April 25 2007 11:40 AM

Many people are familiar with the "TEAM" acrostic: Together Everyone Achieves More. To make this acrostic hold true, it is imperative that we develop the people on our teams. HR experts make a distinction between training (improving people's skills in their current jobs) and development (improving skills for future roles). Both training and development are essential and can be inter-related. We train and develop our people though a two-step process:

1)         Education learning what to do

2)         Application doing what you learned. To "walk my talk," I'll illustrate my usage of these tools.


1.         College/University Classes As a long-time university instructor, I can attest to the value of having your people take classes to broaden their knowledge and sharpen their basic skills. Whether a person is degree-oriented or not, taking classes in management, operations, human resources, finance, information technology, etc. provides an educational foundation, which enhances a person's ability to excel at doing real work back at the workplace. My company (Portland General Electric) understands the value of formal education and offers a tuition reimbursement program for employees.


2.         In-House Classes and External Seminars Larger companies often have in-house classes available on a variety of useful topics. There are a number of companies (e.g., Fred Pryor, CareerTrack) that offer one- or two-day seminars on useful topics, ranging from working with vendors, to time management, to dealing with difficult employees. I build in dollars in my budget to cover some classes for employees, and I urge you to do so, too.


3.         Conferences Participating in conferences like the National Postal Forum and MailCom is a great investment and has many benefits. I am actively involved in conferences and get some of my people involved because nothing matches the opportunities at a good conference: ability to learn best practices from the top leaders and practitioners in the industry; ability to learn and see in action the latest technology; ability to network with peers, vendors and industry experts; and the stimulation to go back home and move your operation to a higher level of excellence. Some may say they can't afford to attend a conference I would say, how can you afford not to?


4.         Trade Associations I belong to my local PCC (www.usps.com/nationalpcc) and MSMA (www.msmanational.org) and encourage you to do likewise and have some of your team members join you. Trade associations provide opportunities for learning, networking and professional development. Volunteering to serve in your local chapter further enhances the benefits to you and your organization by deeper networking and leadership development.


5.         Professional Certification Programs Pursuing certification programs is a great way to challenge yourself and deepen your understanding of the field. My four supervisors have three certifications among them, and the majority of the Printing and Mail Services department is certified. The key certifications related to the mail industry are: Certified Mail Systems Distribution Manager (CMDSM see MSMA website); Executive Mail Center Manager (EMCM see USPS website); Certified Mail Manager (CMM www. ipma.org) and Mail Quality Control Specialist (MQCS see USPS website).


6.         Recurring Team Meetings Many teams meet on a periodic basis for information-sharing purposes
which is good. However, there is an opportunity to add an education component to some of these recurring meetings. You or your team members can report out on learning from conferences and local trade association events. You can invite subject matter experts from other parts of your company to do presentations. I have used experts from finance, HR, customer service and various operational areas to help educate us.


7.         Off-Site Training Days For concentrated learning, taking people away from the work site for a one half- or full-day training session is unbeatable. I have off-site training for entire teams that often focuses on team-building skills in addition to technical training. We have quarterly off-site meetings for my supervisors, which leads the focus on leadership and management training.


8.         Trade Journals Trade journals are a great tool to keep up with current developments in the industry and to learn best practices from industry experts. A couple of free and valuable publications to subscribe to are Mailing Systems Technology (mailingsystemstechnology.com) and USPS's MailPro (www.usps.com).


9.         Job Shadowing Job shadowing involves having a person spend a period of time (often one to eight hours) "shadowing" another to better understand what that person does. I have used job shadowing to allow potential supervisors or managers to shadow myself or one of my supervisors to gain a feel for what is expected. Team members have shadowed others in connecting departments to broaden their understanding of the interfaces between departments.


10. Mentoring Serving as a "mentor" or participating as a "mentoree" is educational and valuable. I spent three years as a "mentoree" with a vice president of the company. I learned a lot from the 
experience and had a good sounding board when facing challenges on my teams. Likewise, I have served as a mentor to a number of employees within the company in recent years and really have enjoyed the opportunity to help develop people and support mutual learning.


11. Special Projects and Assignments Giving people a chance to work on special projects is a great method to learn new skills and apply "book learning." I will intentionally give team members projects to lead or support as opportunities to help them gain hands-on experience and build their practical expertise.


12. On-Job Training and Cross-Training It's been said that nothing beats on-job training (OJT) for skill development. Providing OJT by supervisors or experienced teammates helps people understand and perform the tasks they need to be successful. Cross-training provides people a chance to develop new skills and expertise and gain new experiences that stimulate professional growth.


13. Non-Profit Volunteering The late management guru Peter Drucker was a big proponent for volunteering in non-profit organizations. Volunteerism is a classic "win-win" the non-profits gain value from the volunteers, and the volunteers also benefit. Benefits to volunteers include the chance to network with people outside the company, the chance to use and sharpen existing skills and the opportunity to develop leadership abilities by actively working with others to help the non-profit pursue its mission of serving its communities. We are blessed at Portland General to have a CEO (Peggy Fowler) who strongly supports and encourages volunteerism. I personally sit on the boards of five non-profits and encourage my team members to serve.


Seeing people personally and professionally grow is very rewarding. Good luck to you as you work to develop your people!


Dr. Wes Friesen is the Manager of Revenue Collection & Community Offices for Portland General Electric. Wes can be contacted at Wes.Friesen@pgn.com.