While at a recent training event, where I was facilitating, I had a senior-level executive come to the mic and ask this simple question: “I have a lot of seasoned employees who are baby-boomers, and as we hire the next generation of employees (millennials), the older employees refuse to train them. What can I do?”
Almost any manager or business owner in today’s market is faced with this question daily. Why won’t my seasoned employees train newer employees?
The answer to this is quite complex, a lot of which depends on the individual, the information you are attempting to get them to impart, and your own leadership style.
Let’s take these one at a time.
The Individual Contributor
If your seasoned employees have never shown a propensity for training others, why would they suddenly want to do so? Many of today’s leaders believe that their employees should want to train simply because it’s the logical thing to do. As a Master Trainer, I can tell you that this is rarely the case. I have been to countless companies who have next to no training programs for existing employees, preferring to concentrate on punishing people for what they ‘should’ know. If you were an employee who had to learn how to navigate the obstacles of your business over the past 10 – 30 years, how keen would you be when asked simply to give that information away, usually to someone who may be taking your job after you retire?
If your seasoned employees are soon to retire, (soon being relative, but in this instance let’s say 3-5 years), you have to go back to their favorite radio station: WII-FM: what’s in it for me?
If their days are spent working hard, doing their jobs, keeping in mind that many of today’s employees have been asked to do increasing amounts of work, with fewer resources, why would they want to add to those duties by training someone else? Not to mention the fact that many companies are still giving a quick ‘pat on the back’ as thanks. Those “Atta boy’s” are good, but the truth is they are appreciated around one time out of eight. This is mostly because we forget to tell the employee what it is we are thanking them for exactly. Since your company is unique, you will need to find an answer within your own culture, mission, and budget.
Give Your Seasoned Employees The Information
This is a simple issue. Print up the information you need to be trained, then pick up the phone and call your training department. Most training departments are more than willing to work with their management in order to improve both their trainer/employee rapport and their ‘footprint’ in the organization, use the resources you have. If you can’t print up the needed information, you have a larger issue. Sometimes the senior employee has no idea what it is exactly that they are supposed to be training. Remember; the biggest fear in business is NOT the fear of public speaking, that’s a misnomer, the biggest fear in business is a public failure or humiliation. This is especially true of our SME’s (Subject Matter Experts). Would you take on a new role at work if you knew that it, more likely than not, would end in your failure? Help them to succeed!
This comes down to both words and actions. I sat in on a company meeting a couple of years ago wherein one of the managers, during a ‘pep speech’ said, “Most of what you all do is generic, so we’ve brought on someone whom we think is going to be a real superstar for us. Please welcome….!”
This same manager, at the end of her speech, asked all of those ‘generic’ employees to help train the new person. The result was catastrophic. Remember; no matter what sort of rapport you have with your employees, one well intended, but harmful slip of the tongue will be heard, and remembered for a long time. According to the article: Can you cope with criticism at work?
The best-performing teams used about six times as many positive comments for every negative one. It found that the worst performing teams, on average, used three negative comments for every positive one.
Your actions have an even longer lasting effect. Employees compare themselves to other employees. They look at their coworkers and will often mimic performance that gets the others noticed. Look at the last five conversations you had with your employees. Were they all for ‘negative’ reasons? In many companies, the least productive employees garner the most attention from their management staff, while the most productive employees are given the ‘reward’ of more work. If you want to enhance your team and get them to be more productive as a team, then pay close attention to your own words and actions. Be sincere in your desire to have the new employee trained by the seasoned one be viewed as a reward for his or her expertize. Treat them like the SME you know them to be, be consistent in your praise, and be a ‘bullhorn’ to anyone who will listen about their ability.
Finally, the most consistent reason that your seasoned employees don’t want to train new employees? They don’t know how. Train the seasoned employee on how to train first. Show them the success you are looking for by modeling it!