Employee’s First Steps

My wife and I are expecting our first child in October and one of the things that people give you when you’re expecting is a “Baby’s First” book. It notes the accomplishments of your child, when they occurred, and how. For a newborn, these are things like “took her first step” and “walked across the room.” As the child gets older it’s “rode a bike without training wheels.” All of these, in retrospect, are small accomplishments to those of us who do them daily. I can’t remember the last time I took note of myself moving from place to place. But when your baby is learning these things, they’re huge accomplishments.

Training an employee is not that different. One of the mistakes that I have to continually check myself of, and one that I see repeated in many managers, is expecting new employees to know the things that old employees know. These can be things as simple as “where to find the information” or as complex as “standard operating procedure being followed in instance A.” It’s an interesting dynamic that we expect new employees, after a few months of training, to be able to do what old employees can do. Also, managers often see training, even ongoing training of existing employees, as an arduous task that must be undertaken but their time could be better spent elsewhere.

I find treating training like a Baby’s First accomplishment goes a long way to not only building a better employee but engendering loyalty in that employee for the skills you taught them. I’m not saying use baby talk, your employees are either smart or your hiring practices are poor; they don’t need to be babied. But they do need to be taught. I won’t expect my newborn to walk across the room even though I’ve showed her half a dozen times how to do it. I can’t see my wife saying “look at Daddy walking, why aren’t you doing it that way?” Expecting a new employee to “walk” and getting frustrated when they don’t right off the bat is an exercise in futility.

Instead, train your employees thinking of it as Employee’s First Steps. Make a list of accomplishments that you want them to be able to do on their own. Start with the small stuff (login to the system, access the accounting files) and work your way up to the big stuff (rebuild a server using only toothpicks and dental floss). Praise them for their accomplishments and work with them so that they learn how to learn in your organization. Teach them how to find what it is that they’re looking for, as you would teach a child to ask questions. You’re building an employee for a career, not a job, so teach them how to get better.

I firmly believe in ongoing training as well. Employers often worry that, through training, they’re going to over qualify someone for the company and that person will move on because there’s no way to move up. An amazing employee, the kind you want to work for you, is going to move on if they stop learning things at your company, regardless of whether you stop training them or not. If you’re not growing fast enough for them to grow up, that’s okay. Yes, they’ll move on and get experience elsewhere and put the knowledge you’ve taught them to work for someone else. But I guarantee that when a position opens up in your organization that they’re qualified for, they’ll seriously consider returning. I’ve had several employees in the past who worked for me in different capacities come back to work for me again because of this very philosophy.

Training is about recognizing accomplishments, little as they may seem in the big picture, praising them, and providing a path to move forward. New employees or old, training is an important part of staying at the top of the food chain. If you want the best, hire the best, and build them to be better. Now take a look at your current employee training plans, how do they hold up?

Posted in Management, Training.

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