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Lessons learned: Avoid mixed signals when training newbies

October 29/November 5, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 10

By Tom Jennings

 

Frequent readers of this column will recognize I am constantly harping the point that there are lessons to be learned regarding the care of both customers and staff everywhere you look. Please allow me to share one with you.

While having a lazy Saturday morning breakfast at a franchise restaurant recently, I observed an assistant manager training three new hires at a nearby table. While they were all young, it made me smile looking into their bright eyes on their first day. I suspect that for a couple of them it may have been their first job ever.

They looked great in their newly issued uniforms. (Can you say the same about your employees?) When I first observed them, they were getting a large dose of corporate jargon, such as harassment policy, company history, etc. Not exactly riveting to any of us at any age, but it must be done. (You do have all of your corporate policies written in an official employee handbook, don’t you?) I was thinking to myself: No matter what these young people do later in life, working regular hours and serving the general public would provide them with so many valuable lessons to draw upon as they progress. What I didn’t realize was one of these lessons was going to come immediately.

About that time a middle-aged lady came over to the table and introduced herself as the general manager. It was a nice way to begin. Her next comment confounded me. She stated, “I have been at the restaurant for 12 years and a trainer for eight years. I know you’ll find all of the correct procedures in the manuals, but Deb and I have learned a lot of shortcuts over the years. If you want to do things faster, watch us.”

Unbelievable. It had just taken her about 30 seconds to effectively dismiss years of experience that had gone into building the corporate brand and image. These kids had been on the job about two hours, and now they are already receiving mixed signals. If they do things according to company policy, will they be scorned by immediate supervision? Or, worse, if they do things the “fast way,” will they jeopardize their opportunity to advance within the company? Worse yet, will they take the path that so many do and just proceed to disengage and care a little less? The lessons to be learned looking into those six young eyes were very real.

Then the manager put the cherry on her toxic sundae. She said, “If I call you by the wrong name, don’t be offended. I’ve seen so many trainees come through here that it’s hard to keep them all straight.”

Perfect. Now the kids have been both confused and diminished, and they haven’t served a single customer yet. You don’t suppose his lack of clear direction and sense of insecurity will be transferred in some fashion to the customers that they will be serving, do you? Of course it will. Then, when the majority of them inevitably grow frustrated and move on, management will be in a state of denial, lamenting, “They just can’t find anyone good to hire.”

We all hire new staff. Make sure both your mouth and your manuals are saying the same message. No matter what your age or experience level, beginning a new career can be both exhilarating and intimidating. Don’t make it any harder for all involved than it needs to be. Exhilarating is a lot more productive and enjoyable for all concerned. This is your responsibility. Be the lead that they need.