Employee Training: Deep Dive

A strong staff training and professional development system will create effective, loyal employees that will help you grow your business.

In my career I have written four employee manuals, and developed the training system/process to go along with them. The first was in Italy and the second in Brazil for outside sales personnel, the third was in Italy for a Language school, and the fourth was in North Carolina for a restaurant’s FOH (front of house) staff.

All four of these manuals and training processes included many of the elements below. They all included required competencies that the trainee had to demonstrate before the training was completed. 

Some employees came to the restaurant, for example, from other restaurants and they usually went through the training faster than those new to the restaurant industry.

There was no set time frame or hours for the training…. once they demonstrated proficiency of the knowledge and tasks and an understanding of the company culture they were considered to have passed the training.

This is the third part of a series that started with “Three Challenges Every Small Business Faces” continued with “Design your Sales Process to Close more Sales!”. 


If you’ve been reading my emails you might think we are about at the end of this one.

My apologies this is a long one, but a good one.

You might want to keep it around if you don’t have a current need for developing a training program.

And if you don’t have a need at this time you might just want to stop here.

Fair warning; so let’s move on

A couple folks asked me to dive deep into the subject of

Employee Training

So here it is in a “Best Practices” kind of way.

If you’ve been in business for a while, you know that the people who work for you can be your biggest lifesavers and biggest headaches.

When they are invested in your company and take ownership of their roles and responsibilities, they are your biggest allies in the growth of your business. But when you are stuck in a cycle of hiring and training only to lose employees, they can be the largest drain on your time and pocket book.

There is little doubt that finding and keeping good employees is a big challenge for every business owner. You want to have the right people in each of the roles, and spend as little time and money as possible recruiting and training.

Your strongest defense against this vicious cycle is a solid human resource strategy. Just like customers, the cost of hiring and training an employee is a lot higher than working to keep the employees you already have.

So, I’m going to show you a highly effective system not only for training your employees, but also for motivating and keeping your employees.

Here is what we will cover in this article

  • How a strong, happy team equals more money
  • How to create a training program for new and existing employees
  • The tools you will need to train new staff
  • How to establish an employee retention program

A well-trained, happy group of employees who are invested in their roles will deliver significantly stronger results.

Customers can spot the difference between employees who love what they do and where they work, and employees who are showing up for their paycheck.

This sense influences purchase decisions and conversion rates because disgruntled employees will have a harder time establishing trust with prospective buyers. Wouldn’t you want to be served by a positive, knowledgeable person over a grumpy one who didn’t seem to care about your needs?

Knowledgeable, happy employees who are well treated by their employer will perform at a dramatically higher level than those who are not. These employees know that their employer has confidence in their abilities, and is invested in their success. In return, they often go above and beyond the call of duty to make the sale and get the job done.

It’s really quite simple to keep good people working for you. You start by putting them through a comprehensive training program, and then you continue to foster their professional development and give them a reason to stay.

Start by creating a comprehensive training system for your new and existing employees.

If you don’t have a training program in place, it’s time to start one. Haphazardly training new employees usually results in each person starting with a different level of understanding of their role and knowledge of the company. This creates nothing but confusion and inefficiencies.

A strong training program will:

  • Give new employees all the information they need to be successful in their roles
  • Allow you to seamlessly implement new policies and procedures
  • Show your staff that you are invested in their employment with you
  • Allow you to establish performance standards
  • Give both you and your staff an opportunity to ask questions and receive feedback

Your training program sets the tone for each person’s employment with your business. It is their first impression of your company, the systems within it, the leaders who run it, the organization level, and the performance standards expected. If you give the impression that the company is sloppily run, then your new employee will think that sloppy work is accepted.

A clear system or ‘curriculum’ for new employee training not only results in stronger employees, but also makes your job easier. The subjects and skills that each employee is expected to learn are clearly outlined, and nearly anyone in your office can pick up the training manual and get started.

A strong training program will also help you keep employees, and reduce turnover. The cost of hiring and training staff members can be high, and you want to maximize that investment by keeping employees happy and learning throughout their employment.

So, first I’m going show you how to create a training system for new employees. In the last section of this E-Class, I’ll show you how to make sure that training system is ongoing throughout the staff member’s employment.

1. Design your training system by asking yourself (and answering!) the following questions:

What is the knowledge level of the new employee?

Decide what you are going to cover in the training program with awareness of the new employee’s prior knowledge and skills. If you are not sure on some areas, ask them, or plan to “review” key skills and understanding.

Who will be doing the training?

Choose who will lead the new employee’s training, and who are the people who will assist. These people need to be qualified and experienced enough to cover the each section of the training. For example, administrative staff should not be charged with training an employee on the sales floor; instead, a sales staff member should handle training for that specific period. Make it clear who is responsible for what information.

What materials do you need to train new employees properly?

Make a list of the materials you need to cover and give to the employee. If you have reference material, make sure it’s handy. Anything that will contribute to the training process should be accessible: company manuals, industry reference materials, product knowledge binders, work samples, etc.

What tools do you need for the new employee?

Gather the tools your new employee will need to perform their role, and assemble it where the training will be held. Stock their workstation with the supplies they’ll need to be successful, like software, technological equipment, and role-specific materials. A lot of training time can be wasted looking for key items.

How much time will training take?

Decide how much time it will take your new employee to learn and become comfortable with the new role. Include time for questions and feedback, and be generous with the time you allot to each task or section of training. Avoid rushing the training process, since it will cost you time and money later on.

How will you test or check to make sure the training is working?

Provide ‘checkpoints’ or tests within the training material to confirm that the employee understands and is comfortable with the topics covered. These don’t have to be formal tests, but could be small, job-related tasks performed on their own using the skills taught in the training program.

How will you incorporate the company’s big picture into the training program?

Explain to every new employee how their role fits into the overall structure of your business, and how their work impacts the performance of the business. Show them where they can go for information about the company, as well as other departments, if applicable.

What opportunities will the trainee have for feedback and clarification?

While it may be assumed that the trainee can ask questions at any time, be sure to build opportunities for clarification into the training process. Also, make it clear to the trainee that questions and feedback are welcome at any time, not just during the training process.

2. Schedule regular one-on-one meetings between staff and managers to evaluate performance and identify areas for development.

As part of their ongoing training, hold an individual meeting with each staff member at least twice a year to review their performance, gather feedback on the business, and identify opportunities for growth and development.

Conduct these meetings one-on-one, or two-on-one, with the staff member, yourself, and their immediate supervisor (if they have one). When held regularly, these meetings become an important opportunity for communication between staff and management, and encourage honest and open dialogue.

Create an agenda that everyone in the meeting can follow, and be sure to include the following items:

  • Review of performance over past time period (six months, three months, etc.)
  • Review of goals or targets set at last meeting
  • Achievements and successes
  • Opportunities for growth and development
  • New goals or targets set for upcoming time period

Build a two-way dialogue during the meeting, and make it clear to the employee that they can provide their own feedback. These should be positive experiences, and issues or challenges should be handled in a constructive way.

3. Create a human resources system to organize each of your employees training and professional development.

If you have several employees, it is wise to create a human resources system for organizing and managing information about each of your staff and their performance in your company. In a filing system, keep a folder for each one of your staff members, and use it to store information about their employment with your company in a centralized place.

Remember that these aren’t designed to be “secret dossiers” full of incriminating information, it’s a convenient way to record and monitor the performance and development of each of your team members.

In your employee’s human resource folder, keep documents like:

  • A job description, with regular updates to include new responsibilities or tasks
  • Summary of performance evaluations (one-on-one meetings)
  • Goal planning worksheets
  • Resume upon hiring
  • Professional development plan or program

In addition to a comprehensive system for training new staff, you will need to create an employee retention strategy to keep good people in your business.

You can hire and train the best and the brightest, but unless you have a strategy in place for keeping the best and the brightest happy and motivated, you’ll be forever stuck in the hiring and training phrases.

Of course turnover happens in every business, it’s just a part of being an employer. People get bored, or venture over to another company. They make moves to further their career, or try out new industries. Sometimes you can’t do anything to stop it, but with an employee retention strategy you’ll have a better chance of hanging on to your best employees.


1. Provide a work environment that meets the needs of your employees.

The place you go to work every day makes a big difference to your overall happiness and how much you like what you do. Therefore, the environment you create for your staff will naturally impact your retention rates.

Consider spending a little bit more money on things like office furniture and kitchen or staff room amenities. Do what you can to make every person’s workspace healthy and comfortable. Place cushioned rubber mats at the point of sale, and other locations where staff will be standing for a long period of time. If your staff uses a computer all day, provide comfortable chairs and adjustable keyboard trays.

Draft a list of small (or big!) changes you can make to your office or store that will improve the day-to-day experience of the people who work for you.

Think about the following questions when brainstorming:

  1. How is the staff room arranged and furnished?
  2. What amenities are provided on-site? Does the kitchen meet the lunchtime needs of all staff members?
  3. What is the atmosphere, or people-culture, of the business? What is the noise level or music choice?
  4. Is there a place for congregation and communication between employees?
  5. How is the office or store-space laid out? Open concept or sectioned off?
  6. Are there ample windows and natural lighting?
  7. Does staff gather for social events, or have common interests?
  8. Are there company events for team building?

Remember that little improvements will go a long way, so get creative with how you can improve the environment at your place of work.

2. Implement a rewards or incentive-based program to recognize strong performance.

The best way to show staff that they are valued and to recognize their achievements is to create a rewards system. This works well for both your business and the employee, because when employees are motivated with incentives and acknowledgement, they will deliver higher results.

Rewards can vary from days off and free lunches, to bonus checks and salary increases. Choose something that your employees will value, and that you can afford to hand out.

Here are a few ways you can structure your rewards program:

Incentive Programs

  • Rewards based on reaching individual or group targets for sales or other measures (conversion rates, average dollar sale, etc)
  • Rewards based on individual improvement targets for sales or other measures

Recognition Programs

  • Employee of the Month, as voted by colleagues, management, or customers
  • Salesperson of the Month, awarded to top seller
  • Most Improved, awarded to employee with the highest growth

Tip: I came across a statistic a while ago that says that most employees value positive public recognition more than bonuses or monetary rewards, and I believe it. Make your rewards system public, and showcase top performers as “employee of the month” or “salesperson of the month.” This type of reward costs your company nothing to give.

3. Establish a professional development program to facilitate ongoing learning and performance improvement.

When a new employee is finished with their orientation training, their ongoing training continues in the form of professional development. Ideally, your business will have a system or program in place that nurtures each of your employee’s professional growth.

Investing in the development of your employees shows that you are motivated to keep them happy and growing in their careers. This will help your retention strategy, and allow you to promote and cross-train from within, which will save you time and money in the long run.

The feeling of hitting a professional wall, or “outgrowing” a position is one that drives people to change jobs or attempt to apply their skills elsewhere. If you want to keep your best staff, you will need to find a way to help them grow as a professional while contributing to the needs of your business.

Ongoing training and development increases:

  • Productivity
  • Retention rates
  • Safety
  • Staff morale
  • Customer service
  • Sales
  • Your bottom line

Your professional development program doesn’t have to be particularly formal, just a range of options that will support the growth of your business and the goals of your employees.

Some companies give each staff member a budget for professional development expenses that the company will pay for. Others require a percentage of staff time to be dedicated to learning or product knowledge. You could also schedule a monthly “lunch and learn” session on various topics or products.

A professional development program could include any or all of:

  • Presentations by product or service vendors to improve product knowledge
  • Staff training to learn new equipment or technology
  • Courses at continuing learning institutions relevant to the employee’s role
  • In-house or industry mentorship programs
  • Weekend seminars
  • Promotion and training in higher positions
  • Cross-training to learn additional responsibilities or cover others’ roles

Be sure to work a discussion about professional development and your employee’s goals into your one-on-one meetings. Employees will be more invested in your company’s interests if you are invested in theirs.

Invest time in your staff’s training and development, and you’ll be investing in the growth of your business.

It only makes good sense that employees who feel they have a stake in your business will work with a greater sense of ownership and perform at a higher level.

Remember, once you hire the right people, it’s entirely up to you to groom them into your ideal employees. Always consider the cost of finding and training new employees compared to keeping your current ones – just like customers, it’s a lot less expensive.