To train or not to train?

To train or not to train?

The most effective training in any industry is that which focuses on the needs of the company and has clearly defined objectives as to what that training is going to achieve. Behavioural change for the better, by way of enhanced knowledge and skills, will no doubt be at the heart of any such programme but the clearer the goals, the more likely the training is to succeed.

An example of this is a project I embarked upon early last year where the objectives were unambiguously set down from the dawn of the training. Namely, to increase the appraisal to instruction conversion rate from 41 per cent to 50 per cent while maintaining a minimum average commission percentage of 1.5% and an instructions to exchange ratio of 65 per cent. With these key goals clarified at the outset, all training content and principles needed to be directly linked to the achievement thereof – in other words, ideas or techniques which had no bearing on the objective (however interesting they might be) had no place in that particular training course.

A training needs analysis is the key starting point – it is worrying how few managers know how to assess training needs. This ‘training gap’ is actually relatively straightforward to identify – it is the difference between where the employee is now, and where you want them to be.

A lot of training in estate agency is, at the risk of sounding harsh, slightly ‘after the horse has bolted’. Some new entrants receive nothing bar a few hours “on the job” training which really only entails a chat with a more experienced colleague. On the other hand, an induction programme for new starters (whether industry experienced or otherwise) ensures that those recruits hit the ground running and that managers/directors do not have the pressure of dreaming up ad hoc training approaches each time an employee comes on board.

We have designed and supplied induction training materials and manuals to a number of agents and it is no coincidence that their staff turnover is lower as a result. Employees who are inducted properly and receive ongoing training support inevitably stay longer and ultimately the company will benefit from higher staff retention and a team who feels they are being invested in and developed.

In short, any training programme needs to be geared towards specific behavioural change – in other words, that the attendees will genuinely do things differently as a result of the training. This could be that they qualify applicants to an exceptional standard, that they improve their ability to secure viewings or referrals to mortgage advisers or conveyancers, or that they become more competent at negotiating offers between clients and applicants.

Once you have decided what the specific behavioural change is, you have two options – to design and deliver a training course yourself, or to outsource to specialist training providers. Whilst the former will seem an attractive option from an initial cost perspective, it may, potentially, be a false economy in the long run, as the effects on behaviour will be less likely to be achieved.

  It is often forgotten that the staff who will be attending the course should be informed as to why that is happening – some may see it as a punishment if you don’t explain the rationale to them properly. Remember the ‘WIIFM Rule’ – your staff may well be thinking ‘What’s in it for me?’ and it is your responsibility to answer that question positively to eliminate any resistance to the idea.

A training course should be an interactive, engaging, stimulating and enjoyable event – some I have witnessed (and attended) over the years have failed to tick a single one of those boxes!

If you do decide to do it yourself, ensure that it doesn’t become a ‘tell’ session – this will achieve little or nothing.

A session on each of the key areas of essential skills and knowledge needs to be included, and within each of those, discussion and deliberation, ideas and conclusions, and agreed action plans should be driven by the group as much as by the trainer. Agreed changes are far better ‘owned’ if they are reached by consensus rather than coercion.

Outsourcing is likely to be an easier more effective, although admittedly on the face of it more costly, option. Of course, it is important when assessing the true cost of a training programme, to calculate what time and input might be necessary when carrying out a ‘DIY’ approach. The management hours going into designing, writing and delivering the training will soon mount up and thus the outsourced option may not be as expensive as initially thought.

Given market conditions and taking into account the improvement in performance that a well-structured and delivered training course can bring, the question ought not to be ‘Can we afford to train our staff?” but rather “Can we afford not to?”

To find out about training solutions for your company, please call 01480 405583 or email