When employees don’t perform as expected, it’s usually for one of two reasons: they don’t know how to do the task correctly or they aren’t motivated to do it.
You can figure out which is the case by applying a simple test: if keeping their job depended on doing the task, could they do it the right way? If the answer is yes, then you have a motivation problem, which is most often the case. In these situations, training isn’t the solution. Instead, you need to figure out why the employee isn’t consistently applying the skills or knowledge they have and take corrective action.
If an employee truly doesn’t know how to do the task correctly, you have a training need. This is common with new employees. They come to you with the basic skills required, but need to know how they are expected to apply those skills at your company. Of course, they also need to be trained on your company’s unique processes and methods.
Training takes many forms, each with its own pros and cons. Let’s look at four of the most commonly used forms of training and explore how they might be applied at your company.
Watch & Learn
The most common form of training, this involves transferring the skills and knowledge of your more competent or experienced employees to those who need to be trained. When you ask a current employee to show someone else how to do something, that’s Watch & Learn training. This is probably the most widely used method for non-technical and administrative positions when there’s no documentation of formal processes.
You might apply Watch & Learn training on a task-by-task basis. For example, “Ask Karen to show you how our billing system works, then spend an hour or so with Heidi so she can show you how we track jobs.” Or you may have a new employee shadow a current employee for a period of time to learn how a job is done.
Watch & Learn may incorporate other types of training such as coaching, mentoring, or behavior modeling. The employee doesn’t simply watch how to perform a task. They are also asked to demonstrate their ability to perform the task and given feedback to refine their performance.
The primary drawback to Watch & Learn is that the skills learned by the employee are only as good as those of the person being watched, so you need to be sure ahead of time that things are being done the way you expect.
- No special preparation or training materials required
- Increased engagement for skilled employees/trainers
- Inconsistent training because there’s no standard process
- Incorrect skills may be passed along to other employees
- The time of your employees/trainers
Documentation and Procedures
This training is basically breaking down activities into a set of steps or actions and capturing the process in a document. This could be as simple as a checklist or flow chart and as complex as a detailed list of all steps involved in completing a task, including the tools required, appropriate forms, and photos or screen shots showing specific techniques or results. As you develop a number of these documents or procedures, they can be combined to create an operations manual.
Documentation and procedures are fundamental elements of Lean/Six Sigma and almost every other continuous improvement methodology. To improve a process, you must first define what steps it includes. Only after you have a consistent and repeatable process can you begin to improve it.
Building the documentation is typically done by involving some or all the people who perform the activity in a data-gathering session. A great approach is to have them describe the required steps and display them using Post-It notes on a board. This is also called process mapping.
Invariably, you will discover that different people perform the activity in different ways. The group discusses the best or preferred way, rearranging and updating the Post-Its. At the end of the discussion, you have a documented, consistent process that all employees should follow, which becomes your training tool.
Some say documentation is really a subset of other training types, but for many companies, it stands alone as the primary training tool.
- Simple to develop since current employees can do it
- Ensures continuity and consistency
- Provides the basis for continuous improvement
- All activities/skills can’t be reduced to a checklist/process
- Time for participants to develop the documentation
This is classic, classroom-style instruction. You may invite a trainer/expert to present to your team, or you could send team members to a training event. Instructor-led training is typically most effective for common tasks or responsibilities. On the hard-skills side, you might rely on instructor-led training to improve software skills in Excel or Xactimate. On the soft-skills side, there are many professionally-done courses on supervisory, management, and leadership skills.
Larger organizations are usually the ones that can afford to bring in someone to conduct training. For smaller to mid-size companies, it’s more likely that employees will need to travel to a training event. You would probably be surprised at how much training is available. Most colleges and universities have departments that provide instructor-led training, typically under the title of continuing education or adult education.
High-quality, instructor-led courses include a variety of activities and training formats to engage learners. There may be skill practices, quizzes, role playing, and other activities. Your employees will have the opportunity to interact with experts who can respond to questions about unique aspects of your organization.
In the restoration and cleaning industries there is a wealth of instructor-led, technical training offered by RIA, IICRC, and ICRA. Many of these courses carry certifications or designations with them. Check their websites for a list of available training topics.
- Availability of high-quality instruction
- Generic (not customized) content
- Employee time away from the job
With most employees being tightly connected to the internet through computers, tablets, and phones, it’s little wonder that so many companies have embraced eLearning, or online learning, as one of their training strategies. Most organizations rely on purchased eLearning courses, but larger organizations may opt to develop customized courses.
Most eLearning platforms allow courses to be accessed from anywhere an employee can connect to the internet, at any time of the day, making it highly convenient.
The range of courses available is virtually unlimited, but the quality of eLearning varies widely. Much of it is what has been dubbed “shovelware.” Someone takes a PowerPoint presentation that was created for instructor-led training, then makes a video as they narrate it. Only slightly better is pointing a camera at an instructor presenting a live class and recording it. Both approaches can be incredibly boring. Far more engaging eLearning is available that includes all manner of activities and interactions to hold the learner’s attention.
There is an abundant amount of free eLearning available through what are called massive online open courses (MOOCs). These are typically college courses offered online at no cost. Visit mooc.org or search for “mooc courses,” but be prepared to be overwhelmed by the number of courses available. Some are very good, while others fall into the shovelware category.
While MOOC courses are very general or generic, most industries have eLearning available that’s tailored to their unique needs. In the restoration and cleaning industries, Phil Rosebrook was an early adopter of eLearning with the introduction of his ELC training series. Reets TV offers nearly 80 videos on mitigation, mold, and fire restoration. And The Violand Institute was recently-launched with a range of professional education courses for executives, managers, and frontline employees. In addition to providing more relevant content, courses like these are typically backed by the availability of the developers or instructors to respond to learner questions. This is something you’re unlikely to find in a MOOC.
- Available at the convenience of the learner
- Consistent content
- No interaction with other learners or the instructor
- Some are free, some per course, and some purchased as a license
Investing in Your Employees
Training isn’t a one-and-done event. Have a new service procedure, a new internal process, or some fresh regulations to address? As things change, you need ensure that all employees know how they are expected to adapt to the change. More-promising employees should also be provided with development training to prepare them for new or larger responsibilities. At successful companies, training is an on-going endeavor. It’s critical to helping create and retain the top talent a company works so hard to attract.
Training is an investment in your employees; an investment that will be repaid to your organization in many ways. Employees typically appreciate the opportunity to learn and feel more engaged with companies that demonstrate an interest in their development. There’s also the performance gain created by having better-trained employees.
Every business owner knows that employees tend to move between jobs much more frequently than in the past. In the minds of some owners, that may raise the question, “what if I train my employees and they leave?” A much more important question is, “what if you don’t train them and they stay?”