Retrospective Training: Start Taking Notes (now)

The company I work for has accomplished a ton since inception just shy of five years ago. This year we’ll eclipse $100M in revenue and we’re continuing to grow at a rapid pace. But our onboarding process, particularly in the sales department, is lacking. It’s what most would call a “sink or swim” environment.

This isn’t a problem, except that the hiring doesn’t always match the training program. Because of this, I’ve been thinking extensively about training programs. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out in his (excellent, thought-provoking) book Antifragile: training doesn’t precede success.

First, comes success. Then, comes a theory about how said success was achieved. Finally, a training program is built around these ideas. Again, not a problem, just how time works.

There is a problem with waiting years to analyze success though, you’re opened up to things that skew the facts such as survivorship bias and the halo effect. If no one is studying how prosperity was attained, than there is no blueprint from which to train new hires. Sometimes companies are moving too fast to take notes on what’s happening. They’re focused on the next sale, the next deal, the next merger, the next acquisition, the next milestone…

If there is no assigned scribe to take notes on what led to success, the only people who know what produced these gains are the ones at the top. The ones with tenure. The busiest ones. The ones who don’t have time for training newbies. The ones who can’t think about the past, only what’s on the horizon. Odds are, they’re not going to be the best teachers, nor with they have the patience to take on the task of training.

At that point, the best that can be done is someone close to the top dogs extracting information and repackaging it to the newest team members. Which is a copy of a copy; smudgy at best.

On rare occasions the CEO or most tenured person leads training. I can’t say that’s the best use of their time, mainly because every company is different. However, every organization can take notes. They can stop for a water-break and journal each quarter about their successes and their failures to create a history of their organization. But, that kind of vision isn’t easy. Most young companies have one focus: keep the lights on.

The ideas I’m expressing are for a “utopia” of business. It would be wonderful to have the foresight to take this kind of notes. It would be helpful to employ someone to document the company history as it happened instead of subsequently.

But business is messy and this is only one company – a wildly successful, one I might add. But not everyone is five years deep. Maybe you’re just starting out. Maybe you’ve only begun to put ideas on paper for your organization. Maybe you’re in business school or even high school.

Or maybe you are five years in. As Seth Godin likes to say, “the best time to start was last year. The second best time to start is right now.