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Train Your First Employees Well-trained workers are the best investment you can make for future franchise success.

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Q: I recently bought a small restaurant franchise. For the first time I have to focus on training a lot of new employees. Can you give me any advice on how to make my training more effective or simpler to deliver to my staff?

A: Training your employees is probably the most important investment you can make. Trained employees are happier, stay longer and do a better job. In most studies of what makes an employee happy, being trained for the job usually ranks higher than getting more money. Training is that important.

In most good franchise systems, the franchisor provides you with training manuals, pamphlets, checklists and other tools to help you train your employees. Some franchisors, as part of their training program for either new franchisees or advanced franchisees, even provide training to their franchisees on how to teach. Today we're also witnessing "distance learning"-franchise systems using the Internet to provide training to franchisees' employees.

But what do you do if your franchisor doesn't provide you with the tools? You create them yourself.

A wonderful way to train new employees is through role-playing. Role-playing allows your staff to experience different customer service situations and act out solutions. It gives you a chance to evaluate their strengths and give them pointers on what to do in various situations. It's also a lot more fun than simply lecturing them. For developing strong customer service skills, there's nothing that beats role-playing.

Manuals skills, on the other hand, are better developed using a simple, four-step training technique:

1. Prepare employees. Let your staff watch someone else doing the job. This gives them a chance to observe not only the process, but also the end product. They're also able to ask questions and understand what will be expected of them.

2. Present information to employees. Once they've watched someone else do the job, it's time for them to do it. Speed is not important at this point. Let them do the task slowly. Lead them though each step and make sure they do each step correctly.

3. Let employees practice the skill. At this point, it's time for them to fly on their own a bit. Have them do the task at half speed and explain to you each step they're doing. Continue to provide them with feedback as needed, but the goal at this point is to see how much they understand themselves. Finally, have them do the task at full speed without providing any coaching or feedback. This shows whether they're ready to do the job themselves and to work with real customers.

4. Follow up to see whether they've learned the skill. Periodically observe them and make sure they're continuing to do the job correctly. Reinforce the right way to do the job if you see them taking short cuts or making mistakes.

A few other tips: Break the job down into different, easy-to-understand tasks or skills. Don't overwhelm new employees or try to teach them too many different skills at the same time. If the job is to clean the customer seating area of a restaurant, first work on how to mop, sweep or wash off the tables correctly. Don't try to teach cleaning the restaurant as one task. Treat these as different skills, each equally important.

Training can be time-consuming and expensive. But a well-trained employee will serve your customers better, and you'll find it's an investment that pays dividends quickly.

Michael H. Seid is managing director of Michael H. Seid & Associates, a West Hartford, Connecticut- and Troy, Michigan-based management consulting firm specializing in the franchise industry. Seid recently co-wroteFranchising for Dummies(IDG Books) with Wendy's founder Dave Thomas.

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