When I was 10 years old my parents bought me a new bike. Well, not new exactly but a bike at least. Now this bike (I called her Martha) was a little rough around the edges. At one point she had been a beautiful silver and burgundy number but by the time she came into my possession her sparkling handlebars and alloys had been covered by rust and the brakes and gears had seen better (and safer) days.
My dad swore he would fix Martha and have her good as new within no time. But as the summer drew on, progress was slow, until finally, one day, I became impatient. I invaded the family shed, rooted out a half bottle of silver spray-paint, and I gave Martha a makeover. By the end she looked fantastic, good as new even. But as soon as I took her out for out for a ride in the British drizzle everything went wrong. I noticed a trail of silver running behind me and Martha, like a long, shiny tail. Martha was shedding her silvery new coat all over the road. I tried to stop but the brakes were still broken. Ultimately, I had to do a kamikaze dive into a bush to make my escape. By the time I made it home, I was cut and bruised and the bike looked no different to how it had done before my painting frenzy. My bike had never been new again; it was always the same, broken machine, with a temporary new coat of paint smeared over the rust.
Even now, years later, it can be tempting to make the same mistake again. The quick fix option can make something broken look so attractive, so quickly, and a can of spray-paint only costs a couple of quid. However, the impact of any such makeover is generally only cosmetic. It’s not hard to address the superficial issues within an organisation. Just put your team through a standalone training programme, teach them a mantra, give them a strategy, the whole business will be as good as new. But unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like that. Research indicates that 95% of what is learned within a classroom is forgotten within one month. This means that, although the team may come out of the programme tight and capable, that shiny coat of paint will soon wash off and you’ll be left with the same rusty bike.
A focus on sustainability has to be at the core of every training intervention. If you really want to improve your sales force, really equip them with the skills to work to best practice, then you have to address the fundamental issues within your organisation. This means objectively identifying the areas in which your team needs help, and creating a tailored programme of development to fill these capability gaps. Furthermore, you need to reinforce the training that is given to your team by supporting change in the long-term so that improvements are embedded into the day to day running of the business. It’s not enough to put your team through a few days training and then expect them to adopt an entirely new way of doing things for the rest of their lives. It is only through an ongoing process of coaching and support that change is really instilled into a person and into the organisation as a whole.
I suppose that the lesson I garnered from my broken bike, bruised elbows and paint-stained bottom was that there’s no such thing as a quick fix. It’s the same with almost anything in life: if you want to create something worthwhile, then you have to be willing to invest time and effort. The same adage rings true, whether you’re a 10 year old girl or a CEO: anything worth having is worth working for.