Retaining top talent at a small business can be very challenging. Every day on LinkedIn your “A” players are being peppered with invites from recruiters and seeing the exciting opportunities that working for large companies can provide. If you are not careful, you can lose them.

Candidates state that one of the most important factors when choosing a new employer is the education and development program offered by the company. If you are not offering a high and consistent level of employee education, you will have trouble attracting top talent.

As a small business owner, you have to strike the right balance of investing in your people without breaking the bank. When identifying where to spend your training budget you need to start with a desired outcome that can be measured and tracked. 

Money spent on employee training can be one of the best investments your company makes or a huge waste of time and capital.  The outcome is the difference.


Setting Yourself up for Success

The biggest mistake most small business owners make when creating a training program for their employees is not having a defined goal (or the goal is poorly defined). We set goals like “sell more” or “have better customer service”.

The target should not only be measurable, (increase sales by 10% for product A, improve employee retention by 25%, etc.) the training program should allow you to attain it. 

Below are five steps to creating an effective employee training program for your small business (you can watch a video overview here). These steps can be used when developing a “one-time” training seminar for your team or an ongoing program like a new hire onboarding. Let’s get started.

1. Ask.  What is the training need and what will success look like?  This question should be asked many different ways and to as many people as possible. You have to conduct some form of “needs assessment” before developing a training program.

The needs assessment will typically identify common themes and areas of improvement that will have a direct impact on organizational success. If you are starting from ground zero, you might want to look at the job descriptions or perform a job analysis to identify which disciplines warrant the investment.

It is important to gain perspective from multiple sources, including the employees, to learn where you have the best opportunity for impact.

2. Prepare.  This is the most important step.  If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The team needs to identify the method of training (online, outside trainer, team, etc), the people who will be involved, and the goals of the training. 

This is when you will define what success looks like. 

Are the desired results attainable and how can we get there?  Give your people the resources they need to execute and make the learning an ongoing process rather than a one- time event. If you can’t execute, this will all be waste of time.

3. Align.  Small business owners usually fail to make sure everyone is prepared for a training program. This includes the employee, the trainers and the employees’ manager. The training will fall flat if the manager has not bought off on the training and therefore does not give ample support to the employee to utilize what they have learned. 

This can result in the benefits being minimized by a lack of focus and unwillingness to take it seriously. Take the time to gain support from management in the results that will be realized and how that will contribute to her team’s success.

4. Execute.  Whatever your method and plan is make sure you stick to it. Give your team the time to execute without feeling the pressure of tying up resources. This is especially crucial if you are developing new hire training.

When the trainers are trying to rush material or minimize the content they can submarine the whole process. As with every great plan in business, it all boils down to execution.  Always link the training directly to the job being performed and provide exercises that will not only keep the trainee involved but actively learning. Allowing your teammates to be hands on and even conduct the trainings as part of their annual performance plan can improve the effectiveness.

5. Measure.  It is time to identify if the training stuck.  

The goal of training is to improve performance and maximize productivity. There are several different ways to measure the effectiveness of the training. The end result should involve measuring trainee satisfaction, knowledge tests, performance improvements, and ROI metrics. 

I think we have all been to that awesome day of training or seminar that was really impactful for exactly 24 hours and then we go right back to our old habits.

These metrics we defined in the planning stage can now be assessed to determine the stickiness of the program and allow for future enhancements.  Do not skip this step as it is the most important piece of the puzzle.

Investing in your people is the best way for an organization to gain a competitive advantage in business. Like any investment, if you are not disciplined in your research and execution, you can lose more than you win. Take the time to work through these steps thoroughly and maximize your investment. If you are looking for help with developing an employee training program for your small business, you can learn more about how we help people here.

Matt Vaadi is a bona fide HR nerd. He has worked in HR since 2003, which is pretty much the stone ages. His HR experience ranges from the frontline management of 50 employees and consulting organizations in the Fortune 500, to speaking at various events. He has interviewed and hired thousands of people in his diverse career. He now serves as CEO of ERG Payroll & HR, an HR support firm in Columbia, SC.

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