If you have been doing the same thing for many years, training someone to do your job can be quite difficult. Numerous factors play into this training challenge, but the concept of being unconsciously skilled plays a huge role in this challenge. What does unconsciously skilled mean? Basically, you have been doing something for so long, you can do it without being aware of your actions. 

Think of the first time you tried to ride a bicycle. You struggled to remember what to do, how to balance yourself, stop, etc. Once you master the art of riding a bike, you merely get on and ride away. You no longer have to think about how to do it. You just do it.

If you have been doing the same job for many years, you are probably unconsciously skilled at many of your daily tasks. For example, you don’t have to think about typing, you just type. Being unconsciously skilled in your tasks can make it hard to cross-train, develop a new employee or even your successor. A little common sense and structured effort can make the training process much easier.

If you and I were going to have a race, the first thing you would probably want to know is where to, how far and other details. It’s very difficult to train someone without a written list of what he or she needs to know. Once a written checklist is established, you go over it with the trainee so he or she can begin to learn those skills one by one.

However, making such a list can be challenging. Start with broad tasks, then break each task into five to eight steps. If it takes more steps than that, turn the training project into two parts.

Also, don’t let your ego get in the way. Too often people think, “I have been doing this for 20 years, there’s no way I can teach you in a few months.” I am sure you do lots of diverse things and you didn’t learn them all in a few weeks, but here are some guidelines that might help.

Start with areas where you do a lot of repetitive tasks that take up huge chunks of the day. For example, a receptionist that answers the phone 30 percent of the time might start with phone answering training. If painting requires a painter to roll walls 25 percent of the time, start with how to roll a wall. A roofer that runs a nail gun 50 percent of the day would benefit from being trained on how to properly use a nail gun.

If possible, focus on one major skill at a time. Don’t overwhelm the person. Try to stick with a specific skill until the person is proficient before moving forward.

Everyone likes to be helped, but no one likes to be criticized. Stay away from “should’ve” advice. Advice is best received before doing a task. Help them master what you wanted them to learn. Tell them what they did right and what they need to improve. Coaching follows a step-by-step process:

  1. Tell them what to do.
  2. Show them what to do.
  3. Let the trainee try it.
  4. Observe and redirect.
  5. Repeat the process until the skill is mastered.

Repeat and Review

Repetitive tasks are also an excellent way to see if the person has the aptitude and ability to do the task. If you’re trying to show someone how to roll a wall or use a nail gun, focus on just that specific skill. If he or she can’t master that skill after two or three hours, he or she may never master it.

Review the new employees quarterly, not to give a raise but rather to review their progress (even though in certain situations, giving a small raise in 30 days can prove encouraging). Review the mentor and coach together. This forces dual responsibility and coach buy in.

Consider recruiting people who are smart and capable. Pay a competitive wage and teach them what they need to know. Recruiting experienced people can be challenging for a couple of reasons: there’s a tremendous shortage of experienced people, and experienced people may have lots of bad habits they learned somewhere else. When recruiting an experienced person, develop a clear understanding of why he or she is leaving a current job. Dig into the situation and makes sure it’s logical. If this person is the world’s greatest employee, why does he or she not have a job? If the departure makes sense, then consider hiring the person.

Give the new employee a fair chance. However, in most cases, you can tell within 30 days if the person is going to work out. Don’t expend hundreds of dollars of wages with people who you feel won’t make it. Develop a process where you are constantly recruiting and training people.

New recruits are your future, so protect your future by planning for their success. A written checklist and simple monitoring of progress can go a long way to ensuring your success.