Want to make your training work more effectively?

I’ve been involved in training hospitality managers and supervisors for 45 years, and it still saddens me when I think about all the money that is wasted by people who believe in training, but who don’t understand what it takes to make training work effectively. My observations may help you get a better result for less expenditure.

The purpose of commercial training is to create a positive change in staff productivity and performance, not just to adorn their minds with knowledge. This won’t happen if you start with the belief that your staff will focus on the training you give them and will diligently put it into practice at their own initiative.  It doesn’t work that way for the majority of people.

I was taught to train in the fast food industry many years ago. We were mainly training young people who were doing their first real job. Without realizing it at the time, they were relatively easy to train because they had no ingrained perceptions of how things should be done from previous employment. They were a blank canvas, so to speak.

Where it got tricky was when a staff member had worked for another fast food business and came into our business with a completely different understanding of how things were done. I noticed that quite often our trainers would teach them a procedure; they would do it our way for a brief period of time, then they would drift back to their old way of doing things. We found ourselves counselling these staff to stick to procedure more often than the staff who were new to the industry.

It took some years before I came to understand why this was happening, thanks to the employment in my business of a psychologist whose main interest was behavior change. She explained to me that once a behavior pattern was ingrained in a person, they would keep defaulting back to that behavior unless they could be ‘reprogrammed’. In order to reprogram a person you need to make them repeat the desired behavior for long enough for them to adopt this behavior as their new default. This does not happen in one training session.

From this we came to understand that changing peoples’ behavior required a coordinated effort between the trainers and the operational managers and supervisors. One without the other is akin to tearing-up $100 bills and throwing them into the air. We see evidence of this on a daily basis in my business.

Our training facility has around 700  hospitality leaders attending short courses on various topics each year. During the introductions on the first day of a course, we ask participants: ‘Why are you here?’ The answer often comes back: ‘I don’t, know; my boss sent me’. Some of them sit, astral travelling and texting under the table, until they are pulled-out by the trainer for a bit of attitude readjustment.

Conversely, clients who have well developed HR systems send people along knowing exactly why they are there and what they are going to be expected to do with what they have learned when they return to work. Their training is often linked to the installation or development of management systems. In other words, there is a well understood change of behavior expected as a result of the training.

But this won’t happen without proper follow-up. Once they return to normal duties, the need to be debriefed, set projects or goals linked to the training, and then spot checked until the new behavior becomes a normal, part of their routine. The more complex the subject being taught; the more diligent the follow-up has to be. Consider a complex skill like teaching someone to do employment interviews: to get an effective result, the process should start with a thorough pre-training briefing; followed by the training itself. Then, back at work, they should have consistent mentoring and oversight for up to six months, until they become comfortable with the process and have done it often enough to become unconsciously skilled.

I have observed the fantastic results that are obtained when the trainers and the operational managers each perform their respective parts of the training process diligently. I have also witnessed appalling waste of time and resources when people are sent to training courses without pre-briefing, or consistent follow-up afterward. Interestingly, people who do this often come to the incorrect conclusion that training doesn’t work.

Yes, proper training is not cheap but it is extremely necessary in today’s very competitive hospitality world — especially considering the difficulty of getting skilled staff on the current job market. If you are reticent to go down this path, you might consider the old adage: ‘If you’re worried about training them and having them leave; consider the cost of not training them and having them stay.