It’s a fact. Everyone likes to learn. No one likes to be “trained”. Most employees in the hospitality arena resist or resent training because of past experience either in the public school machine or by a lackluster restaurant manager or trainer who was to inspired learning what Pauly Shore is to acting.
In fact, everything that’s wrong with training in our business can be summed up in four words: it’s just like school. As adult learning expert Roger Schank says, “School isn’t really about learning; it’s about short-term memorization of meaningless information that never comes up later in life. The school model was never intended to help people acquire practical skills.” That fact, however, hasn’t deterred business from adapting this model: memorize the teacher’s words; memorize the training manual’s policies and procedures. Poof! You’re trained.
Wrong. You’re bored.
I may sound like a manure salesman with a mouth full of samples, but my experience tells me that training is still the Hydrogen bomb of competitive weapons in the restaurant industry. We just need to stop focusing on what we want to teach and focus instead on how people like to learn. If only our Training Departments would access and implement the plethora of exciting new research into adult learning with the same zest and zeal with which they’ve embraced the toys of technology. In fact, nothing short of revolution is occurring right now in the fields of cognitive research and adult learning. What you don’t know will hurt you. So what can we start doing differently? Here are a few ideas to consider for the 21st Century of Learning. I call ‘em The 10 Commitments of Training.
Design all training to enhance the value of human capital
The true value of any restaurant is not its real estate or P&L, but its people. But too often we position training as something to “get through” rather than a bottom line builder. We should approach every training session with the same care and planning we’d put against a capital budget request. Approach training sessions like you’re an ad agency doing a presentation to “land” a large account. Attack all of the senses, be clear, concise, excited, respectful of the audience. Be enthusiastic. Maybe Golden Corral’s CEO Ted Fowler puts it best: “To teach is to touch the future.”
Training is a process, not an event
If I only talk to my kids once a year about being good, I can’t expect good behavior. But reminding them daily, modeling the way, and encouraging feedback insure that my children will do their best. Or compare an hour-long tennis lesson every week for five weeks with five consecutive hours of tennis lessons. Which would make you a better tennis player? Most people would say the spread out tennis lessons would be more effective than five consecutive hours. The same is true for training. As Peter Watson, Corporate Learning Coach for Fairmont Hotels says, “Don’t expect long term changes when you train only at orientation and then maybe twice a year thereafter at large meetings. Training sessions should be conducted in segments—no less than once a week, ideally each day at pre-shift team meetings.” I say, always overtrain, because restaurant employees both underlearn and overforget.
If they haven’t caught it, you haven’t taught it
Most restaurant and hotel training programs feature way too much teaching-by-documentation and way too little learning-by-doing-and-coaching. After all, you didn’t learn to ride a bike in a seminar, did you? If your training program features text-heavy manuals, videos that are visual replicas of your text-heavy manuals, backed with memorization and tests of the information in your text-heavy manuals, you’re in deep caca. Don’t blame the employee if your training program isn’t producing results. Why hold the learner responsible for the teacher or content’s shortcomings? As Charleston, South Carolina, Crab House owner John Keener says, “if the son swears, strike the father.” We need to recognize that to be effective, our training materials must appeal to all five senses.
Context is key to learning new things
Understanding a new concept is nice but knowing how to use it is powerful. When people understand why they’re doing what they’ve been asked to do, they do it better. For instance, any discussion of the importance of servers using table tents as sales “props” to sell more appetizers had better be preceded with why we sell appetizers; the menu price of an entrée barely covers the restaurant’s fixed daily operating costs. “We must sell entrées to cover costs. We sell “extras” to make money.”
Eye appeal precedes mind appeal
Are your “training” materials vibrant, exciting, up-to-date, and graphically stimulating? Jim Knight at Hard Rock Cafe and his team have designed a series of training manuals for each position that look like a cross between a comic book and a magazine, but cover relevant content in every imaginable detail. Very cool. Make sure that your training manuals look more like USA Today than the Wall Street Journal in terms of layout, text and graphics.
Use the “K.F.D.” principle when teaching adults
Before any designing a manual, video, or live “training” session, the leader should ask themselves three key questions: What do I want my audience to know about the subject matter? Then, how do I want them to feel about it? (Excited? Dissatisfied with current conditions?) Last, what do I want them to do as a result of what they’ve learned? In other words, what behavior has changed? How will we measure it? How will we know if they “got” it?
Synergize the “trainee” with the learning process
We need much less learning “by heart” and much more knowing where to go to get information since the only thing that truly makes a learning object useful is the ability to grab it, use it and then dismiss it after you’re done with it. Encourage trainees to reflect on how they learn. For example, have trainees think of—but not write down—something they do well. After a minute or two ask them to write down how they got so good at the task or activity. Reason: the exercise will help them understand that the most successful learning depends on practicing and trying. In other words, provide trainees fodder so they don’t mutter. And keep it fun. What we learn with pleasure we never forget.
Each one, Teach one
The future of our industry will not depend on the “haves” and “have-nots” but rather the “knows” and “know-nots”. “The business that puts a premium on what their employees learn and how well they share that knowledge with other team members is the business that will win the most guests and employees,” says Gregg Sheehy, Food and Beverage Specialist for Walt Disney Company. Create a culture of craving learners and eager teachers by modeling the way. And make sure that each manager’s commitment is to teach everyone on the team something new everyday. School is never out for the pro.
Design training to treat the root problem and not the symptom
If Customer Service and sales are suffering, it’s more about a dissatisfied and undervalued staff than it is about needing more training. If you combine learning with incentives, innovation and a service-profit link you’re going to see more than a better-trained staff, you’ll see a much healthier bottom line. For instance, I recently designed a new Customer Service/Suggestive Selling training program for managers and crew (still in test with a large chain) based on a Sony Playstation platform. It has a video game format combined with product tasting, prizes and role-playing, linking modern learning techniques to innovation and incentives. Best of all, it ties training results to turnover initiatives by requiring managers to measure Employee Longevity as a Human Capital line item in the P&L, (on which their bonuses are based) bringing true meaning to the term “measure what matters.” The initial feedback is most encouraging; same store sales up 2%, hourly turnover down 18%. We also learned that the amount of learning you do is directly proportional to how much fun you have.
Promote Discovery, Don’t Lecture
“What you discover on your own is always more exciting than what some trainer ‘tells’ you”, says Bill McDermott, Management Development Specialist for Cracker Barrel. It’s like the difference between romantic love and arranged marriage. For example, if you want to improve sales, don’t call your staff together at a meeting and proceed to outline “the 30 ways you’re going to boost sales”. Instead, have them break into small groups of 5 and list as many ways as they can to increase sales. The advantages are twofold: one, they’ll probably come up with better ideas than you did, and two, they’re probably more committed to executing the ideas they brainstormed since people never argue with their own data. World War II U.S. General George S. Patton put it this way: “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what needs to be done and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
Last but not least, tie your training to the Bottom Line, cuz if it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense. Measure training’s impact. Hold trainers responsible for relevant content and program design that focuses on how people learn, and make them accountable for delivery methods that maximize involvement and retention. Hold your managers responsible for both supporting and executing the training, every day.
Hold the employee responsible for learning something new everyday and teaching it to someone else. A candle looses nothing by lighting another candle.
Training doesn’t “cost.” It pays.