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The training option.

Having trouble recruiting and retaining staff members with the skills necessary to meet your members' needs? Start thinking about staff training as an association benefit. It can be, if you direct training toward accomplishing association goals as well as developing the individual employee. If your association is going to be as efficient and effective as possible, you need to develop your human resources as much as you do your other resources--no matter what your association's size.

For our purposes, training consists of instruction in the knowledge and skills needed to perform in a work situation. It's useful to think of job-related training as either interpersonal or technical. Working well with volunteers is an interpersonal skill; using a word-processing package is a technical one.

Start with the needs of your association. Barbara Ramey Fox, director of communications and membership services for the American Cemetery Association, Falls Church, Virginia, warns us not to overlook the basics. Educating new employees about the structure of the association and the special interest it represents is crucial. The first training any new employee receives should be in the organization's culture and the importance of members as clients, Fox says.

Evaluate specific needs

Examine your association's strategic plan or list of current and planned major activities. What interpersonal and technical knowledge and skills does your staff require to accomplish your association's goals during the next few years? Are you about to embark on a major automation project? Is it time to enhance customer service?

Once you know what you hope to accomplish for your association, assess your current human resources. Do your job descriptions or personnel records tell you about your employees' current knowledge and skills? At the Tidewater Builders Association (TBA), Chesapeake, Virginia, job descriptions include a list of the specific things the individual in the position is expected to be able to do. Job descriptions are placed in the personnel manual so that everyone is aware of the range of skills that ought to be available within the association.

In the private sector, a number of companies keep a list of each employee's training experiences and demonstrated skills in the individual's personnel folder and make it the person's responsibility to see that the list is updated annually.

Not certain about the match between staff resources and association needs? Consider a training needs assessment. This type of survey focuses on the skills and knowledge that the organization is lacking, not on those that are present. Keep any inquiry short and simple. If you can informally poll people, fine. Never ask supervisors and employees for wish lists; if you raise expectations that your budget cannot meet, staff morale will suffer. Always ask for training needs in relation to specific department or association goals and activities.

Special polling or surveys may not be necessary if your supervisors and managers use your association's annual or semiannual performance reviews as an opportunity to identify employees' development needs. As assistant vice president and director of personnel at the Association of American Railroads, Washington, D.C., Penny Prue monitors performance reviews and personnel situations to identify employee development needs that require training solutions. Solutions at AAR range from using special videotapes to teach a supervisor how to conduct an appraisal to sending secretaries to two-day time-management seminars.

According to Irma Brosseau, of the Brosseau Group, management consultants in Reston, Virginia, using performance reviews to identify employee development needs is most effective if you use skill-based performance objectives. Set a performance objective of error-free work for support staff who prepare letters and documents, for example. Unless a manager takes time to identify the skills needed to produce error-free work, such as the ability to proofread, he or she may overlook the possibility that a course in proofreading can improve performance.

Whatever technique you use to identify the staff skills and knowledge your association requires, be sure you don't overlook the need for interpersonal skills training when you appoint people to their first supervisory or managerial position. Frequently people who are good at doing something technical, such as planning a meeting or producing a magazine, are promoted to management and are unfamiliar with skills like delegating work.

Is it worth it?

Once you've identified a training need, the next step is to weigh the costs and benefits to the association of providing the training. Human resources have a potential and a life span just as other resources do. Answer the following questions to decide whether or not to provide the training needed:

* Will the person be with the association long enough to justify the cost of training?

* Will the training encourage the person to stay with the association longer than might be expected otherwise?

* Is the skill or knowledge involved so crucial to the association's effort that trainng must occur, even though there is no assurance that the person will remain with the association for an extended period of time?

* Is the person capable of learning the skill or knowledge involved, in terms of ability and motivation?

* Will the person be able to train others in the new skill?

Put some money in your budget for staff training to ensure you'll be able to invest in it when necessary. Some executives make it a budget item for the whole association; others make it a departmental budget item. At the Association of American Railroads, if the human resource department plans a central training event, other departments are assessed a cost for each participant they send to the event.

At the Tidewater Builders Association, according to Kay Weaver Hurley, director of membership services and special councils, each department has a professional development budget, but funds are shifted from one department to another as needed. The funds are used to reimburse employees for attending seminars, workshops, and college courses.

Sometimes the funds are used to send a staff member to the national association's meetings to broaden that person's perspective on the association. The TBA supervisor involved confers with the employee about the appropriateness of using departmental funds for a particular professional development opportunity.

Use a mix of training types

Once you've identified your association's needs, decide what types of training will best meet them. You can choose among on-the-job training, cross training, and formal training.

On-the-job training is the most common form of training for association staff members. It occurs when the employee's peer or supervisor explains or demonstrates what should be done. Frequently, this is how association employees learn to use a particular software package or to master the basic procedures for which they will be responsible.

For on-the-job training to be effective, however, it must be as accurate, complete, and timely as the assigned task requires. Supervisors should provide documentation and work aids, such as standard operating procedures, manuals, and charts or tables. Don't have any documentation for a key activity? Have the very next person who trains someone document the steps involved. Your association needs this documentation for backup just as much as the new employee needs it to get up to speed.

A second strategy for ensuring effective on-the-job training is to develop your supervisors' and managers' training skills. Give staff development more than just lip service: Present it as a professional development opportunity for your supervisors and managers, as well as a job requirement. Make staff development an element in their job descriptions and one of their annual performance objectives. But don't stop there. Prepare your senior staff to develop their people with easy-to-use train-the-trainer materials.

A third strategy for making on-the-job training effective is to provide it to all employees, not just new ones. For example, a common concern among association executives is how to retain skilled, ambitious employees when the number of management positions available for upward mobility is limited. Use developmental assignments for these people and for any employee who has mastered his or her basic responsibilities.

A developmental assignment develops specific knowledge or skills. Ask support staff to solve their own problems, for example; someone who creates a system to ease backup in the copier room feels involved and more invested in the job.

To help a manager exercise evaluation skills, ask him or her to evaluate an existing association program or service. The association benefits in this scenario, too. For ideas on developmental assignments for managers, I use a report available for the Center for Creative Leadership, Greensboro, North Carolina.

Cross training is a special form of on-the-job training that benefits both the association and the individual staff member. A peer or supervisor teaches the employee to perform a task or job usually related to--but outside the normal scope of--the one he or she currently performs. Membership and meetings staff frequently are cross trained in one another's high-pressure activities, such as membership renewals or annual meeting registrations.

Employees gain new knowledge and skills and experience some variety in the work routine. Meanwhile, your association has more flexibility to respond to changing needs and is less dependent on the ability of one or two people to perform a ke task.

To avoid people reacting negatively to "having to do someone else's work," your supervisors should present cross training as a job requirement and a developmental opportunity for the employee. To ensure that cross training occurs, build it into the employee's job description and annual performance plan.

In contrast to on-the-job training and cross training, formal training takes place off the job. You can offer your staff members formal training in your association facilities or off site. Either way, formal training will cost more than on-the-job training or cross training, because people are away from their desks and special instructors or training materials are involved.

Select delivery and materials

Once you decide on the type of training that best meets association needs, give some thought to how to deliver it. If only one or two people need a certain type of training at a time, training delivery can be one-on-one or even self-instructed with a little guidance. If you choose instructor-led materials or a video-based program, will there always be an instructor, a classroom, or a VCR and monitor available when needed? The way your training will be delivered affects your choice of training materials.

Training materials range from off-the-shelf to totally customized. Off-the-shelf materials come as is. They are comparatively less expensive and immediately available. The trade-off is they are not tailored specifically to your association.

One off-the-shelf product a number of association human resource professionals report using is the inexpensive "Fifty-Minute" series of softcover books and related videos on common management and employee development topics produced by Crisp Publications, Inc., Los Altos, California.

The Tidewater Builders Association has found several creative and economical ways to use available training resources. TBA maintains an audiocassette library on career and interpersonal skill topics. Staff members can check out audiotapes at their convenience. They also can attend educational programs TBA offers to members if the topic is relevant to the employee's work--such as a marketing seminar.

As a local association, TBA hosts leadership training programs for member volunteers offered by its national association and has its staff members attend if the topic is relevant. Hurley suggests inviting a national or state staff member in town for a presentation to your leaders to also meet with employees over a brown-bag lunch for a staff development presentation.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from off-the-shelf training materials are customized products developed to meet your particular needs. Customized materials are more expensive. To decide between customized and off-the-shelf materials, ask yourself whether your really need materials tailored to your association--and if so, to what extent.

A compromise is to purchase off-the-shelf material and make some minor changes in the examples or activities to reflect your association's unique situation and needs. For example, take a workbook and use only selected parts or apply the given procedure to your own situations. If your training supplier or consultant makes changes in materials or a presentation for you, there is a fee. Keep in mind, too, that most materials are copyrighted.

In addition to deciding between off-the-shelf and customized materials, you will need to decide whether you need association-oriented content. Make this decision on the basis of the skills and knowledge involved. Word processing is word processing. But there are some unique aspects to association accounting that cannot be overlooked. And motivating volunteers can be very different from motivating other types of groups.

Get managers to buy into


All the careful planning and selection in the world won't make a difference in your staff's skill level and performance if you don't get your supervisors and managers to buy into the importance of developing their people. Immediate supervisors are the key to the transfer of training to the job. If they do not prepare their subordinates for training, reinforce it while it is occurring, and see to it that the training is immediately applied, your investment is wasted.

How do you get your supervisors and managers to take the development of your association's human resources seriously? You take it seriously. Build staff development into every supervisor's and manager's annual performance plan-including your own. And then give it real attention.

At the Building Owners and Managers Institute International, Arnold, Maryland, before a manager has his or her performance review, the person must have completed all performance reviews for subordinates. Furthermore, according to Kathleen Pritchett, vice president of finance, the performance review is scheduled separate from and prior to the salary review to allow salary decisions to truly reflect performance.

Human resources are the largest expense in most association budgets. Successful executives use human resources as strategically as they do other resources. Training is one means. Given members' expectations and the current labor market, you can't afford not to use it.

Joyce A. Kozuch is a consultant for staff and organizational development located in Arlington, Virginia.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:making staff training an association benefit
Author:Kozuch, Joyce A.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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