Creating Exceptional Training Programs
How to create standard operating procedures for best business practices.
Imagine we are commissioning a study of training practices within the graphics industry. We begin with the following question: “Does your company provide employee training?” We would likely see a response of “yes” by more than 90 percent of those polled. However, suppose we change the question to the following: “Does your company provide a formalized training plan for all departments that includes regularly scheduled education and the implementation of up-to-date standard operating procedures?” We can safely assume the number of positive responses would drop dramatically. In regard to your training program, like most others, your company probably finds itself somewhere between those two points on the spectrum. How can you ensure your training program has a significant impact on your business?
Perhaps the biggest difference in a quality training program versus an ad hoc approach begins with the formalization of training. Frankly, every company does training in some fashion. Even if it’s unintentional, when a relatively new employee works next to an experienced employee, naturally there’s knowledge passed along. However, that’s not always a good thing. What if the knowledge shared by the experienced employee is inefficient or even incorrect? That experience and knowledge could be based more on tradition than on actual best practices.
The following story illustrates my point. A newly married bride decided to prepare her husband a grand meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, and fresh vegetables. Her husband couldn’t help but notice as she prepared the roast, she cut both ends off. A bit puzzled, he asked her why she did that. She replied that she wasn’t sure, but while growing up she saw her mother always cut the ends off so, naturally, that’s the way the roast must be prepared. Now, even more curious, the husband talked his new bride into asking her own mother the same question. Her reply was the same. She didn’t really know – she just knew that her mother always did the same thing. Seeking final resolution, the new bride called her grandmother and asked her why she cut the ends off her roast all those years. She replied with a simple answer: the roasting pan she had was just too short, so, of course, she had to cut down the roast.
As this story demonstrates, the traditional approach to your company’s practices and procedures may not always be the best approach. The most effective and sustainable way to establish best practices throughout your organization is to formalize your training program. The first step in this process is to establish standard operating procedures (SOPs) at all levels of your business. This includes manufacturing, service, sales, administration, accounting, human resources, and management. And don’t forget: While safety training is a topic important enough for a completely separate column, you must include it as part of your company’s overall approach to training. This will likely be managed by a safety chairperson and safety committee completely independent of your other training, but make sure it has your highest attention.
Documenting the Process
A great way to structure a comprehensive SOP program is to designate one individual to be in charge of managing it. This person is not responsible for creating the departmental SOPs, just for getting them organized and documented once they’re created. In our business, this designated person meets with the department managers and outlines the structure and templates for their SOPs. Then, she meets with the manager and other members of the department who typically have extensive experience to develop the SOPs for that particular department. Once they get the basic outline of an individual SOP finished, her job is to get it documented, obtain final approval from production management, and add it to the SOP database for that department.
At first glance, this approach may seem tedious, but in reality this is the type of process you must be willing to commit to if you want to establish an effective and consistent training program. Appointing someone to lead that process and allocating a portion of their time to that process will ensure that your SOPs get done in an accurate and timely manner.
Avoid spending an unnecessary amount of time attempting to develop the perfect SOP system, though. Create a basic template instead that can be used as a structure for creating SOPs in all departments. Ours contains the following elements, and is created and referenced on our company intranet for easy access to both the trainers and the trainees:
• Scope – determines which personnel/departments the SOP pertains to
• Necessary Tools – defines what processes and/or equipment are attached to the SOP
• Definitions – expands on various elements of the process
• Purpose – outlines what the SOP attempts to accomplish
• Related SOPs – cross-references other SOPs that connect to any of the processes being taught
• Steps/Responsibilities – outlines the specific training steps to be taken
• Comments – provides any additional information pertinent to the process
• Attachments – visual images or videos used for training
Unfortunately, many businesses go through all the time and effort of creating and documenting excellent SOPs, and then the files end up sitting in a binder collecting dust. Your SOPs are only going to be as effective as the training that goes along with them. In order to implement effective training, you must have a plan. Like the SOP process, your training plan will be more successful if you have a designated person managing the process. In our business, the same person who manages the SOP process drives the training program, too. Her responsibility includes working with the department managers to set up training schedules for all departmental employees.
Here’s an example of a new employee’s training schedule at Ferrari Color:
• Day 1 – New employee orientation with human resources department and introduction to the management team and department teams.
• Months 1-6 – Individualized training on employee’s specific responsibilities including basic departmental SOPs. Employee is tested and certified on individual SOP mastery.
• Months 6-12 – Training and certification on more detailed and complex SOPs and departmental tasks.
• Year 2 – Training will typically now expand to cross-training on additional tasks, different pieces of equipment, and perhaps other departments. This process also includes the testing and certification protocols.
• Year 3+ – Annual review and recertification of various SOPs as determined by department manager.
Part of formalizing your training program includes the important step of documenting each person’s participation in the curriculum. An SOP should be set up so each employee is required to learn it, practice it, and have a manager sign off that they’ve mastered it. This process for each employee and each department can easily be tracked on a spreadsheet or Word document providing an up-to-date view of the status of your entire training program. This documentation should be visible to all department managers and the senior management of the business. This type of system makes everyone accountable, and training will be taken seriously by everyone in the company.
Covering Your Bases
Cross-training can be a complex issue, particularly in a manufacturing environment with the sophistication required to run printing and fabrication devices. However, every business should have some level of cross-training included in their training program. The best approach here is to be selective about which employees should be cross-trained on which equipment and processes.
You may also choose to cross-train employees across different departments. Training a fabrication employee to move over into shipping may not be nearly as challenging as training a prepress technician to work in the printroom on a complex printer. Nonetheless, the latter may be exactly what you need to do to provide adequate coverage if an employee leaves unexpectedly without notice, someone has an extended period of sickness, or there’s any other event that would disrupt your production flow. The important point here is that certain employees will be the best qualified to cross-train on various skills and/or equipment. You will have the greatest success cross-training your best employees.
This philosophy should extend to all departments in your business. For instance, your receptionist is certainly fully trained on how you like your phones to be answered. But when he or she is out, does the next person answer the phone the same way? Maybe not. And while you may not train your receptionist to manage your general ledger accounts, it would make sense to have more than one person in your accounting department trained to cut checks or process payroll data. (In our company, our receptionist actually performs a number of accounting tasks.) By including a thorough approach to cross-training in your overall training program, you’ll find your operations running much more smoothly.
Hopefully some of these thoughts will prompt you to assess your current training programs and make improvements where needed. Our businesses are only as good as our employees. Highly trained employees always make the best employees and, in the end, will contribute to the long-term success of your business.