The employee-education equation is Zen simple: more input = more output. Input education and your people will output more productivity. You’re the conduit: Share what you know about building a business. If you keep it to yourself, you’re the one who’s a roadblock, perpetually frustrated that nobody else “gets it.” The same goes for sharing best practices. If one department or store builds a better mousetrap, see that it’s replicated throughout your company.
Consuming eight thousand square feet in our suburban Minneapolis headquarters, Tires Plus University included classrooms, an auditorium, and a virtual store complete with showroom and service bays. (In-house universities are expensive, but ours paid for itself in no time.) We enrolled new employees in weeklong courses with three primary objectives. First, TPU, as we called it, taught standardization—indispensable to an explosive outfit with employees from Milwaukee to Denver. Second, TPU made store responsibilities second nature for new hires, so they hit the ground running at their first store. Third, TPU taught product knowledge.
Familiarity breeds boredom. A new face in the office complements your in-house experts. Mike Norman, a franchisee for Dale Carnegie Training, lit a fire under a hundred of our regional and store managers during a half-day leadership workshop. “At the time, we needed to reinvent ourselves and quit relying so much on internal leaders to educate and motivate employees,” said Chris Koepsell.
Send employees to workshops that fi t their positions—and don’t neglect yourself. I took notes and collected handouts at numerous classes, conventions, and seminars so I could re-present the content to our management team.
I periodically asked my executive team to read a business or personal- growth book. I’d assign everyone a chapter or two to summarize at an upcoming meeting. The reaction was predictable— nobody liked homework, but everybody liked having done it. “I have a belated appreciation for Tom’s emphasis on downloading information about successful people and companies,” said Dave Wilhelmi, vice president of marketing. “I found myself reading more books at Tires Plus than I ever did in school. It was like getting an additional education while going to work every day.”
Mentoring is a terrific way a business owner can leverage one employee’s strengths to educate another. Mentors and mentees typically trade phone calls and regularly get together for lunch. If the right internal match doesn’t exist, go outside the company. Eric Randa, our vice president of loss prevention, trained under Gary Kasper more than twenty years ago at Montgomery Ward. Later, when we hired Eric to start up our loss-prevention program, he often called Gary to ask him how he’d handle a particular challenge. “It’s always good to talk to somebody who’s been there,” Eric said, “rather than try to reinvent the wheel.”
In the early days, Steve Varner was a wholesale rep eager for a fresh challenge. We obliged with an assignment to the collections department, followed by a bump up to credit manager that required him to squeeze people for money. Figuring there was more to the job, Steve signed up for a credit- and-financial-management course at the University of Minnesota. We were thrilled, and paid half of Steve’s tuition for every class in which he earned a B or better. “If I hadn’t gone back to school,” Steve said, “they would’ve eventually replaced me with somebody from the outside.” He’s right. Our rapid growth demanded that Steve know everything from calculating a customer’s credit risk to interpreting antitrust and collection laws.
Encourage your people to advance their education however it fits into their busy lives. It’s dangerous to assume they already have what it takes to play in the big leagues. Night and weekend courses make an immediate impact. Web-based distance learning makes formal education more convenient than ever.