Effective On-Shift Training

Zingerman's 5-step Recipe!

By Maggie Bayless, Founding Partner of ZingTrain

Does this scenario sound at all familiar? "OK, I'm supposed to teach you how we make a sandwich. It's really simple – I'm sure you already know how to do it. But anyway, just watch me for a while, and then I'll give you a chance to try."

A few minutes later: "Any questions? I mean, there's really nothing to it. Two pieces of bread, meat or cheese in the middle, mustard, mayo, etc. So, don't you think you can do this? It's easy. OK, now you try. I'll be right out back if you have any questions."

When we think about training, our minds often jump to a classroom scene. However, most retail business training (at least 85 percent, according to some sources) is done on-shift, usually by a trainer working one-on-one with a trainee. Of course, on-shift training is improved by the same kind of planning required for teaching a class, but most on-shift trainers just start right in, without giving any thought to what exactly they hope to accomplish during the training session.

ZingTrain teaches five simple steps, which – if followed – improve the effectiveness of on-shift training immeasurably. ZingTrain's five steps are an essential piece of Bottom-Line Training® and form the core of the internal Train-the-Trainer Class that we teach for Zingerman's staff trainers.

ZingTrain's Five Steps to Effective On-Shift Training

  • STEP 1. Prepare
  • STEP 2. Tell
  • STEP 3. Show
  • STEP 4. Do
  • STEP 5. Review

All too often, as in the earlier example, trainers jump straight to Step 3, spend a minimal amount of time on Step 4 and skip the other three steps altogether. Let's look at each of the steps in more detail.

Step 1: Prepare
Take the time to answer the four Training Plan Questions:

  • What do you expect the trainee to be able to do by the end of the training session/shift?
  • How are you going to get that information across (demonstration, handouts, role-plays, Q&A)?
  • How will you know the expectations are met – i.e., how will you measure whether or not the trainee can do the task acceptably at the end of the shift?
  • What is the reward/consequence for meeting/not meeting the expectations? Usually the "reward" is that the trainee can now perform the task on his/her own; a typical "consequence" is that trainee receives more training on the same skill and/or continues to work under close supervision.

There are also several key things you need to know to train effectively.

  • Know your audience. If possible, find out about your trainee's background in advance. At a minimum, ask questions at the beginning of the training session. An excellent opener is: "Have you done [this task] before?" If the answer is "no," you know you are starting from scratch. If the answer is "yes," you are alerted to the fact that the trainee may have learned a technique that is not the way you want this task done.
  • Know the task. Think it through from a beginner's perspective (what Zen refers to as "beginner's mind"). Talk it through with others who are skilled at this task. Ask them what was helpful to them as they were first learning. What was hardest to master?
  • Know the shift. What do you expect business to be like – will it be busy or slow? Do you expect a rush at some point? If so, when? Are you fully staffed or running short?
  • Make an outline. If you are training on anything more complicated than how to answer the phone (and sometimes even then!), it is worth taking the time to jot down the key points you want to cover. Creating a few standard outlines on frequently taught tasks and requiring every trainer to use them is a very good Bottom-Line Training time investment.
  • Practice Not the task, but training. Ask a co-worker to be your guinea pig. Or just talk to yourself as you perform the task. Rehearse how you will explain each step.

Step 2: Tell
Your trainee has arrived and you're ready to start. Begin by welcoming your trainee and reviewing the answers to the four Training Plan Questions. If trainees know what's expected by the end of the shift and how they will be asked to demonstrate competence, they also know exactly what to concentrate on.

Explain why what you are teaching is important. This may be very obvious to you but often isn't obvious to the trainee. This explanation can be especially important if the trainee has done a similar job in the past. It's likely that any aspect of your system that is different than what the trainee already knows will seem arbitrary. Explaining WHY can make a system seem logical, rather than arbitrary (e.g., "We've found that when we double-check the orders, we catch almost 100 percent of the mistakes before they get to customer").

Explain what to do when (not if) you are called away. I've yet to see a training shift that didn't get interrupted. Trainees don't want to be abandoned and dread being asked for help by a customer when they don't know what to do. Discuss what to do in advance: "I'm planning to work the entire shift side-by-side with you. However, it is inevitable that I will get called away at some point. When I do, please: clear tables, empty the trash, change bleach buckets, sweep the floor, etc."

Encourage questions and take time to answer them.

Step 3: Show
Now it's time to demonstrate how to do the skill. Demonstrate first at the speed you will expect from the trainee when he/she is fully trained (not necessarily at the end of today's session). You probably won't be talking while you do this. You want to model the performance target for when someone is completely up to speed. Then reiterate your expectation for today. Often it's best to start with a focus on performing the task correctly and then gradually work on increasing speed.

Next, demonstrate the task more slowly, talking through each step as you do it. This is where having an outline can be helpful, so that if you are interrupted you don't get diverted and skip an important point.

Depending on the complexity of the task, it is sometimes useful to have the trainee talk you through the task. They tell you what to do, and you do it. This way they can concentrate on whether they understand the steps to be followed, without worrying about whether they can actually perform the steps.

Keep answering questions.

Step 4: Do
This step starts with an opportunity for the trainee to practice. Ideally 50 percent or more of every training session is devoted to practice time. The trainee needs to practice under close supervision, so that you can give lots of feedback. Look for what is being done correctly, as well as what could be improved. This is NOT the time to take a smoke break or to get a cup of coffee.

Everyone agrees that making mistakes is part of learning, and yet it's hard to provide a "safe" environment to make mistakes. Look for opportunities to create a safe environment for practice: making employee meals, ringing up in-house orders, role-playing with other staff, hand-slicing day-old bread, etc.

This step ends when the trainee has demonstrated the ability to meet the expectation, or when you decide that he/she has not met the expectation but time has run out.

Step 5: Review
Every training session should end with a brief recap. Did the trainee meet your expectations? Why or why not? What happens next: Perform this task alone on next shift? More training and practice on this same task on next shift? Training on a different task?

One of the most effective feedback tools I know is called "Liked Best/Next Time." It focuses on positive, forward-looking feedback. You start by asking the trainee, "What did you like best about what you did?" After they've answered, you tell them what you liked about their performance. Next, ask the trainee, "What would you do differently next time?" Their answer will tell you a lot. If they cover all the same points you noticed, you'll know that they understand what's expected, but they just need more practice (Step 4). If they think everything was great, but you saw many things to change, more practice isn't going to be enough. They aren't yet clear on what is expected. Time to review Steps 2 and 3.

I know, I know, on-shift trainers don't have time to sit down and create an elaborate training document. But you don't have to. Bottom-Line Training is all about taking a small bit of time and using it effectively. Following ZingTrain's Five Steps to Effective On-Shift Training (even if the preparation in Step 1 is no more than 10 minutes) will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your training enough that you'll have 10 extra minutes to start documenting an outline for the next training shift. Which will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of that session so that you'll have an extra 10 minutes to do some preparation for the next task. It's not magic, but it does work!