Engagement Training & Development

Soft Training is Back – Part 2

OK, so I was kind of worked up in my last post about the demise of “soft” skills training over the years.  The good news is that it’s making a comeback.  And it’s starting at entry level.

I recently heard from a colleague who works at the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board that they are including elements of soft skills training in their career planning workshops.  The content addresses basic skills, such as showing up to work on time, communication and customer service skills, etc.

Why the change?  Because industry is asking for it.  There’s a renewed emphasis on hiring people who are “nice.”  Customers are also asking for this, as are shareholders & stakeholders who benefit from the customer satisfaction-loyalty-profitability link.

So I see this return to soft skills training as a good thing … starting with entry level staff and, hopefully, spreading to supervisory and middle management.

Engagement Training & Development

Soft Training is Back – Part 1

And it’s about time.  I’m talking about corporate America’s recognition of the need for “soft” training.

For a while now I’ve lamented the lack of training in “soft” areas such as management & supervisory development, interpersonal and organization communications, customer relations, etc.  When the economy is strained, as it has been, Training & Development is one of the first areas to get cut (along with marketing).  Any training dollars left are focused on technical or “hard” training; e.g., to ensure staff is computer-literate and can operate whatever hardware or equipment they need on-the-job.

I don’t want to negate technical training – it is necessary.  But I wonder about all the training that those of us “Boomers” and some Gen X-ers were fortunate to get (such as how to develop & lead teams, give feedback, conduct performance appraisals, etc.) that hasn’t been available to new managers because the budget wasn’t there.  Do today’s managers have the training & tools they need to manage effectively?

Scary stuff

Part of the problem can be found in education preparation.  I’m familiar with a business communications program that was offered to undergrads – course content included how to write effective memos & reports, develop and give presentations, etc.  The students who took this course said it was one of the most practical courses they’d taken.

Not too long ago, I inquired about the program’s status … imagine my surprise to learn that the program was discontinued in favor of teaching students how to use spreadsheets.

That’s just what we need – people who can’t string two sentences together effectively, but they can sure crunch those numbers!

More on this in my next post …

Engagement Marketing Training & Development

Internal Marketing’s Ultimate Question

I had the privilege again this summer of serving as an Executive Visitor at the Iacocca Institute’s Global Village for Future Leaders of Business & Industry at Lehigh University.  And my topic was (drum roll … ): internal marketing – the importance of taking care of employees so they can take care of customers. Specifically:

  • Why organizations need to be employee-focused and customer-focused
  • What managers need to do to gain employee commitment to organizational goals
  • How managers can strengthen employee-customer relationships.

It’s a delight to share internal marketing with such an energetic & enthusiastic group.  Regardless of where the Global Village interns were from (including Sweden, Austria, Singapore, Canada, South Africa, Puerto Rico, Israel, Korea, Mexico, Russia, Hong Kong, and the U.S., to name a few of their home countries), they quickly grasped the concept of internal marketing.  In each session, someone asked the ultimate question: “If internal marketing is so basic, why don’t more companies do it?”

A simple question with no easy answer

The best explanation I could come up with, given our limited time together, was to remind them that internal marketing is really an issue of leadership & values … evident in organizations who truly care about both their customers AND the employees who take care of them.

Yes, unfortunately, there are companies out there who only give “lip service” to valuing their employees (as mentioned in numerous posts throughout my blog).  And there are managers who feel they don’t need internal marketing – the ones who presume “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t doing something right!”  (Hmm, I wonder what their staff and customer turnover is like?)

What I learned the hard way

So I shared what I learned a long time ago in my business.  The companies who need me the most are not the ones who hire me because they’re clueless when it comes to internal marketing.  While the challenge they present might entice some consultants, I no longer waste the time & energy to sell them on the concept when they just don’t get it.

I’d rather focus my time on helping my clients – those who recognize internal marketing’s value and are committed to doing something about it, as well as those already doing internal marketing who want to do it even better.  In other words, I don’t have to sell them on internal marketing because they already get it.  It’s why I love working with them.

Engagement Marketing Training & Development

“The “Laughing-Learning Link” continued

I have another source of fun material for you as a follow up to my last post. I just ordered these & haven’t had a chance to read them yet, but I didn’t want to wait to tell you about them (especially given the number of books on my “to read” list).

So check out 301 Ways to Have Fun at Work by Dave Hemsath & Leslie Yerkes, and its sequel: 301 More Ways to Have Fun at Work by Dave Hemsath.

You can also check out The HUMOR Project’s “Top Ten” list to incorporate humor into your workplace.  this article on workplace humor.

Have fun!

Engagement Marketing Training & Development

“The Laughing-Learning Link”

This post’s title is borrowed from The HUMOR Project’s latest e-newsletter which reinforces the value of humor in learning situations.  “HAHA” (sharing a cartoon or funny anecdote) can lead to “AHA” (insight or content clarity) which can then lead to “AH” (understanding).

The formula works, trust me.  In my workshops & presentations, I often use cartoons from The Cartoon Bank, a fabulous (almost endless) source of humorous material.  It’s a great way to lighten things up, keep a group’s attention, and reinforce learning in the process.

For internal marketing purposes, there are many situations where you can use humor:

  • staff meetings
  • employee recognition/appreciation events (as long as you don’t overwhelm or detract attention from those being recognized)
  • training
  • orientation, etc.

You can use cartoons, funny stories, toys or token gifts, interactive exercises/skits/games, food, etc — as long as they’re appropriate for the situation and group.  A great source of ideas can be found in Sheila Ferguson’s book “Energize Your Meetings with Laughter” (one of my favorite resources).

Besides making your internal marketing events effective, find ways to also make them fun.

Engagement Marketing Training & Development

Internal Marketing’s Critical Connections (Part 1)

Internal marketing’s focus on valuing both customers and the employees who serve them requires strengthening three critical connections:

  • Connecting the employee to the organization
  • Connecting the employee within the organization
  • Connecting employees with customers.

This post begins a series on each connection, starting with connecting employees to their organization through orientation (for new employees) and constant communication (for all employees).  This establishes and reinforces employees’ fit in the scope of the organization (“big picture”) and what’s expected of them in helping the organization fulfill its mission & goals.

Becoming a Part of the Organization

Orientation’s role is to educate the new employee about:

  • The organization – its mission, values, goals, how it operates, where it’s going, etc. 
  • The specific job function – answering the employee’s questions on “What do I do & how do I do it? How will I be evaluated?” etc.
  • The industry in general – this is important for giving new employees a broader perspective by addressing how the organization is positioned within its industry; who its partners and competitor are; and trends (positive or threatening) that can impact the organization and its industry. (Unfortunately, this component of orientation – connecting employees to the “big picture” –  is often ignored.)

Starting off right

Starbucks‘ CEO Howard Schultz greets all new hires via video in which he shares the company’s history & culture, what it stands for, and where it’s going … he refers to this critical time as the “imprinting period of the new employee.”

Eat’nPark, a Pittsburgh-based restaurant chain, focuses on making new employees feel truly welcome.  Before a new hire starts in one of their restaurants, the manager circulates a “Welcome to the Team” card to be signed by staff.  This card includes a post-it note with brief information about the new team member – the person’s name, job position, and a fun-fact about the person’s hobbies or interests.  The welcome card works on several levels: it makes the new person feel welcome, facilitates communication between the new hire and current staff, and helps minimize some of the initial awkwardness of everyone getting to know each other.


Evaluating Orientation

After new employees complete their orientation, don’t forget to get their feedback in formal or informal evaluations.  A great question to ask employees after they’ve been on the job for a period of time (six weeks, three months, or longer) is “What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started?”

To be continued: my next post will address the communications aspect of this connection.

Engagement Marketing Training & Development

Internal Marketing Fundamentals – Gaining Employee Commitment (Part 1 of 3)

In my initial post, I promised to share what’s involved in internal marketing, a concept focused on employee & customer care.  Remember, if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.

The foundation of internal marketing is based on what I call the ‘3 Rs’ of gaining employee commitment:

  • Respect – give people the tools to do their jobs
  • Recognition – catch them do something right
  • Reinforcement – continually support a customer-focused culture.

This week I’ll start a series on each of the 3 Rs & how they underscore internal marketing.

1st R: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

An organization respects its employees when it gives them the tools & info they need to do their jobs.  This involves communication, training, and empowerment.

Communication – people need to know what their organization stands for & what it’s all about (= mission), what its goals & objectives area, and what’s expected of them in helping to achieve these goals; i.e., how they fit in “the big picture.”

How can people be expected to contribute to an organization if they don’t know where it’s going and what’s expected of them in helping it get there?

Unfortunately, this type of communication is overlooked — it gets mentioned a few times and is assumed to be understood. So managers need to find ways to constantly reinforce employees’ fit in the organization, including explaining how their works contributes to customer satisfaction & the bottom line.  (Substitute “stakeholder satisfaction & mission fulfillment” here for nonprofits.)

Training – respect also means helping employees develop/enhance relevant job skills.  This includes:

  • training on how to do a specific job;
  • orientation to your organization and industry (it’s surprising how often the latter is ignored);
  • product knowledge training (features & benefits of your firm’s offerings);
  • interpersonal communications skills + customer relations skills training (also assumed);
  • and other ‘soft’ but important training like supervisory & management development.

And finally, respect means Empowerment – giving staff the latitude & authority to take care of customers (as well as other employees) without having to stop to ask permission every step of the way.

An easy way to remember Respect in this context is “explaining, training, and refraining” — explaining where employees fit in the organization & what’s expected of them … training them to do their jobs … then refraining from getting in their way.

It’s a no-brainer: employees who are properly equipped to do their jobs can better serve customers.


How does your organization demonstrate respect for employees?  Feel free to share your comments in response to this post.

And stay tuned for my next post on Recognition.


Training & Development

Lighten Up!

I’m bummed again … my schedule won’t allow me to attend this really neat conference. You really gotta check this out – The Humor Project Annual Conference, April 8-10th in Saratoga Springs. I was able to get there a few years ago & still highly recommend it. The Humor Project is focused on the positive power of humor … and their conferences (and workshops) are uplifting as well as enlightening. I hope you get the chance to go. (If you do, please post your comments & let me know what you think of it.)

Marketing Training & Development

Reading for Fun & Profit (Share the Wealth)

Looking for a good marketing/business read? Check out Jack Covert’s latest book reviews in the March 1st issue of … there’s bound to be at least one book that will appeal to folks interested in business reading.

No doubt about it, it’s a challenge to make the effort in this age of information overload. But the return is well worth it when you find a book that stimulates your thinking & adds to your wealth of knowledge. Some of the best business people I know (including my husband Michael) make time to read these books.

Fortunately, networking can help reduce the time involved in choosing what to read – getting and giving recommendations on what business books are worth reading.

What was neat for me in checking out book reviews was discovering that I know the reviewer. While we’ve never met in person, Jack Covert & I served together as “screeners” for the American Marketing Association Foundation’s Berry-Book Prize (named for my mentor, Dr. Len Berry, Professor at Texas A&M).

And here’s your chance to do some book networking. The Foundation is currently seeking nominations for the Berry-AMA Book Prize to recognize current books that have had a significant impact on marketing. Check it out to nominate your favorite … and while you’re there, check out the past winners for additional reading ideas.

Engagement Marketing Training & Development

Special Spring Workshop

I’ll be doing a tutorial session on internal marketing next month at the American Marketing Association (AMA) Spring 2005 Marketing Workshop in New Orleans.  My presentation, Marketing from the Inside Out: Engaging Employees for Strategic Advantage, is scheduled for Monday, March 7th, 2005.

Besides my session, there are a number of other topics that cover strategic marketing, branding, customer loyalty & commitment, relationship marketing, and sales effectiveness.  The wonderful thing about this workshop is that you customize it to meet your needs — by attending only the sessions most relevant to you.

Hope to see you there!  (And if you can’t make it next month, AMA will be doing the workshop again in the fall … we’ll be in Orlando in mid-October.  Check AMA‘s website for more details.)