Sharing Success

Taking My Own Advice

Last year, I shared the following advice in my column about properly training new hires, especially younger ones:

Training is the piece of the puzzle that can give a business a distinct advantage. Training is essential for two reasons.

First, young employees who lack “work sense” have a tougher time fitting into their first jobs because they are joining a “game in progress” without knowing what is expected of them. Helping them over that hurdle makes it easier for them to otherwise succeed.

Second, if the so-called training program consists of current part timers training newcomers, watch out! Every time employees pass down training, important points get left out and before long, mistakes happen that risk disappointing customers.

That is why the secret weapon is real training by a boss. Starting off every employee with a clear understanding of exactly what you expect, why their contribution matters, how it ultimately impacts customer satisfaction, etc., shortens their learning curve and multiplies their chances of job success.

Much to my own chagrin, I must admit that this summer I discovered that our company wasn’t following that same advice.

Here is what happened. Every summer, our cannery hires a few college-age students to collect and record productivity measurements, which helps us monitor real-time results and later identify opportunities for improvement.

In their job, these “data techs” visit several locations in our plant with measuring devices. They then record and enter data into a computer system that analyzes production performance.

As I walked through the cannery during the first week of production, I came across a young new “data tech.”

Curious about what he thought about his new responsibilities, I introduced myself to this polite young man (I will call him Dan) and asked him a few questions.

Dan was glad the job would help him pay for school. However, he did not have a clue about what the numbers he was recording meant, how they would be used, or why they mattered. Dan then said that his training had mainly involved shadowing a more experienced “data tech” who had performed this job last season. Dan even admitted to me that the job was very boring and he did not much like it.

In my mind, a blinking red light caused me to harken back to my La Trattoria advice…

That is when I sat down with Dan and explained exactly what the data he was capturing meant to our production managers and how it guided their decisions. Finally, I emphasized that what Dan was doing was really important to all of us.

Later, during a production team meeting, I asked Dan’s supervisor whether he had trained Dan and the other new hires. The supervisor explained that he was so busy getting everything else ready for the season, he had instead relied on his most experienced team member to show newcomers the ropes.

That is when I realized two things. First, my original La Trattoria advice was somewhat correct, but very much incomplete. Realistically, people running businesses are often too busy to personally train every new hire. Delegating the “basics of the job” training to experienced team members is just smart time management.

However, after new hires learn job basics, they still need “polishing” by a boss. That is because experienced employees typically teach newcomers the HOW, but not the WHY, of the job.

On the other hand, a boss has the proper perspective necessary to “polish” the newly trained employee’s understanding of WHY their job ultimately matters to the team!

As I explained to Dan’s supervisor, “polishing” each new hire immediately after “basics of the job” training would also help make the supervisor’s job easier, since motivated employees are easier to manage. It also would help confirm that they were hearing the right messages from their trainer.

The good news is that the supervisor did follow through by “polishing” Dan and the other newcomers. Afterward, nearly every time I saw Dan throughout the season, he had a smile on his face and a bounce in his step! He also stayed with us through the end of the season.

To me, it just makes sense that when properly engaged, most employees prefer to take pride in the quality of their work, provided that their boss takes the time to demonstrate that they care too!