Essential Guide to Staff Training

Maggie Bayless' farewell column in Gourmet Retailer

By Maggie Bayless

My first Staff Training column in Gourmet Retailer was published in January 2000 – 14 years ago! It's hard for me to remember how different things were back then, both in my personal life and at ZingTrain. What I do remember is how I was both honored and scared to death to have been asked to write this column. Writing about training for a national publication had been part of my initial ZingTrain vision, but that didn't mean I felt ready. What if I couldn't think of anything to write? What if people disagreed with or (worse!) were totally bored by what I had to say?

Well, 14 years later I've heard from enough Gourmet Retailer readers to believe that many of you have found these columns useful. And the fact that the magazine has asked me to return year after year has been wonderful. Fourteen years has been a good run, a long run – and exactly long enough. In my dreams, you've collected all of the past issues of Gourmet Retailer and refer to the old Staff Training columns regularly. For those (all?) of you who haven't done that, here are five key tools that I hope you'll remember – and use. And if you'd like to revisit one of my columns, you can find them all on the Gourmet Retailer website.

Zingerman's 4 Training Plan Questions
I firmly believe that effective training starts by answering these questions:

  • What is expected of the trainee – and by when?
  • How will the information trainees need to know be provided? (What are the training resources?)
  • How will we know (measure) that the expectations are/are not being met?
  • What are the rewards/consequences for meeting/not meeting the expectations?

When people think about developing training, they typically jump right to Question 2 and start a discussion around what medium they'll use to create the training resource: class, video, on-line, on-shift, self-study, etc. Starting with Question 1 and getting leadership agreement around performance expectations is the best way I know to save yourself (and your organization) both time and money on training development. With clear expectations to work with, it becomes much easier to figure out how best to provide the information and/or hands-on experience employees need to become proficient.

Remember to continue past Question 2 and answer Questions 3 and 4; this gives you a way to evaluate the effectiveness of your training and gives the trainee an opportunity to demonstrate mastery. Remember that when it comes to job-related training, the "reward" is typically the opportunity to work independently and move on to more advanced skills and/or more responsibility. The "consequence" of not meeting the training expectations usually involves additional practice, more work with the trainer and continued oversight.

Zingerman's Training Compact
Both the trainer and the trainee have important roles to play in the success of any training – and, in fact, we teach that both are 100 percent responsible for the training's success. While the trainer's role is to document clear expectations, provide the training resources and recognize and reward performance, the trainee is ultimately responsible for the effectiveness of his/her training. This compact recognizes the important truth that, although we can require our staff to attend training, we cannot make them learn what they need to know. They need to take responsibility for their own learning – by asking questions, making sure they understand what is expected and practicing, practicing, practicing.

Bottom-Line Training
The 4 Training Plan Questions and the Training Compact are the two key elements of Zingerman's approach to training, which we call Bottom Line Training. Since Zingerman's isn't a college, university or school, training is NOT one of our bottom lines. However we know that a well-trained workforce is essential for us to deliver a great experience to our customers, as well as to meet our bottom-line targets for food quality, service quality and financial results.

Our training is successful only if it positively impacts one or more of our bottom lines – and we use this as a measure of how to prioritize training.

Stages of Learning a Skill
I was taught this model of learning many years ago and later found that it originated in the 1970s and is credited to Gordon Training International. This is the piece of Zingerman's internal Train-the-Trainer class that is consistently rated "most surprising/useful" on class participants' evaluations.

  • Stage 1: Unconscious/Incompetent – People completely new to a task don't know what they don't know. Every new hire has to learn the processes and procedures that are unique to your environment.
  • Stage 2: Conscious/Incompetent – As new hires begin to understand the processes, procedures and expectations of your store, they move into Stage 2. It is not unusual for someone's morale to go down during this stage, because they are starting to recognize how much they don't know. Being conscious of what is expected is a good start, but it doesn't mean being able to meet those expectations.
  • Stage 3: Conscious/Competent – The way to move from Stage 2 to Stage 3 is additional training – and practice. Lots and lots of practice, under the watchful eye of someone giving positive reinforcement of what's going well and constructive criticism of what needs to be improved. With practice and helpful feedback, the trainee reaches Stage 3, and we consider them "trained," i.e., they understand what is expected and consistently do the job correctly.
  • Stage 4: Unconscious/Competent – When employees know how to do a job, and have done it many, many times, they become unconsciously competent. They are doing the task correctly and no longer have to think about exactly how. This makes people very efficient at doing their jobs, but not especially effective at training someone else to do these tasks. Effective trainers know how to get themselves back to Stage 3 so that they can explain step-by-step how and why they do things the way they do.

5 Steps to Effective On-Shift Training

  • 1. Prepare – Answer the 4 Training Plan Questions, starting with "By the end of this shift, what do I expect the trainee to know/be able to do?"
  • 2. Tell – Share your vision for the shift and provide an overview of what the trainee can expect from you.
  • 3. Show – Demonstrate skills first at normal speed, so the trainee can see the ultimately expected pace, and then slow down and talk through the task step-by-step.
  • 4. Do – Give the trainee as much time to practice as possible. Stay close so that you can observe and provide both positive reinforcement and constructive criticism.
  • 5. Review – End the training shift by reviewing what went well and agreeing on what the trainee will focus on going forward.

    Most retail training happens on the floor, and often trainers jump straight to Step 3, spend a minimal amount of time on Step 4 and skip the other steps altogether. Following all five steps can make your on-shift training more effective – so that trainees are productive more quickly. Better for the trainee, better for the business.