You may already know the saying “The most important job of a leader is to create many other leaders in the organization.” A few years into running my own digital agency, I realize that the job that take the most of my time as a founder is team training. The better your people get, the less time you need to spend running the business.
Training new people is critical. You not only build their skills, but also have to inject your company DNA into them very early on so they can fit in your culture. That’s how we build a loyal and capable team.
However, with many new people joining the company regularly, neither I nor my management team can do training ourselves. We need to create a training process that helps new people get up to speed on the job quickly, while taking very little time and effort.
Great training processes should be: effective (help new members grow fast), efficient (mentors spend little effort), and useful (contribute to company work quickly).
From my training experience, I realize that a new person will work fine very early on if he or she has (i) a specific job to do, (ii) a great guide to read, and (iii) an experienced mentor to ask.
Here are our core training principles to help our new people adapt and grow quickly:
1. Assign real work from Day One. No “practice time”.
2. Never spend a minute training basic knowledge or skills, but help them learn on their own.
3. Design & assign first few jobs from basic to advance, not just “any job need to do”.
4. Be very strict on deadlines & results. But always be there to support.
1. Assign real work from Day One. No “practice time.”
Why waste “practicing time” on “example” jobs, when new people can all contribute on actual projects quickly, with a little guide & pressure?
Newbies are smart, enthusiastic, may have basic skills, and no experience. They have questions about everything, and have no methods to follow. Thus to help them work effectively, there are a few rules that apply:
– Assign small jobs, in short deadlines. Newbie cannot swallow big jobs at beginning. Give small jobs so they can absorb knowledge on-the-go, set short deadlines to push them work beyond their usual speed. Completing small jobs make them delighted about themselves, build confidence, and motivate them to take on next harder jobs.
– Use step-by-step action guide, with screenshots and visual elements from real previous works if possible. Make sure it is so clear and easy that a 6-year old can follow (not me saying this 6-year-old thing. Einstein did).
– Answer the questions before they ask. “Previous newbie” may already did the similar jobs before, had a bunch of questions, and had them answered. Ask those people to write the guide, and it works like a charm.
– Give clear description of the expected results they need to deliver, with work samples from similar jobs.
– Require people to take notes of each job they do, their experience & insights. The people who take note have much more solid knowledge than those who don’t. And, you already know, those notes will be used to train the people after them.
2. Never spend a minute training basic knowledge or skills, but help people learn on their own.
Why train basic things, when the great materials are everywhere?
In the year 1000s, if you found a “secret martial art book” you might become the best warrior of the time. But today, if we want to learn something, we can find everything we need to learn it online, in less than 15 minutes searching.
We do not train, but here are a few things we do to help people build basic knowledge and skills:
– Ask new members to read guides, research the subject, and take notes, before asking for help. Then, mentor only supports with the last issues they stuck with.
– Motivate new members to ask “Why”, to understand why something is done the way it is done. If they do not ask themselves why, ask them, and listen to the way they answer.That help new members become more proactive in learning, solving problems, thinking on their own and getting things done. Only help what they really need.
– Require members to take relevant exams. This is a simple yet powerful way to have members build the basic skills.
We are a digital agency, so at CB/I Digital, each new member of digital team must pass 2 Google Adwords certifications, Advertising Fundamentals and Advanced Display, within 3-4 weeks since joining.
Google Adwords training materials are amazing. They cover a huge area of digital knowledge, in an organized, to the point, clear and simple way. It is among the most well-written digital training materials I’ve ever read. So I take it as required “entrance exams” for my new people.
Each person must go through all the training materials, and pass the exams. If they don’t complete it, they will not stay after probation.
So far, almost everyone of them passed, regardless of their initial skills and experience. This is also a good way to assess who are able to achieve their goals, on time and under pressure. No talkers, only achievers in team.
3. Design and assign first few jobs from basic to advance
The goal of training is to help people acquire new skills and grow. Thus, we do not let people do the same job again and again. We design the jobs so they can keep learning new things in the right path.
– Categorize an expertise in to levels, from basic to advance. Assign jobs so that a new person can acquire the skills of a level, then move to next level.
For example, for SEO training, we create 5 basic levels:
Level 1.1. On-page SEO: URL structure, meta tags, heading, keyword density, internal links, etc
Level 1.2. On-page SEO: breadcrumb, sitemap, rich snippets, canonical, redirect, 404, etc
Level 2. Google Analytics / Google Webmaster Tools, how to setup tracking, read data, get insights, and act
Level 3. Keyword research
Level 4. Off-page SEO: external links, link building & earning, etc
Level 5. Speed optimization
After finishing this 5 levels, the basic SEO training is complete, usually in less than 3 months. People are ready to move to more advanced SEO jobs, like mobile SEO, local SEO, setup secure HTTPS URL, mass URL structure change & redirect, and more.
– The best is to let the new member join a small project from start to finish, one job at a time. They will learn the skills in the same project and can see how things connect to each other. This will help the person gain enormous confidence as he or she can see how the “theory” is applied in a full actual project.
4. Be very strict on deadlines and results. But always be there to support.
Discipline is an invaluable trait. And it is very hard to build.
At CB/I we want to have a disciplined team. Because we always deliver results to our clients on time. So we are very clear and strict about a few rules we have.
I believe if you cannot enforce clear rules for new people within 3 months, you will never be able to do it.
– Our deadline rule is, if a deadline is set and agreed on, it must be met. In rare circumstances if it could not be met, the manager must be notified a day in advance. If deadline is passed without delivering results, no reason is accepted. No explanation is needed.
This rule is simple, yet it usually put an enormous pressure to undisciplined people. Within a few weeks, people who are not a right fit will automatically ask to leave. It saves a lot of time for everybody.
Like the “taking Adwords exams” job above. By the 4th week, if any people could not pass the exams on time, they usually ask to leave. It is not an ability test, it is actually the discipline test. Because, if a just-graduated, zero-experience person can pass those tests in 4 weeks, anybody can. With discipline.
But the ones who pass will be amazing team members. They will always deliver. Recently, Google releases new DoubleClick platform and creates 4 Double Click certification exams. We want to be great at Double Click to support our clients, so we asked everyone in our digital ad team to take all 4 exams in 2 weeks. All of them pulled it off, without affecting their regular jobs.
– Frequently check and support. If you ask your people to work hard, you have to always be there to support. People are willing to do what you ask for, because you truly want to make them great. If you are not there, you have no right to ask.
At CB/I, our management team regularly come talk to each team member about how they feel, what are their difficulties, what do they want to achieve, and anything we can do to help. And help. This is personal touch, no formal rule. It can be quick Skype chat, or over lunch, dinner, or coffee. We care about our people. I often scan through all emails from everybody in the company whenever I can, because we can feel if someone is ok or in difficulty just by looking at the way they write emails. The feeling of being taken care of is a great motivation to each new team member to be better.
This training process is heavy. New people often have to work 120% of their usual capability, and thus, they become 120% better than they usually are.
The truth is, if they can work at 120% of their capability for a year, they will become far better than the average – who do not have the early fire and support to grow. They become true warriors, and are on the right track to become one of the best in their fields.
And if you can build a team of such great people, you can do everything.
P/S: Thanks Laurie-Anne Vazquez for editing this post!