Increase Training to Improve Results

Debbie Zmorenski

While it's true that training is an investment in time and money, a study by the American Management Association found that companies that increased their training after changes in the organization reported 63-percent higher productivity, 69-percent higher profits and 74-percent higher quality. In contrast, companies that did not increase training after changes in the organization observed significantly lower results, including a 34-percent productivity increase, 40-percent profit increase and a 24-percent quality increase.

These statistics are relevant not only to employees who have undergone change in an organization but also for employees who are new to an organization. Studies show that in all circumstances training increases profits by enhancing employee satisfaction, reducing stress and decreasing turnover.

Your business results are critical to your success. Why would you place people who have a direct impact on the bottom line in a position where they do not have the skills, knowledge, resources and tools to be successful? Yet that is exactly the circumstance in many organizations.

Contrary to what you may have heard, most people want to succeed. It is the responsibility of supervisors and managers to utilize available resources to train, qualify and develop their employees in order to position them for success.

Training comes in many forms, but first let’s consider what training is not. It is not a job shadow experience, sometimes called the "Follow Joe" method of training. Assigning a new employee to walk around with another employee and watch what they do is not effective. Furthermore, if the person whom the new hire is following is not one of your best employees, the new hire will invariably learn to do things wrong. The end result is additional costs to retrain and break bad habits learned during their "training."

Additionally, the "Follow Joe" method of training does not provide a structure whereby all employees are taught to perform like tasks in a consistent way. It often leaves employees on their own to figure out how the details of the work are to be done. The very best people will come up with something that works for them. The others will get discouraged very quickly and either quit or may have to be discharged, leaving you scratching your head and wondering how this great person you hired turned out to be so wrong.

An on-the-job training (OJT) program is one of the most efficient training methods because it is a structured process that is planned, organized and delivered at the employee’s work site. While an OJT process is effective for any business, it is especially cost-effective for industrial jobs, those where employees perform repeatable tasks. An OJT plan should include:

1. A Process for the Selection of Trainers

Post the trainer opening, giving all employees a chance to submit interest and clearly state the minimum requirements, such as:

  • No negative job performance notations on his or her record for a stated period of time
  • A performance review rating that is above average
  • No more than two attendance infractions within the last six months
  • A minimum of one year of experience in the job skills for the posted trainer opening
  • Proven people skills

2. The Total Number of Hours of Planned Training for the Job Description

  • This may vary with different lines of business and is usually based on the complexity of the job
  • The hours should be flexible whenever possible and within reason

3. The Method by which Training will be Delivered

  • Online
  • Face to face in small groups
  • Face to face with one trainee at a time
  • Hands-on
  • A combination of the above

4. The Method by which Training will be Evaluated

  • Provide a check-out test at key milestones within the training program to assess whether the new employee is ready to move to the next step
  • Provide a check-out test at the end of the program to assess whether the employee is ready to go solo
  • Be prepared to give additional training if the employee’s check-out test score is below average

5. A Process for Accountability throughout the Training

  • Provide a training outline for each task description that is trained
  • As each task is trained and the employee agrees that he or she is comfortable, have the employee and the trainer sign their initials beside the task description
  • File the outline in the employee's file for future reference

When designing your OJT program, it is critical that you have comprehensive trainer selection criteria in place. Even the best OJT programs are doomed to fail if the trainers do not have training skills, such as patience and other human relations skills, along with strong communication skills. Generally, when we are asked as consultants to evaluate an OJT program with a high failure rate where new employees repeatedly perform poorly after training, the failure is linked directly to the designated trainer.

While most trainers want to do a good job, many do not innately know how to train others. Therefore, you must provide the selected trainer with training, teaching them a specific process for training others effectively. Remember, a person who is great at his or her task will not necessarily make a great trainer, which is why it is critical to have strong selection criteria in place.

While it is important to have a planned number of hours for training that is appropriate for the complexity of the job, it is equally important to build in flexibility within the planned training hours. For example, some people will catch on quickly. Other new employees may need a little extra time for specific functions. The supervisor of the department should be open to guidance and suggestions from the trainer regarding the new employee’s needs.

The method of training should also be considered. People learn differently. Some are visual, while others are tactile, for example. Thus, a combination of training tools that incorporates as many of the senses as possible will be the most effective technique.

The one-on-one trainer-to-trainee process has been found to be the most successful method. Of course, this is not always possible. If you are unable to schedule new employees individually with a trainer, it is strongly recommended to keep the groups small. The best-case scenario is three to four people for one trainer. At the very least, schedule the trainees on the same schedule (including days off) as their trainer to promote consistency in the information received and to allow for a relationship to build between the trainer and the trainee.

Ensure that accountability measures are in place by providing a detailed method for evaluating the new employee’s progress during his or her training. When I worked in human resources for the resorts at Walt Disney World, I was part of a team that designed OJT programs for all lines of business within the hospitality job functions. We created accountability OJT outlines and check-out tests that assessed the employees’ ability to perform on their own and also provided an accountability measure that was used to assess the employee’s readiness and/or right fit for the job in which he or she was placed.

A side benefit to this procedure is that it is a way to assess and hold accountable the skills and performance of your trainers. If a trainer has a high percentage of trainees who fail the check-out tests, it may be that the trainer is not a right fit for training or needs additional training for his or her skill development.

An effective on-the-job training program accomplishes many goals. Most obviously, it offers a way to ensure that each new employee is given the skills, knowledge and abilities to be successful in his or her role. It ensures that the quality of training is consistent across the organization and plays a significant role in reducing turnover once you have done due diligence in recruiting and hiring right-fit people for your company.

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About the Author

Deborah K. Zmorenski, MBA, is the co-owner and senior partner of Leader’s Strategic Advantage Inc., an Orlando, Fla.-based consulting firm. During her 34-year career with the Walt Disney W...