How do I get my people trained? Why can't I find trained people? Who has time for training? These are three questions that successful companies in mature industries typically do not have to ask because: Employers have training resources available, people can find training that makes them desirable employment candidates, and employers understand that training yields rewards that far exceed the cost in time and resources. But before they ever got to this point, there needed to be an alignment of four key forces: knowledge, affirmation, proximity, and trust. Audio-Visual Rental & Staging is not there yet. But the cosmic forces are beginning to form and will eventually come together.
The first requirement for Rental & Staging to reach the tipping point for ongoing learning is for a body of knowledge to come together. This is not just all the hundreds of variations on how we do things, there needs to be a conventional wisdom on the best way of doing things. Best practices reduce the number of things we need to teach by allowing us to focus on the most viable ones. The next step is standards--measurable, quantifiable, verifiable standards. Standards can't apply to everything, but they can narrow what needs to be learned in a particular area because developers, manufacturers, and users are all applying the same principles. InfoComm International is collecting the Rental & Staging body of knowledge and several volumes are posted on the InfoComm website awaiting your comments and additions. Go to www.infocomm.org/education.
Stagers generally like to believe that what they do in their job or at their company is unique. Each shop, or even individual, develops their own best practices, and many of us consider the methods we have developed to be a true differentiator of our value to customers. As I visit more and more of you, I can honestly say that your best practices are starting to look more and more like each other, which is a GOOD thing and long overdue. Best Practices can be taught, once everyone agrees on them. It is hard enough to get the folks in your company to agree; getting hundreds of companies to see eye to eye is a monumental undertaking. But just imagine the time you could save if you no longer had to argue, wonder, or discover what the right way to do a thing really was? What other things could you devote your time to? Affirmation won't come overnight, but the process has started.
We also need to share what we know. The Rental & Staging Roadshow combines training and networking. Manufacturers and B2B suppliers have their own road shows to share knowledge. There are also conferences and conventions like InfoComm and LDI. The next step would be true digital sharing and collaboration. Maybe we need an educational MySpace for AV? This is something that is being publicly discussed within InfoComm. Someone needs to provide a platform for specific interests to be discussed. For instance, digital signal processor (DSP) programming is now a critical step in audio reinforcement in both live events and fixed installations. The extreme flexibility inherent in these devices leads to an unlimited number of good options for how to use them. A forum of users might narrow down the best options. One day there may even be standards. But, until there is an open forum, a faster way to foster a closer proximity for all these ideas, consensus will remain a long way off.
The final piece of the puzzle is a leap of faith. Employers worry that the money and resources spent of training and developing employees will be wasted if a competitor simply hires that employee away. To some folks, sending technicians to classes is the same as posting their resume on the Internet and begging companies to steal them. One solution is to do all the training in-house. Big companies like PSAV and AVW-TELAV have very sophisticated training tools and can take raw recruits and turn out competent AV techs. For 99 percent of the rest of us, this just is not an option. Don't forget that training is also a retention tool. If you are losing employees, chances are they are leaving because of better opportunities, like education and career development. Finally, we have to believe that there is something else beyond training. There is. The next step is innovation.
Here are five things you can do to help bring these forces together faster for your company, which in turn will speed things up for the industry.
* Commit to learning more. It may be that you first need to admit you don't know it all, but that's a good start.
* Hire better freelancers. These folks are the busy bees of the industry who cross-pollinate knowledge. The good ones work with good companies. The best ones work with the best companies. Get it?
* Make your headquarters smarter. Take advantage of manufacturer training. Don't just send show techs--send maintenance, operations, and quality control folks. You need some of this knowledge to stay in the shop.
* Schedule informal in-house training. Don't wait to create lesson plans - just turn on-the-job training into a ninety-minute impromptu warehouse class.
Ask any tech who stumbles in to explain how a product works and how to use it on a show.
* Write down lists of things that your company would like to know. When you or anyone in your company learns something about that topic, put it on the list.
* When you do send someone to a class, ask them to bring back the handouts and prepare a presentation at your company. It doesn't have to replicate the class, but it should give other employees a chance to ask questions.
The cosmic forces of Rental & Staging education are starting to form.
Get prepared, be involved, and have faith that in the end everyone will benefit. The companies that choose to keep to themselves will have to compete with the companies that will flourish from shared knowledge, industry best practices, and collaborative networking.
Chicken or the Egg?
by Tom Stimson, CTS
In this months Market Snapshot survey, we asked Rental & Staging professionals to answer a hypothetical question: Imagine you were plagued with average sales, average service, and average technology when a genie grants you one business wish. Which of these attributes would you choose to improve and why?
By far, service pulled in the most votes and the greatest number of comments. Many folks believe that service is the sustainable attribute that will most likely improve the others. In other words, without great service how can you maintain sales or capitalize on new or better technology? But the case for technology is compelling it can be a huge competitive advantage. The comments in favor of sales point out that customers are the great intangible the hardest to come by and therefore the one thing theyd wish for.
Here is a sampling of the comments.
Easy, technology, period. Technology is what sets us apart from our competitors and moves our advantage forward. -Bob Magee, XL Video Inc.
Since there are proven ways to improve service and increased sales would give us the ability to purchase new technology, I would wish for improved sales. Sales is the only one that has to deal with the unknown of the clients and their real/perceived knowledge of our competition. -Anonymous.
Improve sales. I believe better sales will afford us the ability to buy better technology and improve our levels of service. It's a chicken and the egg type question but I feel Sales has to come first. -Anonymous.
Improve service. To be successful we need to retain clients, grow with them and develop relationships. Poor service results in a long list of one-time clients. What creates true professional service contractors? Its not having the latest gear; its having staff that is empowered to deliver above average service. -Anonymous.
My name's above the door. If we don't have the best service in the industry, I'll go do something else. We may not win every sale and we may not have all the new technologies, but we will do all within our power to ensure the success of each and every event we are entrusted to stage. -Steve Alford, Alford Media Services, Inc.
If it could only be one of the three, I would have to improve the service aspect. I believe that in the current business climate that extreme service is the best value differentiator from our competition. Everyone has the gear, or can get it from a variety of sources, and perceived service level would increase sales. -Evan Williams, Riverview Systems Group
Superior service will eventually boost the other two. Plus, when your head hits the pillow after an extremely long day it nice to say to yourself, We did a great job. -Thomas Lawlor. M Communications
Download the free September Survey results including over forty responses to this question at: www.trstimson.com.
Each month The Stimson Group conducts a short survey of AV industry professionals about a variety of topics. To participate in or comment on those surveys, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.