For you to grow your company without working yourself to death, you must transfer critical knowledge to new employees. In simple terms, you must get your knowledge out of your head and into the heads of others. Otherwise, you will be needed to complete all of the critical tasks yourself.
My wife and I ate dinner last night at Cracker Barrel. They have this game with 14 wooden pegs (golf tees). You play this game by jumping one peg over an adjacent peg eliminating it from the board. The object of the game is to leave as few pegs as possible. My wife and I played the game with a variety of results. As much as we tried to create a logical strategy to win the game repeatedly, it didn’t work.
Here were the results we got according to the Cracker Barrel rules:
One peg left – Genius
Two pegs left - Purty Smart
Three pegs left – Just plain dumb
Four pegs left – You’re an eg-no-ram-moose
We fell into each category more than once. We did manage to get “Genius” one time.
As leaders and business owners we tend to find success in our work. In some cases, success happens by chance; in other cases, we believe our success is the result of the way we do things; in still other cases, we believe our success is a result of our charismatic personality. Maybe we think we have special intellect to accomplish the results we accomplish.
We then hire an employee, and give them what we believe is great instruction, and they fall flat on their face. We may try this hire, train, and fail routine a few times before we give up and decide that we alone are uniquely qualified to get positive results.
Like the triangle peg game, we’re not fully sure of the cause of our success. Therefore, we find it hard to document the method of gaining success in a way that will transfer our knowledge to our newly hired employees. Since we can’t document our method sufficiently, we’re stuck playing the game of doer, never actually training or empowering anyone else to accomplish that task.
The truth is, like the triangle-peg game, we don’t always achieve success. In fact, we fail more than we succeed. We remain convinced that we will succeed more than our employee.
The Communication Problem
Us human beings have built-in communication challenges. To convey your knowledge to the people you hire, you must overcome each challenge. Here they are:
You are not saying what you think you’re saying: Your mind is thinking of a message that you want to communicate. The words that leave your mouth are attempting to say what you’re thinking. Unfortunately, these two are rarely the same. Your student hears what you’re saying, not what you’re thinking.
Your student is not perceiving what they’re hearing: Your new employee is distracted and not focused. Let’s face it. That’s our modern world. Phone’s buzzing, social media notifications flashing, 30-second TikTok videos, and cable news… Is it any wonder we’re not focused? While you may be saying the words, they are picking up a small percentage of the meaning of those words.
Your student is not discerning what they’re perceiving: Most new employees are reluctant to clarify or ask questions. Why? Because they’ll look stupid in front of their new employer. This means that you can say something they don’t understand, and they will either guess at its meaning, or ignore it altogether.
With these three communication obstacles, it’s no wonder it is hard to convey your wisdom to your employees. And yet, oral communication is the most common training method used by small business owners.
What can you do?
Unlike the triangle peg game at Cracker Barrel, your business is NOT a game. It is important that you win on a consistent basis in your business, or you won’t have a business. There’s hope. You can do some simple things to convey your wisdom to your new employees. In fact, you can even groom employees who exceed your wisdom.
Hire employees with great attitude. Attitude is not a trait that will show up on a resume. The only way that you can judge attitude is in an interview. Us life coaches have a trick for checking attitude. We call it “button pushing”. We ask a question that creates friction and see how our client responds. If they react in a defensive way, we know we’ve touched on a soft spot. You can do this with a new candidate by asking a probing question about a missing skill or qualification for the job you’re advertising. If they get defensive, this indicates a poor attitude. If they bluff the answer, this indicates poor ethics. If they respond with honestly and humility with a desire to learn that missing skill, you’ve got a keeper.
Hire employees with great aptitude. Another trait you won’t find directly on a resume. You can see what your candidate has achieved academically through school. This doesn’t necessarily translate to learning in your business. People with great aptitude have great curiosity. If your candidate asks you no questions in your interview, they aren’t thinking critically. This wonder is the foundation of great aptitude and desire for learning.
Document Critical Processes. Written communication allows you to sidestep the three communication barriers that come with oral communication. Writing down your process ensures that you will are saying what you want to say. This documentation process forces you to pull your knowledge out of your brain and put in on paper in understandable terms. Especially, if you have someone proofread what you’ve written. Add illustrations or whatever it takes to communicate your message clearly.
Demand feedback and criticism. Employees are very reluctant to criticize their boss. Force your employees to repeat critical information to you once they’ve read your documentation or listened to your instructions. If they can paraphrase your teaching accurately, they’ve learned what you’re teaching. If not, repeat or modify the process. One way to force feedback is to say, “You must ask me at least one question about the information I’ve conveyed.” Or “Tell me three things we need to change about our instructions.” These kinds of statements give explicit permission for criticism and feedback.
Be patient. It is common for a boss to give up on their new employee. Don’t do it. They want to learn as much as you want to teach them. Find a way. Maybe the information you are trying to teach is too complex. Break down the training in digestible chunks. In my experience, business owners are feeding too much information and are in too great of a hurry to get a new employee up to speed, they forget how they progressively learned and have excessive expectations for new hires.
Follow the learning process. The best way to teach is to first do the task while your student watches. Second, is to allow your student to try while you watch and critique. Third, is to allow your student to do the task by themselves. Before you move to the next phase of the learning process make sure that your student is ready to move on.
Empower your employees. A life coaching principle is “each person we meet is our teacher and student”. You are not the only source of wisdom in your business. Two heads are genuinely better than one. Encourage your employees to improve whatever processes you have developed for your company. This is how your company becomes better than you.
If you follow these seven guidelines to training new employees, you will be able to convey your wisdom to others in your company. This will allow you to be the visionary of your business, instead of the one person who does it all.
Back to the triangle-peg game. It turns out that someone has documented how to win this game. I quickly read these instructions and indeed, I am now a repeatable genius at the triangle-peg game. In case you’re interested, you can find the documentation to win at the Cracker Barrel triangle peg puzzle every time by following the documentation at https://www.wikihow.com/Win-the-Peg-Game .
Don’t tell my wife… I want to look like a self-made genius 😊
That’s it for my lesson today. I hope you’ve learned how you can successfully transfer knowledge to your employees.
My name is Jeff Schuster with Mechanics & Mindset Business Coaching. If you’d like to learn more about how I coach my business owner clients and their employees, please subscribe to my e-mail list. I weekly lessons for small business owners. You can also visit my website at www.mmbizcoach.com . Until we meet again, I pray that God blesses you and your business!