This helps employees, because it makes learning—even learning challenging things—feel approachable. And it helps the team, because everyone is constantly improving.
Training new employees is tough. There’s so much industry – and company-specific knowledge you have to impart. There are so many skills you have to vet or teach. But the difficulty doesn’t stop after onboarding—there are always new things for employees to learn, and new skills to build.
Employee training is an ongoing effort that can feel frustrating to employees and exhausting to managers. But it doesn’t have to. At Text Request, we follow these five steps to make ongoing employee training not feel like training at all. This is great for employees, because it makes learning—even learning challenging things—feel approachable. It’s also great for the team, because everyone is constantly improving.
1. Hire for an “always be learning” mindset.
As is true in cooking, the quality of your employee training and outcomes starts with your ingredients. People who are curious and eager to learn naturally will. They also tend to be great teachers, and other employees around them will become more interested in learning because of their spirit. Hiring for this “always be learning” mindset helps initial onboarding and ongoing training, and it also provides you with great talent who then can return the favor with training later on.
A few basic interview questions can help you identify this mentality:
- What are the professional values you live and work by?
- When you have questions, what do you do?
- What goals do you have for your career?
- What’s your typical approach to a challenge when you don’t have all the answers?
2. Create a plan for continual improvement.
An employee rarely should be in the exact same spot a year later. A promotion may not be warranted, but managers have a responsibility to help employees go from A-to-B, B-to-C, and so on. These plans should be unique to each employee, or at least to their position. Plans need to lay out where employees are, where they need to go, why their growth is important, and expectations around how progress will be measured, as well as a timeline for reaching targets.
If you aren’t doing this yet, it may sound like a lot of work. And it is—at first. Mapping out where employees should be heading can take a lot of time and energy. The benefits, however, are at least 10x the input. Employees will feel that you personally care about them and their future. That leads to more engagement, higher productivity, and lower turnover. It pays dividends.
3. Make regular team training the norm.
Forcing everyone to sit through a day of lectures once a quarter or twice a year is usually not effective. In these cases, the training is viewed as an interruption to work, when what you really want is to create a culture of training. That means breaking training down into smaller pieces and spreading them throughout the calendar.
For example, we hold an “internal training” every other week. It is 30 minutes or less on an industry topic or product update. The speaker rotates, anyone can ask questions, and the session is recorded and shared with everyone. The result has been fewer “what about…” and “how does this work” questions throughout the day-to-day, and an increased interest in learning more—even about traditionally boring things such as regulation changes.
Depending on your situation, you could hold similar internal trainings on a schedule, or you could simply round up the team at regular intervals and walk them through a hands-on lesson for whatever is important that day.
4. Offer incentives for employee training.
You could manage all of your employee training on your own, but the best results come when employees also take ownership of their own professional development. This is a key piece in creating a culture of continual improvement that makes ongoing training feel so easy that it doesn’t even feel like training.
To get employees to take ownership, though, you need to offer incentives. Otherwise, the day’s tasks or other personal interests will take over. An incentive that works well is offering a stipend or reimbursement for professional development. A conference, a training class, a certificate course, and other related opportunities can all make a huge impact on the employee and on your business. Not only will they become stronger in their jobs, they will appreciate the unique experiences. The amount you spend on this will be paid back to you several times over. Note that it’s important for the employee to source these opportunities—they need to take ownership.
5. Hold employees accountable for their training.
It is managers’ responsibility to create structure for training, and to encourage employees to learn. It is also your responsibility to hold employees accountable to the expectations you all agreed to.
For example, if you pay for someone to attend a conference, you may require the employee to give you a document before they go detailing why they should attend the conference, what they plan to take away from it, and how they will implement their learnings. You then need to follow up to ensure they got the takeaways needed, and that they implement them accordingly. You may put metrics in place to help with expectations and measurement, and you may even consider a clawback if employees do not meet expectations (with grace).
Another common example seen in many industries is required continuing education credits. You may not be in a heavily regulated industry like accounting, where the AICPA requires 80 approved hours of continuing education every two years, but you can impose your own company-specific requirements. This makes accountability more approachable for both sides—the expectations are clear.
One Last Tip for the Road
Ongoing employee training is a critical component of healthy and thriving companies. A highly effective approach that we swear by is cultivating a culture of continual learning. That starts with being intentional to create structure, and continues throughout the hiring process and day-to-day operations. When you begin to think about work through a lens of continual learning, most of this ongoing training becomes easier, employees become happier about it, and your company’s bottom line improves.
By Kenneth Burke