The Do's and Don'ts of Field Training

July 08, 2013 | 1107 Views

The Do's and Don'ts of Field Training

Patrick Yearout, FMP, CHT

Director of Innovation, Recruiting, and Training | Ivar's & Kidd Valley Restaurants

Every once and a while, even the most sheltered of hospitality trainers must leave the cloistered confines of the corporate office and work out in the rough and tumble world of operations.  Whether it’s to roll out a new program, work with an underperforming team, or open a new location, most of us make our way out to company hotels and restaurants at least occasionally to teach new skills and improve productivity.

But there can be a number of obstacles to overcome, and pitfalls to avoid, while conducting on-the-job training.  Interruptions can be frequent, space for training is sometimes hard to find, and working conditions can vary tremendously from location to location.  And unlike a classroom setting, where trainers are large and in charge, out in the field we have the responsibility to meet performance objectives but usually lack any positional authority.  As a result of these potential challenges, we must learn to use our personal power to partner effectively with the team so that the lessons we teach continue to stick long after we depart.

So what specific tips and strategies can I offer based on my time working at Ivar’s Restaurants that will help others achieve success in the field?  Well, here are my 10 do’s and 10 don’ts when it comes to training in operations.

Do’s

  1. Prepare for your visit beforehand by making sure you really understand the setting in which you will be teaching.  If you became a trainer by working your way up through HR, or if your company owns multiple brands/concepts and you will be working in an unfamiliar one, it would be worth discussing with your supervisor the possibility of at least going through the initial training program for new recruits so you can walk the walk and talk the talk of the workplace.  Nothing will help your credibility as a trainer more than gaining field experience from the employee perspective.
  2. If you are not only delivering training in your hotels and restaurants, but also creating it as well, make sure to follow all the steps of proper instructional design.  These steps are just as critical to one-on-one or on-the job training as they are with classroom training.  You should use the ADDIE Model as your guide, conduct a thorough needs analysis, design appropriate objectives, and evaluate the success of the training after it has been completed.
  3. Be flexible.  Stability and constancy may be hallmarks of your classroom training, but the ability to adapt and adjust to changing conditions are essential when you train in operations, so you need to consider possible problems that could occur and how you might respond.  If an unexpected rush of guests appears and some or all of your students get called back to work in the middle of your training, for example, you need to have a backup plan to make sure the lesson is completed.
  4. Always respect the managers' (or franchise owners') position and meet with them before you begin.  Lasting change will not happen without their buy-in, so their office should be your first stop when you arrive.  Discuss your concerns, and ask for their advice when dealing with issues such as time crunches and limited training space.  Talk to them about your objectives, listen to their opinions, let them review the content of your training materials to make sure everything is up-to-date, and ask how they would like you to give and receive feedback to the staff.  And most importantly, make sure they participate in the training session so they can learn the new standards or processes as well.  The more you get them involved, the better the odds that your training will take root and grow.
  5. Follow the rules that all the employees have to follow.  Arrive on time, park where the employees park, wear the right clothing (not necessarily a uniform, but something professional and appropriate for the environment in which you will be teaching), and take breaks at the appropriate time/place.  If the crew cannot eat and drink on the fryline, for example, then you shouldn’t eat or drink on the fryline.  Acting like operational guidelines do not apply to you is not a good way to foster a relationship between trainer and trainees.
  6. Introduce yourself, explain your role and your objectives, and get to know the employees prior to the start of the training.  By doing so, you will help relieve some of nervousness or concern about your presence and make the staff more open to learning new procedures.  Additionally, getting to know your audience will help you to assess their level of expertise in the area in which you will be training so that you do not waste time on learning modules they do not need.
  7. Help out in every possible way when you are working in the field.  As you get to know the on-site employees better, for example, and they open up to you about their training needs, workplace issues, and career goals, let them know about available company resources that they may find helpful.  It’s possible they may not be aware of certain benefits such as an Employee Assistance Program, scholarship fund, tuition reimbursement, etc.  And if you discover a team at one location stuck on a certain problem, help them to resolve it by sharing best practices that you have learned during your travels.  As one who goes from unit to unit, you will have the opportunity to see different solutions offered up by different teams, and you have the power to spread those good ideas around.
  8. In addition to the specific training which you will be providing, conduct an inventory of available training tools while you are on-site.  Does the store have all the necessary job aids, and are they being used by the employees?  Are training journals or diaries being completed?  Are there any technical issues preventing the staff from using your company’s LMS?  Find out if anything is missing, broken, or not being used properly and work with the management team to eliminate these problems so that proper and effective instruction can resume.
  9. New store openings can be a busy and chaotic time, and trainers may be asked to participate in operational activities to help the team get caught up during the day.  Any assistance you can give will certainly be appreciated during that moment, but you can provide a longer-lasting contribution by finding a new employee, if one is available, and teaching them how to complete the task instead of just performing it solo.
  10. An effective way to ensure that training transfer has occurred is to observe while the employees you have worked with train other employees in the same activity; you will be able to see first-hand the amount of knowledge they retained and follow-up in any deficient areas.  And if you find particular staffers who really excel as trainers, make sure to encourage their potential and talk to their supervisor about letting them continue to train when future opportunities arise.

Don’ts

  1. Don’t disrupt or upset the team or the operations during your visit.  Basically, you should follow the same principle used for medical ethics: “first, do no harm.”  You are there to make things better, not worse, so you need to treat everyone with respect, project a positive can-do attitude, and arrange your training in a manner that prevents it from slowing service to the hotel or restaurant guests.
  2. A positive attitude is great, but that doesn’t mean you should dole out generic unsupportable compliments.  Avoid using phrases such as “you seem like a terrific employee” or “I can see a promotion in your future,” even if staff members are doing outstandingly well during the training session.  Some individuals may have serious performance issues of which you are not aware, so your misguided words of praise may falsely provide the impression they are meeting their workplace expectations.  Only provide positive feedback that is specific, measurable, and related to the training objectives.
  3. Don’t rush through the training, even if you have done it a hundred times before at a hundred different locations.  The employees at the 101st hotel or restaurant deserve the same level of respect and consideration that you gave to the employees at the 1st hotel or restaurant you visited.
  4. Do not lose track of your benchmarks, deadlines, and objectives of your visit.  There may be other issues that can be distracting while out in the field, but you need to check your progress regularly to make sure you will finish as scheduled.
  5. If you have a break between training sessions, don’t pull out your laptop and hunker down for long periods in a restaurant booth or a hotel meeting room so you can respond to a bunch of emails or type out a new training document.  You shouldn’t be using this downtime to catch up on administrative duties, but rather to observe, listen, and engage with the operations team so you can serve them better, both now and in future visits.
  6. Don’t get sucked into inappropriate conversations or situations.  It’s okay to talk with employees about their hobbies, passions, and interests between training sessions, but if the conversations turn to unsuitable subjects, gossip, or criticism of the boss, immediately move the discourse back to appropriate topics or end your participation completely.  And if during a conversation your students open up to you about instances of workplace harassment or discrimination, follow your company’s protocol for handling these types of situations and report them to the proper personnel.  Don’t try to resolve them on your own.   
  7. During your training, don’t veer off into theoretical issues such as “what is a goal?” or discuss the differences between pedagogy and andragogy to make yourself sound smart or impress your students.  Your mission should be teaching practical skills and improving performance in the real world, not showing off what you learned in the academic world.
  8. If you are in the field conducting a needs analysis and discover that performance gaps are not the result of a skill or knowledge deficiency, then do not waste time, money, and effort trying to come up with a training program to close those gaps.  It may seem odd that a trainer would suggest anything other than training, but it doesn’t make your role irrelevant.  On the contrary, this situation provides you with an opportunity to serve as more than a trainer; you get to be a business partner who wants to safeguard company resources and offer effective solutions that will bring about desired results.
  9. If you are on-site to observe operations (conducting a store assessment, for example) and see employees performing tasks incorrectly, don’t walk up and immediately tell these people what they are doing wrong, unless it is urgent and they are in danger of hurting themselves or your guests.  Would you like it if a stranger stared at you while you were working and then interrupted every few minutes to tell you how badly you were doing it?  Respect the chain of command, alert the management team, and let them handle the situation in an appropriate time and place.
  10. If called out into the field to work with a team that has strayed from company standards, don’t just work to get them back on track.  You can’t just stop there, because what’s to keep them from straying again?  You need to also find out what conditions allowed them to fall away from these standards and make sure to change those conditions as well.    

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