Lack of Employee Training Can Hurt Small Businesses
by Stephen Parezo
Hiring an employee without providing them with proper training is like sending a soldier into battle without any bullets in his gun. Either way, your small business is going to be firing blanks. That's the lesson many small businesses have learned the hard way by not preparing their workers for what's expected of them.
Roger Bierman, a Fiducial franchise relations manager in the North Central Region, just doesn't understand how any small business owner can criticize one of their employees for not doing a good job especially if they haven't trained them properly.
"I'm a firm believer in the three-pronged process that proper training shows the person how to do it, you watch over them how they do it and then refine their techniques," said Bierman who as an entrepreneur owned several businesses including a Texaco service station and a Dunkin Donuts shop. He knows that hiring an employee is a long-term commitment and that employees should have the benefit training gives them.
Some companies seem to think that employees are expendable and that if one doesn't work out another will soon take its place but Bierman disagrees strongly with that approach.
"That's not a way to think," he said. "They're not expendable. Do you know how much it costs to train another employee? If you want good employees you need to be training all the time. People are receptive if it's done well."
Bierman learned the nine star program at Texaco that taught new hires how to work their way around the customer's car by pumping the gas, checking the oil, wiping the windows, checking the tires, etc. Not only do training programs need to be thorough but they must also ensure redundancy.
"You've got to teach cross-training because you never know when somebody might be out," he said. "By being cross-trained you can cover that position."
Business owners argue that if they fully train their employees then the employees will take that knowledge with them when they leave. Bierman doesn't buy into that theory, saying that if you invest in the right people and treat them well that won't happen.
"People will not walk away if they're treated in a reasonable fashion," he said.
Lack of training spells trouble
The lack of training can often lead to misunderstandings between employees and management causing a rash of problems, according to Debra Dimone, a senior business advisor in Fiducial's Newberg, OR, office. A basic area of contention is how management wants the employee to deal with customers. If the employee is not properly trained then they won't know how to handle certain situations. They just won't have the background and skills to assist the customer who, no doubt, will pick up on this and be upset.
"The person who answers the phone can put off customers or not sell the services the company has because they don't know what they offer or they may not have enough enthusiasm," said Dimone.
For example, Dimone says that employees manning the front desk need to be trained when to use the email system and when to use the telephone.
"They need to be knowledgeable about the company's goals and objectives and to have a good handle on the products that they offer," she said.
Training is a pressing concern for small businesses, Dimone says, since their lack of training is going to be reflected in their employees.
"Owners need to know when not to micro-manage or when it's important to micro-manage," she said. "And some people need to be hand-held all the way."
An investment in improving profitability
Larry Recor acknowledged the role training plays in a small business. After all, the Fiducial franchisee operates three offices in upstate New York in Boonville, Old Forge and Utica. Like the clients he serves, Recor realizes just how difficult it is for owners to find the time to do the training that's required for their employees.
"Unless the owner does the training then things will only get worse," he said. "The only thing you can do is force yourself to allocate some time to training."
Recor asserted that it definitely hurts business operations if you don't do the training.
"It's an investment in improving the profitability of the company regardless of what kind of business it is," he said. "When employees can't perform as well as they should it hurts profits."
Key training issues center on how employees should deal with clients which is perhaps more important than the technical aspects of their individual jobs. Through staff meetings with his employees, Recor and his office manage focus on this vital area by showing exactly what is to be provided for clients and how employees should communicate with them. "That's the most important thing in client retention that there is," he said.
High employee turnover is a common problem with small businesses. Those operations that have trouble keeping employees also have difficulty retaining clients, according to Recor.
"As soon as you stop treating clients or staff as people and start treating them as numbers you lose any loyalties," he said. "They feel that they aren't important. That's not reality but it's the impression that's being given. It's all a communication thing—clients need to communicate with their customers and let them know that they're important and communicate with their staff. They don't take the time to make them feel that way."
Taking the time to train
Sam Smith, a Fiducial franchisee in Middletown, MD, has observed how out of touch some small business owners can be on training employees. When one owner commented to him that he hoped one employee would learn how to do things the company's way on his own, Smith asked him if he had taken the time to show the employee the way he wants it done?
"The employee is coming in with the skills from another employer who was doing it a certain way," said Smith. "You have to retrain him, weed out the bad habits and implement the good ones you have found. If you continue to let one employee do things his way and the other 10 the way it should be done that one employee will decrease the efficiency of the others altogether."
There's one facet of training that entrepreneurs should remember, Smith advised, and that's when they are training somebody look at their profile to see if they are a potential business owner and competitor. This way you can determine whether they would ever want to leave you and take clients and employees with them. Part of training is also apprising people of confidentiality and trademarks.
In his business, Smith finds that his employees are much more efficient when they are involved in the decision making process.
Gene Polley began his career with a major company that not only valued training but embraced it, getting to see first hand how beneficial the right kind of training can be. Nowadays Fiducial's San Diego-based senior business advisor sees what happens when companies don't take the time to train their employees properly.
"Small business owners are crisis-driven," he said. "They focus their attention on the greatest pain. They don't have a global perspective."
Polley is on the board of director for the Women's Small Business Center of California, an organization that has demonstrated forward thinking when it comes to training.
"They are the smart ones," he said. "You can just tell who's going to be successful. They have absolutely the right mindset. Training is important to them and they're encouraging members to send key employees as well."
Cost of replacing employees high
As a 12-year veteran in the human resources sector, Fiducial's corporate recruiter Bryant Garcia has witnessed many small businesses being hurt by the lack of employee training.
"One of the trends that I've seen is the fact that the lack of training has been unfair to employees who don't have the tools and resources to do the job correctly," he said. "Then it ends up that the business needs to replace that person and the costs of turnover are a lot more than just giving them the opportunity to get training."
Garcia noted that the cost of training really doesn't impact the company as much as the cost of replacing the employee.
"You have to look at it as an investment for your company," he said. "It hurts your business more by not training the person."
What's needed is the flexibility of business owners to offer training to those employment prospects who have the knowledge and skills to do the job.
"A lot of times business owners get into a trap and say ‘I'll train them myself' but sometimes it takes them so long that it just doesn't get done and the person gets left by the wayside," he said.
One basic way of providing the employee with the tools that they need is the buddy system. Once you bring in a new employee, Garcia says have a buddy take the time to train them on what they need to know immediately. It doesn't cost any money since they have the skills to teach new employees to get the person to a point where they can do the job sufficiently without having to send them out for training.
Training can also be accomplished through videos if the business is part of a franchise system or through CDs or Power Point presentations. Once new employees come in for training, they need to have a set orientation where time is taken to explain the business and its philosophy and what is expected of them. The same principle applies whether it's a two-person office or a 10,000-employee company.
Citing an example of what happens when training isn't provided, Garcia offered this scenario: A small accounting service hired an experienced CPA-type person who had the skills to do the job. However, when the new employee joined the company it was apparent that he was very light on computer skills. The office was a very busy one and did not have the time to show the employee the software and the computer system. What ended up happening was in a month and a half, the new employee just could not catch up with the amount of work he had and couldn't work on the computer because the company didn't take the time after he was hired to train him so he was let go.
Among the mistakes the company made, Garcia says, was that they should have determined early on in the recruiting and interviewing process any deficiencies that the candidate had.
"That's where you find out how they are in the computer system," he said. "Whenever there's a software package that's unique or proprietary to a business—that's when you have to take the time to train the person."
Stephen Parezo has 28 years of experience writing for a variety of media and a knack for taking complicated subjects and making them easier to understand. He received his BS in Journalism from the University of Maryland at College Park and has covered industries ranging from air cargo to natural gas. Currently, Stephen is the media manager for Fiducial and writes incisive stories on news and topics affecting America's small business owners. His articles appear regularly on Fiducial.com as the Feature Story of the Week and on smartpros.com.
Stephen Parezo may be contacted at www.fiducial.com or firstname.lastname@example.org