Train the trainer

Learn how to teach your team and make it stick.

May 29, 2017
Marty Grunder
Owner's Almanac

Spring has sprung and it’s time for all of us to shake off the dust and get to work. Less thinking and planning, and more doing. However, in your haste to get things done, don’t forget to take some time each week to slow down and train and educate your team. This is an important part of growing a landscaping company. Without skilled, well-educated and trained team members, you will never realize your utmost potential. And, understand this: Your external customer service WILL NEVER exceed your internal customer service. In other words, you can’t expect your team to treat your clients like kings and queens if you don’t treat them like kings and queens. If you want to establish a competitive advantage in the marketplace, the quickest way to do that is with people. People who do landscaping and deliver customer service better than the competition. It is impossible for your competition to copy the way you treat your clients.

So, how do we train them? I fancy myself a decent teacher so let me share with you how I like to run a training session with my team. We do five things.

We stand on the line. We stole this idea from HighGrove Partners in Atlanta. We have a circle we painted on the concrete outside our shop that everyone now stands on. We didn’t even have to say anything; we just painted the line and now instead of having everyone everywhere all over the place not paying attention, we have everyone on the line focused on the training. In addition, we require that cell phones are turned off, no smoking and you must stand. The presenter wears a wireless microphone so everyone can hear. Again, this is serious stuff and we need to treat it that way.

The topic is introduced and a brief summary is given. We normally focus on three points, but never more than five. This is a 20-minute, focused lesson. We need to pick the big points and drive them home. I learned a long time ago that the best teachers tell their classes what they are going to tell them, then they tell them and then they tell them what they told them. So, in this step, we tell the group what we are going to learn about and what the expected outcome is. We can now start teaching and have our team primed and ready to learn.

Teach. We share our lesson using language that everyone will understand and being as clear as we can. As we teach our topic, we stop and ask questions like, “Am I going too fast?” “Have I lost anyone?” And we scan the group for nonverbal signs that say, “I don’t get this.” As we teach, we quiz the audience. For example, if we’re teaching about trailer safety, we might ask, “Jeremy, what is the first thing you do when you are to back up a truck and trailer?” If Jeremy is paying attention, he quickly responds, “You stop the truck, put on your flashers and ask your passenger to get out and help you back up. That passenger needs to be in view of the driver’s side mirror.” If Jeremy says, “Ah … um … well …” you know he has not been paying attention and you call on someone else. Then go back to Jeremy for the next question and try him again. Doing this keeps everyone on their toes and it makes the learning more fun. Fun is important. A joke here and there, something funny, especially if the joke is on the person training is great. Self-deprecating humor is the best of all for teachers. It humanizes you and makes others see that you do make mistakes and have failed. You will find your team will learn more from the discussion of failures than the talk about successes. No one is perfect. The bottom line is you don’t want to be preaching. You want to be teaching and teachers want and expect interaction. They need to make sure you understand.

Tell them what you told them. Now it’s time to wrap it up and here is where a lot of teachers make a mistake. Many just say okay, have a good day and everyone goes on their way. The best way to end a training session is with a wrap up. I like to use a dry erase board and ask everyone what the points where again and write them down in front of them. This serves as a reminder of what was taught and puts a “bow” on the session. The last thing I like to do is to end with someone saying our mission statement aloud and reminding the team why we are in business and reiterating our purpose for existence.

Reinforce. Now for the next week as our Group Leaders interact with the teams, we ask that they remind the team of the lesson for the week and look for any and all evidence of what was taught being supported. You are always better catching people doing the right thing over pointing out every single thing they have done wrong. We write about the lesson in our newsletter that we put in with the paychecks and keep the lessons going by periodically sharing reminders.

Training and education are a critical part to running a successful landscaping company, but it’s not a to-do list item. It’s serious stuff that ought to be talked about and treated like the important task it is.