everyone in the process.

•Recruit your top performers to share their expertise. It's not hard to identify who excels at customer service or managing data or sales. But does everyone know why they are so good at what they do? Are there techniques they could share? How did they get so good? Are others comfortable asking them for advice?

•Encourage team-teaching. People from different departments need to collaborate on projects, so it makes sense to have those teams explain how they've been successful working together.

•Aim for quality. Make sure the presentations contain useful information and that the presenter is prepared. Be specific about the kind of information you want when you ask an employee to lead a workshop. Don't forget to ask what questions they receive most often from co-workers.

•Provide incentives. In a climate of tight budgets, reduced workforces and stiff competition, internal training can be a great substitute for costly offsite workshops and conferences. Reward presenters, perhaps with extra pay or comp time.

•Say thank you. Not just to the presenters, but also to those who attend. Employees need to know their efforts are appreciated. Recognizing their desire to improve their performance often makes people try even harder.

•Most importantly, as the manager, show up for every session. Your presence lets presenters and participants alike know the value of these meetings. Be an active participant, too. Ask questions and share experiences. Just don't take over.

You can decide whether to make the workshops mandatory for your employees, but you need to attend every possible session. You will learn not only how your employees work alone and together, but also gain some real insights into their personalities.

Here's an added bonus: You have a terrific opportunity to present problems that you need help with, and demonstrate to your staff that you value their opinions. Think of them as your "inside consultants," people who have good working knowledge of your business and a vested interest in making it work. I've never shied away from using consultants, and the fact that they are already on the payroll doesn't diminish their worth.

If you believe, as I do, that your employees truly are your most valuable asset, you will do whatever you can to help them do their jobs as well as possible.

As Ben Franklin said, "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."

Mackay's Moral: Knowledge shared is knowledge squared.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to harvey@mackay.com. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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