Training and Evaluation

The final three steps in making a worker's transition from "newbie" to "employee" a smooth and profitable one for all concerned.

By Anthony Noel

For the past few months, we have been focusing on establishing employee competency requirements and designating employees who meet those requirements as having attained a certain skill level. We have said that financial rewards should come with each skill-level advance an employee attains, and stressed the importance of accurately communicating to employees what's expected of them.

Last month, we began looking at a six-step approach to training new hires aimed at ensuring their success. The first three steps included explaining the process and assigning a trainer to new employees, as well as creating an atmosphere that encourages new hires to express their curiosity and seek the answers they need to do work right the first time.

The importance of those first three steps is tough to overstate. The care which should be taken in choosing a trainer is particularly crucial, because the success of this, the employee's first important relationship with a coworker at your company, will go a long way in setting the tone for the entire duration of the employee's tenure. Choose carefully, making sure the trainer is enthusiastic about doing good work, capable of putting the new hire at ease and, of course, excited about training someone in the first place.

The last three steps in the training process are more hands-on in nature from the standpoint of the owner or manager, but done right, the time investment will pay off handsomely.

Step 4: Weekly reviews: In Step One, we said the owner or manager should explain to the new hire the various levels he or she can attain within the company. In steps Two and Three, the focus shifted to the relationship between the trainer and the employee.

In Step Four, we seek to form a collaborative relationship between the new hire, his trainer and the manager who brought him on board. The larger objective is to open lines of communication so the new employee understands that there is more than one person (himself) interested in his success.

Different managers approach the idea of weekly reviews differently. Others don't approach it at all, and that's a mistake. If you are of the "He'll know whether he's doing all right based on how much I yell at him" school, stop reading. There is nothing here that will interest you. And good luck - you are going to need it.

But if you understand that the first couple of weeks set the tone for an employee's success, you will appreciate the role that weekly reviews can play. Just by itself, the simple act of giving your new employee and his or her trainer your undivided attention for five or ten minutes is powerful. It says that regardless of how busy you are, you want to know how things are going and want to help them go well.

Give these sessions purpose by taking a few notes and, after a session is over, by getting commitments from the employee and trainer on a few specific things they will work on together in the coming week.

Some managers like to sit down with newbie and trainer at the end of the week, some at the beginning. For the first two or three weeks, I suggest doing both: Use the Friday session (yes, before they clock out!) to identify successes as well as areas that need work. Then, take less than two minutes Monday morning (yes, after they've clocked in, you cheapskate!) to reiterate the goals that were discussed on Friday. (Some people have wild weekends.)

After you are satisfied that the new hire looks promising, you can phase out the Monday session. (I favor Friday reviews since work is still fresh in everyone's mind. There is a greater tendency to be honest and better odds that both trainer and employee will have some specific examples to point to.)

The weekly reviews should continue until...

Step 5: Initial assessment: Some companies call this a probation review. (I wonder if they also call their shop floors "Alcatraz!")

Whatever you choose to call it, it comes 30 to 60 days after the employee is hired, and the employee is made aware of the probation period's duration on the day he is hired. Essentially, the "probation" or "trial" period is there so each party can feel the other out and decide if this association has potential.

The end of the trial period is when you should assign the new hire a skill level, based upon his performance and mastery of the competencies you have spelled out as required for given levels. This should be a collaborative decision between you and the trainer, and, to a lesser extent, the employee himself. It should be a written review, and the employee should have a chance to assess himself before reading your assessment. If there is strong disagreement, it should be talked out (calmly and professionally) until there is mutual agreement.

Remember that job descriptions and skill levels are two different things. Though an employee's main job may be to run the saw, cross-training is another good reason to institute the skill level approach. As technology makes it easier to get big output from small numbers of employees, it becomes increasingly important for anyone in the shop to do pretty much anything at any time.

Assuming the trial period is successful, the new hire becomes a "full-fledged" employee. Except for an occasional refresher or specialized training in a new task or technology, the employee and his trainer cut the proverbial cord. For the most part, it is now up to the employee to become increasingly proficient and to join the collegial atmosphere of the shop in his own right. If you have done a good job during the trial period, he will be more than ready.

Step 6: Objectives and reviews: The fact that your new employee has successfully joined the shop team shouldn't mean he isn't given objectives or that his work is not subject to review. I recommend a twice-yearly, one-on-one review for all employees, during which the quality of the employee's work, along with his or her role in the larger, always-changing shop picture is discussed.

What is he doing well? What do you think he is capable of that he's not doing, and why might that be? What does he like and dislike about working here? What can you do to help - and what can he do to make things better?

These are big questions, but I have found that companies which aren't shy about asking them are the ones people like to work for.

Big surprise, huh?


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