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4 Common Mistakes When Training Employees [And 4 Best Practices]

The Learning Process training employees

Part of being a hiring manager or supervisor is training employees. Too often, though, training employees fall short of expectations. Trainers are disappointed because their trainee "just doesn't get it." Trainees are disappointed because their trainers went too fast, assumed too much about previous knowledge, or didn't listen to their questions. 

Mistake #1: Forgetting "the why"

Most training programs center on HOW an employee should do their job. The how is clearly important  a new employee needs to understand the nuts and bolts of their responsibilities, the tools their will use to do their job, and the expectations of the role.

But the employee also needs to be trained on the why. Understanding "the why" gives them a deeper understanding of their role in the organization and what the organization is all about. It empowers them with problem-solving skills and allows them to evaluate processes and root out inefficiencies.

Trainers also must communicate expectations from all levels to the trainee: the company's expectations, the department's expectations, and the supervisor's expectations. For example, the company's expectation for an employee could be to pursue innovation in all work. The department's expectation could be to collaborate with department colleagues to execute innovative strategies. Finally, the supervisor's expectation for an employee is to integrate innovation into specific projects while meeting a deadline. Expectations start broad and become more narrow. Training should reflect this broad to narrow shift, too.

BEST PRACTICE: Start with the "why" and explain expectations from a high level, gradually bringing it down to a personal level for the greatest context.

Mistake #2: Rushing the learning process [or telling employees everything at once before letting them get their hands dirty]

The goal of an onboarding process is to get an employee up to speed as fast as possible, right?  But hitting them with all of the information upfront can make it difficult to digest. There are five basic steps in the learning process:

  1. Communicate: Verbal, written, and through discussion of the task at hand.
  2. Experience: Doing the task.
  3. Practice: Doing the task over and over.
  4. Feedback & Adjustments: Here the trainee receives constructive criticism and insight about how to stay on the right track.
  5. Expanding Skills: Getting better at a task fuels more questions about the task and its mastery.

The learning process is cyclical. The final step, Expanding Skills, kicks trainees back to the first step, with a need to Communicate. And the process starts over again. According to John Whitmore, a renowned trainer of employees and leadership expert, learning best occurs when participants are told, shown, and experience in line with this cycle. Whitmore observed these results when comparing programs that tell, show and tell, and experience, show and tell:

  Told Told and Shown Told, Shown, and Experienced
Recall After 3 Weeks 70% 72% 85%
Recall After 3 Months 10% 32% 65%

The long and short is that "telling" alone isn't training. Until trainees gain experience, trainers must be prepared to keep sharing knowledge and reminders until trainees have a skill under their belt.

BEST PRACTICE: Don't rush the learning process, and incorporate hands-on learning as early as possible.

Mistake #3: Picking the wrong trainer  

Communicating and learning are only as good as the trainer. It may seem obvious, but choose the right individual to lead the process of training employees. Keep in mind the best teacher is not necessarily the person that's best at the role themselves.

The trainer should be accessible to the trainee. This means that the trainer needs to physically be around, and the trainer's door needs to be open. What's more, the trainer needs to be emotionally and mentally available to the trainee — that is, the trainee shouldn't have reservations about approaching the trainer for help. When possible, matching new hires with a mentor from another department can also be a useful channel to help them gain institutional knowledge.

BEST PRACTICE: Pick the right teacher. High aptitude does not guarantee the patience required for the role.

Mistake #4: Missing an opportunity to continuously improve 

Your newest hires and the teams they join can offer some of the best feedback on your training program! Don't forget to touch base with them 90 days in to see how things went. Check in with the new employee to get a sense of their experience, and review with their team whether they effectively learned what they were supposed to learn.

Training programs that don't undergo regular review never will improve, which means your trainees — and trainers — will remain underdeveloped. Is that a risk your organization can afford to take?

BEST PRACTICE: Stay commitment to employee training and regularly review to identify areas for improvement.

When Training Employees, Are You Hitting the Mark?

Training employees is a team sport, a give-and-take operation between the trainer and the trainee. Both have a lot at stake, and both have a lot to learn from each other on how to improve. What are some mistakes or best practices you've seen in other organizations? Share your thoughts in the comments!

[Download the Whitepaper] Managing People Risk: The Human Side of the Equation


Topics: Construction Transportation Manufacturing HR / Employee Benefits