Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Three Kinds of Knowledge / Three Kinds of Training

Business Training, Technical Training, and . . .

A few weeks ago, I posted a note in my Small Biz Thoughts newsletter that got a huge response. You never know what will hit home for people.

I've been in the "training" business for a long time. Way back at the beginning, I decided to focus on business training rather than technical training. This blog has been 99% business focused from day one (in 2006). 

The training we think about in IT tends to be either focused on specific technologies or on business processes. Technical training often comes from, or is approved by, makers of hardware and software. And, if a product is popular enough, third parties provide training as well.

Business focused training tends to be provided by authors and coaches. I offer these services, as do my friends James Kernan, Rayanne Buchianico, and many others. And while these sometimes focus on getting the most from a tool or program, the focus is mostly on the processes that make businesses successful.

The third kind of training is harder to teach. It's all about the details of HOW you do what you do. It's about the care and attention you bring to a job. Let me give an example.

One time, I had a technician who has to be described as a technical genius. I'll call him Emil because I've never had a tech with that name. He could be sent on any job and he'd figure it out. Hardware, software, and even some coding. He was a fast learner and a fast worker. He saw the heart of a problem faster than anyone. And he fixed things right the first time. When he walked away, everything just worked.

But Emil lacked an important skill that eventually led to him seeking happiness with another company: He did not take a professional approach to his work. He would install a brand new rack of brand new equipment and it would look messy and horrible. No thought was given to the order of items in the rack. The wiring always looked like the "before" picture of a meme.

Emil took no pride in his work product. He took pride in his technical prowess, speed, and accuracy. But if the job looked ugly and amateurish, he did not care. To him, these aesthetic elements were irrelevant.

If Emil was a mechanic, there would be grease on the car seats and greasy fingerprints all over the fenders. If he was an electrician, you'd find gaps between the light switch and the hole in the wall. No attention to detail, no pride in workmanship, and no appreciation for the little things.

I'm not sure what you call the training that results in appreciating the details and doing things well. All professions have this training, but it's rarely separate from other training or offered stand-alone. It's built into the "little tips" you get along the way. It's what professionals do.

One time, Emil went to an important client's office to install a new piece of (expensive) equipment. When he left, we got a call that basically amounted to, "I never want him in my office again." Everything worked perfectly. Technically, it was correct. But it was ugly. He had not put attention on how the job looked when it was done. Obviously, we sent out another tech to clean up after the technical genius.

Aesthetics matter. Pride in work matters. The little things matter.

Some people think I'm a control freak (I really am not) because I have an SOP (standard operating procedure) for everything. But all those little SOPs matter because the little things matter. For example, as soon as I discovered white network cables, that what we put in client offices. Unless they wanted a technical "look" - which few did. Most offices have white and off-white walls. Why should their professional office be messed up with ugly blue or gray cables?

Similarly, I prefer Velcro over zip ties for one important reason: Something's going to change. A wire will be removed. A wire will be added. With zip ties, the result will either be ugly or involve a massive amount of rework.

The point is: YOU have a long list of these "little things" that you train your technicians on. None of them make the network work faster. But they give the technician pride in work while keeping the client from seeing your messiness every day at work.

Your brand is represented in everything you do - including the little things.

When a client invests in your company, they deserve a job that looks professional. When you spend money, you want to take pride in the result. So do your clients. And, as a rule, we expect more-senior technicians to do a better job of this than less-senior technicians.

Where does this third kind of training come from (whatever it's called)? It comes from the apprenticeship process - even when there's no formal apprentice program. It comes from the never-ending commentary of senior techs saying, "Pick up after yourself," or giving tips about how we do things around here.

And it comes from taking pride in your work! Ultimately it comes from a belief that there's a right way and a wrong way to do things . . . and WE do things the right way.

What do you say when you see greasy fingerprints on the fender or misaligned switch covers? You probably say, "Well, that's what I get for hiring an amateur." (Or saving money.) No client should ever have this reaction to work done by your company!

Bottom line: You need to make attention to the "small stuff" part of your company culture. If you do it right, the client may never notice. But if you do it wrong, they definitely will. And, ultimately, doing it right the first time needs to be part of your branding. Let the competition be known for rework and low quality.

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A version of this article was previously published in my Small Biz Thoughts newsletter. If you're not seeing it every week on Mondays, you should.

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