Columnists, Thom Finn, V4I2

Training as Motivation

I was coaching a production foreman recently who believed he had a problem with employee motivation.

I learned a trick from a respected doctor a while back where you don’t agree with a patient’s self-diagnosis until you have researched it a bit further yourself. I was glad I did, upon further investigation, the problem, and his frustration, didn’t lie in attitude or morale or motivation of his team, but in a more fundamental problem: lack of training.

In the past few strong years, most shed shops have worked at two speeds: fast and urgent. At either speed, whether it be for inventory demands or to meet customer orders, it’s hard to convince a shed builder to invest in training. In the perfect world, all employees would be fully trained and know exactly what to do and not bother us with annoying questions.

And in a perfect world, I would have all my hair again and weigh 190 pounds. So much for wishing for a perfect world.

I challenge your thinking if you believe that it simply takes time. If you passively roll over and believe there is nothing you can do, there are builders out there who will outperform you with a better
product done more efficiently, because they have been proactive in their training. Nothing can take the place of three years of experience working on the line, but you can dramatically improve a
man’s capacity if you give him skills in the form of training.

So, instead of giving the useless advice to pay more attention to the new hire training, I offer this simple, three-part template they can try on for size to help with training gaps and short productivity.


Years ago, I was talking with a client’s wife who was a teacher before she got married and started a family. She was the only teacher for a class of about 20, ranging from first to eighth grade. She
knew she had to be organized, so she made a list of all the students. Brilliant move. Rather than looking at the class, she wisely decided to approach each student as an individual.


By forcing yourself to come up with three, you push yourself to be exhaustive in your analysis. In shed production, the classes, or topics, are usually specific. Examples could be how to efficiently use a certain hand tool or how to correctly perform a certain application or task. These are common examples for the newer guys. But if you look on the list and see a veteran, maybe the classes or lessons you want to teach him are softer. Maybe your foreman needs to learn the lessons of barking less and encouraging more. Maybe the guy in the office needs a lesson on how to fill out an order error- free. Or maybe he needs a class in improving his phone skills.

From where I sit, I can only compare small businesses to the huge guys about 80 percent of time. But we can learn from how seriously they take training. There is a big company that knows its
position, and thus profitability will drastically increase if they can train their people to do a great job faster. For years, these industry leaders have abounded the outdated method of shadowing and
moved to a more structured “you need to take the three classes” approach.

Readers of Shed Builder Magazine obviously care about their own improvements and developments, but what about the guys who work in their shops? Don’t they yearn for the same opportunity to improve their trade themselves? About 85 percent of all workers will beexcited and motivated that you have decided to invest in their own training and improvement.


A shortcut is to realize and accept that you don’t have to be the one-room school teacher. If there are others on your team who have mastered the skill, then turn the education of it over to them.

Like you, I was once a busy owner/ manager, and the thought of training new hires was overwhelming. So, I developed a scavenger hunt approach. When you started working for me, you were given a piece of paper with a list of tasks you were to complete on your first day, then your first week and month. Examples were, “Ask Larry to describe the three main customers we serve. Ask
Pearl her definition of an ideal customer. Ask Kathy to show you how to use the credit card machine. Ask Dave to show you how to use the copier.”

With all trainees, I only asked one thing of them in addition to getting their assignments completed: Take good notes. Even the worst spellers, like me, can take notes so they can refer to them later. And if you are advanced enough where you have a system of how to do your top recurring tasks, provide them a copy of that. I have seen the grumpiest of men turn into good trainers, provided they were given a specific list of what you want them to teach the student. Annie, the school teacher from above, got her list from the school board. She had a list of deliverables of what was expected of her to teach the children.

Management and training becomes so much easier if you invest a small amount of time and explain the top three lessons you want the students to learn.

People can learn in three main ways: visually, auditory, or kinesthetically. In other words, they learn by seeing or by hearing or by doing. The wise trainer knows how his or her student learns. As
a reward for reading this far, if you want a free training assessment to show how your students learn, let me know and I’ll send it to you.

Most people learn by seeing. This means your training will be more effective (learned faster and done more efficiently) if you have at least two visual aids to support your training. It could be a flowchart of how the specific technique fits into the whole operation, or maybe it could be a cross section of the tool. Some of the best visual aids are humble checklists. The seven steps to shop clean up can be posted for the student to refer to again and again. The wise trainer lowers his expectations that the student will remember it all and instead provides clues or crutches to remind them of their training.

Take the completion of the training seriously. Insist that the students show you their completed class schedule. This will ensure they are progressing with their development without dumping more tasks onto your already busy plate. It’s easier to harp on the new guy for getting his inspection training completed than to chase after him to teach him the class. And when your student is done with his first few classes, repeat the cycle again.

“What’s the next step” is one of my favorite coaching questions. After you have a worker trained on lessons one, two, and three, what’s next? Maybe you want to give him some time off, but I don’t recommend more than two months’ break in training. It’s not a coincidence that some of the happiest owners with the most successful shed business, regardless of their size, are constantly developing themselves and their workers.

Individual training is recommended for your line employees. Training of supervisors or foremen is usually a little more formal. Self-study is a common way for a new, inexperienced manager to
learn about management and leadership, or you can look for an outside trainer to bring a class to you.

I estimate I conduct one basics of management class a month to a team of foremen and supervisors. A highly leveraged, big payoff topic to train your foreman or managers is to go through a DiSC personality profile program. Much of the work in management is done by knowing how to relate to different kinds of people and DiSC is the most efficient shortcut I have come across.

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