Hire Learning

You can't just throw new hires into the workplace and hope for the best. First, you've got to train them right.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the November 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

If you're used to being a sole proprietor, training your first employee can be a challenge. Will your new hire fit in with your business? How can you make sure he or she completes tasks correctly and efficiently?

The biggest mistake many entrepreneurs make is throwing everything at the new employee at once and expecting that person to get up to speed immediately, says Kathleen Miller, founder of Miller Consultants Inc., a training and organizational development company in Louisville, Kentucky. "You need to organize the information you're going to teach them," she says. "Don't just do it off the top of your head. The time it would take them to become productive [while] sorting though your random thoughts is way too much for a startup."

Before your new employee's first day on the job (or better, before you even hire that person), create a detailed list of his or her duties. Include what you expect of that person, how he or she is to go about the job, how you will evaluate performance, and so on, so you can tell the employee those parameters when he or she starts.

That's exactly what Mike Wilson, 35-year-old founder of Comnexia Corp., did when he hired his employees. He'd been running his Atlanta IT outsourcing services company since 1991 and needed some extra help to grow the business. Though it was a challenge to find the time to list all the new employee's duties, it really helped him to communicate clearly during the training. It still wasn't easy, however, as he didn't have much prior training experience. "If I'd had some more experience with knowing how to work with the variety of personalities in the beginning, that would have helped a lot with the training process," says Wilson. His process, which has evolved over the years, has helped his company grow to about 24 employees and reach an anticipated $4 million in 2004 fiscal year sales.

Overall, it's important to take enough time to train, so don't assume your new employee knows things innately. "If you've been engrossed in developing your business plan and thinking through how you're going to treat customers, you take a lot of that knowledge for granted," says Miller. "You have in your head these implicit expectations about how you [want things done], but you've never communicated them."

Miller suggests that a new employer distill the information in levels. What does your new employee need to know immediately? What are the most important points? And what information can you give the employee a bit later-say, a few weeks or months into his or her tenure? Doing so will not only help you communicate in a way that's not overwhelming, but also help the employee be productive faster.

Though creating a list of duties is important, don't think you have to create a 100-page manual, say experts. According to Bruce Sevy, vice president of sales and marketing for SHL Americas, a Chicago provider of psychometric assessment and development solutions: "Demonstrate what a task looks like, and give them a chance to try it while you watch. Give them feedback about what went well. Most adults learn quickest when there's a model of good performance."


Training expert Kathleen Miller of Miller Consultants Inc. in Louisville, Kentucky, offers these training tips:

1.Don't assume. Don't think that because a person has heard the information once, he or she knows it. You'll have to coach the employee and reinforce your points to help them sink in.

2.Ask questions. New employees are often scared to ask questions, so be sure to open the door for them. Say, "I know this can be confusing. Did you have any areas of our procedure you need help with?"

3.Create a cheat sheet. This is a visual tool-listing dos and don'ts or "five things to remember," for instance-a new hire can refer to later. Think of it as bite-size information at his or her fingertips

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