Practical advice on how to train your managers

Edited except from The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz:

Management training is the best place to start setting expectations for your management team. Do you expect them to hold regular one-on-one meetings with their employees? Do you expect them to give performance feedback? Do you expect them to train their people? Do you expect them to agree on objectives with their team? If you do, then you’d better tell them, because the management state of the art in technology companies is extremely poor.

Once you’ve set expectations, the next set of management courses has already been defined; they are the courses that teach your managers how to do the the things you expect (how to write a performance review or how to conduct a one-on-one).

How to implement a functional training program

Edited except from The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz:

The best place to start with training is with the topic that is most relevant to your employees: the knowledge and skill that they need to do their job. I call this functional training. It can be as simple as training a new employee on your expectations for them and as complex as a multi-week engineering boot camp to bring new recruits completely up to speed on all of the historical nuances of your product.

The training courses should be tailored to the specific job. If you attempt the more complex-style course, be sure to enlist the best experts on your team as well as the manager.

As a happy side effect, this type of effort will do more to build a powerful, positive company culture than a hundred culture-building strategic off-site meetings.

No startup has time to do optional things. Therefore, training must be mandatory.

(1) This is new ground for me. As Ben wrote in Four reasons why you should train your team, “My personal experience with training programs at companies where I had worked was underwhelming.”
(2) Re. “It can be as simple as training a new employee on your expectations for them” — perhaps this is about clear communication more than “training”. The mistake we often make as managers is that we think we’ve communicated clearly, but we haven’t. Making the communication more formal, such as setting up a “training session”, is a neat solution.

Four reasons why you should train your team

Edited except from The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz:

When I first became a manager, I had mixed feelings about training. My personal experience with training programs at companies where I had worked was underwhelming. Then I read chapter 16 of Andy Grove’s management classic, High Output Management, titled Why Training Is the Boss’s Job, and it changed my career.

There are four reasons you should train your people:

1. Productivity. Andy Grove demonstrates that training is one of the highest leverage activities a manager can perform. Consider putting on four lectures for 10 people, which take a total of 12 hours work. Next year those 10 people will work a total of 20,000 hours. If your training results in a 1% improvement, you will gain the equivalent of 200 hours of work.

2. Performance management. If you don’t train your people, you establish no basis for performance management. If you fire someone, do you know with certainty that they both understood the expectations of the job and was still missing them?

3. Product quality. Companies neglect to train new engineers. This leads to inconsistencies in user experience, performance problems, and a general mess.

4. Employee retention. I found there were two primary reasons why people quit their jobs. They hated their manager, appalled by the lack of guidance, career development and feedback. Or they weren’t learning anything. An outstanding training program can address both issues head on.

How to increase your sales team’s product and industry knowledge

Edited excerpt from What Separates the Strongest Salespeople from the Weakest by Steve W. Martin:

Participants in a study of high performing vs. under-performing sales people were asked to rank the different attributes of great sales managers. In order of priority, the top three factors for high-performing salespeople were leadership and management skills, practical experience and sales intuition, and communication and coaching skills.

The top three factors for underperforming salespeople were industry expertise and product knowledge, communication and coaching skills, and fights for the team.

These results reveal how high and under-performing salespeople utilize their managers differently. Under-performers tend to use their managers to make up for the product and industry knowledge they lack.

(1) Bottom line: Sales success is correlated with strong product and industry knowledge.
(2) Sales people acquire product and industry knowledge in three ways: (i) Self-training. (ii) Guidance from the company, such as organized training and strong written materials. (iii) Learning from other sales people and their sales manager.
(3) Steve’s study suggests that (iii) doesn’t work.
(4) Implications: If you want successful sales people, hire candidates who demonstrate they can train themselves, and implement a rigorous training program.
(5) Thank you Eli Hoffmann for the tip.

The best people train themselves

Edited excerpt from Colin Jensen’s answer to From the perspective of a CEO, what are the most underrated skills most employees lack?:

Don’t ask to be trained.

The one thing I never want to hear, but have heard as much as anything over the years, is that an employee doesn’t know how to do something. Great, google it, find a book–but don’t take three other employees off their jobs to write a curriculum to train you.

“Training” is for corporations to document that they’ve trained you, mostly when their insurance company or licensure requires it. Sometimes it exists so companies can reinforce a mystique that they’re like no other place you’ve ever seen or you have to do things their way to fit in.

But successful people don’t have a voice in their heads telling them what’s “possible,” or what they “can” do. So saying “I haven’t done that before” or “I’m not trained in that” sounds to them like “I refuse to put any thought into this job.”

I personally remember the profound flattery I felt when a boss told me to write him a simple software program by next Tuesday. I had never taken a programming class. And whenever I tell that story, someone in the room always pipes up about how they wouldn’t have taken it and how I should have asserted my rights (rather than write the darned program!). But those guys don’t go far.

(1) When is there a need for organized training? When does organized training work?
(2) Thank you Persha Valman for the tip.