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Employee Training Dos and Don'ts

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"I've trained them and trained them but they just do what they want!" laments a frustrated spa owner with a staff of 17. As her business coach I sit and patiently listen to her story, observing the tense body language of a woman that feels powerless to change a stubborn and under-performing team. Turnover is approaching almost 100 percent for the second time in two years while customer complaints have risen sharply. Burned by a train them and lose them history my client has become embittered by the prospect of having to invest more time and money into employee development, and she doesn't want to do it again.

And yet hiring veteran professionals hasn't solved the problem, either, as they resist new methods or changes to practices and routines they've followed for years elsewhere. Secretly, her employees inform me that the spa's training program, while extensive, "doesn't work" but none can articulate exactly where the problem lies. They cite everything from the need for still more training, to time shortages, to the ubiquitous but vague disorganization. Meanwhile, the beleaguered owner feels that her employees are ungrateful, selfish, and uncooperative. This toxic brew of resentment and failure, if left unchecked, will never result in a successful and harmonious working environment. Clearly, we have a dysfunctional family here.
Without launching into a dissertation on training and management theory I'd like to offer my spa colleagues some key guidelines to help you plan and deliver a well-executed and productive employee training program. Like anything else in business the more you dedicate yourself to excellence in a task the better your returns will be. Training, however, is often the Achilles heel of a management system regardless of the effort put into designing and implementing it. With this I offer you my short list of employee training dos and don'ts for the spa that plans to succeed!

Employee training: do!

  • Require all employees to attend and fulfill your training program - no exceptions! An unevenly trained staff is an entirely untrained staff. Management systems depend on everyone involved knowing what to do all of the time. One broken cog ruins the entire mechanism.
  • Training must include a thorough description of the task and the expected result from the performance of it. What you feel is correct performance may not match what an employee believes it is. I once had a problem manicurist tell me that she was giving 150 percent effort to the job. However, her measure added up to about 75 percent on my scale of excellence.
  • Your training manual (of course you have a training manual, don't you?) should contain written and graphic examples of procedures, timing and other details of protocol. Visual learning is a critical component for hands-on professionals. Do not expect written materials to fulfill the job of educating. Pictures and diagrams are essential! I especially like manuals that contain pie charts that indicate where an employee should be during a 60 or 90-minute procedure.
  • Supervised practice is extremely important in any training program. This means that the trainer demonstrates the task or service then witnesses the employee executing the task just taught. You need to see that the employee both understands the steps and can translate them into acceptable performance. It's both foolish and unfair to merely believe that training without observed practice will be enough to get the performance you're expecting. It won't happen. Employees will often tell you that they know something that, in fact, they don't - they're trying to avoid embarrassment or disappointing you. Seeing is believing in the world of training.
  • Train all new employees on a set schedule as soon as they join your team. Too often I hear how spa managers promise to train new hires and then delay the task for weeks or toss it off to another poorly trained employee or one who is poor at training. Nothing defeats employee confidence and enthusiasm faster than being charged with duties they are barely able to fulfill. Training is an essential skill, not a drudge job like laundry or tallying inventory. Treat it off-handedly and you'll pay a heavy price in terms of client outrage and high employee turnover.
  • Test your training performance! Yes, I said your training performance. How will you know (before trouble starts) that you've done an adequate job of employee training if you haven't tested its result? Verbal, written and practical testing is the only way to properly measure an employee's success in translating training into quality job performance. You will certainly want to know the answer before placing them into a position where your clients do the testing instead. An employee that passes the test is one that's ready to work.
  • Train often, even your veteran employees. Training has an insidious way of eroding or evolving over time, often far from the standard you set in the beginning. It's just human nature to drift from or be creative with an original recipe, however, you shouldn't be surprised when you discover that clients report widely varying experiences from employee to employee performing the same services or procedures. Don't let the old lions of your team get away with resisting continuous training or you'll lose control of your team altogether. Remember, they're testing you, too, every day you and they work together!

Employee training: don't!

  • Don't expect employees to appreciate the training you provide for them. While some will be openly grateful for the knowledge other (rightfully) regard training as a basic expectation from management, not as a gift. If you want a job done a certain way at a specific level of quality then you need to train people to do it, and that, dear manager, is your base-line duty.
  • Don't treat employee training as punishment, for yourself or them! Training that lacks creativity, fun, or passion is painful, and won't stick. People have to want to do a good job, as much as you think they should want to on their own. Make training a miserable experience and you'll waste everyone's time.
  • Never fail to make a big deal of employee training graduates. Once an employee has completed your training program award them with a special certificate in a team setting or staff meeting. These esteem-building experiences create confidence and a sense of belonging in the new hire.
  • Don't schedule employee training during the most unreceptive times. Expecting an employee to be enthusiastic to training on a regular day off or at the end of a long workday or holiday is a poor idea even if it's convenient for you. If you have to mark off a few appointment hours in order to invest in well-received training then it's a cost of doing business you should plan to make.
  • DO NOT accept the training an employee received at a former workplace or from a product vendor to serve as your own! Want to own a spa that performs poorly and controls you? This is the way to achieve it.
  • Get some training for you, too! After all, who taught you to manage a team of spa professionals in the setting you designed at the location you chose? Having the money to invest in a spa or 20-years experience as a professional aesthetician does not automatically qualify you as a natural born trainer of others. Successful training skills require patience, organization, and careful attention to detail. You need the willingness to work around the fears and limitations and objections of those who must now desire and commit to doing things that are new or different than how they were done previously. Management training is widely available in the spa industry; maybe this is your next wise investment!

One final note: it's always a good idea to ask new and existing employees what kind of training, style and frequency works best for them. While the feedback may vary it will prove to be an excellent guide for planning and delivering a training program that's on-target for those expected to benefit from it.

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