For years, I have used learning to bowl as an example of how employee expectations and development work. If you wanted to learn to bowl, you might go to the local bowling alley and ask a pro to give you lessons. Your expectations would be high as you are eager to learn and have found someone to teach you. After some instruction, you now move into the accountability phase of learning. The pro gives you a bowling ball and you try to knock down some pins. Suppose a large sheet is suspended between you and the pins-the ball goes through the sheet and you hear the clatter of pins falling. Now you have entered the final phase of the learning process, feedback. What if you were then told that it would be an entire year before you learned how many pins fell-at your annual review? I doubt you would be very motivated to go to the bowling alley each week. Employee training and development works much the same way. The best training programs are cultural and part of the daily process. So let's discuss some practical steps you can take to provide realistic training:
New Employee ExpectationsWhen hiring new employees, lay out a pattern of what you want them to learn in the next 30 days. Discuss this with their foreman and review them in 30 days with the foreman present to see how they are doing. You may even want to check with the foreman once a week to see how the new employee is doing. At the end of 30 days, consider another time period and set of skills.
Foremen ExpectationsJust like you, many field people are frustrated by the quality of employee working for the company. Foremen just want you to hire good people who will show up each day, work hard, know what to do, and get the job done. Unfortunately, this may not be practical. The foreman's mindset must be changed to understand that you are hiring the best people you can and the stress in their crew will continue unless they are part of the process to develop new people.
Pre-job MeetingsOne of the best ways to train people is through pre-job meetings. Seagull management-showing up on the job, squawking and dumping on people-just does not work. Going over the job prior to startup allows you to discuss issues before poor performance or other issues occur. People are more open minded and willing to think. Not only is the pre-job meeting a way to train people, it also is the single most important thing you can do to help productivity. Such a meeting need not be elaborate; on a small job five minutes might be all the time that is needed.
Classroom TimeWhen training in a classroom, remember that most of your employees did not like school. Make sure that training is seen as a positive tool and not an embarrassing situation. The purpose of classroom training is to change your culture and create an environment of learning, not criticism. The actual fact that you meet together and communicate is more important than what is specifically taught. Here are some hints you can use to make classroom time more effective:
Keep training time short, no more than three to four hours per session. Field people are not used to being inside for hours at a time.
Don't take up too many Saturdays and weekends. Try to hold the classes at a time people are happy to attend. Consider late afternoon where they go into early evening and you provide pizza.
For craft training, keep the classroom trade specific and work on repetitive skills you frequently need to do over and over. For a roofer, this might be how to flash a chimney, how to lay out and start a roof correctly, or a review of the five most common problems that cause a roof to leak. By being trade specific, you will generate more training results for your training dollar.
Consider training on quality by reviewing all the problems and complaints and training to correct them. Rather than focus on the problem, concentrate on what steps can be taken to avoid the problem in the future. While working with a large plumbing company that contracted new housework, we were hired to correct a million dollars worth of warranty claims. We developed a training program to help correct the situation. A million dollars in warranty looked enormous but when analyzed, seven tasks created over 60 percent of the claims.
Bring industry speakers or customers to talk to your employees. Many manufacturers and distributors have packaged programs they can perform for your company. This is a much more valuable service than having them buy you lunch.
Industry TrainingSeminars are available through trade associations and industry suppliers. Such programs can be great training tools. However, be careful of which employees you send to such programs and you may want to go with them. I teach seminars at trade shows about how to make 100k in your business and see the class full of foreman who should not be sitting there. I have also monitored technical classes where instructors keep talking about how much money you can make doing such work. Not long ago, I stuck my head in a faux finishing class where the instructor was bragging about how he could make $100 an hour doing faux. I could see one $16 an hour employee thinking, "Why am I working for someone else doing this when I can make $84 an hour more by going into business for myself?" My advice is when in doubt, attend with your employees and if necessary, remind the instructor of your concerns.
In closing, training is more about how you think and act as a company than it is actual classroom topics. By working on training and coaching, you are developing an organization that wants to improve and help those around you. Just like plants, "If you are not growing, you are dying." People and organizations also operate under this same philosophy.