On-the-job training gets a bad rap. It conjures up an image of being thrown to the fire to sink or swim. Employees should be able to figure everything out and absorb needed information by osmosis. The impression is pretty accurate. Too many times people are left clueless and just as frustrated as the boss who does not see results.
It should be easy enough to change this paradigm by setting clear expectations and maintaining good follow up. Let employees know that while they are researching the ropes on their own, backup is just a cube or phone call away. A clear schedule with checkpoints and milestones will also add to the experience.
Done correctly this is a description of effective, well thought out onboarding. But what if the paradigm shifted entirely and employees trained on a different job? It’s a variation on the concept of the fast food manager who begins by flipping burgers. In that scenario the goal is to develop an understanding of the business inside out and all of the roles that go into the final product.
Keep stepping out of the box and build a format where employees can experience very different skills. The operations manager not only shadows a few sales calls but also makes some initial contacts. Products sure look different when you are trying to interest a new customer in a big order. Both production and sales professionals will benefit with some time spent on a marketing project. Marketing may just find the different perspective helpful too.
A training tactic that works for everyone
I’m not talking about big profile management training tracks reserved for high powered MBAs. These are individual initiatives that could benefit all performers. The time in another job can also help a longer term employee appreciate their own home department.
New initiatives provide good opportunities along with leaves of absence and short term vacancies created by internal movement. If a longer period won’t work a day or a week can be accommodated into most schedules.
Make certain that everyone involved is on board and understands the value in the exercise. An enthusiastic learner shouldn’t step into a room to be greeted by silence or, “What are you doing here?” Similarly a follow up or debrief should be treated as constructive not a chance to rip apart the host function as useless or clueless. The switch should not be used as an entrée for a spy to dig up damaging dirt.
Many vendors will be more than willing to host or at least provide a tour. Greater understanding of a product has the potential to increase, or at least maintain, purchases. One of my clients split managers into teams to head for full day field trips to visit suppliers.
These experiences also create the potential to form more productive working relationships between what can be sparring departments, help identify mentors, and hone in on talents. Another benefit is that the talent is already in place to make it happen. The biggest expenses will be time and travel. Consider sending individuals to far flung locations as a way to create synergy between remote workforces.
Whether the goal of an experience is onboarding or training a long term staff member, take the leap and look for ways to provide meaningful on-the-job experiences, in a different job.
Rebecca Mazin is the owner of Recruit Right in Larchmont, N.Y. She does consulting, management training, and writing to create solutions for human resources issues. Co-author of The HR Answer Book: An Indispensable Guide for Managers and Human Resources Professionals, Mazin is also the author of The HR Answer Blog on AllBusiness.com and The Employee Benefits Answer Book (Pfeiffer).