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Sir Richard Branson is the founder of Virgin Group and one of the world's best known entrepreneurs.

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Richard Branson: Training day is every day

Published 12 March 2013 12:40, Updated 26 November 2013 18:35

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There is always something new to learn. The day you stop learning is the day you stop living. We should all pick up new skills, ideas, viewpoints and ways of working every day.

That said, the first goal of a new business is simply to survive – you need to prove your model works. One of the best ways is by hiring excellent people who believe in your company and share your goals and then by helping them learn and improve their skills. If your best people aren’t growing in their careers as your business gains traction and expands, they will quickly lose enthusiasm. And before you know it, you’ll be dealing with unsatisfied customers and unsatisfied employees.

Your employees’ desire to learn gives you and other entrepreneurs a competitive advantage over larger companies. Small firms are usually new, so they attract people eager to try fresh approaches, rather than employees who are working towards attaining a specific post or title.

You can capitalise on this by letting your people run with their ideas. This is exactly the training and career path many creative people want: to be able to set challenging goals for themselves, even if there’s a chance they may fail. If you give your employees significant responsibilities, you will be surprised what they will achieve – and you’ll win their loyalty and commitment.

Once you have created this culture of opportunity, your people will see there is scope for them to move up. They will then be more likely to strive to master their role so they can be considered for promotion and further development.

If your employees need help with technical skills, you’ll need to make up for your small budget by being smart about training. Constantly improving and acquiring information technology skills is essential in many industries – I myself have been brushing up on social media and blogging with the help of our social media team. It may be simple to find help online: General Assembly and Codecademy provide low-cost tools that you may find useful.

Rather than sending 10 people to the same training program, can you bring a trainer inhouse? Instead of enlisting expensive private training companies, can you find experts to give talks to your team? Can you reach out to your mentors, perhaps from contrasting backgrounds, to discuss the issues with your team? This can be more engaging than traditional training.

As your business grows, new hires may need hands-on training. New staff at Virgin Trains learn about their jobs in a real carriage that has been decommissioned – it includes a catering car and a train driver’s cab. Creating a practice area may not be an option for you. In that case, one of the simplest ways to train a new employee may be to set up in a mentoring relationship with one of your best people. Have her shadow her mentor for a few days. Once she is ready to start work, ask the mentor to supervise her and continue to provide tips.

Look for new technologies and opportunities, and arrange seminars so you and your employees can explore them, even if you’re not sure they can be applied immediately. Who knows? You could be onto the next big thing – and your team will be one step ahead.

As you help people build skills, think about how to retain them over the long term. Promote from within if possible. Consider the career trajectory of Virgin Galactic chief pilot Dave Mackay. He was captain of our Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340-600. Now he’s in charge of taking tourists into space. That’s career progression!

Whether you have 30 employees or 300, creating a culture of opportunity makes a huge difference. Learning won’t be restricted to set training periods but will happen all day long.

Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group.

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