Planning your staff training program for 2017? Here are 25 great topics to get you started. Plus, I’ve added some resources to help you fill out your learning and development offerings with little or no cost.
Developing soft skills
Start-up magazine offers several tips for good time management, which you can practice yourself and help others work on as well.
These include prioritizing your tasks, planning your schedule, delegating work, and taking breaks! (We’re not robots, after all. Yet.)
Everyone in your company, from sales to sanitation should know about and practice good customer care. Simple steps, such as greeting a client when they walk into your business, replacing, “we don’t do that” with “here’s how we can help,” and following clear, effective escalation paths will improve your customer experience.
CEO Rupesh Patel shares 5 good customer service habits here. His article focuses on hospitality businesses, but they can be applied to any company with customers. (That’s you.)
With our reliance on informal modes of communication, like texting, phone skills sometimes get overlooked. But when your customers call, poor phone etiquette can ring a sour note.
You can help employees by listening to them on the phone, providing feedback on their etiquette, and setting specific goals, such as “always address the caller with “Mr,” “Ms” (Or “Mrs” If you know them).
Ask your employees to report each day on how they did and listen in occasionally to see if they are following through. Then reward their efforts and improvements.
Office skills.org offers some great tips for your phone etiquette training.
Handling difficult customers
People can be frustrating sometimes, and it takes a lot of skill to handle them gracefully, but if your team can do it, you’ll build a reputation for amazing customer service.
There are software products specifically designed to help teach these skills, but they can be a bit pricey.
If you don’t have a fat training budget, consider turning difficult customer experiences into team learning exercises. Whenever one of these gems pops up, discuss it as a team.
- What’s the best way to handle the situation?
- What did the team do well?
- What could have been improved?
- How was this instance handled better than the last one?
By addressing the problem as a team, everyone has ownership for deciding how to deal with challenging customers, which will in turn strengthen employee relationships and teamwork.
How your company deals with mistakes and complaints can make our break your reputation.
First, you need to have a good process for managing complaints, which includes escalation to executives. Make sure each employee knows this process or can find a written version quickly.
Make sure employees are trained on good customer care habits as they navigate your complaint management process so they stay positive and focused solving the problem.
You may not want to turn every complaint into a learning exercise for the team, but like handling difficult customers, if your group can review recent issues together and decide how best to address them, you’ll empower their abilities, develop their customer service skills, and retain more happy clients.
An engaged and autonomous workforce will solve a lot of their own problems, which is a manager’s dream. And if you don’t think your team is very good at problem solving today, there’s a lot you can do to help. Here are some great ideas for problem solving.
This is a skill people learn by doing, so managers need to let them do it. Mainly, you have to give people the time and resources to figure out solutions. Then stay out of their way.
Even if you know the answer, don’t jump in and fix the problem. For teams that are truly stuck, you may need to help direct them, but keep them active in the process rather than taking over completely.
And when they arrive at a solution, don’t override it.
Building good communications skills
Many people hate public speaking, but working on good presentation skills can help them feel more confident and behave more professionally whether they’re giving a formal talk, presenting at a meeting, or just interacting with customers.
You can find a formal presentation course which has strategies such as deep breathing and stretching to calm yourself before talking. But when it comes to presentation skills, nothing beats practice.
Ask employees to make presentations during meetings or teach each other. To help people get better at speaking, provide feedback on each presentation about how clear it was, whether the presenter had a distracting number of “ums,” or if there was too much fidgeting. The presenter can work on improving in these areas next time.
While good speaking skills make an impact face-to-face, a great deal of business gets done through writing. Whether employees write to customers or prospects or whether they send mainly internal emails, they need to use correct spelling, punctuation, and syntax.
Inc.com recently reported that companies spend more than $3.1 billion every year on remedial writing training. But it doesn’t have to cost a lot.
If you have some good writers on your team, ask them to coach others. You can also teach simple strategies like using spell check, reading your email out loud, or referring to online dictionaries and grammar rules.
Remember good writing doesn’t have to win awards – it just has to be clear and easy to read.
People don’t tend to be great natural listeners. We are often more focused on the thoughts banging around in our heads than the person talking directly to us. But if we don’t listen well, others will think we’re uninterested, unskilled, or even unintelligent. Plus, we miss out on important opportunities.
Listening takes practice, however, so if you want better listeners on your team, you need to ask people to work on it. First, observe people and see whether they seem to be listening actively:
- Maintain eye contact?
- Not interrupt?
- Sit still?
- Lean toward the speaker?
- Ask relevant questions?
If not, ask them to work on specific areas. They can practice maintaining eye contact or refraining from interrupting. As a manager, you can help them remember to practice and continue to observe their progress.
Here’s a tip: ask people to practice listening better before they engage with a colleague or customer, then follow up by having them write down the main points of the conversation and the non-verbal messages. This review will help them assess their own abilities and do better next time.
Knowing and following regulations
The National Safety Council offers several courses online including specifics like forklift training or general courses on slip, trip, and fall prevention.
If you want to build your own program, OSHA provides good guidance:
“If there are key behaviors associated with safety – such as putting on protective clothing or following specific procedures, use checklists, peer accountability, or even self-reporting to help people get into the habit of following safety procedures automatically.”
Attire and appearance
Appropriate dress can improve safety, efficiency, sales, and customer satisfaction. If you’re having trouble clarifying appropriate attire for your business, check out this excellent resource from SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management).
When new employees arrive, make your expectation for their attire clear as part of their onboarding training. For individuals, you may need to remind them of your policies in weekly or monthly manager review meetings.
Whenever you explain a policy, make sure people understand why it exists.
Social media etiquette
It’s pretty impossible to avoid social media. You may even encourage your team to participate in the company’s social marketing. However, it’s very important that they understand how to draw the line between personal posting and business.
The Society for Human Resources Management has a very good article on social media with resources on how to develop a social media policy.
They recommend your policy include:
- Exercise good judgment and common sense.
- Pause before posting.
- Not allow social networking to interrupt productivity.
- Be mindful of their privacy settings.
- Refrain from anonymity.
- Be polite and responsible.
- Be accountable and correct mistakes.
- Use disclaimers or speak in the first person to make it clear the opinions expressed are not those of their employer.
- Bring work-related complaints directly to HR, not through postings on social media sites or the Internet.
Make sure employees consider your customers when they post anything on the company page so they don’t put out information that might be offensive or reflect badly on the company.
By the way, if you have some social media fans on your staff and want to build an advocacy program, here’s a quick training program to get you started.
Knowing how to do business
Business offerings and services
It’s astonishing how many employees don’t know everything their company does. You might run a little experiment and poll your people about whom your company can help and under what situations.
To train employees on your offerings, focus on stories, especially case studies. Tell stories at your team meetings about how you helped specific customers.
Select tales that show the range of your offerings and capabilities. Ask employees to retell the stories at meetings so you can reinforce the message. You’ll find they retell stories to your customers as well, which is free marketing!
If storytelling seems intriguing, check out these additional resources from Park Howell’s The Business of Story Blog.
Employees need to know how to run your equipment, including vehicles, pricing guns, registers, office printers, etc. Look around at your machines and make sure that everyone knows how to use them.
Training people to use equipment usually follows an informal path:
- Describe how you’re going to use it, stress key safety factors.
- Demonstrate how you operate it, narrating as you go and stressing key safety factors.
- Demonstrate it as your trainee narrates your actions. Correct and add information where necessary.
- Ask the learner to operate the equipment with your advice and reminders.
- When ready, ask the trainee to operate the equipment with your supervision, but no reminders. At this time, ask the trainee to narrate his or her own actions.
- When ready, ask the trainee to operate the equipment alone and report back to you how it went or show you the outcome of the task.
You may go through this process quickly or over several sessions depending on how complex the machinery is and how comfortable your trainee feels. If this feels like a lot to remember, consider a tool to help you manage informal learning processes.
Each employee needs to learn how to use your company’s software. Most people can pick up email or timesheet applications quickly, but if you have project management software, customer resource management software, inventory software, or other sophisticated tools, you may need targeted training.
The software providers often have training available online, which you can use, but don’t assume someone will watch the training and suddenly become a competent user of the system. Clarify why and how you expect people to use the program and follow through on helping them practice they become proficient.
Working with People
Coping with office gossip
Gossip around the workplace can diminish employees’ loyalty to each other and the company. It divides your team into camps which spend energy working against each other rather than for the business.
Janice Celeste, writing for the Huffington Post, estimates that gossip can cost over $1 million a year in lost productivity.
While you can provide a training course or video for dealing with gossip, the real learning comes from leadership. Leaders need to address gossip openly and communicate honestly with employees to keep the rumor mill idle.
It’s not always easy to handle negative feedback, but if you’re interested in created employees that constantly strive to improve, you’ll need to help them use honest feedback productively.
You might find it’s best to help them learn these techniques through coaching. But you can also lead by example and show the team how you handle feedback professionally.
Developing management skills
We usually promote our great employees to management positions, but the skills that make them good contributors don’t always make them good managers. So they need help developing those abilities.
One-on-one coaching is one of the most powerful tools available for improving performance, productivity, and employee engagement. Most managers aren’t taught how to coach, but the process can be very simple.
You can start with a good guide, like Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit. Then ask your team leads to put those principles into practice.
Keep them accountable for setting up the coaching meetings and following through. Then help them grow their skills by reflecting with you or on their own about whether each session went according to plan and what can be improved for the next meeting.
Every company, large or small needs good leadership. And it has nothing to do with job description or rank. There are incredible resources available for leadership training. One of my favorite books with good practical advice is Tom Fehlman’s Low Hanging Fruit and Highly Placed Vegetables.
But like many soft skills, real leadership development takes much more than a class or book. A recent article in The Harvard Business Review notes that people can’t sustain change if the systems they work within doesn’t support them.
So if you’re planning to develop your team’s leadership skills, settle in for the long haul and make it a priority to follow up on goals and adjust your work processes if needed.
Most good training starts with setting goals, but that’s a skill in itself. Poor goals fail because they’re too vague or unrealistic. You can help your managers learn to set SMART goals.
The acronym helps you define objectives more clearly for better success. There are several definitions, but here’s my favorite:
Your goal has as much detail as possible. For example, you will decrease average support response time by two hours.
You need a metric to track. If lowering response time is your goal, you have to be able to measure it.
Audacious goals are awesome, but it you have to focus on the small steps to get there. If today’s response time is 6 hours, don’t try to lower it to 1 hour. Select a number that you have a very good chance of achieving. Getting your time down to 4 hours is more achievable. Plus, you have the motivation of success, which will spur you on to better and better response times.
Work on goals that will help you get what you want out of your work or business. Otherwise, why bother? What will better response times do for your business? Lower costs, increase customer satisfaction, lower customer churn?
Your goal needs a realistic deadline. The time limit will help you stay focused and motivated.
You can ask managers to set SMART goals for themselves, individuals or teams. Employees should identify new actions they’ll take to achieve the goals and then hold themselves and each other accountable for them. Then, as usual, the key is following up on how they’re progressing.
Feedback is essential to growth. We are terrible judges of our own performance so we need both positive and negative feedback to improve.
Positive feedback is easy to give. Managers like to praise their teams. And if your managers need to give more positive feedback, they just need accountability to develop the habit.
But giving negative feedback is more of a skill. Giving constructive criticism the wrong way can backfire badly. But ignoring performance issues will never solve the problem. So make sure your managers have some resources for this situation.
Consultant Christine Kane offers a process for giving feedback, even in emotional situations.
There’s no magic formula for successful constructive criticism, but you can do a dry-run with a peer before meeting with the employee in question, just to make sure they hit the right tone.
Many companies like to have quarterly or annual reviews for employee performance, but these reviews often accomplish little. If you plan to keep using these meetings, help managers make them more productive with some effective practices.
Importantly, performance review meetings should not serve as the first time you’re providing feedback to employees. Instead, they should draw on past performance as a base for setting improvement goals.
You can help managers get into the habit of regular feedback to employees. If you’ve trained leaders to do one-to-one coaching and SMART goal setting, you’ll have no problem with performance management.
Atlassian recently estimated that U.S. business spend $37 billion paying people to waste time in meetings. And we’ve all experienced the boring, long, unfocused meeting that ends up accomplishing nothing.
But following good meeting practices will prevent most of that waste.
The key is having a specific goal for your time, sticking to your focus, creating clear decisions and plans, and following up on those to ensure that your meeting moves moves you toward a goal.
You can instill these good habits in your team by asking leaders to share their plans for a meeting beforehand and reporting back on the follow-up plans and their outcomes.
Growing Sale Skills
Good sales questions
When your sales team gets good at listening, then you’ll want them to ask questions that elicit meaningful insight into your prospects’ needs. You can find plenty of articles with lists of good questions.
To help sales people learn to use these questions, make them part of a pre-meeting ritual in which the sales people review the questions they plan to ask or list out the information they want to learn. Ask them to report whether they did the ritual each time so you can track their progress in sales results.
Nurturing the ultimate business skill
Learning how to learn
In her book, Be Bad First, Erika Andersen suggests that only people who can continually develop new abilities will thrive in today’s economy.
Unfortunately, most of us never learn how to learn. It takes more than just a class or video to truly master a new capability. Andersen’s book details a process for learning anything new, but the key is your willingness to put in the effort and spend time outside your comfort zone.
Here’s the good news. Regardless of the skills your team needs today or in the next 10 years, if you and they know how to learn new ropes, you’ll never get caught flat-footed.