Looking for Yoda: May the Training Force Be With You!

December 08, 2015 | 1877 Views

Looking for Yoda: May the Training Force Be With You!

Patrick Yearout, FMP, CHT

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

In preparation for the upcoming release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” I decided to re-watch the original three movies in the series.  Even though I had seen them many times in the past, I felt like a refresher was necessary as it had been at least a decade since I had viewed “Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return of the Jedi.”

During the second film in this trilogy, Luke Skywalker is instructed to seek out a Jedi Master named Yoda to learn the ways of a Jedi Knight.  After landing in a swamp on the planet to which he was traveling, Luke meets a strange little character but doesn’t realize it is Yoda because he doesn’t know what this great trainer will look like.

It struck me as a somewhat familiar refrain, because I had heard from our managers that they don’t always know what they should be looking for when scouting potential trainers for their locations.  Their experiences had shown them that even the speediest of servers and the friendliest of cashiers can falter as instructors because the skills needed to excel in a particular position can be different than those needed as an effective on-the-job trainer.

So what traits do I believe are the best indicators of success as a trainer in the field?  Here are my top five to watch out for:

  • Connect with new teammates – Employees who take the initiative to establish a strong working rapport with their new co-workers without being asked by the boss, in my opinion, will often make the best trainers.  These staffers innately understand the importance of teamwork and strive to make a connection with new hires by asking questions, actively listening to their concerns, and doing what they can to assist the newcomers, all of which are especially important qualities for trainers.  Just like when Yoda finds Luke in the swamp, rather than going on about himself, he asks Luke why he is there, offers to help him, and takes him home to feed him dinner.  If supervisors think about who they can naturally count on to roll out the welcome wagon during an employee’s orientation, those are the ones they should be targeting to serve in a training capacity.
  • Follow standards – One of the keys to success for any hotel or restaurant company is to provide a consistent experience for its guests, and to accomplish that goal, standards need to be set and followed across the different locations.  When I see employees who unfailingly adhere to all of Ivar’s standards, no matter how busy the restaurant is, or which manager is running the shift, or what kind of day they may be having, to me they are demonstrating one of the most important trainer characteristics: a belief that the guidelines are sacred and shouldn’t change for any reason.  These employees understand that you either meet standards or you don’t; there is no “Well, I got close enough this time.”  Yoda, of course, perfectly captures this tenet when he tells Luke, “Do…or do not.  There is no try.” 
  • Adapt to changing conditions – Field trainers can face many challenges in the hospitality world, from shifting training schedules because of unexpected rushes to working with employees possessing a wide range of skill levels.  As such, being able to make adjustments in response to these varying situations is critical to those who want to achieve their training objectives, just like Yoda is able to adapt Luke’s training even though he considers the boy to be “too old” and “not ready” to be a Jedi.  Supervisors on the lookout for new trainers at their locations should ask themselves, “Who does a good job of handling change?”  “Who stays calm when faced with these sorts of obstacles and looks for solutions rather than complaining about the changes?” 
  • Demonstrate patience – You often need to call upon deep reservoirs of patience to succeed as a trainer because not everyone learns at the same rate or in the same way, or in the case of Yoda, his trainee is an impetuous Jedi Knight candidate eager to learn everything right away without going through all the necessary steps.  Employees who consistently demonstrate patience with their guests, co-workers, or bosses often have the makings to become a trainer.  They will smile and nod instead of rolling their eyes and won’t get frustrated when someone operates on a different timetable than them.
  • Motivate others – It’s relatively easy to get employees to follow orders when you’re the boss, but how do you get things accomplished when are not at the top of the chain of command?  Field trainers often have great responsibility without having great authority and have to get things done using their personal skills, communicating well, and forging bonds with their audience, so supervisors should think about who does this already at their hotels or restaurants.  Who is able to naturally rally the troops even if they do not have a nametag that says “Manager?”  Who are the front-line Yodas in your organization that help others to see what can be done instead of what can’t be done?  These are the folks that are going to be great trainers because they don’t rely on a command-and-control approach to goal achievement but are able to succeed because they wield strong personal power.

If your supervisors look out into their operations and think “I have a bad feeling about this” when it comes to finding new in-store trainers, then perhaps you can suggest that they look at employees that demonstrate these behaviors instead of recruiting their training staff based solely on rank, tenure, or positional expertise. 

Good luck on your quest to find the next generation of Jedi Masters, and may the training force be with you!

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