Transform Staff: The People Part of Enterprise-Wide Change

Excerpt from “The Executive Checklist: A Guide for Setting and Managing Change” by James M. Kerr (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

The Executive Checklist is a result of my quest to streamline the work of my executive clients. One can say that the book has been decades in the making. As my management consulting practice enters its third decade, I have had the occasion to reflect back on the terrific engagements I have had with some of the largest, most successful enterprises in the world. It is through work with clients such as IBM, The Home Depot, and JP Morgan Chase that I have enjoyed the unique opportunity to witness, first-hand, the economic changes and organizational challenges that have led us to where we are today.

Here are some thoughts from the book and my belief that training, measurement, and reward are three pillars on which the platform for staff transformation is shaped:

Place Emphasis on Softer Skills and Bigger Pictures

Most organizations provide some level of training to their personnel, if no more than on-the-job training. However, training efforts are largely job specific. Standard training programs teach people how to inspect a part, stock a shelf, perform an audit, etc. But few training programs do an exceptional job of preparing staff to contribute beyond the performance of their daily work function. This needs to change.

We must place an emphasis on soft skills development and presenting a bigger picture for our staff members. Soft skills help people to think more broadly about what their work is all about. Training focused on enhancing communication, building trust, and promoting teamwork, for example, fosters collaboration, cooperation, and esprit de corps. A workforce comprising personnel who support each other and work as one can produce incredible results.

What’s more, using training as a means to present a bigger picture to the staff of what the enterprise is all about and what it is attempting to accomplish helps them to think beyond their specific job. By raising awareness of the “whole job,” workers gain a broader perspective of the work of the enterprise. This improves their ability to anticipate and properly adjust to changes being made within the organization so as to remain properly aligned and positioned to aptly deliver.

Further, a deeper appreciation of the enterprise’s vision and strategies also provides benefit to the organization. Personnel are better positioned to offer improvement ideas and suggest meaningful changes in the operation, once they develop a broader perspective of the organization’s strategic goals and direction.

Consider what firms such as Whirlpool are doing in this regard. The company set about developing a training outreach program to its more than 80,000 staff members. The centerpiece of the training program is a customized offering co-developed with the American Management Association (AMA), a leading training and education company. It teaches staff how to think innovatively. Consequently, with a deeper understanding of the company’s strategic intentions, Whirlpool’s personnel have developed innovative thinking as a core competency. After all, the Benton Harbor, MI, firm is a recognized leader in the $120 billion global home appliance industry.

Commit to Shared Training

Unquestionably, organizations must train their staffs. However, they can’t singularly be responsible for providing all of the training and education each employee needs. This is especially true in this day and age when job changes are frequent and the next generation of workers, Gen Y, prefers the independence and variety that comes with free agency.

Indeed, it would be foolhardy for an enterprise to spend millions of dollars to fully train staff that may not stick around long enough to deliver a payback on the investment. So we must shift from company-provided training toward shared training, a more equitable model where the cost and responsibility of training is shared between organization and staff.

Shared training can take many forms. Classically, an enterprise provides a set curriculum of technical and soft skills training, while encouraging staff to pursue additional training in complementary skills they want to develop. The organization may pay for some part of the extracurricular education or just allow employees paid time to educate themselves.

Another variation is one in which the enterprise pays for the training and the employee covers time and/or travel. Tuition reimbursement is a common example of this concept in action. But it can apply more widely and include Webinars, professional associations, conferences, and seminars. The point is that staff and organization, alike, have some skin in the game. It is likely staff will take the training more seriously when they are committing their own time and/or money to acquire it.

Nevertheless, shared training models provide employees the freedom to develop their own personalized development plan in support of their career goals and they provide an organization with better qualified personnel over time—fashioning a corporate culture that is highly productive and one that readily attracts top talent.

Excerpt from The Executive Checklist: A Guide for Setting Direction and Managing Change” by James M. Kerr (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). Find more about staff transformation in the book:  The Executive Checklist: A Guide for Setting Direction and Managing Change, where there is an entire chapter dedicated to the subject.

James M. Kerr is a partner at Blum Shapiro Consulting located in West Hartford, CT, where he heads the strategic planning and organizational behavior practice. He is a recognized authority in corporate transformation, strategy formulation, and business process redesign. The Executive Checklist is Kerr’s fourth business strategy book. It represents his commitment to helping leaders improve the ways in which they guide and shape their organizations. He can be reached at or 860.231.6635.

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