Point of Beginning

The Business Side: Employee training: the key to success.

October 1, 2009
Ever wonder how some companies turn out jobs by the hundreds while you have difficulty completing just a few?



How is it that some companies always retain their clients? Why do the best employees always seem to work for your competitors? The answers to these questions often can be found in the amount of training the employees receive.

Let me start by acknowledging that it can be difficult to train employees. It’s not that they aren’t smart enough to learn; rather, many company owners or managers do not have the skills or patience to properly train their own staff.

Field Training

I recently did a survey on my brother’s farm in a very rural part of Illinois. My original plan was to use my GPS equipment connected to a CORS. But no CORS was available in that area, and I did not bring a second GPS unit along. So, the fallback plan was to use a total station with my brother as the rodman.

My brother was a very willing worker. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the knowledge or skills of a well-trained field person. We eventually completed a survey that would meet all standards, but the amount of time and effort required on my part was twice what it should have been. (In my brother’s defense, he was great at digging up corners buried in blacktop roads and was able to learn a great deal of fieldwork in a short period of time.)

For me, this experience highlighted just how important having trained employees is to expedite a job. If you want to streamline your projects, I suggest you spend more time with your field crews to observe and mentor their work. Most of the time, employees want to do a good job--just as my brother did. He must have asked me 10 times, “Am I going to make it as a surveyor?” And every time, I answered “sure” because I didn’t want him to quit. You can provide the same guidance and encouragement to your employees in the field.

Office Training

The office presents a completely different set of problems than the field. In my many years of dealing with field crews, I found that they generally worked hard every day with very little time spent talking about sports and hobbies. I have been on a jobsite where two members of a field crew never said a word between them. In contrast, it can be a real trick getting the work out the door of an office while allowing some small talk between employees. There are always birthdays, wedding showers, family problems and other subjects that interrupt the workflow. The owner or manager has to walk a fine line between allowing some disruption and getting the employees to apply themselves to their work.

Managers and owners also need to be aware of how and even whether each employee is contributing to the success of the company. At one place where I worked, there was a very bright techie who always wanted to research a new and faster way to do each operation. Unfortunately, he spent most of his time talking to others about their work, and it was almost impossible to keep him at his work station. We eventually replaced him.

Office training also involves software training since most companies are consistently upgrading or replacing software. If the software is new, I like to let an employee spend some time reading the manuals and working with the software before sending them for training. Then, when they do get the training, it will be more meaningful. If you think you may want to buy new software (which is a major investment), send an employee who would use the software to see a real-life demonstration at a company that already uses the product. This is the best way to find out if it’s the right product for your company.

Understanding Your Employees

Don’t forget that building a great team of employees requires understanding them as individuals. Putting the right person in the right job has always been the key to productive employees. In my own company, we used testing from an outside firm to help us understand our employees’ skills and interests. We also used these tests in our hiring process.

Additionally, while the modern company tends to be a very casual place compared to just a few years ago, remember that you still need to have rules to run your office effectively. Getting to work on time is important, as is staying at your workplace turning out product. It’s also important to be at work on a daily basis. One of my bosses used to call the production area of the company “the sausage factory,” which meant everyone was at their work station and turning out the jobs. It’s very important to train your employees to excel in this productive environment if you want to make money.

Sidebar: More Tips for Training Employees

• Spend some time in the field with your employees--and maybe even buy them lunch. Make sure you know what is happening on a daily basis.

• Buy a new digital video camera for the field crews. Ask them to video key parts of the job to be used in the office for finalizing the work.

• Host a monthly potluck lunch to give employees time to socialize. You can invite clients to put faces with the names. Another fun way to socialize is to organize a company softball team.

• Make sure you have someone that will share with you the behind-the-scenes happenings in your company. I know company owners that don’t have a clue what is going on. They have two different companies: the one they think they own and then the real company.

• Keep up to date with family problems of employees; they have a way of becoming your problems.

• Remember that the real measure of a company is its profitability.