InGenius Prep started with a couple kids in a New Haven apartment. We had no business experience, money or employees. The next year would bring innumerable challenges: websites, CRMs, marketing, sales and abject poverty, all of which helped us answer the critical question, “How do you start a business?” It took us more than a year to answer.
Once InGenius was up and running, we were confronted by an even more pressing question: “Once you have started a business, how do you run and manage it?” Among the most critical elements of running and managing a business are hiring and training new employees. In this article, I will provide five tips to help you train your new hires.
Spend Time Training New Hires Yourself
I speak to a lot of founders and CEOs who like to talk about how much they contribute to their organization: “Joel, I probably provide 40% of the value at my company,” and so on. For me, this is a clear sign that they are doing something wrong.
In a growing, successful company, the C-suite folks are only a handful of people in an organization of many. While they may contribute more than other individuals, they are, by necessity, a small fraction of the human capital in the organization.
The point is simple: if the majority of the value in your company must be (or should be) contributed by others, then hiring great people and training them extensively should be your top priority.
Let Them Fail
I’ve seen dozens of managers throw their hands up in despair after their new employees fail to perform a basic task. “I told them exactly what to do,” the managers will lament. Unfortunately, most people are not capable of hearing detailed instruction once, and then implementing it immediately. That is certainly not how a startup founder learns something. Founders will read dozens of articles, seek advice from mentors and then fail repeatedly until it finally clicks.
The same should be true of your employees: the first step is to give detailed instruction (and insist that they take notes). However, until your new employee has actually gotten their hands dirty, know you cannot expect much.
Next (and this is the critical step most people miss), you need to sit down with your employee and actually watch them go through the steps. Most managers fail in this step because it feels like such a colossal waste of time. It’s not. Until your employee is no longer scared of failing terribly, they will not be able to complete the task.
Then, let them fail. Not everyone will fail initially, but most will fail in some respect. The critical part is to make sure people have the opportunity to fail. Without that lingering risk, employees will never take responsibility and ownership for their work.
Finally, if your employee has failed to some degree, sit them down and run through your instructions again. This time, they will actually know what you mean.
Embrace Their Ideas, No Matter What You Think of Them
When a new employee joins a company, they are eager to make their mark quickly. The problem is that they frequently don’t know enough about the company, its people or the industry to originate great ideas. However, when a new employee comes to me with an idea I’m certain will fail, I try my best not to discourage them.
In fact, I encourage them to try it, and even invest my own time working with them without spending money. While this could be perceived as incredibly wasteful of time and resources, it accomplishes one absolutely essential task: it gives your new employee ownership.
After their first failure, I find my new employees are imbued with a greater sense of initiative and willingness to try new things. Ultimately, I want them to be willing to strike out and create new value for our organization.
Make Them Important
Nobody wants to feel like a cog in the machine. I see a lot of managers who have invested heavily in the rigid hierarchy of their organization. They believe people with more knowledge are more important, and therefore the less important people should be kept in the dark. This is a serious error.
Nobody can be expected to contribute maximally to an organization without understanding it. Thus, I will frequently spend days telling my new employees all about our organization, the people in it, and the greatest challenges facing us. Obviously, there is some information I cannot disclose, but my goal is to empower new employees to understand the organization and contribute at the highest levels.
Don’t Expect Them To Be Just Like You
Most people understand the importance of leading by example. You need to inspire your employees to work harder, more creatively, and with greater purpose than they ever have. This can only be accomplished by doing it yourself, and letting them watch.
At the same time, you cannot expect your employees to be just like you – or even as good as you. I like to think of this in terms of raw numbers: realistically, employees will rarely do as good a job as the founder of the company. At best, you should expect your employees to do things about 75% as well as you would do yourself. This is still a huge contribution. Thus, you need to evaluate yourself carefully and ask: “Would 75% of what I’m doing be a significant contribution to our company, worthy of their salary?” If the answer is no, you need to reconsider your strategy.