Effective Trench-Based Experience in Developing New Talent

Whether it’s tracking cattle with GPS or ordering popcorn from your iPhone at a football game, Professor Chris Scherpereel wants his business students to understand the whole business process of moving a product from concept to consumer. Dr. Scherperell is an associate professor of management in the W. A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University. The purpose of the schools BizBlock program, a rare practical based course not often found in traditional academic arena’s, is designed to give students the basic practical tools so they are the type of person that has the necessary tools and confidence to take a business to the next level. “The goal”, says Scherpereel “is to walk students through the communications, marketing and management steps. Just having a cool product isn’t going to be a business success. Having a cool product and having a business model that can use that cool product in a different way in order to generate profits for the business is what’s important.”

At Ipswich Maritime, the trucks bound for Connecticut are loaded and on their way by 5 a.m. while other company vehicles are still being stocked with gallons of frying clams, crates of cod and cases of scallops. George Delaney, a former Met Life employee who learned not to fear the cold call during his sales training program, is making sure orders are filled properly so that the drivers can make prompt deliveries and the customers are kept satisfied. Young George Delaney is now learning the seafood distribution business at the trenches level from his father, George Sr. who believes that service is the key to good business and people are the key to service. The folks at Ipswich Maritime wear many hats, and young Delaney’s training is multifaceted, both to provide a comprehensive understanding of the business workings and out of necessity. It’s not unusual to see the sales manager and owners packing product, loading trucks or even making deliveries.

Developing managerial talent by utilizing practical, hands on experience has been common practice in most businesses, both small and large, for generations. Many of today’s top business leaders first learned the important fundamental skills of operations management and leadership while on the front lines as warehouse workers, carpenters, delivery drivers and restaurant servers, just to name a few.  The “out-front” experience is a valuable opportunity for future management talent to gain insights to important marketing, customer service and organizational fundamentals rarely offered in traditional academic environments. Seeing the effects of an organizations manufacturing and delivery strategy from a waiter or waitress perspective can have a lasting impact on a future managers understanding and importance of the company’s process designs. There is nothing like the immediate “in-your face response” of a tired, hungry and irate restaurant customer when the company fails to deliver on the brands promise. Dealing with the pressure of success or failure that comes with delivering on the organizations promises has a lasting and hardening effect on new talent that cannot be replicated in the classroom or the front office.

In today’s business world, attracting and developing future talent is critical for continued success and much time and money is expended to identify potential candidates from graduating classes of technical colleges and liberal arts universities around the world. And while virtually all employers orient and rotate newly academically educated talent through established training pathways, few expend much time or money exposing technical or managerial new hires to the product or service delivery level of the business. Learning what it takes on a daily bases to put the numbers on the page can give future decision makers important insights to the gravity and effectiveness of their decisions. Experience from the trench level can be vital to developing an individual’s sense of responsibility, integrity, discipline, commitment and teamwork.

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