CXO

How not to train your new employee

I would say not many people have had a perfect training experience at their new companies. Here are some tips for what to do and what no to do if you're training a new employee.

A TechRepublic member wrote to me recently detailing his experience at a new company that involved a shocking lack of new employee training. It's been my experience that training a new employee is usually dealt with in a few different ways:

  1. A veteran employee is asked to show you the ropes.
  2. "Feel free to come to the manager if there are any questions."
  3. A formal week-long training program is organized that will have the employee praying for a large explosion just to break up the monotony.
  4. Formal training is not used because with osmosis, the employee will magically soak up everything he or she needs to know.

What's wrong with these scenarios

1. Using veteran employees

Using veteran employees to train is a good idea if you are not just adding that training to the employee's existing workload. Training, if done correctly, can take a lot of time. Unless you free up your current employee to do it, you're going to get sub-par training and sub-par performance from the veteran at the job.

2. Ask me any questions.

How would an employee even know what to ask unless she's gotten some kind of setup training? You can't expect good results from a new employee unless you take the time to train.

3. Formal training in a vacuum.

If you are training a large group of people on how to assemble a cardboard box, then it's okay to do it en masse, using a set training regimen. Also, if the new position requires the use of specific tools, it's great to set up formal training for each of them over a period of time.

But here's where I've seen this go wrong: When you submit a new employee to an onslaught of details without giving any context, you're either going to lose that person and none of the information will sink in. Also, different people have different learning styles.

Now I love my company, but when I first came to TechRepublic, I was put through a training program that astronauts would balk at. There were about 16,000 publishing tools we used, 4 billion content forms we had to program for, and 23,000 tasks to perform every time we published a piece of content. (Those numbers may be exaggerated a bit—I'm using Toni numbers.)

It was all a little overwhelming at first because I didn't have the context for the tasks. I am just the kind of person who has to know how something works, or why something is done that way in order to learn it. Also, I will sit there and listen attentively to you as a trainer and write down every word you say in my trusty little notebook, but when it comes time to lay my hands on the actual device and perform the work, you can bet that I'll be calling to ask a question you probably already answered. That's because before context, I didn't know what details were important. I can only hold so much theoretical knowledge in my little bean. I have to have a visual to cement it and give it meaning.

I would recommend that a trainer start from the conceptual and move into the detail. Find out about your learning style first. (Two free tools for discovering learning styles: idpride, and this one from learningstyle.online.com.)

If the employee is like me, then start out by talking about the purpose of the company and how its departments interact. Give me a list of my responsibilities and then break them down into illustrative segments. Let me watch a colleague perform one of the tasks. You get the idea.

4. Osmosis.

I don't even want to talk to you about this one. If you do no training and your new employee fails to excel, it could be your fault. He may have been on the Help Desk at his last company, but that doesn't mean he automatically knows how you do things at yours.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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