Training by Joan Lloyd
I'm looking for information regarding how to train those people who are used to mentor new employees. These folks do one-to-one, hands-on training of new employees, with the goal of teaching specific tasks related to their jobs. Can you recommend anything? Thank you.
Many companies struggle to recruit qualified candidates, but once they hire them, the eager new employee is either thrown into the job, or if they're lucky, they will actually be given a scant week or two of training by someone designated to "teach them everything they need."
Of course, there are those few companies who do a good job of orienting and training new employees. Certainly in key jobs, such as sales, there is often a specific program that may take weeks or even months to teach the new employee about the products. But in most companies, the "training" can be anything from watching the seasoned person perform their job, to a buddy who the new recruit can search out for questions.
Sometimes the trainer is the exiting employee, who has more interest in the next opportunity than in helping his or her replacement. Sometimes the trainer is an overworked peer, who doesn't really have the time or inclination to add another chore.
So what can be done? I'm not aware of any resources available on the topic (if you know of any, please send them my way and I will share them with readers in a future column). So, here are some ideas to get you started:
Create a job-specific, how-to guide for key tasks.
Ask every employee to document key processes and itemize the action steps they take to complete the tasks. At the very least, a departing employee should do this before they leave their position.
If you ask every employee to do this for their entire job, they will protest, and who could blame them? So, ask them to select the most important tasks they do and document the procedures and processes that are vital. Each employee should ask themselves, "If someone had to fill in for me for an extended period, or fill my vacant job, what things would the person have to be able to do during the first week? At the end of the month? At the six month point? At year end?" This should guide each person to create a step-by-step guide for both short and long-term work. If this information is put online, it can be easily updated and accessed by anyone who needs to step in.
Choose a trainer who has some training skills.
Don't make the mistake of thinking anyone can be a trainer. The wrong trainer can confuse a new employee, make the new person feel stupid, or overwhelm the new hire with too much too soon. Choose a person who:
- Knows the job but also is willing to take time to demonstrate the task, and then watches the employee perform the task, coaching along the way.
- Will give honest but tactful feedback and preserve the self-esteem of the new employee.
- Has patience and empathy for the learner as they stumble through new processes but pushes the learner to take ownership of their job.
The manager should oversee the training process.
Most managers are so busy they delegate the task of training a new employee and don't pay much attention. The problem is that after all the hard work of finding and hiring a new employee, dissatisfaction can start during the first few weeks. I frequently hear complaints such as, "I was told I'd be trained and all I got was a two day overview by a peer and then I was on my own."
Meet with the trainer and trainee and set up a schedule, with sign off dates. For example, the first week the trainer should be able to "sign off" (verify after observation or testing) on the basic tasks. By the end of the month, the employee should be able to complete more complex tasks, and so on. By identifying what these progressive tasks are in advance, you can control the pace and avoid overloading. The manager should meet with the trainer and trainee to review progress.
If possible, start by asking the employee to observe someone doing the task, so the person has a context in which to place future learning. Once the person starts learning their job, consider scheduling a day or two of training per week, over a longer period of time, say two months, rather than a crash course. People tend to learn best when it's given in smaller doses, with the ability to apply it in between sessions.
Give the trainer an incentive rather than dumping the role on the person as an extra burden. For instance, build it into their goals for the year, and move something else to the back burner. Or, give the trainer a spot bonus for their contribution. And if the trainer is interested in moving up and developing leadership skills, make the training assignment part of their development plan.
Expose the trainee to other departments and internal customers during the training.
Sometimes employees on the front line, such as tellers at a bank, will only learn their jobs-not how their jobs affect all the other jobs in the bank. Include affected departments in the teller training, to help a new employee see the impact of their performance on the overall results of the operation.