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My first day in the driver’s seat of the family Ford began in front of our house with my dad on the passenger side. He turned to me and said, “Start the car.” I replied, “I don’t know how to start the car.” Dad raised his voice and announced, “What the hell have you been doing in the car for 17 years? Your brothers all knew how to drive when I taught them!”

Check Engine Light Before Training

We switched places and dad drove me to the high school parking lot where he proceeded to yell at me for the next three hours of instruction. I didn’t drive with my father again until after I got my license.

Years later the memory is still pretty sharp. The raised voice, the language I was not allowed to utter, and the rebuke from my father were all uncharacteristic. Dad did not frequently yell for emphasis or discipline but when he did it was most likely to be directed towards my three older brothers. But then again, they knew how to drive. They taught themselves, or each other, backing in and out of our driveway.

My personal tale is a favorite example when I work with managers who train new or experienced employees. I have other stories of the consequences of failing to assess readiness for employee training but this one always hits the mark.

Where Is the Refrigerator?

We all bring unique experiences and perspective to the workplace most of these are formed by how and where we grew up, were educated, and have worked. In high school I was excited to begin employment in a restaurant where I could earn tips that pushed my earnings above than minimum wage. My training entailed trailing a waitress with 30 years on the job who liked to take naps standing up while waiting for her orders. Explaining details and terms to me was not her strength. I spent 20 minutes one day looking for the milk that the chef asked me to get. He told me it was “in the walk-in.” I didn’t think to ask where the refrigerator was, I didn’t want to look dumb.

 Is All Landscaping the Same?

At a hotel where I was the HR Director we hired a recently arrived immigrant from Southeast Asia to help maintain the little bit of landscaping in front of the property. He lived in an apartment not far from work. The new employee was instructed to cut the bushes. Employee training for this task was confined to handing out tools and pointing out the route to the lawn. He cut the shrubs down to the stumps — there were a few inches left when he was done, and the greenery was gone.

 Too often we skip the basics of cataloging employee knowledge before training begins. Review work history, check vocabulary, interview an employee, demonstrate outcomes, and provide a glossary before equipment is handed out or training schedules are filled.

About Rebecca Mazin

Rebecca Mazin creates usable solutions for employers to meet increasingly complicated human resources challenges. Her Recruit Right consulting, training, and writing produces consistently measurable results in organizations from small start-ups to industry giants. Rebecca is the author of The Employee Benefits Answer Book: An Indispensable Guide for Managers and Business Owners and co-authored The HR Answer Book: An Indispensable Guide for Managers and Human Resources Professionals. Follow Rebecca on Twitter @thehranswer.