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Maximize Return On Your Training Investment

Furniture World Magazine


Successful retail furniture organizations understand the importance of investing in training and learning opportunities. It’s an investment that strengthens team members’ skills and motivates them to do better. In my experience as an adult educator and industry consultant, learning organizations tend to be the most effective and profitable.

If you want to improve the way your company does business, it is critical to understand how to best select, design and deliver education programming that will have a significant and lasting impact. There are tremendous benefits to adopting a mission and philosophy of continuous improvement. This is true if you decide to develop an in-store training program yourself or work with an outside consultant.

“Adults need to know the reason for learning something: Designing a curriculum for adult learners that makes explicitly clear the reason, purpose, and usefulness of the subject matter.”

Regardless of HOW you are leading your learning organization, you want to be certain to have an understanding of the best processes, practices, and procedures for selecting, developing, and delivering educational programming and training to your employees.

Definition of a Learning Organization

“A learning organization is the term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself” (Burgogyne and Boydell, 1997).” Learning organizations develop as a result of the pressures facing modern organizations and enables them to remain competitive in the business environment” (O’Keefe, T., 2002)

Understand and Embrace the Value of Ongoing and Continuous Improvement

Success begins with your organizational culture, philosophy , values, and mindset. Ultimately retailers have to decide that a dedication to ongoing learning and growth is a priority. An ideal to aspire and work toward, is to become an authentic “learning organization”. It isn’t about hopping on a bandwagon or being able to check a box. There are sound business and financial reasons related to motivation and productivity for developing and embracing a learning culture. The many benefits are outlined in scholarly works on the subject. Hang in there, the information gets a little academic but it will provide a depth of understanding that you will find incredibly valuable.

Six Core Competencies

An article in the Harvard Business Review provides six core competencies needed to create a solid foundation for your learning organization.

1. Future, external orientation: Learning organizations develop understanding of their environment; senior teams take time out to think about the future. Widespread use of external sources and advisors e.g. customers on planning teams.

2. Free exchange and flow of information: They have systems in place to ensure that expertise is available where it is needed; individuals network extensively, crossing organizational boundaries to develop their knowledge and expertise.

3. Commitment to learning, personal development: They get support from top management; people at all levels encouraged to learn regularly; learning is rewarded. Time to think and learn (understanding, exploring, reflecting, developing).

4. Valuing people: Ideas, creativity and “imaginative capabilities” are stimulated, made use of and developed. Diversity is recognized as a strength. Views can be challenged.

5. Climate of openness and trust: Individuals are encouraged to develop ideas, to speak out, to challenge actions.

6. Learning from experience: Learning from mistakes is often more powerful than learning from success. Failure is tolerated, provided lessons are learnt (“learning from fast failure” - Peters).

(David A. Garvin, Amy C. Edmondson, Francesca Gino, Harvard Business Review, March 2008)
When you lead your organization to embrace these competencies, your team, and your customers will benefit. These benefits will improve your organization in many ways.

Benefits Of A Learning Culture

Karmen Blackwood of Business Vancouver lists the benefits of a learning culture. There are many benefits to creating a strong organizational learning culture, including:

  • Efficiency gains.
  • Increased productivity.
  • Increased profit.
  • Decreased employee turnover, as employee satisfaction levels rise and loyalty and commitment is increased.
  • Raising the bar by creating a continuous improvement mindset, shared ownership for projects and shared accountability for results.
  • Developing leaders at all levels, which helps with succession planning.
  • Creating a culture of inquiry, adaptive capacity, and knowledge sharing (vs. knowledge hoarding).
  • Enhanced ability for individuals and teams to embrace and adapt to change.
  • Once you have embraced the value on ongoing education and growth, you have to make sure your organization is prepared for positive transformation.

Be Ready to Receive and Weather Change

Change is never easy and preparing for it ahead of time will help make transitions much smoother. Develop programming in a way that reflects your vision, goals, and mission.

There is always something to gain from an educational experience, seminar, or workshop, but in order to position yourself for the best possible results, you want to take thoughtful appropriate steps to prepare. Think of it as going into an important meeting prepared, engaged, excited and having a solid idea that something interesting and useful will come of it.

Engage: Be sure to fully engage leadership. Make sure leadership is invested in the programs being on-boarded. Leadership needs to demonstrate their commitment by attending training and playing an active role in reinforcing that training. When you demonstrate the importance and communicate the value ahead of time, participants will be in a better frame of mind to engage and absorb.Separate: If you don’t have a separate training room, carefully choose a place where learning can happen away from distractions. Provide refreshments. In other words, demonstrate that it is an important undertaking.

Shift: Prepare to make the philosophical and operational shift from having only managers to having coaches. Organizations committed to ongoing improvement allocate resources (human, in this case) to focus their time and energy helping sales professionals and other employees progress.

Influence: Make an effort to get key players on board and consider an incentive or rewards program. In every organization there is an informal power structure. People carry differing levels of influence even when they are working in lateral positions. A top performing sales professional may hold considerable influence over other members of the team. Enlisting the support of internal influencers is critical.

“Designing a curriculum for adult learners that makes explicitly clear the reason, purpose, and usefulness of the subject matter is a necessary component.”



Understanding Adult Learners

Once you have embraced the value, and prepared for change, it’s time to make sure you understand the complexities of your team. Structuring learning for adults can be an intimidating process. When you take some time to understand the mindset of the adult learner, you are better prepared to meet their needs and introduce programs that will resonate with them. This allows for long-term comprehension and productive application.

Stephanie Reyes, describes, The Nature of Adult Learners via an article in Tribe HR.

She says that the most important thing to consider when creating training experiences for adults is the fundamental nature of adult learners expressed in the following six characteristics, identified by Malcolm Knowles, an American professor in the field of adult education.

1. Adults perceive themselves as self-directed: Adult learners are not only defined by their role as a student. It is more common for an adult to have other roles in their life, roles that may take precedence over their identities as students.

2. Adults bring a wealth of experience to the learning process: Adult learners bring prior educational, professional, and life experience to the classroom.

3. Adults come to the learning process ready to learn: Adult learners are typically eager to acquire new information that is relevant and directly beneficial to their professional lives.

4. Adults are oriented toward immediate application of learned knowledge: Typically, adults learn from a performance-oriented or problem-oriented mind-set. They want information they can immediately apply to life tasks, enhance their professional performance, and use to solve problems.

5. Adults need to know the reason for learning something: Designing a curriculum for adult learners that makes explicitly clear the reason, purpose, and usefulness of the subject matter is a necessary component of effectively reaching adult learners.

6. Adults are driven by an intrinsic motivation to learn: Adult learners juggle multiple responsibilities, and take ownership of their education, with the goal of improving their knowledge base and career opportunities.

Workplace training programs, whether they are developed in-house or by an external resource, will be much more effective if the following principles, drawn from the discoveries of Kolb, Fleming and Knowles, are incorporated into the training materials and delivery (as applicable) so that training works with, and not against, the basic nature of the adult learner:

  • Respect for the knowledge and experience that participants bring to the table.
  • A format or facilitation process that encourages participants to share their knowledge and experience freely.
  • Content that focuses on real life situations, addresses immediate problems, and offers direct applicability to their professional roles.
  • A student-centric approach to program delivery that incorporates active involvement by participants in the learning experience, with instructors serving as facilitators and technological tools functioning as enablers and resources.
  • A conscious effort on the part of facilitators and/or course developers to meet the needs of participants with varying learning styles.

One of the biggest challenges that employers face when it comes to employee development is ensuring that their investment delivers results. Understanding how adults learn, and then building that knowledge into your workplace education initiatives will greatly increase participant engagement, as well as improving skills/knowledge retention and application on the job.

Stephanie’s observations provide further evidence that understanding the nature of the adult learner, how to best engage them and the benefits of buy-in/empowerment is vital to leading a learning organization.

Partner with the Right Resources

When working with outside firms, trainers and consultants, make sure they understand the working values of your organization. Implement programs that reflect those values. You want to be sure to properly vet potential partners. The relationship between consultants and retailers is delicate. It should be one of mutual respect and common goals.

Be leery of outside individuals wanting to jump in and “train” without fully understanding your operation. Certainly, some training more easily lends itself to a wider variety of retailer scenarios, but the best partner understands your operation fully before making recommendations and providing services.

Commit to Reinforcement

Understand that when the training is complete, the real work begins. In order to maximize value, the information needs to be constantly reinforced (activities, exercises, discussions). Have a follow up/through plan in place from the onset. You must ensure that the information learned is implemented. We have all been a victim of short-term enthusiasm, only to watch it fizzle.

A good consulting partner will leave you with information on how to reinforce the programs that have been implemented. Learning programs are a dynamic force for continuous improvement that need to be altered, amended and upgraded. Part of investing in training and consulting is investing in follow up.

What We Have Learned About Learning

There are many variables in the wider economic and competitive environment that retailers cannot control. However, retail organizations that are dedicated to the values of continuous improvement and growth show results that are well above the average. When adapted, these values positively permeate every aspect of an organization. Embracing the value of ongoing learning, preparing for and embracing change, understanding your employees as learners, partnering with the right resources, and committing to reinforcing the process is the formula for maximizing your training investment.

“Designing a curriculum for adult learners that makes explicitly clear the reason, purpose, and usefulness of the subject matter is a 
necessary component.”

About René Johnston-Gingrich: René Johnston-Gingrich is Vice President of Training Development for the Profitability Consulting Group, delivering programs such as Design Trac: Design Skills for Retail Sales People and Sales Trac III: In Home Selling. René has owned and operated an interior design firm for 17 years and now works with organizations to ensure they have the best possible team environment.


René served as a regular columnist for The Lewiston Tribune Business Profile and is an adjunct faculty member of Lewis-Clark State College’s Business Division. René has a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Interior Planning and Design and a Master’s Degree in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. She can be contacted at reneg@profitabilityconsulting.com.


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