Those who can teach

Sometimes it’s worth stating the obvious because so often the obvious gets overlooked, particularly in the current climate.

We’re all off looking for the cash cow, the life raft, the new horizon, the thing that’s going to get us through the rough times. If what you’re seeking is the Holy Grail you may miss the paper cup and plastic spoon that are just under your nose. But they’ll help feed you just the same.

Training is a case in point. So many organisations are sitting on their budgets and trying to figure out whether they can spend a little money on a bit of website tinkering, or a pared-to-the-bone email campaign, when what they should be doing is growing their own skill base. If they do it right, they may be surprised to find how much they can do without throwing money at new projects.

Don’t just take my word for it. The European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA), Europe’s main advertising lobbying group,  is launching an initiative aimed at raising skills.

The main thrust seems to be aimed (Can you accurately aim a thrust?) at Central and Eastern Europe, where the skills gap is seen as more pronounced. But EACA International School of Advertising and Communications courses will also dovetail with UK schemes run by the IPA.

But it was the final paragraph of the story about this in a Brand Republic news bulletin that made me all warm and fuzzy inside. I quote:

Gary Leih, the Ogilvy Group UK chief executive and EACA president, said: “We’re very aware of the harsh economic climate facing agencies today, but research and experience has consistently shown that those who invest in training during an economic recession are those best placed not only to survive, but also to recover fastest.”

Well hello Mrs.Obvious and how beautifully you’re stated for us all to see.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not taking a pop at Gary Leih – far from it. He’s so on the money that I wish I could place a bet on him at Goodwood.

But I suspect the ‘swishing’ sound that keeps me awake at night is the sound of training budgets being slashed along with everything else. What a waste.

The really great thing about training (apart from the fact that your organisation ends up with people with more knowledge and a greater capacity to ‘do’) is the way it meshes with all elements of an organisation’s culture.

It raises self worth and self esteem, it supports a myriad of professional qualifications and continuous professional development (CPD) that, in turn, may be the stepping stones to career advancement. Yes, trained staff may eventually leave you (but that’s what they’re supposed to do). Plus you get a more skilled workforce in the process. People who are trained regularly and who work in organisations where the acquisition of knowledge is encouraged, tend to exhibit greater loyalty. Bring an employee on (grow your own) and the chances are their skills will always be one step ahead of their current pay level but their lifetime earning potential is enhanced. You win. They win. Everybody’s happy.

Having recently stepped down as a non-executive director of a NHS organisation I remain highly envious of the priority given to training and knowedge advancement that can be found in the public sector. I’m now a visiting lecturer in communication for our local medical school; medical and social care professionals appear ravenously hungry for a huge range of communication skills.

Training is organisational yeast. Companies with a culture of training and learning just tend to grow (even when the global economy is, apparently, going to hell in a hand cart). I say ‘apparently’ so I don’t get pilloried for using Armageddon language on my own blog.

Perhaps part of the problem is that people taking the term ‘training’ too literally.

Alot of CDA business activity centres around training. What’s the point of having the lab rats working on stuff and coming up with new ideas if all you do is sit back and feel smug. You have to set a good idea free.

Training can take a mutitude of forms. We often talk about workshops. When we ‘train’ attendees seem to get through an awful lot of colour tape and balls of string (email me and I’ll explain cdacontentlab@webwordsworking.co.uk), because we hate to see people trying to Hoover up knowledge whilst stuck behind desks pushing bits of paper about.

Training can go hand in hand with a project being progressed by taking an approach I like to call Tada! (It’s kind of a fanfare sound if you say it right.) Tada! stands for Train. Apply. Develop. Apply.

We’ve used Tada! to get a massive new website project off the ground, breathe new live into email newsletter programmes, underpin style guides and CMS systems, or just give an overworked, under-resourced marketing department some renewed fizz and enthusiasm (plus some energy conserving processes).

And then it suddenly struck me. We can just be a little iffy about the whole training thing. Consider the phrase: those who can do, those who can’t teach. What an upside down, crazy concept is that? Teaching, training, passing down knowledge… that’s a really serious project and it’s worth throwing money at. Those that can teach. Those that want to survive – learn.