Training as a Strategic Advantage

Training departments must provide a strategic competitive advantage in the time to market of information and skills.

By Dan Cooper, CEO,

It was an impressive example of out-executing a competitor. On a Thursday, a distributor for a major consumer goods company found out a competitor was going to roll out a new product to grocery stores over two weeks starting the following Monday. The competitor was offering to buy an end-aisle display, and in return wanted the retailer to discount the new product 30 cents below cost. The competitor’s message was that the retailer would still profit from “market basket add-on” because of the draw of the product on sale.

The distributor immediately notified its national training group of the upcoming rollout. On Friday, the trainers came up with a counter-strategy using their segment-leading product, and wrote the training program. Their recommended pitch for retailers was: “This is a great idea, only it’s the wrong product. First, we’ll pay you the same amount for the end-aisle display. Second, we suggest you only discount 15 cents, and put the other 15 cents back in your pocket. Third, you’ll sell 200 units of their new product off that display, but you’ll sell 2,000 units with our product and get 10 times the market basket add-on. We can install that display by this weekend, if that’s OK.”

On Monday the Training department recorded a video-based training program and uploaded it to the online learning site with the recommendation that distributors have a Tuesday morning meeting with their grocery salespeople, and then call on all their grocery customers that day.

Results? The company actually was making calls countering the rollout before the competitor had even had an initial conversation with most of its retailers. The product was stopped in its tracks, and it languishes in obscurity to this day.

What happened? The competitor spent months planning the rollout and two weeks executing it, whereas the company went from notification to sales execution in three days!This company was simply more agile, which is a major advantage in the marketplace.

The Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence (CPE) lists “agility” as one of 10 core values found in high-performing organizations. The CPE defines agility as “a capacity for rapid change and flexibility,” and states, “A major success factor in meeting competitive challenges is the design-to-introduction…or innovation cycle time.”

So how does this apply to training in general? Well, everybody talks about time-to-market of products and services. It’s a B-school staple. But there’s another angle to agility, as this consumer goods company recognized:

Training departments must provide a strategic competitive advantage in the time to market of information and skills.

The classic American Management Association video, “TIME: The next Dimension of Quality,” calls this “time-based competition.” It’s the idea that “you have to make it, market it, and sell it, not just better, but fasterthan your rivals.”

Talk about catching the attention of those folks at the big table with the checkbooks! How about your Training department being the engine for derailing a competitor’s major product rollout? How about accomplishing in days what it took a competitor months to do, and yet still doing it better?

So the key question is, “Where is your Training department on the agility scale?”

Are you an elephant graveyard where urgent needs go to die, smothered in surveys, analyses, designer meetings, production team reviews, IT upload delays, and learning management system intricacies? Are you the guarantee that nothing happens quickly?

Or are you an execution engine just waiting to be revved up? Are you masters at rapidly addressing training and information requirements? Is your cycle time shorter than that of your competitors? If so, now you’re talking strategic value.

Dan Cooper is CEO of Fast 4ward your learning—find out more at

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