During the 1970s and 1980s, it was common for large corporations such as Hewlett Packard (Compaq) and IBM to put their new sales recruits through a twelve to eighteen-month training programme. I know, because I went through one myself, before designing the next generation.
Today, salespeople consider themselves “lucky” if they get an initial two weeks of training.
Have companies discovered that training doesn’t really pay off?
On the contrary! Training appears to be even more important today than years ago and it is getting more important all the time.
This extract from one of my favourite books ‘All Together Now’ by Sir John Harvey-Jones articulates the last point perfectly.
“There is practically no area of business where the difference between rhetoric and actuality is greater than in the handling of people. Every businessman will always claim that it is the people in his organisation who are the key to its success. Indeed it is difficult to argue anything else. A company consists of money (which can ebb and flow almost with the speed of light), of fixed investments (which by definition are obsolescent from the very moment that they have been made), and a range of products – and hopefully a market position – which are under continual attack from competitors who are trying to produce better and more desirable products for less costs.
What a company does have, and handled rightly can maintain, is the commitment, skills and abilities of its people. This is constantly attested to by the statements in company annual reports – I cannot remember the last time I failed to see the chairman’s last sentence paying tribute to his people. Yet despite all these facts our skills at enabling our people to give their best, and continuously beat the best that come against them, are remarkably tenuous. Moreover, this area of activity is seldom subject to the sort of analysis, debate and experimentation so readily devoted to fields such as production or marketing.
Even though we are all welded to the concept of continuous improvement, when did you last see an improvement plan for the management of your people? If you have seen one, I would bet long money that the plan referred to reduction of administration costs or overheads, rather than being a plan consciously adopted to enable more of our people to contribute more.”
In 1990, I had dinner with Sir John, and I was able to clarify a number of points with him face to face: He remains one of my most significant mentors.
Less Training With Higher Expectations
So, what’s going on here? How should a Sales Director reconcile the fact that many corporations today provide less upfront training for their sales staff than in years past, yet attach increasing importance to staff development?
This is hardly a surprise, because the current stock market ethos creates a powerful dis-incentive for firms to invest in their people. A firm’s investment of human capital, in the form of training and other forms of education of staff, is not separable from the general expenditure of a corporation. It therefore appears as a cost on the corporate balance sheet.