5 min read

A Guide to Employee Training Programs for Small Business

How to design, implement and execute an employee training program that engages employees and delights customers.
A Guide to Employee Training Programs for Small Business

Employee turnover is a huge factor in high labor costs and most small business turnover occurs within the first six months of employment.

Some turnover is the result of reactive hiring decisions, some may be due to misperceptions of the work and some can even be traced back to personality conflicts.

However, employee turnover within the first three months is likely caused by the training program, if there even is one.

Let’s fix that. There are two parts:

  1. Designing Your Employee Training Program
  2. Implementing Your Employee Training Program
  3. Selecting the Right Trainer

Let’s get to it!

Designing an Employee Training Program

The right training approach can help you achieve spectacular results for your customers and employees. Try our approach that leads to an employee training program with more impact and effectiveness.

The Art and Science of Training

First, some definitions:

  • Art includes all the “soft skills” employees need to perfect like how they interact with clients and the attitude they present.
  • Science covers all the mechanical pieces that need to be mastered like how to deliver the product and service.

Most jobs require both art and science. By defining the applicable art and science in each step of the product or service, you will be able to train effectively in areas that were previously difficult.

Let’s look at how this would apply to a server at a full-service restaurant:

  • Art: smile, use a warm tone of voice, use a different introduction than you did at the adjacent table, use direct eye contact, stand so you can see your section while you are at the table, and similar skills.
  • Science: Greet the guest, introduce yourself, offer a specific beverage, suggest an appetizer selection as the guest reviews the menu, point out the specials listed on the menu, depart and place the beverage order, and so forth.

Continue this process all the way through presenting the check, receiving payment, and farewelling the guest. Each step of service must be identified and both its art and science components defined.

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Implementing Your Employee Training Program

Our approach is a slower process than “my way or the highway.” But it’s worth it, give it a try! There are three steps to implementing your new employee training program:

Step 1: Collect Information

Define the expectations and needs of the customer within your business. For example, continuing the full-service restaurant example: "Our customers expect hot food, cleanliness, knowledgeable, smiling staff, pleasant attitudes.

Pro tip: talk to your customers and employees to be sure you are in touch with what is really important to them.

Step 2: Define Requirements

For each position, define the specific behavior required by your staff to satisfy the customers needs and expectations in terms of both the art and the science involved. Involve as many people in the business as practicable and look for general consensus.

Step 3: Monitor Results

Monitor customer feedback to determine how well their expectations have been met. If you are hearing feedback like, "Your place is always so clean!", "Your employees are so knowledgeable." or "The staff here are always so pleasant!", you are on the right track! If not, make the necessary course corrections.

It will take time to properly complete these steps. Just reaching an agreement on just what needs to be done, what it should look like and how you can measure it will test your leadership skills. It will force you to open up to new ideas and approaches from your managers and staff.

Selecting the Right Trainer

Even in companies that value training and commit the time, money and staff to assure that training takes place, it still fails. The problem is not with the training program, we might have hired the right employee but then selected the wrong trainer to onboard them to the business.

Usually, the best performer in a given position is selected to train new employees in that position. On the surface this makes perfect sense. Except more often than not your best performer may be your worst trainer because they really don’t want to train others.

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The Best Employee Isn’t Always the Best Trainer

Think about it.

Why would current employees want to train new employees anyway? What's in it for them? Most of the time, it’s nothing.

They rarely get recognized or rewarded. Training will slow them down in their own jobs, which may cause them to lose money, work harder or both.

The star employee may feel threatened by new trainees ("Are they here to replace me?"). Maybe the employee doesn't want a trainee to succeed for fear of losing status or benefits (best jobs, best roster, etc.)

How to Find the Right Trainer

To find the right trainer, don’t ask the boss, ask the staff.

A key trait of the right trainer is that they want to train. Your staff can tell you the key information you need to know to identify a good trainer:

  • Who do they go to for advice?
  • Who gives them help when they need it?
  • Who has been most valuable in teaching them new skills?

In other words, they know which people on your staff are natural trainers. They may not be your most stellar performers (often they are not) but they love to train and they are good at it.

Qualities of a Great Employee Trainer

Find out who that trainer is in your business:

  • The one who loves to help others succeed.
  • The one with the patience of a saint.
  • The great listener
  • The one with the smile, the courage and the confidence.

It’s a true gamechanger. Offer them the opportunity to earn extra money by taking on that responsibility on a more formal basis.

If they jump at the chance, they will probably succeed beyond your wildest expectations and help you control turnover and runaway labor costs.

Final Thoughts

The process will really make you appreciate the skills your team has, or needs to have. It also sends a clear signal to your staff that you care about their knowledge and the customer experience.

If you do it, expect to see improved staff retention, an easier to manage business through clear expectations of employees and a better culture. Your customers and employees are worth the effort and the results are worth the time investment.

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