Fable Friday: Here’s how we do it in the real world

I took the first job offered me after graduating from college over 40 years ago, as a route salesman for Kraft Foods.  The guy who broke me in taught me an important lesson, but not a good one.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedBack in those days at Kraft, a salesman worked very hard, calling on all his stores, stocking shelves, counting up spoilage, even dropping off free “gift boxes” of product to anyone who wrote a letter of complaint. They gave me a 1970 Plymouth Fury for my route, as it had the biggest trunk you ever saw, and I needed to carry cardboard barber poles, colored corrugated construction paper and other materials for making gondola displays in store aisles.

We’d dump a few cases of peanut butter, along with our Kraft grape jelly and put up a hand-made sign, “Hey Mom!  How about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids!”  The displays sold out in a few hours, so we learned about on-the-spot promotion, what worked and what didn’t.

Every salesman was given a Kokak Instamatic, and when you made one of these displays you took pictures, which you sent with your weekly route report to Kraft Headquarters so that management knew what you were up to.

So this guy I’m working with back then tells me, “Always take a lot of these pictures, and put the extras in your glove compartment.  That way if you ever want to take a day off, you can dig into your supply and send them in. They’ll never know.”  Kind of like the taxi driver who foolishly offers you extra blank receipts so you can cheat on your expense.

I’m reminded of this story every time a new hire training program isn’t going so well in the field.  The employee leaves the program, gets a job with the sales force or in a branch office, and is quickly told, “You want to succeed here?  Then forget everything they taught you in training.  This is how it’s done in the real world.”  I’ll bet you’ve witnessed this yourself.

Think of the waste in training dollars and time when this happens!  Training people hate it, as they believe the line people are corrupting or bypassing best practices. Many line people also express disdain for training that isn’t relevant to the actual job.

What can you do about this as an instructional designer?  Your discovery process should help you, provided you make a genuine effort to learn what people in the field really do.  At Kraft, my training consisted of films showing me how salad oil was made in Hillside, NJ. I also got a lecture on how to be polite to customers while I was in a store. No one taught me anything about how to sell things, or even how to create an imaginative aisle display.

In retrospect, I really do think employees learn better and faster by learning on the job.  I learned a ton about how to be a route salesman for Kraft after just a couple of months, especially in promotion, shelf placement, time management, and getting along with harried, grouchy store managers.  My own sense of honesty and ethics allowed me to discard the “glove compartment” picture tactic, and your employees will do the same.

The lesson?  Design new hire training to replicate real field performance, and get them out there doing it as soon as you can. People learn best by experience.

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

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