Training Employees to Avoid Key Person Reliance

Running a business is inherently messy. Whoever started it may have a sense of where it started but it’s unlikely they know where it’ll go unless they’ve done this kind of thing before.

If you have partners or investors in the business it’s even worse – because generating a vision of where the business should go – how it should grow, and what the priorities are, needs agreement to proceed along a path that’s defined – by the disparate, and often disagreeable partners.

This is why it’s important at the outset, or at least early on in the business, to define the vision – what you want this business to look and feel like internally and to your customers. If you don’t have this vision well defined you will fail in both small and big ways.

This article is about success and failure – and how you define this in your work. Because the moment you hire someone to do the work you hope to get off your plate you need to define what your expectations are.

OK, sure, relax…you can wait until you sit down and start to write down what you want your people to know, but do it soon enough to make it clear these are not optional ideas. The things I’m talking about are the work, the tasks, and the detailed instructions that need to be defined. Because the moment the employee is out of your sight you should have defined their work well enough to be confident the work will be done as well as you’ve defined it and trained the employee to do the work.

Let me give you an example: You’re operating an espresso machine and serving pastries and opening a register to take the payment for the product ordered. In the flow of things, you’ve done this work thousands of times. You know how to do this work and you even look up and make eye contact with your customer before you thank them and they leave the counter.

Now you’re successful enough to consider hiring someone to help you. Yay! What systems do you have in place to:

• Train someone on the use and maintenance of an espresso machine? A grinder? How long is the ideal shot? How much milk do you pour to steam? How long do you steam the milk? If the coffee made is not perfect do you still serve it? If someone is returning a coffee while you’re making another one do you stop what you’re doing? Do you tell the customer you’ll be right with them – hang on please?

• When you’re training someone to select pastries from your display what’s the protocol that works for efficiency and also works for sanitary considerations? Do you pick up pastries with wax paper? Or do you use a pair of tongs? If the tongs come in contact with gluten products do you clean them after each use or do you have gluten-free tongs too? Do you leave the display case open during busy times? How many plates do you have available at 7am? 8am? 10:30am?

• When you’re operating the register is each item name and price clearly defined so there are no mistakes made while ringing up each item? Is there a reference point on or near the register to clarify pricing easily and quickly while a customer is standing in front of you? What if 3 customers are waiting? How about if 6 customers are lined up waiting to pay? Is there an option to call someone to help?

Before you’re in the throes of being in business and serving people in real time we (desperately!) want to believe the people we hire will use common sense and basic skills. If you’ve been in business for any length of time you know this is not true – common sense is not the same for all. Therefore we need to train people to perform their work to a standard we train them to.

And if we plan to grow our business we need a plan to grow. To grow you need assistance and planning to train people for every task is the goal.

Training is based on communication of ideas to be tested in action in advance of the need for help.

In the examples above, to train someone, you would isolate each task, beginning like this:

Here is how to turn on and off the espresso machine(s).

Here is how to make a single-shot espresso.

Here is how to steam milk.

Here is what we do when we have customers waiting for service.

At the end of the training for a single item you will have shown your employee how to do the single task. And the employee will have done the task on their own in front of you as their trainer. You’ll want to make special note of what questions they have, as ideally, they’ll train the next barista!

You might also make a short video to use for reference.

A lot of work like this is done one-on-one as on-the-job training. And more often than not there is no documentation. The problem with no documentation is no accountability – and it’s hard to hold people accountable for work you can only reference by memory.

This can lead to frustration on your part – and you can easily lose good people to misunderstandings about expectations.

Once you’ve documented a few processes and trained someone well you’ll want to review with them what tasks you’ve left out of the training. And eventually it becomes easier to rely, not on your memory or the employee’s common sense – but instead on the training you’ve started to put into place.

By Karl Seidel

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