I’ll admit it. In 20 years of business reporting, no subject has excited me less than “training and development.” You see, I’ve heard a lifetime of rah-rah speeches and clichés (“people are our greatest asset”), endless lipservice paid by execs and HR folks who take an hour to say what can be shared in 60 seconds. For an editor who prides himself on sharing solutions, the training-type assignments are akin to telling kids to drink their milk. You can’t argue that it’s good for you, right?

But today, as president of a 31-employee company, I know that a motivated, empowered and knowledgeable workforce is THE true difference- maker. The fact that these qualities are so hard to attain (and with constantly moving targets) is the same reason you want to pursue them. These traits can keep a company on top and its competitors at bay.

Whether it’s a $483 million, megastore dealership (RDO Equipment: Northern Agriculture, p. 18) or a $26 million, single-location store (Codington-Clark, p. 30), the 2010 Farm Equipment Dealerships of the Year are identical in one respect — they possess a steadfast commitment to advancing the abilities of their people at all levels.

As you’ll see here and in the videos at www.farm-equipment.com, both dealers deployed training to shatter and redefine job descriptions — to do more, do it better and do it leaner. In this issue, you’ll read how the singlestore Codington-Clark cultivated new blood and leveraged its technical college to its advantage.

As for RDO, yes, a 56-store operation lends scale and resources for truly special staff development programs. But don’t dismiss RDO’s training message because it dwarfs your operation. In fact, ask why they relentlessly pursue it as they do.

In fact, people power is far more vital for small companies. With a knowledgeable and vested team, the small operation can seize on an opportunity before bureaucratic operations can schedule a meeting. Besides, what alternative do you really have?

Since I buy the ink around here, I get to share my own observations on training and development…

• If you don’t invest in training because employees think they “know it all already,” you don’t have a training problem. You have a staffing problem. These employees don’t have the wherewithal to notice change happening around them, much less the ability to anticipate solutions. Whether a result of hubris or ignorance, that mindset will sink you. You can’t lead someone who won’t be led.

• Hiring only those that want to “be all that they can be” is an impossible order, but when you’re lucky enough to strike gold, leave nothing to chance. Open every door for those who seek to be the best in their craft. They don’t come around often.

• Expose your team to the industry’s best practices and others’ way of doing things, and encourage peer-to-peer sharing. Sometimes people must be placed in positions to learn, rather than hearing it from management, to believe they can accomplish something greater.

• Learning is found in many forms and venues — conferences, associations, trade publications, webinars/podcasts and manufacturers, to name a few. But you have some great teachers, too. One of our editors, Jeremy McGovern, created monthly lunchtime “teaching-learning sessions” where our own people “teach” in an area of their expertise for no more expense than takeout pizzas and Cokes. By tapping our “in-house experts” in this way, we’ve huddled over improvement ideas and taken a step closer to a “learning organization.” The impact on esprit de corps can’t be underestimated, either.

Information is great, but it doesn’t become knowledge until it’s shared and acted upon. No one has yet cornered the market on knowledge, but progress here may be the most important leading indicator for your business.