actions speak louder

How you present information determines how well training works.
What Employers Are Doing

More careful employee selection 57%

Better compensation & benefits 50%
Tuition reimbursement 47%
Improved training programs 45%
Better orientation programs 39%
Casual dress code 38%
Flexible hours & schedules 33%
Providing health insurance 29%
Conducting exit interviews 28%
Profit-sharing 17%
What Employees Want
Opportunity to learn new skills
Coaching and feedback
Type of work
Capable managers

When it comes to training, it ain’t what you say, it’sthe way you say it that determines whether or notthe information “sticks.” To train peoplesuccessfully, serve new information in small bites, give people enoughtime to digest it, provide plenty of opportunities for practiceand make sure help is available when needed, advised EdIames, director of training for Wawa Food Markets (Wawa,Pa.). “Successful training programs are about receivinginformation, then practicing hands-on performance with a mentoror coach nearby,” Iames said.

According to the latest research from the American Society for Training and Development, this training approach is right on. Studies show that most people retain information better when it’s presented in relatively brief segments. “Watercooler” training—the kind that happens when a new employee is taught how to perform a task by an experienced co-worker—is more effective than training provided in formal classroom settings because information presented where it will be used can be practiced immediately, which in turn reinforces the learning curve.

Every New Employee is a Beginner
OK, you just hired an applicant whose excellent skills andprevious work experience made you think training him or her would be a snap. Now you’re confused because this person acts like a rank beginner. What’s going on?

Don’t be dismayed—regardless of qualifications, every new employee is a beginner when it comes to your company’s culture, behavior, processes and systems. Most new hires don’t absorb specific task training until they understand where you’re coming from.

Telling new employees about possible career opportunities with your company during orientation increases their enthusiasm for training and helps instill corporate culture as well, said Pam Morris, training director at Greenville, S.C.-based Spinx Oil Co. “Communicating opportunities is a terrific way to drive training,” Morris said. “I make a point of letting new employees know that training is the key to a successful career path.”

Performance Monitoring, Coaching and Feedback
All training, whether delivered by an instructor, co-workersor learning tools and mentoring, must be supported by supervisors through performance monitoring, coaching and feedback. Training is the most controllable link between what employees do and the results that managers want, Morris noted, and the best way to strengthen that link is to teach, guide learners through their initial performances and coach them to success.

Iames adds that keeping training materials close by is a must. Whether located in a three-ring binder or a computer training module, well organized reference materials for job tasks should be easy to navigate and information kept to the minimum required. Cut wordy training documents to their essence; if you can say it in three words, don’t use three sentences. Fit computer-based information into one screen whenever possible. Good training programs are adaptable to the different ways in which people learn. Visually-oriented people like to learn by reading, seeing and taking notes; auditory learners need to hear instructions to fully comprehend them.

Many of the new e-learning programs bolster learning by offering information in both visual and auditory modes. Though some researchers are quick to point out that the nature of training has changed, thanks to widespread elearning programs that require learners to interact with them, most are equally quick to emphasize that the goal of e-learning should be increasing training effectiveness, not just automating another process.

Homemade Training Courses Taste Best
Job-related training is now a $60 billion industry in theU.S., but studies show that pricey outsourced training usually doesn’t improve job performance. Like cookies, training is better when it’s homemade and the ingredients can be adjusted to the individual’s taste.

Though Wawa occasionally uses outside consultants such as the attorneys who teach employment law for managers, the company’s lesson plans and electronic media training are all developed in-house by a team of nine associates and one manager who work full time on course design and maintenance, new product introductions and instructions for using new equipment. All training modules are accessible on the store’s computers, in both English and Spanish, and available in written form as well.

As with most c-stores, Wawa’s training program for new employees begins with a half-day classroom session focused on the company’s history, culture, values and commitment to customer service. From there learning moves into the stores, where it is delivered with the help of a computer-based customized training planner that selects information appropriate to the job and the student’s experience level from among the 39 computer training modules Wawa designed for its customer service associates.

Wawa’s training team has written more than 70 computerbased training modules in all. Lengths range from 15 minutes to two hours, and all are provided in-store rather than taught in classrooms. Associates study the first module they need to learn and work with a job coach before going live with customers and are then tested to be sure they understand all the key elements that modules contains before they move on to the next one.

The Rewards of Training
Like the proverbial carrot, Morris believes that the rewards training brings should be kept in front of trainees at all times. She begins describing CAMP Sphinx, one of her favorite training programs at orientation. CAMP stands for “Customers Are My Priority” and new hires must deliver satisfactory performance for six months before they can apply to attend.

Wawa’s training begins with a half-day classroom session focused on the chain’s history, culture and values.

They must also write a short essay on what they believe makes a customer service representative good and why they want to become one and receive a letter of recommendation from their managers. A committee reviews the applications, which usually number at least 25, and selects the best 10. Chosen campers must then take seven two-hour classes that cover customer service,teamwork, leadership and communication in depth, receive homework assignments on which they are tested every week and pass a final exam.

Morris observes that the change in associates’ attitudes during camp is nothing short of amazing. “When they arrive, they’re thinking, ‘I’m going to get 50′ an hour more’ but three or four classes into it, they realize they can make a difference out there,”
she says.

Campers receive special shirts and a nametag that identifies them as Camp Spinx graduates, which Morris said makes everyone without a shirt want one, too. “They know that after they graduate, if they receive a customer service complaint, they will lose their shirt,” she says. “It’s kind of like breeding another society.”

Training, Morris noted, is more about listening and communicating clearly than anything else. It also affects the bottom line. Consider this: Since Morris revamped Spinxco’s training program 18 months ago, the company’s retention rate dropped from an already enviable 2.97% to a mere 1.53%.

Do You Have a Turnover Problem?

I know you think you have an hourly employee turnover problem, and hiring research appears to agree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 50% of all new hourly employees quit or are terminated within six months of being hired.

Frontline turnover has been monitored and analyzed to death, yet few firms appear to have figured out how to control or even manage it to an acceptable level; the more than 60% of employees who are paid by the hour are the very people most important to almost any company’s success because they have the most frequent contact with customers. Is it any wonder that as frontline turnover increases, customers’ expectations for good service decrease?

Hourly employees greet customers, help them find what they need, and accept their money. The ways in which they perform these and other services create customers’ experiences and their impressions of your business. Great service breeds customer loyalty; poor service sends customers to competitors. When a customer has a bad experience and decides to shop elsewhere rather than return, who does that customer cite as the reason—the off-site regional manager or the frontline employee? A recent Texas A&M study illustrates the powerful effect that frontline employees have: 67% of those surveyed said they changed stores because of employee indifference to their needs.

That said, focusing on “lowering turnover” is like using an empty 1-lb. coffee can to bail water from a leaking boat: both actions concentrate on the problem instead of the solution. The solution for a leaking ship is making it watertight. The solution for turnover is retaining good employees. Consider the problem as turnover, and you focus on numbers. Consider it as retention and your focus shifts to the people you hired—and when you focus on people, you’re doing what employers of choice do to attract, select and retain the best.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough good frontline workers available to meet today’s hourly labor demands. Every company seeks methods for recruiting from a shrinking labor pool, but few seem to understand how to keep their good employees on board

Employer-Employee Disconnect Can Astonish
The sorry fact is that there’s an astonishingly huge disconnect between what most employers believe they need t

o do to retain employees and what most employees want their employers to do, as the survey data below shows.

When it comes to hourly employees, never before have I seen such a high number for “more careful selection”—not to mention that it’s at the very top of the list. This is the real key to retention across the board—hiring the right people in the first place. Almost everything-else the employers in this survey reported doing to improve retention rates is based on tired old ideas that didn’t work before and aren’t working now.

Did you notice that compensation is at the very bottom of the employees’ list and near the top of the employers’? What employees are saying is that it’s a “retention” problem—a people-problem—not a “turnover” problem. Today’s workforce wants to learn new skills, interact closely with their supervisors, have work they enjoy, be able to have faith in management, and be respected and recognized for work well done.

Community Hiring Partnerships Help Find Employees To Train

Some even make it possible to “try before you buy.”

Wondering where you’re going to find enough new employees to train? Try partnering with community organizations. You’ll be doing something positive for your community while expanding the size of your applicant pool.

Spinx’s training director Pam Morris said that her company widened its recruiting reach and captured more high quality employees by forming hiring partnerships with community groups including Vocational Rehabilitation, AARP, Goodwill, the Fatherhood Coalition, and United Ministries. The organizations screen and select the best potential candidates and the company runs background checks before conducting interviews.

As an added bonus, the state pays the first two week’s wages for candidates chosen through Vocational Rehab and AARP. The candidates then try out positions before either side makes a firm job commitment. If the first position the candidate tries isn’t a good fit, the company allows trying another; for example, a new employee hired for food prep who either isn’t happy or performing the required tasks well might become a cashier or a goodwill ambassador at the gas pumps. New employees hired through other groups are hired outright.

“The program has helped us recruit more widely than ever before,” Morris said, “And we’re getting higher quality candidates into the bargain.”


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