Doug Dillon 2015-10-07 04:00:16
ASA University - A Catalyst for Change Helping our members get better faster. ONE OF THE THINGS that reinforces the value of ASA membership is the outstanding training content it has built - and continues to update - over the years. The focus always has been on staying "relevant" and delivering needed learning resources with best-in-class content created by the industry, for the industry. That drumbeat by the ASA Education Foundation's Board of Trustees has echoed throughout the years as countless volunteers have rotated on and off the board, but have kept true to the mission. And it continues today. Yet, everyone knows the old adage about leading a horse to water. Even if someone creates the perfect widget that adds tremendous value, and even if they provide it at a great price, there still will be people that don't use it. So, we need to build the perfect "water delivery device" for the horse and make it easier for them to drink! That should be a simple task for people in our industry, right? ASA-U ADVISORY SERVICE The Advisory Service from ASA University was created three years ago to assist members in their learning and talent development processes. In essence, it is the horse's "water delivery device." Members who may not know where to start in their learning efforts can engage with ASA-U staff to help build and implement the plan for their company. Further, members who have training efforts that have fizzled out or aren't achieving the results they intended can use ASA-U staff to modify, refresh and get their efforts on track. Each Advisory Service engagement is different depending on the needs of the members. Some focus on training and identifying what courses are of most benefit to their employees. This customization can ensure the most efficient use of its training spend. While ASA-U already has done this in general, some members want to tweak them even further to their particular needs. Still other members go a step deeper. They use the assessment documents to assist managers in tailoring training content to the individual level. This provides each employee a personal list of courses based on their on the- job performance. Gaps are identified by manager observations. Those gaps are then linked to training content. In this scenario, ASA-U provides the help and education for the managers to learn how to conduct on-the-job evaluations and position the needed training to the employee. When course selections are created specifically for an individual, the organization knows the training being deployed is the most relevant. THE ADVISORY MODEL When ASA-U begins the Advisory process, the discussion starts using the engagement model for Talent Development (see graphic). There are six levels to the model and each connects to the top level of Learning Management. Member companies assess their current state at each level and determine where their focus will be with assistance from ASA-U staff. The foundational level is Job Descriptions. It is critical to accurately define the requirements of the job. Many members have job descriptions, but may not have updated them to reflect changes in technology, new product lines, adjusted task assignments, etc. Once job descriptions are updated, they should be connected to learning opportunities or branch-specific procedures. The next level is Assessments. These are objective third-party appraisals of a candidate¡¦s or employee," fitness to the role. They assist managers when hiring external candidates or internal transfers. They give more concrete guidance on whether someone is a fit to the role other than "I liked the person!" The third is the Competency level. Competencies create a common language in the organization and learning can be attached to them. Things such as customer focus, quality orientation, persuasiveness and decision-making all are examples. Since courses support them, they become the connection to learning. The Behaviors level breaks down the competencies into on-the-job descriptions of required behaviors for a particular role. Here, detail of what success looks like is available to managers and employees. Comparing the descriptions with what the employee is doing on the job allows training to quickly be identified. By the Performance Management level, managers are able to have formal discussions with employees on their progress against an established set of goals. This is where the return on investment becomes important. Again, learning is discussed where there are gaps in converting daily activities into results. In order to maximize the value of training and development efforts, all levels should be tied to Learning Management. Without the connections, there is a greater risk in wasted or disconnected learning. This top level helps the organization and its employees see that training is an ongoing process, not a moment in time. The ASA-U Advisory Service helps organizations within our industry to navigate through these different levels, make the critical connections between them and map out a multi year training effort that will have measurable business results. THE POWER OF CUSTOMIZATION Todd Pipe, a plumbing distributor based in Anaheim, Calif., launched Todd Pipe University earlier this year using the ASA-U Advisory Service to help in the development and rollout process. President/CEO Dan Patrick describes his aim for the project, "We will have the best-trained staff in our sales territory." Yet, instead of simply taking ASA-U and Eclipse content off-the- shelf and rolling it out to everyone, the ownership and HR teams set out to tailor it to Todd Pipe's specific needs. Patrick continues: "We thought if we'd customize the course lists to our company, we'd have higher buy-in. We knew ASA-U would present it to our team in a professional way. If we shot-gunned it without the extra work up front (to customize the course list), we wouldn't have the buy-in." The managers each took at least one course to understand what they'd be asking their employees to do. They were able to witness the importance of time away from the job to complete the courses and getting a feel for the content. Representatives of the owners then went on a "roadshow" to share what was going to happen, what the organizational commitment was, how it would benefit the employees and customers, and what was expected of employees. Patrick continued: "Our team needed to see it was important that senior leadership was involved from the beginning. If we simply outsourced it, it wouldn't have the same impact." JOINT EFFORT Most engagements begin with at least one scheduled phone call with the owner, president or other champion in the business. During this, the scope of the agreement is defined. Objectives, strategies, an action plan and potential milestone dates are discussed. The result is a formal scope of work that ASA-U staff produces a few days following the call. Adjustments can be made to the scope, and when all is finalized, the engagement begins. Usually, an on-site visit by ASA-U staff is the next step. Members can expect ASA-U staff to meet with all the relevant people within their business for the purposes of data collection. The member chooses a point person within the organization to be the liaison with staff. This can be the president/owner or a representative of the leadership team. Correspondences, sign-offs and project management tasks that hold internal employees accountable to deadlines are just some of the responsibilities for this role. ASA-U staff funnels the action items through the member point person. From there, decisions, document reviews, suggestions, etc., become disseminated for continued progress. The member determines the phase-gate sign-offs preferred, and the expected deadlines are determined by both the members and ASA-U staff. Depending on the project scope, return visits by ASA-U staff may be required to continue the rollout or assist managers in the change-management aspects of the engagement. Other, more limited scope engagements may be largely complete following the initial onsite visit. A WHOLESALER'S UNIVERSITY Two ASA-member companies used ASA-U to help them create their own version of a university. Besides Todd Pipe, Bakersfield, Calif.-based PVF wholesaler Bakersfield Pipe and Supply also has enlisted ASA-U's services. BPS launched its university model by providing eLearning courses to all its employees. It started with all warehouse employees and then moved to inside sales associates. This role-based rollout made the most sense for BPS to ensure the best use of time. Prior to each rollout, members of the management team previewed and selected the specific eLearning modules for their employees. Brad Whittington, process manager and a 30-year veteran of the organization, commented: "Once we identified what was needed and worked with ASA-U to tailor the course lists, the benefits have been huge. It takes some time upfront, but it's time well-spent." BPS deployed an ASA-U best practice of installing a "learning kiosk"in each branch. This is a separate area or room with a PC dedicated to learning. Employees are assigned "learning time" and login at the learning kiosk to take their courses. Since these are positioned in a more secluded part of the branch, there are fewer interruptions and employees can spend their time focused on the course. The amount of assigned learning time and frequency varies from employee to employee. Anticipating some initial resistance to the program, Whittington was pleasantly surprised when it was minimal. "We haven't seen much skepticism from managers and employees in taking the courses. Initially, managers were saying 'I don't know how to fit this in,' but we let the branches schedule it the way that made sense for them. There was no pushback on content; there were nice compliments and people said they were very helpful courses." SAME ANIMAL, DIFFERENT STRIPES Wholesalers in our industry largely have similar challenges, similar roles and similar training needs. Yet, they may be at different stages in their talent development. That's how the ASA-U Advisory Service's flexible model can lend industry expertise to a specific wholesaler's needs. Each engagement is different, depending on the member's needs and their efforts to date. Some already are doing quite a bit of training, but they want to ensure their efforts are headed in the right direction. Others are not training and have put it off, not knowing where to start. Amy Black, executive director of ASA-U, says: "We hear it all the time from members in our industry: 'You guys have great content. I just don't know where to start. Or, I don't have the time or knowledge to get started.' That's what the ASA-U Advisory Service is all about!" MORE INFORMATION To learn more about ASA-U Advisory Service, check out the website at: www.asa.net/education or call an ASA-U advisor at 630/467-0000, ext. 111. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Doug Dillon is director of professional development for ASA-U. He has 20 years of experience in the learning, OD and leadership-development areas. Twelve of those years have been in the plumbing, PVF and HVAC industry. He has authored industry-leading talent programs and has been a featured speaker at past ASA and ATD (Association for Talent Development) conventions. An ASAU Advisory Service Case Study WHEN MORRISON SUPPLY was creating its branch manager training agenda, it looked to inject some relevant industry content. The event, which took place in Carrollton, Texas, this past January, focused on financials, operations and leadership concepts. Morrison President Stan Allen describes it this way: "We like to invest in our people and develop them. At our event this year, the managers really loved the whole P&L side of things and understanding the impact of discounts. But it was really the HR content that people are the most uncomfortable with and human nature is to avoid confrontation." So, the ASA-U Advisory team put together a presentation and activity for the branch managers to use on-the- job behavioral assessments as a way to teach the managers how they can hold people accountable to the role expectations. The documents were customized to Morrison and the managers watched videos of a counter salesperson interacting with a plumber. They used the assessment forms to practice identifying the good and not-so-good behaviors from the counter salesperson. Allen continues: "ASA-U offers a great curriculum and to try and reinvent it ourselves would be crazy. Bringing in someone of Doug Dillon's caliber really helped. In particular, the quantifiable measurement of the counter sales behaviors really helped our managers see how it could be done." To illustrate this, each manager could base course selections on things they saw and heard from the employee on a first-hand basis. This helped them to see that employee buy-in to participate in training would be greatly increased. It also removed some of the discomfort Allen referred to since managers could point to the observable behaviors they just witnessed when discussing needed behavioral improvements. Newly Designed ASA Website More "Member Friendly" OVER THE LAST several months, visitors to the ASA website, www.asa.net, have noticed a more graphically pleasing, easier-to- navigate website that reflects ASA's new branding. ASA's marketing partner, Warren McKenna Design Group, recently worked with ASA and ASAEF staff on the redesign of ASA's homepage and interior pages to remove clutter and follow a responsive "mobile-first" design. Web pages are designed to resize content and rearrange items based on the device being used. In addition, pages are less cluttered than on the previous version of the site and most information has been arranged to be accessible within 1-2 clicks. In addition, the new design site allows for easier access to ASA's social media pages. Included with the new look is a fresher, easier-to-navigate "MY ASA", ASA's "members only" area on the site where members sign in using an ASA-provided username and password to access training resources, benchmarking reports such as ASA's monthly Pulse Report, the monthly ASA Advisor, ASA's Materials Market Digest and the Industrial Piping Division's quarterly Commodity Reports, webinar replays and an abundance of other membersonly materials. Members who are not currently accessing their "MY ASA" pages should contact Member Services Manager Bill Erfort at 630/467-0000, ext. 212 or email@example.com for directions on obtaining a username and password or general information. Also included within the framework of the newly designed site is a "new look" ASA University online store. The store can easily be accessed by clicking on the shopping cart icon in the upper right corner of any website page or by going to www.asa.net/store. Visitors have the ability to select and/or purchase from the large variety of current ASA University course offerings, new courses and basically anything that a visitor might want from ASA-U's five colleges. Website visitors also can keep up-to-date with the association's advocacy-related activities at www.asa.net/Advocacy and with networking updates and happenings at www.asa.net/Networking. Please watch for ongoing updates to www.asa.net, the MY ASA page and www.asa.net/store over the next several months as ASA and ASAEF staff continue to make improvements. Industry's Advocacy Voice Grows with Buying Groups LAST MONTH, nearly 50 members of WIT & Co., representing 36 small, family-run and independent businesses descended upon Capitol Hill as lawmakers returned to Washington with a packed agenda. Participants discussed their concerns over the Department of Labor's proposed changes to overtime exemptions, the challenges of showrooms that are continually disadvantaged by unequal sales-tax treatment and various health-care provisions that Congress was poised to take up this fall. For many, this was a first-time experience, seeing first-hand how the proverbial "sausage making" takes place. As ASA's Government Affairs Committee Chairman and WIT member Jeff New put it, "I'll never forget my first visit to Capitol Hill years ago when I was discretely asked by a Congressional staffer, 'What's a LIFO?' These are the folks making decisions that affect small businesses like mine. It's imperative that they have the information they need to make these decisions, and WE are the best source for that information. Our visits to Capitol Hill are critically important!" Steve Johnston of Ohio-based Johnston Supply managed to come away both frustrated and hopeful. "I was relieved to hear voices of understanding and sympathy when describing to my member of Congress the challenges we'll face implementing these new overtime rules being considered by the Labor Department," he said. "But at the same time, I was unnerved to receive a letter from my senator accusing small business owners such as myself of "exploiting' our employees. That shows me they just do not get it." This is exactly why employers and small-business owners need to come to Washington as well as get engaged in their community. We need to reinforce our allies who are fighting on our behalf, help persuade those sitting on the fences and educate those who oppose our issues. Please visit www.asa.net/Advocacy for more information.
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