Education

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.

21 comments
kirk.baumann
kirk.baumann

Here's my input - onboarding is more than "training" a new employee. I wrote an article about this recently that I think you'll find helpful: 5 Easy Steps for Effective Onboarding http://bit.ly/aGiGRQ. People and companies are doing it wrong. If you don't believe me, ask a new employee. Ask someone who's been a new employee (we've all been there). Learn from the past and make the future better! Kirk Baumann Campus to Career www.campus-to-career.com

amg8589
amg8589

Time and time again, I have seen employees fail because there was no process for onboarding. Training is seen as a band-aid instead of something that is vital to the company's (and new hire's) success. Please, please take this wake up call and formalize training for folks. Doesn't matter how big or small your place is, do it today. Everyone will thank you! Luckily, I work for a place that recognizes training is important. It's my full time gig!

SKFee
SKFee

Hi Toni, I took the idpride test and it wanted $8.95 via pay-pal to e-mail the results! I read and enjoy a lot of your stuff and I dont think you would intentionally mislead me so I wanted to let you know in case this is a recent change in that service. I will double check to be sure I didnt choose a pay option. No hard feelings. Thanks, Kevin

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

that kind of training far too often, and, am in the middle of something similar now. I'm sorry, but I need context. Why is this or that relevant? How is this or that used? Thanks, Toni. I'm sending this on to someone, with your permission, of course. :) [i]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]

justine
justine

This article should be a mandatory read for anyone wanting to hire staff or even if just "having a friend or relative help out". Ahh, priceless ;) thankyou!

sfielding7
sfielding7

I have a staff/department lay out. Check list of what to teach and find what where. Each employee has a work sheet done quarterly on job functions, new hires see this. New hires do this function weekly then monthly for first year. Then there is the proposed job form they are filling,this takes about 2 hour first day then the training begins

emile.vandermerwe
emile.vandermerwe

"Squat at that desk. Oh, the phone doesn't work. We've requisitioned a machine for you. It'll take awhile. Here - read these. We know they're old, but this is how we used to do it (in the days of punch cards)". Training is far easier at ISO certified organisations since there usually is a wiki of sorts that documents policies and procedures, but in my experience how well you'll be able to train a newcomer is VERY easily assessed in the following way: 1. Ask the line manager of the incumbent what the person is expected to do. 2. Ask a peer of the incumbent what that person is expected to do. 3. Ask the former employee what he/she actually did 4. Compare the three.

nonimportantname
nonimportantname

One of my gigs had this same mantra. I don't know if it was laziness, ineptitude, unfamiliarity, or a combination of all 3, but organizations REALLY need to realize that they are setting themselves AND their employees up for failure if you do not have at least an adequate cursory training program of some sort. It does not have to be rigid or take place in a single week...it just needs to be positively effective. This type of thing is a terrible disservice to the new employee because he/she is put into a position where they are constantly climbing uphill. No good.

Linda
Linda

Toni, Thanks for the refreshing reminder. It is definitely something to work hard at improving on at all companies. Crafting a great orientation program and training system is well worth it. I think video is such a huge component of that today. If you can capture much of what you want to communicate on video, the new folks can at least see first hand what you are trying to demonstrate. Thanks, Linda@ManagerLabs.com

neilb
neilb

I had a close bonding with this article, having seen a snapshot of all four training methods with, unfortunately, number 4 being high up on the list. Whilst I accepted, at the interview, that yes, I would have to learn level 1 support, I didn't expect it to take two weeks, and indeed it didn't, really, but I was only given my own desk at the end of week 2 and even then - well - I'm afraid it wasn't for me.

jkameleon
jkameleon

... while the current trend is to throw employees overboard.

kprince
kprince

Kirk, you lost me at 'onboarding'. Onboard is not a verb ;-). If I joined your 'induction session' I'd be convinced I was a in the corporate BS zone the minute you said 'onboarding'. Induction is too important to get wrong and I despair at the amount of info I have to give a new employee in his first week in my, somewhat specialised, I favour a quick blast through what the HR department requires in the first week knowing that only 10% will stick and then getting the guy in the field with other team members ASP. I do ensure that they know where to find, or who has, the answers but I do endeavour to keep it realistic and as non-corporate as possible. treat your new employee like a human being and spend time with them. It's too true though that, as a manager, the reponsibility for a good induction is mine and I only have myself to blame if the newbie turns out poor at the job if I can't ensure they have the tools to do it.

SKFee
SKFee

Less than 12 hours later I get an e-mail offering %50 off. Still not free.

stevew
stevew

Reminds me of a job I had in college cleaning a women's department store. The manager was ALWAYS at least 15 minutes late to unlock the store. When the equipment broke, "just put it on the truck" and I wouldn't see it again for days. Wax the floor? We're out of wax, and the mop is gone, too. And the feather duster was missing most of its namesakes. Oh, did I mention the white gloved inspector (I'm not kidding!) who dinged me every week for "failure to clean and wax properly"? After a month, I quit in frustration, never having seen a new mop or wax. I guess they were waiting for me to make the purchases with my own money.

niwhsa
niwhsa

Excellent comment!

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

In my case I was a new network administrator. There was no one before me and there was not much documentation. So I basically had to familiarize myself with the network.

Linda
Linda

So glad it was you and not me. I have not had a chance to go through it, but I did go to the site to check it out. I was interested in this and so glad you were nice enough to warn us. What a bummer as it sounded so good. Thanks, Linda

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

Right out of the musical instrument business as a "Research Electronics Technician". I am to maintain and operate a Japanese-made (JEOLCO)Nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer for a the microbiology department at UAB. It was so critical that it would drop of line if the room door were opened more than a minute or so. The power supply and water cooler were in the next lab to reduce interference. The instrument was regulated by a "super-stabilizer". The 2.2 Tesla magnet was water-cooled. It was a "hybrid" machine in that it used both vacuum tubes and transistors. Nobody at UAB understood the inner workings of this instrument and the only manual was translated from Japanese by a man who barely spoke English. This was my training. Though I did eventually learn how it worked and became fairly proficient at fine tuning it and running spectra as needed, I never was comfortable with it. I had been told to name my own salary. Because I felt so inexpert, I never asked for much more than minimum wage. Had there been some kind of introductory training, I would have felt much more worthy of a fair salary. but I turned in my notice about a year later, having learned something of electron spin and it's interaction with DC and RF magnetic fields, and the circuitous electronic tricks required to control their spin to locate there relative position in an atom. Experience doesn't always seem useful, though it's wasted only if you think so. Now "spintronics" is forming up to be the basis of super-efficient memories and processors. *And* I learned that with effort and some pressure, I can teach myself even the most confusing and foreign equipment I could imagine. I got married during this period and stayed so 'til her death in 2003. Yes, that was a good start.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

[i]the only manual was translated from Japanese by a man who barely spoke English.[/i] You got it easy, so easy that it's not funny. Yes I know that the Translation was most likely wrong and that the correct Technical terms where misused but you got a Manual. I've lost count of the number of times that I had to write my own Manual on Equipment that I've never seen before and understood even less. However having said that would I want to work as a Development Engineer with the very Old Valve Systems that where the forerunners of todays Computers? Hell Yes and I would enjoy it till it killed me but what a blast it would be. ;) Col

SKFee
SKFee

Thanks for sharing. I miss the crude technology of that era. (seems crude now) Sorry for the loss of your wife. Take care, Kevin