Training Team Members

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Many new managers believe they must know how to perform every job in their area of responsibility. It’s as though they feel that if some key person quits, they might have to get out there and personally perform the task. If you believe in that philosophy and carry it to its logical conclusion, then the chief executive officer of the organization ought to be able to perform every job in the company and also be capable of training team members. That, of course, is ridiculous.

It’s just as ridiculous as believing that the president of the United States should be able to perform every task in the federal government. The president shouldn’t even be able to perform every job in the White House. You don’t have to be a master chef to recognize rotten chicken.

Your Responsibility for Training

You must know what needs to be done, not exactly how it’s done. A lot depends on what level manager you are. If you are responsible for doing some of the work yourself and leading others in the same function, you will know how to perform the operation.

If you have thirty-five people performing a variety of tasks, however, you will not know how to perform each task—but you will have someone out there who does know how it’s done.

The administrator of a large hospital is not able to perform surgery, but that administrator knows the process by which skilled surgeons are secured and retained on the staff.

Many new managers are uncomfortable about what they cannot do. Don’t be. You will be held responsible for the results you achieve—not for performing every task yourself. Although this concept may be frightening to you at first, you’ll get used to it and wonder how you ever could have thought otherwise. Your initial reaction will be, “I’ve got to know it all.’ If it’s a big, varied operation, you can’t possibly know it all. Don’t sweat it.

Training the New Employee

Some jobs require more extensive training than others, but even the most experienced person coming into a new situation needs some basic training. New employees need to be trained as soon as possible in their job, learn how things are done at your company, and understand how they fit into the overall organization.

In many ways, instructions and training given to employees on their first day are wasted. Their first day on the job is an opportunity for new employees to become acquainted with the people they’ll be working with and their work setting. You should permit them to spend the first day just observing and then start the actual training the second day. Many workers go home from their first day on the job with either a bad headache or a backache—undoubtedly the result of nervous tension.

There are different philosophies on how training should be done. The most common philosophy holds that the person leaving the job should be responsible for training a new employee. Automatically following that philosophy can be a mistake. Everything depends on why the employee is leaving and on the departing person’s attitude.

Training the Wrong Way: An Example

The following example shows the wrong way of training a new employee. It demonstrates the worst kind of judgment.

The manager of an office consisting of several salespeople and one clerical person decided that the clerk should be fired for incompetence. He gave her two weeks’ notice but asked her to work during that time.

He then hired her replacement and asked her to train the new employee. The result was a nightmare for all concerned. Small wonder.

If the people leaving your company are less than 100 percent competent, you must never allow them to do the training for new team members.

Why would you want those fired for incompetence responsible for training their replacement? They are likely to put no effort at all into the training. And even if they do make an effort, they’ll probably pass all their bad habits on to the new employee. Even people who are leaving voluntarily usually are not the best trainers. Most people who put in their notice are already focused on their position. The training they do may be casual and incomplete. On the other hand, when a position opens up because the incumbent in the job is being promoted, that person is probably the best one to handle the training.

The manager who wanted the fired employee to train the replacement did not understand the clerical job. It was impossible for him personally to train the new employee—any attempt to do so would merely have displayed his ignorance. He therefore went to impossible extremes to “keep his cover.” That is a serious managerial failure.

Don’t misconstrue this suggestion to mean that a manager must personally know how to perform every job in the organization.

In the example given, there was only one clerical position, so no one else was available. The manager took the easy route of having the departing clerical worker train the incoming one.

Even if the manager couldn’t explain the specific details of the job to the new employee, he should have been able to explain exactly what he expected from the clerical position.

The Role Of the Trainer

Before starting a new employee on a training course, you must have a talk with the prospective trainer. You should never spring it as a surprise. Meet with the trainer in advance to discuss the outcome you are seeking. You may have some ideas on how the new person can do things more effectively than the person who was in the job. This is an ideal opportunity to implement the changes you have in mind. There is no better time to effect change than when the new person is starting. Even if you don’t have any changes in mind, it is important that you and the trainer agree on the expected outcome.

Once the new employee is hired and a starting date has been established, notify the person you’ve selected as the trainer. The trainer may need to rearrange some schedules to accommodate the assignment. Pick a trainer who is very good at explaining what is going on—one who can break the job down into its component parts and who doesn’t describe it in technical terms that will be hard for the new employee to understand at first. The technical terms will be picked up eventually, but this “foreign language” must not overwhelm the trainee. You must outline to the trainer what you want to happen. If you’d like the first training day to be casual, the trainer needs to know that.

Sometime during the latter part of the first day, you should stop by and ask the trainer and the trainee how things are going. What you say is not as important as your display of interest in the new employee. At the end of the first week, call the new employee into the office for a chat. Again, what is said is not as important as the interest displayed in trainee should take over the job from the trainer on a gradual basis as each step in the process is mastered.

The feedback method should apply to every employee. The system should be developed in such a manner that unsatisfactory performance always comes to your attention before too much damage is done. The process is vital to your success as a manager, but no strict guidelines can be offered for establishing it because it will vary according to the specifics of your operation.

The feedback must be internal. Hearing about the mistake from a dissatisfied client or customer means it is already too late. You want to correct the problem before the work gets out of your own area of responsibility.

Quality Control

If it is possible to maintain quality control procedures your employees can relate to, so much the better. Don’t expect perfection; that’s an unrealistic goal. Determine what an acceptable margin of error should be for your area and then strive as a team to reach that goal and eventually better it. The goal must be realistic if you expect the cooperation of your team members.

New employees need to know what is expected of them once they’re operating on the job alone. If your ultimate goal for them is 95 percent efficiency, it would help them to know your interim targets.You might expect them to work:

  • at 70 percent efficiency at the end of thirty days
  • at 80 percent efficiency at the end of sixty days
  • and at 95 percent efficiency at the end of ninety days

This will depend on how difficult the work is. The simpler the job, the easier it should be to get to the ultimate quality goal. You need to determine the timetable and share it with the new employee.

By keeping employees informed of your expectations, you make them a part of the process. Encourage them to let the trainer know in advance if they are concerned about not reaching a targeted level of efficiency so they can work together to find ways to improve performance. Let trainees know that you and the trainer will respond constructively and not punitively. During the training process, you want the new employee to correctly see you and the trainer as coaches and supporters, not disciplinarians. Make it clear that your goal is his success.

Even when new employees take over the job on their own, you should have the trainer audit their work until you believe the work is acceptable and quality checks are not as crucial. Each mistake should be gone over carefully with the trainee. The trainer must be a diplomat who is good at talking about what went wrong without attacking the new employee. Don’t make it personal. The trainer should not say, “You’re making a mistake again.” Rather, something like: ‘ ‘Well, this still is not 100 percent, but I think we’re getting closer, don’t you?”

End of the Training Period

At some point the probationary period must end. In most companies, this is usually after a specified number of weeks or months. Once the trainee demonstrates the ability to work unassisted, it’s time for another formal interview between you and the trainee. This marks the completion of a phase in the new employee’s career, and some attention should be paid to the event.

This is an opportunity to express your satisfaction about the progress made up to this point, to note that the employee will now be working without a trainer, and to indicate how the work will be monitored both for quality and quantity.

It is also an excellent opportunity to continue the discussion you initiated at the end of the employee’s first week about things she may have discovered for improving the way she performs her job. Even if she does not have any suggestions yet, it reminds her to keep open to opportunities for improvement and makes it clear that your interest in her suggestions is genuine.

Recognize and Reward the Trainer

The conclusion of the training process is a good time to recognize and reward the trainer. If she has done a good job, find an opportunity to share that information with the trainer’s colleagues. The trainer took on additional responsibility, and you will be well served to praise the trainer, sending the message to all team members that putting forth additional effort is valued. An affordable reward may also be in order, like a Friday afternoon off or a gift card.

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