Mark Robert Halper

And to get a strong return on that investment, don’t merely teach your staff new skills. Help them to put those skills to use.

Too many business owners tell me that they are overwhelmed. They complain that employees underperform, aren’t committed to the business, and don’t understand what it takes to keep the doors open. All too often, these business owners also feel they have to step in and do just about everything if it’s going to be done right or quickly.

Is it possible that employees can’t work to your expectations because you, as “the expert,” never let them become experts? Be honest. Your expertise didn’t just magically happen; it took time and experience. If you ever intend to hand off some (or all) of your business’ major responsibilities, you might need to change how you lead — and hence create a better team.

Learn to see virtually all problems or challenges as learning experiences. When faced with challenges, ask yourself, “How can we solve them and strengthen employees’ competence in this area at the same time?” Or, better, “How can I help my employees to do this so well that I don’t need to do it myself any more?”

Stop being a technician and supervisor. Become a developer of people and a manager of outcomes.

Get Everyone on the Train

Consider this strategic team-development training mix:

Off-site training is often a good start — if the content is potentially valuable to the business and if the trainees know how to put their new knowledge to work. As a people developer, help your employees choose training that will let them take on more responsibility. Understand what they will learn, and plan ahead for how they can put that knowledge to work right away.

Complement and bolster off-site training with on-site training. For instance, besides sending sales staff to sales training programs, role-play back at the office; have sales pros show the office manager (or others who answer the phone) how to take prospects’ calls and complete lead sheets.

Finally, where possible, have employees train one another, always pre-qualifying the knowledge and delivery style of the trainers. Using the example above, you might have an experienced salesperson train the office manager, explaining how lead sheet information is used during the sales process. Invite a less-experienced salesperson to sit in on this training as well.

Then, to be sure all the pieces fit together, have separate conversations with the two sales professionals. Also debrief with them after sales calls, to be sure that they are on the same page and that the new training is being used correctly.

Keeping the Train on the Tracks

Benefits of this three-tiered training strategy: It forces employees to pay attention to what they learn and to be prepared to discuss that new knowledge. It helps you qualify the training’s accuracy and relevance, and either head-off any misdirection or fill in gaps. It very well might yield new tools and strategies for your business; credit your staff for bringing these back!

Finally, perhaps most valuably, this training strategy will strengthen your staff’s ability to apply new skills and knowledge in ways that free you and other leaders from having to feel responsible for the outcomes. You’ll get more time to work on things that have greater value for your business.

Learning theory shows that people are most ready for change under conditions of moderate tension or anxiety. Are you and your staff ready yet? What will your 12-month outlook look like at this time next year? Will you still be overworked and frustrated? Or will your staff be empowered to share in your workload and responsibilities? Mark your calendar to ask yourself these questions on Jan. 1, 2011.

—Shawn McCadden founded, operated, and sold a successful design/build company. A co-founder of the Residential Design/Build Institute and former director of education for a national K&B remodeling franchise, Shawn speaks at industry events and consults with remodeling companies.