7 Better Ways to Train Small Business Employees

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• 4 minute read

Even if they come with years of experience, every new employee you hire needs training. But all too often, small business owners are so overwhelmed with running the business to come up with anything better than a “follow me around for two weeks and learn the ropes” system. Unfortunately, that’s both inefficient and frustrating: owners can’t delegate training if it’s not systematic, and new employees never know how much is left to learn or exactly what is expected of them.

A solid, effective training program doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, simpler is better; it lets employees focus on mastering skills instead of processing a flood of information. Here are seven essential parts for creating a quick and effective training system for your business.

Train the Trainer

First, designate who will be in charge of training for each job role: the business owner, the department manager, or the outgoing employee. Decide how long training should last and the details of how the responsible party should manage the process, including how much reporting you’ll want if you’re not the one doing the training. Unlike new employees, you’ll only have to train the trainer once.

Make a List

Write down every element of the training. You’ll want to record each job’s tasks, notes on company policies and culture, and how to’s for necessary tools. With each new hire, you’ll then be able to follow the appropriate list to complete essential training without frustration or lost time.

Some elements on the list can be self-directed. New employees can do some learning independently when they have a syllabus or other documentation to use. For the skills you need to teach one-on-one, carve out some time during slow parts of the workday, or schedule time after hours to complete training. Having a list allows you to estimate how much time you’ll need to set aside.

Teach What They’re Ready to Learn

Advanced skills build upon basic skills. Assess employee readiness, and if the foundational skills are missing, or not yet mastered, focus on those first.

Even your veteran employees can benefit from ongoing training. Some industries, such as auto repair or information technology, offer certifications and training opportunities through industry organizations. Schedule time for ongoing professional development, perhaps rotating employees through different departments so that everyone has a chance to keep learning.

Focus on One Skill at a Time

Skill mastery is easiest when employees can focus completely on one skill a time. When employees have to divide attention between multiple skills, learning is slower.

For each position in your business, list the key responsibilities and knowledge required. Order the list by priority (most important responsibilities first) or by progression (most basic responsibilities first). Then you can have your new employees work systematically through a training document independently. For more complex skills, have someone help them master one skill at a time with interactive, hands-on training, which tends to be more effective than passive techniques like reading or watching a demonstration.

Divide Training Into Levels

Divide training into levels so employees have a specific goal to reach. Tie rewards to specific levels so there’s even more incentive for employees to master each training level. For example, one small business gave its employees the freedom to take on “side projects” in other departments which interested them. Other perks such as flexible working hours, more vacation days, increased leadership opportunities, or freedom to choose one’s own projects tie well to specific training achievements.

Don’t Do It All Yourself

Bring in experts to teach particular skills or help you and your employees gain knowledge in new areas. Or send employees to training programs or schools for advanced training. Contact industry organizations and peruse trade journals for information on certifications or training schools within your industry. Your local Chamber of Commerce as well as contacts in your business network can often provide recommendations for general business skills such as marketing, finance, and productivity.

Use Immersion Training

Some skills, such as communication, problem solving, collaboration, and technology use, can benefit everyone in the business, regardless of job role. To train your whole staff or an entire department, set aside a day or more for immersion training. Close down the shop (or do the training after-hours) so that everyone can get spend consecutive hours learning about and practicing the new skill. This type of immersion training benefits new and experienced employees alike.

Both your business and your employees will benefit from simplified, strategic training. And don’t forget about improving and expanding your own skills! The more equipped you are as a business owner, the better you can train and equip your employees.