Wedgwood Customizes Training

November 4, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Oftentimes companies say they don’t have the time to train or can’t afford to train employees. The truth is, companies can’t afford not to train.

“It’s costing them every day in turnover if people are frustrated in their jobs because they’re not equipped with the right job skills to handle them. If employees don’t have the right skills, they’ll waste time or produce poor quality, and that costs the business,” said Barbara Jordan, a consultant and training facilitator at Wedgwood Corporate and Community Resources, a part of Wedgwood Christian Services.

“A manufacturing company wouldn’t think of not performing preventative maintenance on a machine. Likewise, companies need to step back and do what needs to be done to help employees gain the skill sets to effectively perform their jobs.”

WCCR offers organizational development programs that include team building, performance improvement training and experiential learning, and uses tools such as personal coaching, simulations, workshops and team activities to help companies improve the quality and productivity of their processes, products or services.

The organization has worked with hundreds of businesses and organizations from across the spectrum of industries, from health care to banking to manufacturing. It also serves public and private groups, leadership groups, nonprofits and faith-based organizations.

What’s unique about WCCR training programs is that they are customized, Jordan said.

“The facilitator is constantly in the process of assessing where the group is at, creating an experience to help individuals and the group gain meaning and learn from their experiences, then applying what they’ve learned to their current work experience,” Jordan said. “So by its very nature, it’s always customized. It isn’t one of those sit-down, passive PowerPoint presentations.”

Experiential learning is different than other types of corporate training being practiced right now, she said, because it has a lasting impact on people and changes them in a “very profound” way.

“In experiential learning, people actually have a direct experience and have to engage in the experience, and that’s where they learn the critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills that are so critical for organizations to be able to respond to the challenges in today’s marketplace.”

Absence of trust is “huge” within companies, particularly in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom debacles, Jordan said, and in her 20 years in the corporate training industry, absence of trust always seems to show up as a major issue within an organization. Jordan pointed out that lack of trust is one of the five signs of a dysfunctional corporate team, the other signs being fear of conflict, lack of a shared goal and lack of unity among team members, a void of accountability, and inattention to results.

In its training sessions, WCCR tries to help companies “inspire performance” by creating an environment that motivates people to achieve organizational objectives and inspires them to do their jobs well — and communicate well, too, she said.

“A lot of times when our sessions end there is a palpable feeling in the room in terms of that team drawing closer,” Jordan said. “You can feel it and sense the higher level of motivation, the greater desire to work together and communicate and to solve conflict. That, in and of itself, is very motivating.”

Who is involved in group training and how many hours of training will be required depends on the size of the company and the nature of the intervention requested, she said. A training group could include anywhere from one to two people to as many as 100. An average training session has 20 to 30 participants, she said. Likewise, training sessions can last from a couple hours to three consecutive days, or several days over a period of a few weeks.

“Ideally, when work gets stretched out over a period of time, you can have some initial assessment on the front end, some group training and then some follow-up to hone in on what was learned,” said Dan Wierenga, Wedgwood’s interim executive director. “More groups are seeing that it’s better to spread some training over a period of time.”

Jordan said the majority of the time companies choose to hold training sessions off-site because they want to get away from the distraction of the work environment. Wedgwood has its own 4,000-square-foot conference facility called the Watson Glen Experiential Learning Center that is located in a retreat-like, wooded setting in Wyoming. The center has both indoor and outdoor team-building facilities, such as high ropes and climbing walls.

Wierenga refers to the center as “a learning laboratory” because it allows people to step away from the intensity and pressures of the work environment, to interact together and to learn as individuals and as members of a team.

WCCR has been facilitating retreats for Leadership Grand Rapids for a decade, and in more recent years for Leadership West Michigan and Leadership Grand Traverse, as well.

“The people in the leadership groups come from all different walks of life and businesses and oftentimes become some of the best referrals we have, because they bring their businesses back to us for follow-up work,” Wierenga said.

Some of WCCR’s clients include Spectrum Health, Herman Miller, Kellogg Co., Metron and Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The organization also conducts corporate training sessions booked at Camp Blodgett and Crystal Mountain resort facilities. Wierenga noted that WCCR does very little marketing; most referrals are by word of mouth.

Why would a human services organization that focuses primarily on child and family welfare get involved with corporate training, like Wedgwood Christian Services did 10 years ago?

“We have psychologists and social workers and staff that has expertise in terms of working with people in the areas of trust, communication, relationships and conflict resolution,” Wierenga explained. “Over time, we realized we had to ‘get up stream’ and do more in the prevention and training area. We had the capacity to do a lot more.”

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