What I Learned about Training by putting my head through a windshield
Updated: Oct 6
I graduated from college with a shiny new degree that I thought would take me far. Instead, it took me to central New York State to a radio station at the top of a mountain.
On day one, I was excited to learn how to sell radio commercials. My new manager shared the station's staff drama, of which there was a ton, and gave me a cassette tape as training. He also sent me out for one day of shadowing his most successful salesperson, who got himself an ice cream cone after each close.
The cassette tape wasn't all bad. One of its lessons has been a valuable touchpoint throughout my career…"Don’t tell me what I can’t do until after I have tried." I also learned that regular ice cream rewards were a bad idea for a salesperson who was very good at his job ... there was the distinct possibility of negative health side effects of that success.
With my newfound knowledge, I set out on my sales career. Within a week, I closed my first deal with Binghamton/Johnson City Monuments. What, a headstone store? Yes, with my knowledge of the tell-me-sell-me technique I had learned on my cassette tape training, I asked question upon question until my great knowledge had me offer him just the right advertising program to sell to the nearly dead. This was also my first lesson on targeting the folks that will benefit from what you are offering. My radio station programmed the Music Of Your Life format, a lovely mix of the ’30s and 40’s music truly targeting an audience of a certain age.
My next sale came quickly. This one was to a tire repair store. Unfortunately, the manager was a young guy - and no cassette tape could have prepared me for this sales call.
After I sold them a year sponsorship of the traffic reports at a 10% discount for committing to a year, I proudly went back to my manager to share the BIG news. In a loud voice that at the time seemed like yelling, he told me I had no right to cut the price without his permission. By the way, the 10% was only $1 (commercials were cheaper back then). He sent me back to the owner, who was not as friendly as the manager, to tell him that he had to pay me the extra dollar for each commercial. There was no mistaking his tone for yelling, and certainly asking me to leave his business was very clear as well.
I left and promptly rear-ended another car, thrusting my chin into the steering wheel and my head through the windshield.
The lessons I learned from this experience were not lost on me for the rest of my career. Now, as a fundraising consultant, these lessons still serve me.
1) Train and coach your team (or find the right consultant or coach to help you do that) so that they can:
• Know your product
• Be powerful in the field
• Be aware of pricing limitations or know what benefits are for a donation at a certain level
2) Teach your team lessons without breaking their spirit…Be a leader and coach who teaches them, not chastises them
3) Find a positive in each situation, especially with new people, to drive home what they did that was correct - their ears will be more open to coaching
4) Always remember there is NO sale/commitment worth smashing up your car (or head) to close.
After this incident, my enthusiasm for the position, the management, and even the field took a nosedive. And justly so. However, I had not been told the correct way to do something; I was quickly chastised for doing it the “wrong” way.
(By the way, I cannot believe they turned down a yearlong contract over $1 a commercial).
I started looking for a new position almost immediately and left that job after a total of just 3 months.
As we all know, employee turnover is a major concern at nonprofit organizations, with most fundraisers not even making it to their 2nd anniversary. Ongoing high employee turnover can have a devastating effect on an organization, especially if the lost employees are high performers. Relationships disappear, team morale goes down, and you are back in the hiring cycle, which takes time away from management doing their job. Then there is the financial cost of losing employees. Again, this takes money away from delivering on your mission.
So how does training stem the tide of Turnover? To quote Dorie Clark in her article in Harvard Business review- “Excellent managers scan the horizon for new development opportunities for their employees and think proactively about how to help them develop new skills".
Start from the VERY beginning.
Training plays an integral role in the Integration process for employees. Employees start their new positions with great attitudes, ready to learn how to be the very best they can be at their jobs.
Proper onboarding (and I don’t just mean explaining policies and insurance) allows your new hire to get up to speed quickly. Help them understand the why, the what, the who and how to get the job done.
Share with them:
-Your mission history and story.
-How you deliver on the mission
-How you have raised money in the past
-Details of any ongoing and upcoming Fundraising opportunities
-Who is on your board, and what role do they play in the organization
-Who are the other Leaders/Directors and other managers, and what are their jobs
-When are meetings, with who-and what are their goals
-How to use your CRM and other data sources that are specific to your organization
-And of course, details about benefits, systems, expectations, hours, insurance, and where to find the bathroom
I am not saying this all has to be done on the first day. But if done well and early in their tenure, it gives new team members a chance to learn the correct way from the beginning. Plus, it gives each hire the chance to feel confident early in their time at your organization and feel your real commitment to their success.
Then, Don’t stop!
Ongoing training, first and foremost, makes your entire team better at their job. Second, you raise more money to fund your mission and hit and surpass goals.
The team feels the organization cares enough about them to increase their knowledge and ready them for their next career move (hopefully within the organization). They get to brainstorm ideas with their peers and share knowledge and experiences. Management also gets an up-close view of each team member who is “very best at” and allows them to share their knowledge.
When asked why people leave their job, many would rank money as the first reason that staff exit. But it is not.
Feeling good about a job, sensing that they are appreciated, having opportunities to learn new skills, and support for doing their job well outrank pay in the minds of most workers.
Good pay will hold people for a while. But, paying attention to these other factors works better. So, where is your attention focused?
Of course, it is always the risk that you train, and they still leave. But, you can be assured that if you don’t train and help those who want to grow to do so, they positively will leave.
Please take these words to heart- And remember, as your staff improves their skills and functions as a team…your job will also get easier.
****A bit of an UPDATE on this story********
Although I did not credit her by name...The training tape I reference in this blog was by Pam Lontos. I NEVER actually spoken to her (just about her) before Friday, When a post she shared showed up on my feed.
I picked up the phone and said...
Hello Pam, This is Sharon Kitroser. You don't know me, but you are a part of my story.
We shared a great call and promised to stay in touch. The call truly touched her, and I was blown away by her reaction
It is NEVER too late to say thank you
Saying thank you gives you a gift too
A few words can change someone's life