Uniformity?

Ever wonder what it would be like if every time we opened a bottle of our favorite cola it tasted different? Would we be pleased with the new taste, glad of a taste adventure, or would we long for our old favorite cola? There is something about the adventure of something new that helps us grow and develop, which is appealing for sure. However, from a branding standpoint, meeting expectations is what keeps the customers coming back and certainly reduces customer complaints.

It would be a management and organizational nightmare if every district or region operated differently, or if each market had different inventory control, auditing guidelines, refund policies, or ordering procedures. It would introduce new and more difficult problems. Companies for years have counted on uniformity to allow scalability and make controlling the large organization somewhat manageable.

Uniformity for Profitability

For over 40 years, Southwest Airlines has been profitable in the difficult airline industry, which has been done largely by using simplicity and uniformity of operations to overcome the difficulties faced by the other carriers. Simplicity means there are fewer things that can go wrong fouling the whole process.

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While other airlines may employ the use of a dozen different types of planes, Southwest generally uses only one type: the Boeing 737. That’s uniformity. The advantages of this are many. Stocking parts for repairs is just for a single plane, and mechanics need only to know how to repair that one plane. The reduction in training costs alone must be significant, not to mention storing parts and managing the availability of them. With every plane being the same, flight crews are ready in an instant if a plane is removed from service and replaced with another of the same model. If there is a slight difference in seating configuration, no problem at Southwest—you board by groups and sit where you please. Other airlines have to struggle with reissuing boarding passes and the disgruntled customers who lost an aisle seat and are now stuck in the middle. With Southwest, just pick a new seat and off you go.

Rather than using large hubs, most of Southwest’s flights are point to point, which allows them to avoid delays and cancellations that other airlines experience if their hubs are dealing with bad weather or have slowdowns. These issues do not affect Southwest’s whole system. Uniformity and simplicity seem to equal profitability.

After Interview Training

So let’s consider the management of an organization’s interviewers. How many people do you have that are allowed to conduct an employee interview? What are the criteria for allowing them to be selected to interview an associate? How are they evaluated?

If you only manage a few interviewers, it is probably not a big deal if there is no uniformity in the interview process. When it was just Doug Wicklander and Dave Zulawski, it was easy for them to know what was going on in the interview room right there in the office. As the company began to grow and expand geographically, it was time to change.

We often hear supervisors say, “When they come back from your interviewing course, I just tell them to take what WZ says and use what feels right to them.” That would be like having us work on your brakes—got a few extra parts leftover, but we’re pretty sure it will stop when you press on the brake pedal. Sometimes we also hear, “OK, that’s what they said, but here is what I do.” Either way, the training you have chosen for your staff is going to be less effective. Add to that what people forget, and the problems escalate.

Much of the research on memory and its retention by a student can be disheartening from a training standpoint. Research on memory indicates that upwards of 70 percent of the information presented in a training environment is lost in the first twenty-four hours. With all we have to remember, such as where we put our keys, the brain does not know what information is important to retain and what can be dumped. However, when the learner is asked to recall information in the days following the learning experience, they are capable of remembering more of the information for a longer period of time.

In fact, Professor Henry Roediger and his laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis conducted a study where students were asked to read several essays. Afterward, some were asked booster questions forcing them to recall the material, and some were asked to reread the essays. Those who were asked to reread the essays did significantly poorer in retention of the material than those who were tested using the review questions. There are hundreds of additional studies clearly showing that using the material in the weeks after training can dramatically improve a learner’s retention of the material.

So what happens when the learner returns from a seminar? Is there a monitoring and measuring program in place to test the learner’s knowledge and retention? Is the material put into practice right away? This focus on the material after the program tells the brain the material is important and needs to be retained for future use. What happens when the learner returns from training under the guidance of a supervisor who does not remember the material or is using some watered-down modified version and evaluating the learner or, in this case, the new interviewer? A lot of those called on to evaluate interviewers within an organization are long removed from the field, and their initial training in interviewing is probably dated. So are they reinforcing the class’s learning objectives or passing on some potentially bad habits?

If we examine some of the top sports camps in the world, there is a lesson we can learn. These camps focus on doing the basic fundamentals correctly, which leads to success. We have several people who come back to our interview classes annually because they work alone and want to refresh what they used to do or had forgotten. Essentially, they lost their golf swing.

Another reason to monitor training is to minimize liability. Over the years, interview training has gone from the extreme of no training whatsoever to mentoring with a senior interviewer followed by in-house training, then external training, and ultimately monitoring and measuring performance supporting the interview training. Plaintiffs’ attorneys have a moving target on training over the years, and we now face the question of how we are sure learners are actually applying the methods taught in class. How would your organization answer this question?

Uniformity for Memory Retention

Let’s consider the uniformity of the interview style preferred by the organization. Selecting one style gives you the Southwest advantage—uniformity and simplicity. Selecting an interview approach allows each person to speak and use the same equipment. People can evaluate each other offering suggestions from what they remember and forming a collective body of knowledge, thereby retaining more of the teachings focused on the learning objectives. Additionally, the people assigned to monitoring and measuring performance have only one set of benchmarks to measure performance against, making a more useful uniform critique of the interviewers’ efforts.

Companies are doing a number of things to support the uniformity of the interviews within the organization. A number of organizations administer a test within a month of attending the program to encourage the learner to review and retain the information. The test makes the retention of the material important to remember and serves as a benchmark of performance, allowing the learner to move to the next phase of actually conducting an interview. Other organizations have mock practice sessions with supervisors who evaluate the performance against the desired interview method.

Some companies use conference calls or meetings to focus on the training and refresh the material in everyone’s mind. We have several companies that teleconference monthly meetings inviting WZ instructors to help problem-solve or work on difficult areas to improve performance of their interviewers.

Other supervisors use columns or articles such as this one as a discussion point to keep the information fresh and reinforce its importance to the company. Continuing education such as webinars can be an important part of keeping the skill set of interviewing in the limelight. The International Association of Interviewers offers free webinars to its members along with an online publication focused on interviewing. Many companies also subscribe to LP Magazine as a means of keeping staff apprised of important issues in loss prevention. If you haven’t done this yet, get your group on the list to receive LP Magazine. It’s free and is an easy way to develop your people.

We do our best to deliver interviewing skills to those who attend our programs, but it is the attendees who can make or break the learning process. Some of the best interviewers we have met spent the time and effort on their own to hone the skills through independent practice. In our organization, we train to the standard of our non-confrontational method and benchmark our interviewers’ performance against the model in videotaped interviews. This takes time and effort but has built excellent interviewers. If the company can support and test its employees after they return from the class, their retention of the material will improve, and the quality of their performance should exceed expectations.

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