In companies with fewer than 100 employees, owners and managers
must participate in the delivery of products or services and train
new employees at the same time. These small businesses usually do
not have human resource or training departments. Consequently, any
training employees receive occurs in an on-the-job format, making
it difficult to properly train new people or improve the skills of
This situation creates a paradox. On one hand, having well-trained,
fully competent employees is vital to the continued growth of the
company. On the other hand, it's not feasible in terms of money or
time for an owner or manager to abandon day-to-day duties to focus
on training. Typically, this results in new employees learning
their position on-the-fly, which causes inadequate and incomplete
Our company, Lucid Business Strategies, creates a customized OJT
program that allows employees to literally train themselves - an
approach that allows employees to dig deeply into topics that
interest them and to move quickly through the topics they already
understand. Since the employee does most of the work, the time
required from managers is greatly reduced.
Putting ideas into practice
To begin, new employees are given a participant's manual that leads
them through their training. This guided learning includes specific
activities to complete with their supervisor, on their own, with
subject matter experts, and using company resources, vendors, and
customers. Each learning activity includes step-by-step
instructions and an explanation of what they are expected to be
able to do on the job after completing that activity. Multiple
methods of learning ensure new employees acquire every skill and
learn every task required of them on the job.
The participant's manual includes exercises, case studies, quizzes,
and formal tests that employees must complete and review with their
supervisor. This provides a built-in evaluation process to ensure
the learner is competent in each task or skill, an opportunity for
the manager to provide additional training and feedback, and
evidence that the learner will be able to apply the skill on the
Obviously, we cannot eliminate the need for the manager to be
involved in at least some of the training, but we reduce this time
involvement by including formal training exercises in the
participant's manual that the owner or manager must be involved in.
This allows the owner or manager to provide consistent training
with every employee, and keeps them focused on the specific
knowledge, skills, and abilities they are trying to impart. This
approach has the added benefit of providing the employee with a way
of knowing when they need their supervisor's assistance, as well as
guidance about what they need to learn when they are in training
with their supervisor. Learners can actually direct the training
We also provide both the owner or manager and the employee with a
method of tracking their progress toward completion. We condense
all of the topics, exercises, activities, and evaluations into a
checklist. Both the supervisor and the employee check off
activities that have been completed, which provides a visual cue of
an employee's progress. The checklist doubles as a method of
ensuring that the training stays on a reasonable schedule.
When employees complete all of the exercises in the manual, they
are fully trained and qualified for their position. Both the owner
or manager and the employee can have full confidence that the
skills the employees will encounter on the job have been learned
and will be applied in their day-to-day work.
This approach has benefits for existing employees as well. If they
are struggling with a particular knowledge, skill, or ability, they
can use the participant's manual and checklists to guide themselves
through the additional training they need.
One client we have used this approach with is a small company that
sells cutting-edge technology products. The training teaches new
hires in-depth product knowledge, an understanding of their
marketplace, and basic sales techniques. Prior to this OJT
training, it took a new employee six to nine months to acquire
enough product knowledge to be effective in their sales process.
Preliminary results show that we have reduced this time to two to
three months. Furthermore, the salespeople who have completed the
training have become some of the company's top producers within six
Interestingly, new employees have rated the training as
"outstanding," even though they have done the vast majority of the
work. The previous training approach resulted in 100 percent of the
employees saying the company's training was "poor or non-existent."
Small business owners and managers have a difficult time providing
quality training for their employees. Using traditional
instructional design techniques, it is possible to design an OJT
program that puts most of the training responsibility on the
employee. This approach ensures the employee learns each needed
skill, and greatly reduces the amount of time the owner/manager
must invest in the training. It also greatly reduces the overall
training time and can ultimately improve the contribution of the
Note: This article originally appeared in the
March 2006 issue of ASTD Links.
Jeff McElyea is the owner and principal consultant of Lucid
Business Strategies, a consulting firm that specializes in
assisting small business owners with building revenues, planning
and managing growth, and solving performance problems of all kinds.
He is a member of both the national and Greater Detroit chapter of
2010 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.