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How many times have you seen a new employee join the team but not be productive for months?  Why don’t companies do a better job making the investment in training a new employee?  We hire them, and then throw them to the wolves with a “oh they will figure it out” attitude.  It is completely counter-intuitive.  You hired the person because you thought they would be an asset.  Why not make a real investment in their success and get them productive as soon as possible.

The “On-the-Job” Training Trap

Particularly in small to medium businesses, I often see the “shadow” training program.  That program looks a lot like “OK, sit here with Mary for a week, and she will show you what you need to know.”  Mary is our best [insert job title]. Of course that is who should be training the new hire, right?  The answer of course is, it depends.   Mary could be the best person in the department at doing the job, but does that automatically mean that she is the best trainer?  Does she even like training people?  Does Mary represent your corporate culture well?  Finally, can you afford for Mary to have low productivity for the week that she is training?

Other potential problems exist with this type of training?  What if Mary goes too fast for the new hire to learn?  If the phone is ringing twenty times a day, is that interrupting the quality of training?  What happens if you get the end of the week, and the new hire is not ready?

There is another variation of the shadow training program.  It is the “Round Robin Shadow”.  In this variation, the new hire sits with each person in their department for a day or so.  This method contains more potential land mines that one to one shadow training.  Your new hire gets 5 perspectives on how to do their job.  Each method is slightly different and nuanced, potentially leaving your new employee totally confused.

The Primary Goal of Training

People do not leave companies.  People leave people.  In many cases, the person that they leave is an immediate supervisor.  In my experience, a training/orientation program should have one primary goal that stands above all others, cultural assimilation.   The faster you can assimilate a new hire into your corporate culture, the more engaged that person will be.  The more engaged people are, the more productive they will be.  Training does not usually breed employee engagement.  However, higher employee engagement normally leads to more productive training.  This, in turn, leads to a quickly trained employee who produces more over the long run.

Cultural assimilation is also key for another reason.  There is often a strong correlation between engagement and attitude.  I believe that attitude is one of the biggest determining factors of success and productivity.  Experience has taught me that you can train people to do a job, but you cannot train someone to have a good attitude.  If the attitude and behavior is not there, you can pretty much forget about having an engaged, productive employee.

5 More Reasons to Have A Real Training Program

  • A real training program standardizes the content and delivery of training.  It is a controlled message.  Every new hire has the same experience.  Additionally, there is an higher likelihood that all content is being covered, and things are not being missed.  Make sure there is a clear outline of topics to cover.  Also, a standard of competence for each topic is important.  This helps make certain that expectations are met and training is completed.
  • Efficient formal programs to train new hires are ultimately more cost-effective.  Bringing a new hire up to a productive state allows the new hire to be a contributor sooner.  This also helps minimize productivity drops in your veteran team members.  I have also noticed that when an employee becomes productive quicker, there is a much lower chance of a morale problem in the veteran staff.
  • In addition cost efficiency, a real program delivers a new hire that executes their role with fewer mistakes.  Quality of work is generally better.  This usually results in a happier, more engaged employee.
  • A good program also presents opportunities for the new team member to provide feedback and suggestions for improvement.  These improvements could be related to the program itself or even the processes that are being trained.  Don’t assume “the way we have been doing it” is automatically the best way.  Certainly some processes must be rigid due to regulator requirements, etc.  However, if a new hire sees a way to do a task more efficiently, why wouldn’t you want to listen?  Make sure there is a good feedback loop in place that encourages new hires to make suggestions and ask questions.
  • Finally, a real training program develops leaders within the company.  When the right people are doing the training, they have the opportunity to refine their skills and grow as leaders.  This is a great way to deepen your bench of talented people who can pass on critical knowledge to others in the company.

Delivery is Key

Doing the task and teaching the task are not the same thing.  The people training your new hires need to be excited about it.  The trainer’s attitude, good or bad, is going to be contagious.  You are entrusting a big part of the future success of your new employee to the person delivering the training.  Make sure you have the right person in that role.

Don’t be afraid to have multiple people delivering the training.  If you have a phenomenal ERP Administrator who is a great communicator, let that person deliver the ERP portion of training.  If your fastest order puller is not the most personable member on the team, picking someone else for training might work better.  Effective communicators often deliver training very well, with higher than average quality.

Closing Thoughts

A great speaker on HR issues named Hunter Lott posits the idea that you should “throw employees a party on their first day”.  While throwing an actual party may not be your speed, don’t underestimate the importance of a good training program.  Remember that above all things, you want new hires assimilating into your culture quickly.  Pairing your new hires with the right trainers, armed with a high quality program, pays huge dividends for you and for your new team members.  Spend the time on the front end helping the new employee achieve everything you hoped they would when you drafted the offer letter!