Business Goes Back to School

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Over the past few years, business conditions bordered on brutal — cutbacks, layoffs and losses began to feel commonplace. Now at the midpoint of 2011, business is on an upswing and many organizations have found the light at the end of the tunnel.

As the economy continues to rebound, business leaders are emerging from “survival mode”# and are taking steps to grow and energize their business. Training, employee development and continuing education are once again back on the table as necessary business to-do”s. So, we asked some leading business brains: What”s the best thing you did for your business in the last year in terms of continuing education, professional development and corporate training?

Mentoring Others
Mentoring is a win-win situation for the new employee, the experienced veteran employee and the company. It helps the mentee become more proficient at his or her job, it”s good for the mentor to give back by sharing wisdom and it helps the company by developing well-rounded, knowledgeable professionals that make production successful.

Executive Vice President of KeyWorth Bank Neil Stevens believes highly in education as an ongoing process designed to build upon the experience and knowledge that the employee already possesses. “We utilize existing associates who have gained expertise in a particular area to teach and equip other associates – This approach is valuable for both the associate teaching as well as the associates being taught.”#

Larry Talbert, president of Talbert Insurance, also sees it vital to provide free continuing education to associations. “Every six months, I teach five hours for the Florida Landsurveyors council.”#

Working as a Team
Similar to mentoring, working together as a united team of business professionals is the only way to effectively meet goals and achieve the company”s vision.

Cleve Long, founder of BodyPlex Fitness Adventure, ensures productivity with his team of fitness professionals by revamping the “business as usual” model. “This year we decided to knock out a wall and create an Experience Lab (conference room) that is used weekly for a staff meeting where we focus almost exclusively on ways to better serve our customers. We brainstorm ways to keep them engaged and anticipating their next workout.”# He continues, “It”s revolutionary in this industry to focus on service, but it”s more exciting for the staff to focus on having fun and offering support for those around them as compared to a sales-focused model.”#

Seeking Knowledge from Outside Experts
With improving economic conditions, companies are starting to see the value or funds for providing their employees with expert outside training and professional development.

Lissa Versteegh, president of Georgia Sales Development, Inc./Sandler Training, has been a go-to pro for companies who want to develop effective sales methods. Although this past year, Versteegh has changed her business approach to better fit her clients” needs to acquire good customer service techniques. “This past year, with the effects of the economy, many companies have begun to realize the importance of hanging onto their existing customers.”#

With this in mind, Versteegh has helped launch a new Strategic Customer Care program. “It [the program] has paid huge dividends for both us and them. I”ve learned some new competencies and now I can serve my clients better.”#

Robert Andoh, area director for the Gwinnett office of the Georgia Small Business Development Center (SBDC), is seeing business owners with a myriad of needs and interests. “Pre-venture and new venture firms are very interested in getting their firms launched and on a growth path. Many of them choose to attend our Entrepreneur Success Series (ESS), a program of seven courses giving them the information to establish their firms with an appropriate legal structure, set up business records, explore financing and develop business and marketing plans to guide them as they grow. “#

Going With Your Gut
Although seeking outside experts may be a desirable option for corporate training, business executives must remember they are also experts in their field and can give the greatest insight on their company”s vision.

BB Webb, owner of the Carl House, believes that going with her gut has benefited her this past year. “As I”ve listened more to my instincts as a business person, I”ve hired better and restructured roles differently at Carl House. This restructuring has helped us save on costs and worked to create greater synergies within my team, which impact our clientele immeasurably. “#

Advertising is a sure fire way to get a company”s name out into the local business mix. Ads in popular and credible publications assist a business in building a brand with new and existing clientele. Larry Talbert did just that this past year to promote his company – Talbert Insurance. “We dedicated more advertising dollars to our local areas. We put a lot more effort in branding both with our website and out in the community. We advertised in local publications and Internet marketing programs to local businesses and individuals.”#

Educating Staff on Industry Developments and Trends
Keeping employees familiar with the latest developments and hottest trends in their industry is vital to keeping them at the top of their game.

Since strokes are the number one disabler of adults in the United States and third highest cause of death after heart disease and cancer, it”s important for Eastside Hospital to be committed to both stroke prevention and education. “An essential part of our stroke program is continuing education for physicians, nursing staff and all other employees in the hospital. Each group is required to maintain a prescribed number of education hours relating to care of the stroke patient,”# says Mary Hudgins, RN, MSN, and stroke coordinator at Eastside Hospital.

Gwinnett Technical College, the county”s largest provider of corporate training, offers hundreds of seminars and workshops to improve job skills and provide specialized training. “We”re finding that business leaders are seeking customized training for their employees in a variety of subject areas,”# says David McCulloch, vice president of economic development. “Many of our business clients are requesting training for their staff on the newer versions of the Microsoft Office products. We”re also seeing an upswing in requests for management and leadership training. “#

This year alone, Gwinnett Tech delivered twice the number of training sessions in supervisory, project management and Six Sigma leadership training compared to last year.