ROSE NOLEN: Job training is more about people than work

Tuesday, July 3, 2012 | 4:56 p.m. CDT

I’ll always remember that it happened when my friend and I were working for the government. We had an election that year and the administration changed. We decided to make an agreement. We promised each other never again to say, the job couldn’t get any worse. The job got worse.

In my life, I have had a lot of jobs. Some were good, many were not so good. I had only one boss that I would have nominated as Boss of Any Year. That was because he loved his job, it seemed like the job he was called to do. In fact, several years later, when he was chosen to head a state agency in the same field, I recommended him in my newspaper column, something I wouldn't ordinarily do. He’s still my favorite boss.

Unfortunately, in my job history, that boss was an exception to the rule. He was not only well educated, but uniquely qualified for his field. He had the personality of a good leader. He was always full of ideas about how he and his staff could to do the job better. Once he had us all enroll in a prepaid college course so that we could gain new skills that we could apply to our work. He was well-suited to train other people on how to be a good boss.

On the other hand, I’ve worked for people who should never be a boss. The worst bosses are those that have character flaws. These people have had certain experiences in their lives that have scarred their personalities. They have a personal reaction to certain personality types with whom they have bad relationships in the past from which they never recovered. These personality types become personal enemies in the work environment, and the entire atmosphere becomes poisoned for everyone by the behavior of these two mismatched people.

At worst, these people are allowed to remain in their posts primarily because they know their jobs. Their bosses are acquainted with their flaws, but they lack the leadership skills to know how to manage the problem.

People without leadership skills create most of the problems in any work environment. On some jobs, employees in the human resource departments have fewer skills than most anyone else on the job. They seem to never learn people skills. Sometimes, simply moving certain individuals to another department can solve a problem.

Employees working in retail over the last 20 years have let us know that educational standards are not what they used to be. Somehow, most of these people have lost the ability to count change. If the cash register doesn’t do it for them, some find it virtually impossible to do it themselves. Fortunately, most registers in fast food establishments keep track of how much each item costs and adds the amounts together to come up with a total. Many employees can’t tell you how much a hamburger costs unless they read it from a bulletin posted on the wall.

The business of making money definitely has its challenges. Those at the low-end of the pay scale will usually remain there, unless they educate themselves.

Anyway, my work history taught me a lot about people. I have always said the reason job training programs fail is because the instructors spend too much time teaching people how to do the job. They would get better employees if they spent the first part of the training teaching people how to discipline their lives to prepare themselves to perform whatever job that needs to be done.

Maybe, with so many people still out of work, employers will get smarter. Creating a good work environment will encourage people to want to do a good job. That will be good for business.

Common sense is usually the best idea.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or emailing her at Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Mark Foecking July 4, 2012 | 4:25 a.m.

"They would get better employees if they spent the first part of the training teaching people how to discipline their lives to prepare themselves to perform whatever job that needs to be done."

Unfortunately that needs to be done outside of class. Learning discipline, restraint, and deferred gratification are things that are cultivated over decades, not taught in a few hours a week for a few weeks. Parents (and to a lesser extent schools) have to step up here and make lifestyle education a priority.


(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 4, 2012 | 9:19 a.m.

"They would get better employees if they spent the first part of the training teaching people how to discipline their lives to prepare themselves to perform whatever job that needs to be done."

MarkF, your response to this statement is spot on. You can't undo 2-or-more decades of poor life strategies with a short course. I, as an employer, felt no need to even try.

I got better employees by trying to make sure they had prepared themselves in the years before I ever knew them....a resume with things like a great transcript from a known good university, appropriate coursework, military service, activities like Boy/Girl Scouts, sports, no criminal record, and the like were good (but not foolproof) indicators. I always called prior employers and asked, "Would you hire this person again?" Folks always had an easy time with the question, "What are your greatest work assets?", but answers to the question "What are your greatest work liabilities?" were revealing.

I still made mistakes, tho. But I made fewer mistakes than I did good choices, and the bad choices were usually quickly corrected.

Rose discusses "bad" bosses, but never touches on whether she was a "bad" employee. The two are related, dontcha know.......

(Report Comment)
frank christian July 4, 2012 | 11:34 a.m.

An axiom in personnel hiring when I was doing it, was:
"People will do what they have done." If continually tardy, they will be continually tardy, etc. That was 60's basic philosophy. With the liberal vision of individual "rights", came laws (I recall when, to divulge the name of someone on welfare became illegal.)making it near impossible to find out what a prospect "has done". Employers had (have) no right to ask those personal questions.

My job in Consumer Finance (sounds better than loan business) was to hire and train asst. mgrs for promotion to mgr. of their own office. The best prospect I ever hired worked so hard and learned so well that he finished the program in record time. Rather than seek promotion, however, he quit and he and his dad bought the Sturgeon State Bank! I got sucked in, however, he was such a great guy, I was never able to become angry over the deception.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle July 4, 2012 | 12:40 p.m.

Which, of course, is exactly why we've decimated programs like Parents As Teachers. Yes, that's sarcasm. Take away the ounce of prevention, and you're liable for the pound of cure, regardless of how righteous anyone is about it.

I've only ever had one genuinely "bad" boss in my life. Interestingly enough, it was the same person who was a great boss for the first 6 years, and then just went nuts. After having seen the same person go from being a great boss to a terrible boss, I have a keen insight into what makes the difference.

When I finally found another job and left, a period of extremely high employee turnover ensued for that company. Even though they finally canned the bad boss a couple years later, their workforce stability has never fully recovered.

Bad bosses don't just hurt employees. This guy probably cost that company about a year and a half of gross revenue over the period of 5 years, and they are still suffering lingering effects of employee turnover.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 4, 2012 | 5:00 p.m.

Derrick: I've seen something similar to your experience.

I agree with Frank on the "People will do what they have done." Folks move job-to-job, sometimes for a quarter/hour and sometimes for a promotion or just something different because they are unhappy.

Seldom have I seen folks leave their baggage behind when they change jobs; instead, they bring it with them. That's unfortunate; they have failed to do their homework on "why things went bad". Like a fistfight, a bad job is a collaborative effort.

Similarly, there are bad bosses; when you have bad bosses who also hire those they can intimidate or mistreat, the problem gets infinitely worse. Turnover is usually the result and, if clients want continuity, the business will suffer.

A failing business, or one with employee problems, is ALWAYS a management problem, tho.

(Report Comment)
frank christian July 4, 2012 | 6:03 p.m.

I left the CF Co. after 13 years. It originated in the best American way. An individual borrowed $1,000 from his mother and $1,000 each from 4 friends and began financing Henry's Fords, back when. It was advertised that a cigar box, was his first cash register. The Peter Principal must have originated there as well. The incidents indicating idiocy, particularly in upper echelons of supervision were innumerable. A basic fault: An office with a new manager (invariably) would begin to show better monthly results than the rest. This guy would be put on a pedestal for the rest and fawned over by upper management. We others that operated according to law and rules began to know that soon this "king" would soon be fired for cooking his books to show better results, until his "Supervisor", who should have caught it early on finally identified the problem.

Those bent upon the silly theory that Corporations are not "People", must read this and take it to heart. It proves that Corporations are All people!

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