Picking up new skills is an indispensable skill in the workplace today. Gone are the days when an employee could survive (even thrive) in a job by doing the same things over and over with no change. With constant changes in the corporate, technological and social milieu, it is simply impossible to survive without learning new skills.
This brings us to the obvious question – how to train an employee faster ? In a world where time is money, the sooner the employee picks up the necessary skills, the more profitable it is for the employee as well as the employer.
So what can an employer/manager do to get an employee trained faster ?
- Check for fit: Before even letting an employee embark on new learning, a manager should check for a fit between the employee’s natural ability and the nature of the new job. Does the new learning require skills that are completely antithetical to an employee’s natural abilities? Would the employee be better off doing something else ? Managers are naturally trained at identifying weaknesses and gaps and addressing those. However, they often miss out on an employee’s natural strengths and fail to use those. If you have an Albert Einstein in your team, wouldn’t it be smarter to let him work on particle physics instead to trying to train him to be a zoologist?
Now, let’s assume that a manager has already checked for a fit between the employee’s natural skills and the nature of the job. What next ?
- Motivate: This is truly the most important requirement to get an employee to learn faster. Without this, it is virtually impossible to get the employee to focus on learning anything new. Learning something new is a process of change, and there is always a natural inertia that resists change. Motivation is required to overcome the resistance. The learner needs to be convinced of the importance of learning, and the rewards thereof. And it is the responsibility of the manager to ensure that motivation is in good supply. A manager should not assume that the employee will learn spontaneously. Is there enough reward to motivate the employee to learn something new? Higher the motivation, faster the learning and better the results.
- The right level of pressure: Some employees need pressure – they even thrive on it. Some employees feel resentful and frustrated when pressurized. The manager needs to identify what works in each case and create the right level of pressure (or the absence of it)
- Resources: The right resources should be made available to the learner – learning materials, instructors, peer groups etc. And it is important to remember that time is a resource too. In a hurry to get employees trained faster, managers should not take shortcuts and impose unreasonable targets. Such targets could frustrate employees, cause burnout or may necessitate costly re-work. Even worse, it may lead to employees quitting their job.
- Chunking: An employee faced with a new project/job role might feel overwhelmed at the magnitude of the task that lies ahead. Breaking up a big project/learning activity into small, manageable chunks is a great way to prevent an employee from getting overwhelmed. Skilled managers are very good at breaking up a complex project into manageable portions, with clear milestones along the way. Chunking thus eliminates or minimizes learning anxiety. When the anxiety is minimized, the learning happens faster.
- Identifying the employee’s learning style: It is common knowledge that different people learn through different methods. Some learn by reading, some by doing. A good manager should let the employee learn in a manner that suits the latter’s natural inclination.
- Rapport: If a manager has a good rapport with an employee in his/her team, it certainly helps. Rapport is something built up over a period of time and not overnight. Good rapport facilitates clear, honest communication in an atmosphere of trust and respect. It allows the employee and the manager to talk frankly and fearlessly. Conversely, absence of a good rapport is a huge barrier to effective communication – and hence a barrier to learning.