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Design a training program that works

6 min read


This guest post is by Arte Nathan, a veteran HR professional with more than 25 years experience working in the hospitality industry, including opening and operating all of Steve Wynn’s casinos around the world.

So, you’ve just hired someone — they have a great attitude and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. What are your plans for training that new employee — not just orientation, but job skills training? Do you know what training they really need?

What happens when a customer asks them about the company, or for directions, or wants something that’s not on the menu?
Even though the employee may have performed similarly in the past, you most likely have unique policies and practices that make training important if you want any kind of consistency and standards

Sure, training adds costs to hiring, but how else can you ensure that your new employees start off on the right foot? Here’s the training program I used for more than 20 years:

  • Remind new employees why they were hired. At the beginning of training, be sure to tell every new hire why you hired them:  their great attitude. Then let them know that you’ll expect to see that great attitude every day from then on.
  • Always explain “why.” Remember, adults need to understand the “why” to go along with the “how” when they’re learning new things. Putting training into context like this way is the best way for adults to learn new things. And while you’re at it, make sure the training is fun, has lots of hand-on exercises and is tied to what you expect them to do.
  • Hire trainers. Make room in your organization for trainers — not somebody in HR, but supervisors or superstars in each department. They can be regular supervisors or employees in normal times, but when you have a new employee then these trainers should be cut loose to do the training — for however long it takes — so that you get a fully trained new employee when they’re done. And if they are the supervisor who’s going to evaluate their performance, that’s even better. If they’re not, make sure the supervisor knows exactly what’s been trained and how. You don’t want to have a supervisor who interferes with the new employee’s progress because they are unaware of or insensitive to the formal training program and methodology.
  • Train the trainers. Make sure that the trainer is trained to train — that means you need to review the materials and methodology with them so you know exactly what and how they’re going to do when they are training. Even if you plan to use a buddy system, make sure that the buddy is prepared and ready to show the new employee exactly what you want them to learn. Don’t let “buddies” show newbies all their shortcuts — that’s a sure recipe for disaster. Let the new employee learn the right way to do it, and if then they want to develop their own smart shortcuts that’s fine.
  • Divide the job into tasks. Make a list of all the tasks that are required for the job — all of the things the new employee needs to know to be able to perform effectively. Don’t take anything for granted — go step by step and make sure you have everything listed. Then, for each task, spell out “what” it is, “why” it’s done, and “how” to do it the right way. After doing that, let the new employee practice it in front of the trainer (not the customer) a few times so that they get a feel for how it’s done. When the trainer thinks they have it right, move on to the next task. Keep a checklist that the new employee and trainer both initial so that you have a record — in the future this may come in handy.
  • Blend in customer service. I had an epiphany several years ago: I had been teaching customer service separately from job skills, and employees got confused as to which was more important. Obviously, they’re equally important, so I devised a plan to merge the job skills training with the training for customer service. Define the service aspects of each task and teach these along with the job skills — this way they are intertwined and employees can’t help but put them together in a seamless delivery. Everyone wins when training is done this way.
  • Make a checklist. When the new employee has initialed the confirmation that they’ve been trained, they can be assigned to work a regular shift — you may want to have someone shadow them or be available for guidance and answers. You may choose to teach only some of the tasks before assigning them to work, or you may wait until they are all completed; it depends on your organization, the job and the individual. Either works, but remember: No employee should be allowed to work before they’re trained and ready.
  • Encourage personality. The last thing you or a customer wants is an employee who recites or repeats things by rote — this always sounds so phony and uninspired. Tell the employee who is finished with training to now practice each task in a way and with the language that they’re most comfortable with. The best employees are those who act naturally with customers — and a natural and conversational style will allow this.
  • Inspect what you expect. Review the new employee’s work regularly for up to a year after they’ve completed training. In some cases they’ll be great at the job and perform at or above your expectations — when that happens make sure you recognize this and give them lots of positive feedback. In other cases remedial help may be needed — when that happens you and your trainer should be supportive and informative. People want to do a good job and appreciate being given the help and time. Keep good records about the employee’s performance — you don’t want any surprises — that means you have to be talking to them continually.

Image credit, Curt_Pickens, via