Employee training pays dividends

By Johanne Bouchard Explore Big Sky Business Columnist

I notice and appreciate great customer service. It’s a pleasure to interact with someone who’s invested in doing their job well, and whether it’s in retail, the corporate world or elsewhere, a great employee is an asset.

One of my pet peeves is a poorly trained employee. In previous eras, it was common to invest in your staff with the expectation they would stay with your company long-term. Part of the investment was comprehensive training – ensuring that employees understood their job and felt confident before being left to their tasks unsupervised.

The ripple effects of a poorly trained workforce include high turnover rates and poor customer retention and satisfaction, as well as people advancing into management without being in sync with the company’s goals.

By being properly trained, employees can thrive and stay happy in their positions. Comprehensive training includes a clear understanding of the company’s mission, culture and success metrics; the employee’s objectives and how to meet them; clearly defined rewards; and penalties for poor performance.

Here’s a checklist to create, assess and implement your own training policies:

Have a written manual for every position.
This is key. The manual should be the “Bible” for each position, working as an asset to the trainers and a resource for the trainees. The employee should be given a hardcopy or online access at the outset of their tenure, and the guidelines should be a living document that’s updated over time and reviewed before that same position is filled again. It needs to be simple and concise. You can have a short test or poll after the employee has read the guidelines.

Allow new employees to work in supervised training environments before entering the workforce.
It’s natural to make mistakes when you’re trying something new. Wouldn’t you rather have the early mistakes happen outside of regular business? When I was moving into sales and marketing, I had to execute role-play customer scenarios with management present. Role-playing is powerful!

Have a system for evaluating employees who are ready to execute tasks unsupervised.
Every new employee should shadow a more experienced staff member and executing tasks only with guidance and supervision until meeting a pre-set standard. This can be a simple checklist that outlines each of the employee’s key objectives and the level at which they must be completed satisfactorily. The assigned supervisor checks off the objectives as each milestone is reached.

Schedule extra staff during new employee training.
Although it can be a challenge, it’s important to have extra staff on hand during the training of new employees. Otherwise, the trainer is inevitably juggling more than one person can manage, leading to a scattered training experience for the new hire and clients receiving someone’s split attention.

Be transparent with penalties and rewards, and follow through.
Staff morale is one of the biggest issues I see business owners and managers struggle with. Being 100 percent transparent about how good work is rewarded is half the solution to this problem. The other is having pre-defined penalties for poor performance that you act on consistently. If an employee doesn’t know how to advance in position or income, why should they strive for excellence? And if good employees see subpar colleagues get away with violations without rebuke, the morale and performance of the entire staff suffers.

Assuming that someone understands what is expected of them will not serve anyone well. Truly investing in new employees and maintaining that investment by following through on early promises will deliver a positive return.

Consider the cost in time and money of finding and training someone new – it’s a burden you can manage by inspiring loyalty. And well thought-out training is the best foundation for leveraging your best assets – your employees.

Johanne Bouchard, a former high-tech marketing executive, is a leadership advisor to CEOs, executives and entrepreneurs, as well as an expert in corporate board composition and dynamics. An avid skier, Bouchard and her husband have a second home in Big Sky. Visit johannebouchard.com to learn more or download her recently published eBooks “Board Composition” and “Board Basics.”