Friday, August 31, 2007

How much training do we need at work?

September 2007 - One of the most asked questions by perspective employees is how much on-the-job training is available. Employers know top candidates want training and have a full pocket full of answers ranging from management to technical training. Some companies (including mine) even offer foreign language training. "Me llamo Mac!" How much do we really need though?

When an employee first starts there is a need for human resource and job specific training. I'll give everyone that. Here is where it gets sticky in my mind. In addition, there is often a need to send employees for new technology training.

From all the training I've been in, I've observed a large percentage of individuals treating training like a vacation away from the office. Sure, we all need time away, but that's why we get personal days. When a company is paying for us to become subject matter experts, they don't expect us to take off early, show up late, or spend the entire time instant messaging our wife. These are all observations I've made in my most recent off-site training.

So here is my solution. Train everyone on human resource and job specific tasks. Then reward people with off-site training who you know will treat training like any day in the office. Sending the average employee is often a mistake as your $3000 in training fees and $1500 in travel expenses will be wasted.

When the below-average-employee asks why you didn't send them or why they've not had any training opportunities in the past year, tell them the truth. You're not going to send people who won't respect the opportunity and apply the knowledge they learned. This solves two problems; first your being candid with employees who need to improve their performance. Second, you're not wasting $4500 on some slug to spend time telling his wife how much he loves her, over, and over, and over again.

The savvy below-average-employee will become upset. They'll argue their lack of performance is due to, non other than, lack of training. Don't fall into their trap. Before sending them off-site make them improve their performance and prove they are worth of additional training. Training is a privilege that not everyone deserves. Make sure you reward your best employees and not waste money on people who don't deserve it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

How can I make more money?

August 2007 - I had a thought the other day. Every person will hit their maximum "individual contributor" earning potential. I'm nearing mine. I'm actually not that concerned about it as for now I'm pretty happy as an individual contributor, but it was just something that popped in my head while walking around the block and trying to figure out how my neighbors all have nice cars and new pools.

By my definition an individual contributor is a person who is not acting as a supervisor for anything or anyone. Two examples are a ditch digger and a seasoned software engineer.

A ditch digger will eventually max out their output and what they are paid for digging ditches. They can dig more ditches by digging them faster, but even then there is a maximum number of ditches ditch diggers can dig. Similarly a software engineer will eventually max out their output and reach an upper limit of what employers and/or customers are willing to pay for their services. They can work extra long hours, take additional training and moonlight for small shops in their spare time, but like a ditch digger, there is a max to their output. So how do they make more money?

Now I'm not saying the individual needs more money or even wants more money. My question is simply, if the individual wants to stay within their current employment, how can they increase their compensation. From my perspective, the only way is to take a percentage of compensation from someone or something that you're supervising. Basically have something or someone work for you.

Back to our ditch digger. If the ditch digger wants to make more money, he needs to either use technology and supervise an automated process that digs ditches. Or hire another ditch digger, supervise them, and take a percentage of the junior ditch digger's compensation.

A software engineer can either develop software to solve problems for her, or hire other software engineers to work under her so she can take a percentage of their compensation. For any of you who are in corporate America, this is how it works. I work for my boss and my boss is compensated based on his output plus a percentage of my output. Done right, it works well as everyone needs someone to hold them accountable. Done wrong, and supervisors can get away with doing very little while making lots of money.

In a way what I've described is a pyramid scam. You work for me and I make money off of you. Then you get people to work for you so that I make money off of you, plus the people working under you. Throw in a few more layers and as long as you don't get any cantankerous employees, you're doing just fine for yourself.

So there it is, to get the nice car, pool and house you need to run a pyramid scam. The good thing is any organization in the world provides the needed infrastructure. Then again if you're like me, you may be happy with what you produce as an individual contributor and what you're paid for it. Money's not everything!