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Tossing the Training Manual

Take a fresh approach to teaching your employees

In some companies, training programs haven’t been revamped in years, or possibly ever. Stephanie Hammerwold, a human resources expert known as The HR Hammer in Irvine, California, works with employers to make workspaces a more enjoyable place to be. Her advice is to start by assessing the current instruction procedure for employees. “Take the time to evaluate your training,” Hammerwold says. “Is it effective? Does it keep [them] engaged?”

Training programs don’t have to be mind numbingly boring. Yes, company policies and procedures must be covered, but reading through exceptionally dry manuals isn’t necessarily the best plan of attack.

Nobody really likes to be trained, says Bob Phibbs, CEO of The Retail Doctor, a retail consultant firm in New York: “Frankly, most of what people call ‘training’ is merely exposure,” he says. “It’s the difference between looking at Serena Williams at Wimbledon and then saying, ‘I can be at Wimbledon because I understand it’ and actually doing the hard work of practice, role-play and being held accountable for the training.”

Hammerwold says adults often learn better when they don’t have to sit and listen to someone talk at them. “Consider making a lot of your training hands-on and limit the amount of time people sit listening to a boring PowerPoint presentation,” she says. “For the things that do require classroom learning, add real-world examples and make training interactive to keep people engaged.”

Interactive training can be much more appealing to employees so they’re more motivated to participate. Angela Barta, operations manager for 21st Century Pools & Spas in Vestal, New York, has seen the positive effects of this training process in action.

“Our chemical supplier [BioGuard] is one of the best examples of a great training method,” Barta says. “Their training is all online based and includes many informational slides, example videos including role-playing, and short quizzes to gauge employee comprehension of the material. I believe the short segments, broken up by quizzes, makes trainees feel they are reaching small goals, leading to their ultimate goal of being fully trained on the products. Additionally, the trainee receives a certificate of completion, which we proudly post in our retail store for each employee.”

Those who don’t feel their training needs a revamp should look at staff turnover rate. According to Forbes, “HR industry studies show that a great amount of staff turnover (possibly as high as 20 percent) can happen within the first 45 days of employment.” The type of training a new hire receives can have a big impact on whether he/she stays for the long haul. Alternatively, employees new and old who have the opportunity to continually participate in interactive, informative and motivating training are more likely to have the same response to their jobs overall.

Improperly trained sales staff can struggle with customer interactions, which negatively affects sales commission. So if you’re looking for another way to motivate your sales staff toward training, remind them it will have a positive affect on their take-home pay.

“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘You are getting better or getting worse; nothing stays the same,’ ” says Lynne Jensen-Nelson, founder of Conversion-omics, a consultant firm in Minneapolis. “Business leaders create interest in training by showing team members that it works.” Any time not spent on the showroom floor should be spent focusing on immediately applicable methods, techniques and strategies, according to Jensen-Nelson. Presenting training in short spurts doesn’t feel like training at all. “[It’s] a game of inches.”

Phibbs agrees. “Exposure doesn’t move the needle of sales,” he says. “You need to have a proven system that breaks down the training into small three to five minute bits and allows sufficient time between lessons. This allows the learner to get their new skills questions answered, practice and role-play so they have small wins at what was taught before being expected to do it with a customer.” While staff training may not be the most popular aspect of a worker’s employment, with a few tweaks to the conventional method, it can certainly be more engaging and impactful. For the employer, putting the time into interactive training results in better employee retention, a more knowledgeable team and happier customers. For the employee, it means a higher success rate, resulting in a more enjoyable workplace experience overall.

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