The first big step for a business is spotting where training is needed and where it will make the biggest difference to your employees and your business. What are your most critical activities or obvious areas of weakness? For example, you might notice that only one of your employees is able to manage your website, which means when they’re ill or on holiday, updates on your site grind to a halt.
Find out what your training needs are by asking employees directly, as well as customers and clients. External feedback on customer-facing employees can often be translated into training opportunities that would be missed if you only asked the employee for training ideas. If it works for your business set-up, mystery shopping services like Storecheckers can be a great tool for gathering this feedback.
Your employee should understand what’s expected of them as clearly as you recognise how they should improve. It’s good practice to write down the specific goals and benefits of the training you have planned, then review progress after a few months, or however long it takes to get a good idea of how things are going. For example, you might teach your admin assistant the basics of Google AdWords. The objective doesn’t need to be that they use AdWords to revolutionise online sales—setting up a campaign from start to finish could be a solid first step.
As a small business, deadlines and targets could suffer if employees take too much time out of their day to complete training. It’s about striking a balance that works for both the business and the employee. Often the best method is to allow the employee to take some time out for training, and then encourage them to practice what they’ve learned on the job. Online training can also be useful, as it’s flexible and can fit around day-to-day activities. Providers include: High Speed Training and LinkedIn's Lynda.com.
You’ve used Wikipedia to learn something new and may even offer a knowledge base to your customers so they can more easily use your product or service. An internal knowledge base, or corporate wiki, can be just as useful.
It functions just like Wikipedia but is used for distributing knowledge internally throughout the company. Having all of your processes collected and crosslinked in one place means you don’t have to waste time hand-holding new hires through identical learning steps. As the knowledge base grows, you can get a better view of where the gaps and inefficiencies are. Popular internal wikis for small businesses include Tettra and wikidot.
If building a wiki for your business sounds like a step too far, knowledge sharing in the form of good old-fashioned conversation can still be really effective. Ask your employees what types of training they’d find personally, as well as professionally, rewarding. You could find that someone has untapped design skills or a knack for number crunching. Workshops and brainstorming sessions can be good ways to encourage the sharing of knowledge between colleagues.
Some small business owners might worry when employees ask about training opportunities, feeling they don’t have the time or money to supply them. Actually, employees who want to learn are the best kind and helping them develop their skills doesn’t need to be costly or difficult.
Start by discussing and jointly deciding on what aspects of their role would most benefit from improvement, then choose the right type of training, whether it’s self-development through free online materials, or a more formalised approach using a knowledge base or training course.
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