This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Water Quality Products as "Bragging Rights"
Water treatment businesses make a lot of investments into resources to insure their success: a fleet, insurance, inventory, building maintenance, software and more.
One of the most critical resources, employees, also is one of the most difficult to develop. The greatest difficulty often is in the ambiguity of what is the appropriate level of performance and what kind of training is needed to get there. Also, who is going to work with that employee to make sure they learn what is necessary.
Time to Train
Anything worthwhile takes time and attention, but the payoff is in the quality of the results. Taking the time to ensure a properly stocked service truck saves valuable field time that could be spent in front of the customer. Taking the time to make sure the service person using the truck is properly prepared to assess the problem and correct the underlying cause helps get the job done more efficiently and get it done right the first time.
Learning a job takes time. Learning a job that is as tied up with the science of water treatment as most of the positions in our industry can be especially time consuming. For our businesses and our industry to be successful we end up investing hours and sometimes years into ourselves and our staff.
We do have a choice of when to invest those hours. One option is to invest upfront and give someone new to the industry a boost by allowing them to learn from a treasure trove of industry experience. This approach passes on best practices and company culture and lets us provide initial oversight and a discrete period of monitoring their field activities before we send them out on their own. While the occasional call for support may come in, the upfront investment and oversight helps employees be more independent in the field.
The other option is to let employees learn on the job by shadowing those we hope are teaching them the right information and then tell them to call us if they run into a problem. The drawback of that approach is that we then spend the majority of our day answering requests for support and do not get to the business of running a business until the late hours of the night.
The time investment for upfront versus case-by-case training can be difficult to measure, although having a clear training plan and intentionally setting aside time for training allows us to set clear goals and monitor when those goals have been accomplished. Training by having technicians call in from the field does not provide the opportunity to explain why the problem exists or why a method of correcting it works, or even for which situations it should be used. This training is haphazard, results in learning by trial and error, and often, the trainee learns the wrong thing. Then you have to invest the time to unteach the wrong thing. It also is much more difficult to track what the trainee has actually learned, leaving little confidence in the person’s skills.
The time investment for training in an industry as technically complex as water treatment can be significant. The standardized learning provided by the Water Quality Assn.’s (WQA) Modular Education Program (MEP) can make that easier through the integration of e-learning and hands-on practice. Regardless of whether you use the MEP, the WQA’s Online Knowledge Base, the articles in a trade magazine or your own training materials, the best practices described below can help make the training more effective and more engaging.
Top Training Tips
1. Do your employees know where they are going and why?
If you do not have an end point, it is hard to know not only when you will get there but how you will get there. Why should your employees bother with the training? Is the only incentive a pay check? Have you talked with them about the importance of water quality on your customer’s quality of life or the reduced environmental impact of a more efficient softener? Have you told them the story of the harried mother of three who can now clean her bathroom in a quarter of the time because she does not have to scrub off limescale? Or what about the woman who raged at you from the moment you walked in for the service call, but hugged you when you walked out because you fixed the under-sink reverse osmosis system and now her husband, who has advanced cancer, again has purified water to drink?
You and your experienced technicians have a lot of stories where your efforts have improved people’s lives. Take the time to share them. Think about how much more you could do by shoring up your knowledge and continuing to improve your skills.
Have you shared your vision for your company? I do not mean where do you want to be financially, although that is important as well, but we are in the customer service business. Do you have a vision for how you want your products and services to make your customer feel? Do your employees know what that vision is? If you do not have a vision, it is hard to expect that your employees can deliver one for you.
2. How can you train the whole staff on something as complex as water treatment?
You can probably not train your whole staff all at once. As part of her presentation on training at the 2019 WQA Annual Convention, Becky Stauffer, MPA, SPHR, SCP, with Work4Accord LLC, pointed out a video on YouTube that demonstrates how to accomplish the goal of training a large staff. Look up the video “teamwork cadets team help each other scale a tall wall.” You will see that the key is starting with one or two people at a time and having those people reach back and pull up the next group. Start by training the trainer. Then have him or her train two more, then they each train two more, and so on.
3. Learning takes time.
We are a culture of instant gratification. That does not work well when trying to absorb a lot of information or technically complex content. You can read through it, but without a quiz or practicing applying it in the field, did you really learn it?
4. Training is best done in sprints, not marathons.
We are more apt to invest more energy and have more enthusiasm when we chunk our work and our training into manageable portions. Set small, manageable goals. For example, complete one MEP module in the next two months. Break that goal down into weekly components, then determine what you will do daily. When you are done with the module, stop and celebrate. Take a break and gather your energy for the next one.
5. Celebrate success meaningfully.
Here is is another tip from Becky Stauffer. In her presentation, she pointed out that money can be a good motivator, but so can a pizza party. A nicely framed certificate stating that so-and-so successfully completed the Water Treatment Basics module in the MEP that hangs in the reception area of the business so that every employee and customer can see it on their way in also can be a motivator.
Bragging rights can go a long way, as can a social media post. The certificate stating someone is WQA-certified is a lot nicer looking than one that says they have completed a module. Plus, once certified, they can put letters after their name on a business card for as long as they keep up their certification and are listed in WQA’s Certified Professionals search.
Training works and can not only bring your business great success, but it can help decrease stress by providing confidence in employees’ abilities to do the job effectively. The hard part of training is implementation, and implementation only works if you set a goal, make a plan, and purposely set aside the needed time and resources.