Building Up Your Knowledge Base

by WOHe

Over the long haul, customers will turn to your business for
their remodel projects based on the perception that your staff
possesses the knowledge and abilities to provide them with a
superior project. The question for you, then, as a kitchen and bath
firm owner and/or manager, is how to nurture this base of knowledge
and make your potential customers aware of it.

Be assured that there are many training opportunities available
to your staff, as well as ways to make the public aware of this
base of knowledge and ability. You just need to know where to
look.

Sharing knowledge
In any area of business, there’s always a base of knowledge that
exists within the business. This knowledge usually resides in those
people who have been at it for an extended period of time.

Though you may not realize it, you and your staff are likely to
be among those with this knowledge. In addition, there are many
individuals outside of your firm who also have experience and
knowledge critical to your business success.

The most common way to pass on internal experience and knowledge
is by encouraging the mentoring of new employees by those with the
experience. Unfortunately, mentoring doesn’t usually happen without
planning and encouragement from management. There are many reasons
for this, but the most common are fear of a subordinate passing a
mentor by and a mentor not understanding teaching skills.

Employees are naturally torn between helping others understand
their job and the threat this may pose to their own job security.
This situation is especially true with commission salespeople,
since they tend to be competitive with one another.

While there is no easy answer to this problem, the owner/manager
can ease the situation by treating each individual in the
organization with respect, and by recognizing the unique
contribution that each makes to the company’s success.

It’s important that you structure your organization so that one
individual does not succeed at the expense of another. An important
part of this is the recognition you give to employees. Never
underestimate the impact of words of encouragement, praise of
individuals in the presence of others, or quick notes of thanks for
jobs well done. It’s also important to emphasize overall company
accomplishments and encourage the notion that individual success in
your business flows from accomplishing company goals.

One way to encourage mentoring is to make it an official
practice within your company. You can do this by making mentoring
an actual assignment of new team members. Assigning someone to be a
mentor is, in itself, a form of recognition for that individual.
The whole process of mentoring needs to be something that pervades
the culture of your business whether it’s an official program or an
informal one where everyone recognizes that the future success of
the business depends on a continuing flow of trained, knowledgeable
employees.

Artful teaching
The other difficulty in the transferring of knowledge from one
individual to another is the challenge of the student/teacher
relationship. People who have the knowledge are seldom trained in
the techniques of teaching. In fact, people often do not really
know when or where they acquired the knowledge they have.

To someone not familiar with teaching, one of the most difficult
transitions is to realize that another individual may not have the
same basis of knowledge and experience that he or she has. Teaching
someone a new skill takes a great deal of patience and thought. One
of the first steps is to recognize that people can only absorb new
information at a certain rate. In addition, learning any new
discipline or skill is like building a house; first, you need to
build a foundation of the basics, and then add to that at a rate
the student can keep up with.

Another critical teaching technique involves using this
three-step model: 1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them; 2.
Tell them; and finally, 3. Tell them what you told them.

I have found that it’s very useful when teaching to have the
person watch you do something once or twice, and then talk the
person through the task as you observe. Next, have the employee try
to perform the task, while you observe, without your help unless
it’s asked for.

Some nuances of this technique include the need to explain what
you’re doing when you show someone how to do something (and why you
are performing each step). If people really understand why a
process or task is being done and the reasoning behind each step,
they will be much better prepared to deal with variations that they
will run into in the future.

Another thing to keep in mind when teaching is the tendency for
people to indicate that they understand something when they really
have questions they are “afraid” to ask. The key to solving this
problem is to question the student as you move through the
training, and make sure the person grasps each level of the
task.

There are two separate aspects to capitalizing on your base of
knowledge. The first aspect is managing your resources to make sure
that you match the qualifications of employees with the tasks your
company has to accomplish. This requires a good deal of planning to
match the progress on each project with resources.

A much more challenging area is to match the skills of your
designer/salespeople with potential clients. Some companies
actually screen leads and then assign designers accordingly. Most,
however, rely on a self-selecting process, where the client and
designer make the decision of whether they will work together or
not.

Once you have built up this base of knowledge, you need to let
everyone know that this is available to them. Much of this takes
place through the referral process and word of mouth, but you can
also be proactive in getting the word out. Make sure that your
advertising and promotion includes mention of credentials of your
team members, years of experience and the extent of the work your
firm has accomplished.

One of the most important focal points of your business should
be building and maintaining a high level of knowledge and
experience within your team. Keep in mind, however, that this is
not something that will just happen. It requires constant planning
and encouragement from you.

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