I recently heard about a casual conversation between two baristas that, though not particularly surprising, got me thinking. The pair were discussing how their boss doesn’t think training is a good investment, because baristas can just take that training and leave—and go to work for a competitor. Of course, this coffeehouse owner surely provides some training. But they might not offer continuing development beyond making coffee and counting change. Despite the costs involved in training, not doing it is even more costly. You’ll end up with a staff of bored, restless underperformers—a far worse fate than really training someone on the finer points of coffee, even if they’ll eventually quit.
Benjamin Franklin may have said it best: “An investment in education always pays the highest returns.” (Fittingly, Franklin’s face appears on the U.S. $100 bill.) Academic studies and profit-and-loss statements show that companies reap substantial benefits from investing in training their employees. Here’s how:
Training improves employee productivity—in every way imaginable. Quality, speed, safety, attitude, problem solving, ethics, motivation, leadership and communication. All of these things improve with training. Performance problems arise when employees (1) don’t know what they’re supposed to do, (2) don’t know how to do it, and/or (3) don’t know why they should do it.
Training improves customer satisfaction. Good work creates good coffee and service, resulting in happier customers.
Training increases your profits. With your staff’s aforementioned speed, problem solving, attitude, happy customers, etc., your labor costs will go down and your customer base will more be more likely to grow. Hence, profits will increase. In her book, “Profiting From Learning: Do Firms’ Investments in Education and Training Pay Off?” Laurie J. Bassi says that companies that invest $1,500 per employee in training compared with those that spend $125 experience an average of 24 percent higher gross profit margins and 218 percent higher revenue per employee. More than twice the revenue from each employee? That is a serious payoff, people. If $1,500 seems like a lot, consider the cost of your own hourly time put into training, plus that of a senior barista showing a newbie the ropes. It can mean little more than a week in labor costs.
Training improves employee satisfaction and retention. A big reason for turnover is boredom. You might think that once employees are trained, they will be more likely to leave your business for other opportunities. But in reality, a well-trained staff is happier and more likely to stay put because training improves self-esteem, which in turn improves morale and employer loyalty.
Just don’t throw them to the wolves.
New employees are naturally nervous and can feel overwhelmed. Encourage and empower them by scheduling their training during slow or off hours, and have them shadow experienced baristas for a few days. If you throw them into the mix too quickly, their lack of confidence will reflect on you and your business.
Don’t stop with the basics.
While solid training increases staff retention, continuing training can help ensure it. If employees aren’t learning, they aren’t growing or engaged. A Louis Harris and Associates poll reports that among employees with few training opportunities, 41 percent planned to leave within a year, whereas of those who considered their training opportunities to be excellent, only 12 percent planned to leave. Training even ranks higher than salary in some polls. And continued training will not only keep employees engaged, it will improve your competitive edge.
Beyond making coffee, cleaning duties and manning the POS system, it’s important to create an environment where learning is a primary objective and career development is a priority. To instill this in your culture is to cultivate creativity and productivity. Train to brush up on skills and develop new ones, and to keep up on innovations and trends. Take advantage of webinars, classes, books, podcasts, etc. And always push product knowledge. In a field like specialty coffee, this should be never ending. The more your employees know about the coffees you serve, and why, the more confidence they’ll have in establishing relationships with your customers, and the better they’ll represent your brand.
Ask them what they want. Talk with each employee and help them set goals that are meaningful to them, and make the results measurable. It could be calibrating the grinder in one or two touches of the dial, remembering customers’ names, taking charge of inventory, training new-hires, or bringing their eye and skills to décor, like plants, lighting or artwork.
Cross training should be a given. When everyone can open and close the shop, your talent pool will remain broad enough that filling shifts when someone is sick or on vacation is no sweat. It also helps you create appreciation and cooperation among coworkers, reminding them that they can and should rely on each other.
Engage them in your goals. Giving employees context for their work can be motivating, helping them feel they’re making a difference. Tell them about your business goals, and help them develop individual goals that align with your vision. It will increase their performance, and get them more vested in your operation.
Read up on training. There are plenty of great learning materials to help you train a talented staff. You might want to build a small library of books and DVDs for you or your designated trainer(s) that offers manuals, supplemental materials and ideas for workshops. Store these resources in a central place, and encourage employees to add to them and check out items to read on their own.
Remember, your success is largely dependent on how well your employees do their jobs. If you give them the opportunity to enhance their skills with training, they’ll be more likely to stick around, they’ll reflect well on your brand, be more likely to work toward your vision, and your business will have a better chance to grow.