Foster a Culture of Learning
The last few years have been hard ones for many small businesses in New York City. So, how did some businesses not only survive but thrive?
Vanguard Direct, a marketing and technology solution provider, located in Manhattan’s Garment District, illustrates one answer: invest in employee growth and create a culture of continuous learning.
Academic and business publications have long touted the value of creating a culture of learning – just take a look at all the articles that come up in the Harvard Business Review when you search “culture of learning”. But, there is often a big gap between what is written in a publication and what happens in real companies – when the rubber hits the road.
To give you a sense of the road Vanguard Direct was navigating: the company was founded in 1976 as a traditional printing company. Think: brochures, forms, and newsletters. It might occur to you, as you read this online blog, that the printing industry underwent some changes in the last 20 years. Online publications and social media now compete with traditional, paper materials.
In this changing environment, Vanguard Direct has continued to flourish thanks to the vision of senior management, which led the company into the electronic communication business over a decade ago, and a culture of learning, which was fostered by senior management.
We were fortunate to sit down with Christina Liolin, the Human Resources Supervisor at Vanguard Direct. Christina shared how Vanguard Direct was able to successfully navigate a changing industry by creating a culture of continuous learning. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:
NYC Business Solutions (NYC): It sounds like senior management is very supportive of training Vanguard Direct staff.
Christina Liolin (CL): It is very important to senior management – the owners – to have their employees improve their skills. We have talented workers and they work hard. We want them to produce to the best possible level in our office. It’s to a business’s advantage to train their employees because you are only as good as your staff. We do training classes all the time.
NYC: What kind of training have you done?
CL: We – everyone on staff – are all customer service in one way or another. So, we all did a customer service class. We did a grammar series because we found that people’s emails weren’t as professional as they could be. There are people that have attended Dale Carnegie.
We also have classes taught by staff members who are experts in a particular area. We’ve had social media classes taught by staff. They weren’t mandatory. But, they put a sign-up sheet by the receptionists’ desk and anyone can go. It doesn’t have to be related to a person’s job – people can go if they want to learn about a new technology or what Vanguard is doing. You can come in and learn.
NYC: You also did Customized Training with NYC Business Solutions.
CL: Yes. We did Customized Training in 2010. It expanded some of the training we did the year before. We wanted to offer a training to a larger group of people. We have a great staff and people really don’t leave. So, we have people that have been on staff for a long-time and are self-trained in some areas – like Excel. People use Excel every day but it is a lot of “hunt and peck.”
NYC: So, people were teaching themselves and it wasn’t as productive as it could be?
CL: Yes. Or, they’d call someone over and that person would get up from their desk and come over to help them. So, we offered basic, intermediate, and advance Excel.
One of the best classes we offered through NYC Business Solutions was a sales class. It was a 3-day class and I got really good feedback that the attendees were able to use some of the skills they learned in the class in their everyday activities. There was time management, negotiating skills, customer service. There were almost 50 people that participated in at least 1 class. Some people participated in multiple classes.
NYC: It sounds like Vanguard Direct has a nice culture where people are nurtured and helped to grow.
CL: We do. It is very important to the owners to have their employees improve their skills. The improvement of the skill of the entire staff is important. Our owners are visionaries and they keep us on the forefront of what the industry is doing. So, we have to have a culture of learning and training.
For more on how training – and building a culture of learning – can help your company, check out other blog posts by Sara Schlossberg, Executive Director of Training at NYC Business Solutions or visit NYC Business Solutions Customized Training page on the web. And, don’t forget to share this post with your friends and colleagues on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and email.