Merrifield Consulting Group

June 29, 2017


















AFFORDABLE EDUCATION FOR FRONT-LINE EMPLOYEES

 

 

            Aside from suppler-subsidized, product training for sales types, most wholesale-distributors (WDs) “can’t afford” any systematic education for all employees. Why? Here is a composite quote. “Because the distribution industry is so cost-conscious and our profits are so weak, we can’t afford higher initial wages to get better people who will stay long enough to allow us to get any return on an educational investment which we also can’t afford.”

 

            This thinking leads, of course, to undifferentiated service that makes any WD a price taker which in turn ensures poor profits and the following doom loop. 1) Weak pay/education yields 2) weak service that yields 3) weak profits that forces step 1 (again). Most doom loop-ers would, however, paradoxically agree with some of the following statements:

1.       If competitors have equal, if not the same, product lines, then service quality is the edge.

2.       Consistently excellent service can only come from best, retained, committed and educated employees.

3.       Finding and keeping best employees has been a huge on-going problem for a long time.

4.       The number one reason that better employees don’t choose to work for a prospective employer or leave a current employer is because they see limited short-term and long-term prospects for personal development and growing their economic well being.

5.       Achieving perfect service with zero error economics would, for example, increase sales growth by retention, profits and gross margin per employee. But, few employees know exactly, educationally how to define, measure, achieve, sell, get paid for and leverage “perfect service” one niche and customer strata at a time.

6.       Employees are either an educated part of the high performance service solution or they are an uneducated, unaware part of the low performance problem.

 

How can WDs close the gap between their pennywise, personnel practices and their simple service statements? Is there a distribution-specific, cost-efficient and effective training methodology for switching from the doom loop to the virtuous cycle of 1) paying more to 2) get and keep better employees long enough for 3) education to pay off for all stakeholders? YES! Now there is, but it took the following 25+ year journey to discover and develop.  

 

THE PATH TO -  “5 TO 10 REPS IN 50 MINUTES”

 

            In the ‘70’s I was turning around paper distribution companies for a growth by acquisition chain. As I discovered productivity insights through experiments that I ran at different branches, I would summarize them in problem/solution memo-format and collect copies in binders at each branch. Using this training system, I could get new managers at both old and new branches up to speed for understanding and using our growing number of “productivity tactics.” The system worked well enough to out-perform the competition and achieve sustainable, superior economic results for all of the company’s stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers and shareholders).

 

            The Memo system did have some shortcomings. I was surprised to discover that some managers, while effective in their occupational niche, were also functionally illiterate. They read so slowly that they couldn’t remember what they read. They preferred audiotapes to listen to during their drive time. Few of the managers were good trainers when productivity tactics needed to be shared with others at the branch level. They would dilute and/or pollute the educational story and they rarely reviewed the educational material enough times (5 - 15 times) so that even the slowest learners could really “get it.”

 

 

 

            By the early ‘80s, video tape recorders had arrived and dropped in price enough that they were present in many distribution locations. At that time I was in the midst of turning around a security hardware distributor. Videotaping my educational stories on productivity tactics solved the functional illiteracy problem, especially for operational people who didn’t speak English as a first language. The tapes also allowed a low-cost way to get a pure message to all employees at all locations with as many repetitions as necessary. Some of the home-made taping of what was initially known as “Bruce TV” at the security business was professionally re-packaged to become a best-selling video for all WDs entitled “The Dynamics of Distribution.”

 

            Two important complaints about the “Dynamics” tape were: the segments, which averaged 18 minutes, were too long to fit into a one-hour training session – 10 minutes or less would be better. And, users thought the 3+ hours of programming was great, but they wanted more how-to, prescriptive segments.  

 

Fifteen years later, in 2001, the shortfalls have been addressed. “High Performance Distribution Ideas for All”, a new videotape product, is now being shipped. It has 53, 10 minute segments totaling over 11 hours of programming with a 285 page “Implementation Guide.[1] The “5 to 10 repetitions of key concepts within a 50 minute session” is built into the teaching methodology.  

 

TIME FOR EDUCATING ALL EMPLOYEES?

 

             If most WDs couldn’t afford to educate all employees in good times, how can they consider starting now in the grip of a tough recession? Here are a few quick reasons.

1.       Across the board hiring and wage freezes, followed by cuts will do nothing to unlock the hidden profit and human potential within our businesses. Companies need, instead, to strategically refocus on profitable and profit-growing customers while shaping up or out the losing ones. A strategic turnaround, not a financial one, downsizes to the winning elements while also revitalizing profit-growth and personnel motivation.

2.       If we don’t start wiring all employees’ hearts, minds and wallets into the general economic productivity and prosperity of the company, then they will leave for better companies when they start hiring during the next economic upturn.

3.       The virtuous cycle of best service economics will grow profits in bad times, so why not invest in long-term improvements sooner rather than later?

4.       Other, more open-minded competitors will get a head start on turning the negative problem of educating all employees into a strategic advantage with the new breakthrough educational videotape system.

 

What do you think? Will some of the bottom 90% of all WD executives who make only one-quarter of the return on investment that the top 10% make decide that it is time to stop working harder for less? Will they go to www.merrifield.com and assess whether a new video could really be a breakthrough tool for strategic and educational revival? If they don’t act and change, what is their future?

 

 

 

ÓMerrifield Consulting Group, Inc. Article 3.12



[1] Much more information on the product is available at www.merrifield.com. It is offered by Merrifield Consulting and a growing number of trade association “underwriters.”