South West Training Blog

Articles, tips, guides and blogs around business skills, training, professional courses and development in addition to South West relevant news.

Make your Training Company Tender Questions Relevant

Make your Training Company Tender Questions Relevant

Part of my role as a Training Coordinator at Training South West is to tender for training contracts within the Dorset, Devon and Somerset area. Although the initial documentation phase can be rather painful at times, a number of businesses use this phase as a basis to select companies who perform well against criteria to take part in a subsequent face to face process. I really enjoy this part of the process as it provides a fantastic opportunity to increase my exposure to the diverse range of South West businesses and I’ve met some really interesting people because of it.

Having considerable experience commissioning HR services in a buyer capacity, I can honestly say that I far prefer being on the bidding side of the table. My experience of running tender processes is that it’s hard work, demanding and extremely time consuming.

Plus, let’s be honest, the documentation submission phase never makes exciting reading! This phase resolutely erases personality and human dynamic and instead presents the buyer with pure operational data coupled with criteria descriptions and weightings. Analysing huge numbers of responses can result in buyer apathy for even the most committed people.

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Having been through a detailed analysis of the initial phase and selected a number of those who meet the criteria, is not unusual for buyers to view a potential face to face phase as the ‘finish line’ without even sufficiently preparing; with an obvious impact on question quality and focus. On a personal front, I’d always suggest that businesses appoint a staff member with no involvement in the initial stages to help frame and deliver this phase as this keeps the momentum and energy going and helps ensure the business makes the right decisions.

One of the most effective ways of establishing questions to be used during the face to face phase is to speak to as many internal users of training services as possible.  Whether previous training delegates from across the organisation or Managers who have actively identified and overseen the delivery of training needs, these individuals will all have a view on what they believe works well for the organisation and areas which have maybe not worked so well.  Get as much feedback as possible as this will generate detailed insights into a broad spectrum of perspectives which will undoubtedly yield areas of relevant focus.  Consider also reviewing the long term impacts of previous training courses.  In what way did the courses impact the organisation?  Was there sufficient follow up? Was there a strategy in place to ensure that key learnings were further consolidated upon return to the office?

It may also be beneficial to draw upon your local business network to establish additional additional themes with which to discriminate between training providers. Since the training industry is constantly evolving, so too are the questions being asked of them.

In the meantime, here are some questions which I have either asked or been asked:

  • How will your trainers ensure they deliver the most impact within our business?

 

  • How will your trainers utilise their role to engage with our staff in a way that may otherwise be compromised by the hierarchy and structure of our business?

 

  • What will your trainers do to ensure that the training delivery methods used by your team constantly evolve and engage our staff members?

 

  • What methods will you use to assess the long term efficacy of your training interventions?

 

  • What might you do to address an imbalance between short term and long term training value?

 

  • The learning preferences of our staff can be very different. How will you ensure the training process is valuable for all our staff members?

 

  • How will you plan your training sessions to ensure that they are business relevant?

 

 

Training South West provide in-house and open training courses to businesses within the Somerset, Devon and Dorset areas. Look out for our 2016 open course calendar which will be published shortly.

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Is Financial Illiteracy Costing you Dearly?

Is Financial Illiteracy Costing you Dearly?

According to research by the think tank ‘IPPR’, British people love going it alone. They estimate that over 14% of us now work for ourselves.  There’s clearly a huge attraction to working independently (not least being able to manage your own holidays and working times) but the realities of being a sole worker without the backing of all the functions that typically support a larger business can be tough.
 
Not only does the individual need to excel professionally within their chosen specialism but they also need to be adept at marketing, sales, administration systems and processes, website management, IT, HR and finance. Arguably, financial literacy is one of the most critical assets as, without it, the success of the enterprise becomes at best compromised.  Poor financial literacy is, without doubt, one of the major reasons that so many self-employed enterprises fail within the first few years.  

Take for example an individual who has excellent turnover. They assume everything is ok because their sales ledger tells them it is but this individual has an insufficient understanding of cash flow. Despite successful sales, they have not forecast creditor needs and general expenditure such as annual tax payments and their business starts to suffer.

Although financial literacy is an essential skill, most schools do not teach it and neither do the majority of parents.  As such, an individual may leave academia with a praiseworthy understanding of their chosen speciality and establish their own enterprise but the inability to understand and reconcile their P&L, decipher assets from liabilities and truly understand their Balance Sheet jeopardises the potential of their business.
 
Financial training is therefore one of the most important investments that self-employed individuals should make if they are to successfully drive their enterprise.  Self-Study via internet sites is better than nothing and there are some great resources out there which will at least equip you with a basic understanding. Operating in the absence of a detailed knowledge and pressing ahead regardless could be something that the individual regrets later down then line when financial poor management catches up with them.
 
If you are yet to embark upon financial training or study, then here are some practical frameworks in the meantime:

•    Ensure you have excellent record keeping, including fully comprehensive sales and purchase ledgers.  Absolutely everything connected to the business and bought on behalf of the business should be tracked in detail (with receipts where necessary) and equally all sales made on behalf of the business should also be tracked.  Reconcile these ledgers weekly if not daily to ensure that income is meeting outgoings.
•    Prepare a budget – what out of the ordinary expenditure will be due?  This may include for example annual insurances, tax payments, IT renewals, professional membership renewals.  Review against purchase and sales ledgers.  Has enough money been put aside for these payments?
•    Consider the credit terms you offer to clients; does the speed at which you collect payments allow you to meet creditor demands?  If you are giving credit to clients then always reference their credit worthiness. There are plenty of companies online providing this service. Where possible take payments in advance.
•    Avoid taking on debt. Where possible defer large purchases until such a time as you’ve generated sufficient net profits to make the payments. Debt is a sure way to burden your business – often unnecessarily.  
•    Consider how best to develop your financial skills – whether this be via online research, online courses, mentoring from someone within your network or face to face training, it is essential that you put a development plan in place.  At the very least develop a detailed understanding of terms such as cash flow, profit margins, assets, liabilities, net profit, gross profit, balance sheet, expenses, operating costs and depreciation.
 
By prioritising the need for financial literacy you have already increased the chances of your business succeeding.  Get this fundamental skill under your belt and you give yourself a significant competitive advantage.

Training South West supply business training to companies across the South West, including Dorset, Somerset and Exeter.  Courses may be tailored specifically and delivered in-house, or, via open settings. Financial courses include 'Introduction to Finance Management' and 'Advanced Financial Skills'.

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Hero or Villain? How would you be Portrayed in an Online Customer Care Story?

Hero or Villain? How would you be Portrayed in an Online Customer Care Story?

The Somerset County Gazette featured an article on 24th September outlining a family's disgust at the accommodation they were placed in when visiting a holiday site in Burnham on Sea (a seaside resort in Somerset).

The family report what can only be described as a nightmare for any family who has spent money in the anticipation of a relaxing holiday.  Stomach turning photographs and the family's account of cigarette ends under the bed, an ants' nest, filthy hob,insect clad skylight and a lack of safety equipment  all add to the horror of the story. To add further damage, the report outlines the alleged lack of customer care by the company in question when responding appropriately to the family's issues.

Since, the British seem to love stories of this nature then, without doubt it will have been 'liked', 'shared' and commented on.

Although the company in question defend their position, the damage has been done and the situation truly reflects the impact of such stories on the internet and social media streams. Failure to deal with a customer complaint immediately and to the satisfaction of the customer does - and will continue to result in individuals using the internet to air their grievances.

The impact of such stories comes at a significant cost to the company and can undo years of positive PR very quickly. The stories can result in cancellations by people with existing future bookings and also a decline in the repeat business of individuals who would otherwise frequent the resort regularly.

Since the potential for an individual to provide toxic PR for your company through a poor customer care attitude is boundless, then a well communicated customer care plan coupled with strict customer care expectations for all staff members is essential.   Customer care training should be a core commitment of all businesses with a recognition that the business is nothing without its customers.  This commitment should be manifest in management behaviour and attitudes and training should be compulsory for all staff members. Staff should fully understand the customer care standards that the company has in place and methods for responding appropriately to even the most difficult customers.  It is paramount that they appreciate the significance of protecting the reputation of their company in such interactions and the damage that can potentially be done by mismanaging the situation. Managers should then monitor the situation closely; listen to how staff deal with customers, understand the potential impact on the customer and intervene if they feel that the customer has not received the level of customer care promoted by the company.  Ideally, there should be zero tolerance for any negligence in managing customer care needs.

Companies should also consider formal complaint procedures which allow complaints to be formally documented.  Formal complaint documents allow a company to identify trends.  For example, is this issue repeating itself?  If so, what preventative actions should be put in place to stop it happening in the first place or, if it's an issue which cannot be prevented (for example the Burnham on Sea complaint involves the invasion of ants which is common on agricultural land) then what robust contingent actions should be in place?  It may also transpire that a particular individual is involved in an excessive number of complaints.  Where this is the case,  increased customer care training becomes essential.

Good customer care stories make the news too. For example, an incredibly uplifting story, published by the Metro, in which a McDonald's employee took the time and care to help a disabled customer eat his meal went viral recently. Although this story is a genuine act of respect and kindness by the employee, it makes fantastic positive PR for McDonald's. McDonald's are certainly the hero of this particular article. Even in the event of a complaint,  a company's commitment to good customer care makes it more likely that the company will receive positive PR. For example, individuals communicating via Trip Advisor, Facebook or other avenues may report that 'despite x,y or z being an issue the company were quick to resolve the situation and took the complaint seriously'. Such stories result in potential future customers feeling assured that if an issue were to happen that the company would take immediate action to resolve the situation and they are more likely to trust making a booking with the company.

It is paramount therefore, that you protect your company from the type of bad PR experienced by the company in Burnham on Sea and ensure that your customer care processes work effectively and that your staff have equal buy in to the importance of the standards and procedures. Check your processes regularly and consider a 'secret shopper' to assess the degree to which your staff promote your standards.

Training South West provide Customer Care training and related business training to companies across the South West, including Somerset, Dorset and Exeter.

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Our Dedicated Somerset Training Venue

Our Dedicated Somerset Training Venue

Training South West has traditionally delivered its training from a dedicated training venue in Crewkerne, Somerset with beautiful, light airy training suites and great facilities. Delegates have always commented on the rooms as allowing a pleasurable space in which to learn.

Due to the way in which we work with our clients and the broad area covered across the South West, we have decided that dedicated training venues have value but that they are not always the right solution for our clients.  Why?

Our clients do not necessarily have the luxury of time to enable them to travel to a training destination which is not 'on their doorstep'.  For a client in Dorset, for example, taking a day out to travel to and from Crewkerne; whilst also battling peak hour traffic certainly does not make their life easy.

Since there are fantastic venues across the South West which are able to accommodate training delivery needs excellently then we have decided to make more use of them, particularly for our 'open' courses.  These venues are well established, have great facilities, catering on tap and happen to also be on the doorstep of our clients.  It makes more sense therefore, for the Training South West staff to do the travelling and hence remove the pressure off our clients. It's not uncommon for our clients to need to pop to the office before or after the course and for those who just want to enjoy a bit of a lie in and a slightly earlier finish then doorstep training is great!

Additionally, the venues which Training South West are now making more use of are local businesses and from a South West business perspective, why not also contribute to the businesses of our neighbours?

It's a win win all round.

If you have a venue that you feel would be great for our local training delivery then let us know.  Essentials on our ticklist include a large airy room equipped with projector, white board and 3 x flipcharts, two breakout rooms and catering facilities.  

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How well do you Performance Manage your Team?

How well do you Performance Manage your Team?

For those of us, fortunate enough to have worked under great managers early in our career, we rarely forget them and aspire towards their management attributes as we progress within our careers. I recall a conversation not too long ago with members of the team in which we discussed the ‘best managers’ for whom we’d worked and one colleague in particular was adamant that all her management skills were learnt from the manager that she held in such high esteem. She remained connected with him and would often approach him if in need of management advice or mentoring.

Management roles present us with an opportunity to really make a difference to an individual and to become that person that positively influences and shapes the development of team members as they progress within the organisation.

If you are new to managing a team, then be sure to get as much support as you can in the early days as this will undoubtedly shape your management success.

Open training programmes are a fantastic start as they give you the opportunity to meet other individuals new to field and to gain an insight into their experiences. These training programmes will also equip you with the fundamental, core performance management skills and challenge you with scenarios and case studies which you will undoubtedly have to deal with as part of your role.

For those of you not in the position to participate in training, here are some key considerations to help you along the way:

·         Ensure you fully understand the roles of your team members.  Where necessary, take the time to sit with them with and shadow them as they do their role.  Understand the challenges of their roles, the tools they use, the way in which their role is integrated with other roles across the organisation and also the success measures of their roles.  Why has the organisation invested in these roles?  What must these roles absolutely deliver in order for them to be of value?

·         If not already mapped, then map out Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for your team members. KPIs are the key objectives of the role; collectively the KPIs of individual roles help the overall organisation to meet their broader objectives

·         Since poor communication can often underlie performance issues, then be sure that all your team members understands their KPIs and what you expect of them – clearly prevention is better than remedy

·         If at any time it becomes apparent that one of your team members is having a difficult time with their role then speak to them immediately.  Performance often becomes an issue if managers leave the individual to it and hope they will find their feet.  Again, prevention of an issue is certainly easier for you and healthier for the self-confidence of the employee concerned if potential problems are averted

·         If discussing performance with any of your team then always ensure that the discussion is as open as possible. It should always be the individual and not you that dominates the conversation.  Failure to listen and failure to facilitate an open discussion will undoubtedly result in the core issues remaining undetected.  The issues are not always what you might assume they are as a manager, do don’t attend the meeting thinking that you have all the answers.

·         During this discussion, you will ultimately want to understand where in the cycle of their role they are finding challenges. On this basis, why are the challenges there?  Is it an issue with training?  Is it an issue with communication (perhaps the needs of the role have not been sufficiently clarified with the individual)? Does the employee lack the tools or materials essential to do their job properly?  Perhaps these tools or materials are not fit for purpose?  Do they need to be further developed / amended? Are other team members being helpful?  Is anyone inadvertently making the role of this individual more difficult than it need be by not fulfilling their own role adequately? Is the individual managing their time properly?  Could they benefit from time management training?

·         Undoubtedly, this conversation (coupled perhaps with additional shadowing of their role for a defined period) will throw light on the issues which need to be addressed. Discuss your findings with the individual and ensure that they are in full agreement with both the issues and your suggested solutions.  Can the individual further add to the solutions?  Is anything missing?

·         Create a shared document with the individual and outline each issue clearly; adding the activities which need to happen in order to correct the issue.  Discuss the document regularly with the individual and take a keen interest in their progress.

It is most likely that the activities outlined above will go a long way to addressing the situation; winning the respect of your team member and the preservation of their dignity and self-confidence.

Where these actions do not correct the situation and where the issue continues, it may be necessary to implement the formal disciplinary processes of your organisation. It is a legal obligation in the UK that companies have formal disciplinary processes in place and that these are followed as required. 

If you need any formal training support in this respect then do not hesitate to get in contact.  We partner South West businesses to deliver Business and Management related training courses across Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Gloucester and surrounding areas.   

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Join Us for Our Open Day

Join Us for Our Open Day

You're invited to our Open Day May 6th!

Come and join us to officially open our new training centre and meet with other local businesses for a bit of networking and nibbles.

We welcome you to come either between 12:00-14:00 or 18:00-20:00 on Tuesday May 6th 2014.

Networking Scavenger Hunt!

To make this time valuable for you, we are going to hold a Scavenger Hunt! You'll find out information about other local businesses as well as spread the word about your own. The winner will win a prize, but shhhh, it's secret…come and find out what it is ;)

We would love to see you on the day, so get that diary out and pen us in!

To register, please email Caroline on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For directions, please visit the 'Finding Us' section on our Training Centre page.

 

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